By Rick VanSickle
The competition for winemakers between the Okanagan Valley and Niagara has always been fierce with a constant exchange of talent between Canada’s main wine regions.
Two superstars who spent a great of time making wine in Niagara, Darryl Brooker and Mary McDermott, seem perfectly comfortable in their new homes in the Okanagan Valley.
Brooker assumed the role of chief winemaker at the Mission Hill Family Estate (very top photo) in 2015 after a five-year stint at the Okanagan’s CedarCreek Estate Winery where he worked hard to take the winery to the next level for five years.
Prior to that, Brooker was the senior winemaker at Trius and Thirty Bench wineries in Niagara, a position now held by Craig McDonald.
With over 18 years of experience making premium wines in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, Brooker’s prior experience also includes winemaking at Niagara’s Flat Rock Cellars, Villa Maria Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and Mountadam Vineyards in Barossa Valley.
As chief winemaker at Mission Hill Family Estate, Brooker is able to focus his efforts on making wines that reflect the terroir of unique estate vineyard sites located in the northern and southern portions of the Okanagan Valley. Microclimates within the valley provide challenging opportunities to achieve single vineyard wines that truly represent their terroir, intensified by Brooker’s passion.
McDermott’s move to the Okanagan was more recent. As the winemaker for Trius and Thirty Bench Winery, Peller properties in Niagara, McDermott followed her desire to pursue a lifelong dream of crafting small production wines in the picturesque Okanagan Valley in 2014. Her journey took her to B.C.’s renowned Naramata Bench at the Township 7 winery. Her vision entails expanding the winery’s small lot wine program with additional single vineyard designate offerings, enhancing the Bordeaux reds program at a world-class level, as well as boosting the sparkling wine production.
We have reviews for new wines from both Mission Hill and Township 7.
Mission Hill Family Estate
Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($20, 90 points) — A nose of citrus, lime, creamy Asian pear and lush tropical fruits with a subtle herbal note. It’s creamy on the palate with zesty lime freshness, bold tropical fruitiness and underlying herbs.
Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2015 ($20, 89 points) — A super-concentrated Gris with a nose of melon, apple, peach, tangerine and ginger notes. It’s juicy and ripe on the palate with a range of orchard fruits, pinch of spice and bright acidity on the finish.
Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014 ($18, 88 points) — Sourced from the estate’s Oliver vineyards, this Pinot shows cherry, strawberry, anise, cassis and spice on the nose. There are earthy/bramble notes on the palate and lovely balance between the fruit, tannins and spice with added savoury notes on the finish.
Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2014 ($23, 89 points) — The Syrah grapes for this reserve wine were sourced from estate vineyards in the warm climate of Osoyoos’s Black Sage Bench. The nose shows a rich, peppery broth of blueberry, violets, cassis and white pepper notes. The palate reveals plenty of pepper spice, a range of dark fruits, savoury notes and licorice to go with ripe tannins and freshening acidity.
Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2013 ($25, 89 points) — The thick nose on this bold Merlot shows a concentrated mix of smoke, black cherry, raspberry bush, cassis, bramble, black licorice and barrel oak spices. It’s super dry on the palate with assertive tannins to go with licorice, tar, spices and red fruits that turn darker on the mid-palate. Needs a bit of time to come into balance, but should reward with cellaring.
Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($26, 92 points) — What a gorgeous Okanagan Cab Sauv, so rich and fulsome with an attractive nose of blackberry, raspberry, bramble, currants, plums, saddle leather and barrel spices. It’s not overpowering on the palate and shows some elegance to go with lush and savoury dark fruits, ripe tannic structure and brightening acidity through a long finish. Buy, hold and enjoy for 5+ years.
Township 7 Vineyards and Winery
Township 7 Seven Stars 2014 ($30, 89 points) — A blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay sourced from the estate’s Naramata Bench vineyard) bubbly that’s made in the traditional method and aged on the lees for 18 months. The nose shows lovely melon, brioche, biscuit, bright green apple, lime and mineral. It’s crisp and lively on the palate with pear, lemon and yeasty-bready notes on a refreshing finish. Tasty sparkler.
Township 7 Merlot 2014 ($23, 88 points) — A subtle (bit closed?) nose of cherry, cocoa, plums, vanilla and earthy bits. It shows charred oak, rich loam and savoury spices to go with plums, cherries and currants on the palate.
Township 7 Pinot Noir 2015 ($31, 90 points) — Sourced from the biodynamic/organic Sperling Vineyard in Kelowna’s Mission district. The wine is aged in mostly older French oak for 12 months. The nose is inviting with cherry/raspberry, bramble, earth and spice notes. It’s smooth and fully integrated on the palate with a mouth of bright red fruits, gentle oak spice and silky tannins.
Township 7 NBO Blue Terrace Vineyard 2014 ($28, 90 points) — The blend is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot from the estate’s Blue Terrace Vineyard in Oliver. It has a powerful nose of cassis, anise, plums and savoury spices that go on and on. Simply gorgeous on the palate with generous black currants, anise, plums and a range of elegant oak spices. It’s highly structured with a bed of firm tannins and lifting acidity. Can cellar 5+ years.
Township 7 Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2014 ($31, 92 points) — The Syrah was sourced from the Vanessa Vineyard in the cooler Similkameen Valley. What a beauty! The nose rocks with classic smoked deli meat, bacon fat, black currants, pepper, sage, bay leaves and Cuban cigar leaf. Good structure on the palate for this pure and complex Syrah that shows a meaty, peppery profile with well-integrated dark fruits and spice.
Township 7 Reserve Blue Terrace Vineyard Merlot 2014 ($35, 91 points) — Another very fine wine from Township 7’s reserve program. This 100% Merlot was aged for 24 months in a combination of French and American oak, 30% of the barrels new. It has a generous and concentrated nose of black currants, cherry, cocoa, bramble and an array of lavish spice notes. It’s a highly stylized wine on the palate propped up by firm bed of tannic structure to go with meaty dark fruit, rich spice notes and plenty of length through the finish. Wait for this, 3-5 years, to fully appreciate its rugged beauty.