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Change coming quickly now in B.C. wine country; plus new wine reviews for Culmina, JoieFarm and Fort Berens

B.C. wine

By Rick VanSickle

Positive change is coming quickly now in B.C. wine country with new regions being recognized and the second sub-appellation in the Okanagan Valley ready to emerge.

Note: Wine reviews for JoieFarm, Culmina and Fort Berens are posted following news items

These are heady times as the tireless work of so many in the B.C. wine industry is finally paying off with recognition of the province’s unique terroirs and emerging wine regions.

B.C. wine drinkers will soon be able to buy B.C. VQA wines clearly identified as coming from the Thompson Valley, Shuswap, Lillooet and the Kootenays. The four areas are being established as geographic indications, a standard element of appellation systems used around the world that help people identify wines in the marketplace, provide assurance as to the origin and quality of the wine, and promote agri-tourism.

British Columbia currently has six official geographical indications: British Columbia (provincial), Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Fraser Valley, Similkameen Valley and the Okanagan Valley.

Okanagan wine

“More and more people are starting to recognize the quality and diversity of B.C. wines found throughout our province, from Ortega in the Cowichan Valley, to Cabernet Franc in the Okanagan Valley and rosé in the Creston Valley, and everything in between,” said Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham. “By helping B.C.’s wine regions identify and promote their own terroir, and making it easier for smaller wine producers to participate in the BC VQA program, B.C. wine drinkers will be able to make more informed choices as they select, enjoy and buy B.C. wines.”

The Ministry of Agriculture vows to support industry efforts to identify new sub-geographical indications, to help bring more distinction to the multiple wine growing areas of the Okanagan Valley and other regions. Currently, the province only has one official sub-geographical indication, the Golden Mile Bench near Oliver.

“Recognition of these new official geographical indications, and addition of sub-appellations, reflects the maturation and progress of B.C.’s premium wine industry,” said Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the British Columbia Wine Institute. “Not only are they a marketing tool for the regions, but also for wines made using certified 100% B.C. grapes.”

Best B.C. wine

Last week, a group of wineries located on the Naramata Bench wine growing area, between Penticton and Naramata, submitted a proposal to become an official Sub-GI (Geographic Indicator). This new proposed Sub Geographic Indicator would be recognized within the geographical indication of the Okanagan Valley as per the regulations of the Wines of Marked Quality of the B.C. Wine Authority. The push for development of Sub-GI’s stems from recommendations made by the Appellation Task Force in 2015.

Soil scientist Scott Smith, an independent consultant, and Pat Bowen, research scientist at Summerland Research and Development Centre, established a boundary configuration for the sub-GI following consultation and described the area in scientific terms. The submitted report provides an in-depth review of topography, climate, soil and other geographic factors that define the area. The “Naramata Bench” brand is firmly established as a regional reference within the B.C. wine and wine tourism industry and the new appellation will help identify the region as a premium wine producer.

In other B.C. wine news …

Olivier Humbrecht MW is joining Phantom Creek Estates as a consultant. The estate has confirmed a long-term collaboration with Humbrecht of Alsace’s Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Phantom Creek is Humbrecht’s first and only winery consulting project.

Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine, is the owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. The renowned estate has been in his family since 1620, and today is one of the world’s leading Pinot Gris and Riesling producers.

As Phantom Creek expands its portfolio to include Pinot Gris and Riesling, two of British Columbia’s signature grape varieties, Humbrecht will be instrumental in helping to select and develop vineyard sites that have the potential for excellence.

“Having visited three times already, I know the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are capable of producing exceptional Pinot Gris and Riesling with great vineyard character,” said Humbrecht. “With the ambition of ownership and the skilled team at Phantom Creek, I am enthusiastic about what we can achieve.”  

Okanagan Valley’s Poplar Grove Winery has named Ingo Grady as estate director.

A 30-year industry veteran, Grady previously held senior executive roles at Grady Wine Marketing, Mission Hill Family Estate, and Phantom Creek Estates. As Estate Director, he will oversee Poplar Grove’s portfolio of fine estate wines and guide the team in all strategic and tactical aspects of the business, including winemaking, vineyard operations, marketing, sales and guest experience. Tony Holler, Poplar Grove president, stated, “Ingo is a genuine, experienced and charismatic leader who will manage and develop our team as we take our family business to the next level.”

In this B.C. wine report we also have wine reviews from three provincial wineries: Naramata Bench producer JoieFarm, Golden Mile Bench producer Culmina and Lillooet winery Fort Berens.


Winemaker and proprietress Heidi Noble used the more normal 2017 vintage to play with some techniques in the winery that were topical at the I4C Chardonnay conference in Niagara in the summer of 2016.

Noble chose to “hyper-oxidate” all her press pan juice, in particular, her Chardonnay. Hyper-ox is the process of “pre-oxidizing” grape juice before it is turned into wine.

That process is meant to fix volatile flavour and colour compounds so they cannot further oxidize and change as the wine ages. Further to that, explains Noble, hyper-ox allows winemakers to refrain from adding sulphur to the unfermented must. “I am already finding all of our wines to be intensely aromatically expressive and extremely flavourful on release this spring,” she says.

Here’s what I like from the new spring releases:

JoieFarm Pinot Blanc 2017 ($25, 90 points) — From the 40-year-old “old-vine” St. Hubertus Vineyard in Kelowna comes this radically different and exciting Pinot Blanc that is anything but routine and boring. The nose shows aromas of sliced apple, minerals and fresh-cut citrus. It’s vibrant and lively on the palate with mouth-watering and nervy acidity that punctuates the core of bin apple flavours with grapefruit, lemon and mineral accents.

JoieFarm A Nobel Blend 2017 ($26, 89 points) — The blend is nearly half Gewurztraminer with the rest a combination of Riesling, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. A spicy and aromatic nose of apricot, tropical fruits, lychee nut and grapefruit with a subtle note of ginger. It’s vibrant and fresh on the palate and made in a perfectly dry style with flavours of tropical fruits, citrus, lychee and interesting spice notes.

JoieFarm Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2017 ($25, 88 points) — A nose of crisp apple, flinty minerality and a range of citrus fruit. It is clean and fresh on the palate and displays juicy apple, lemon and minerals on a clean finish.

JoieFarm Re-Think Pink! Rosé 2017 ($24, 89 points) — This bright pink rosé is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay. As you would expect, plenty of raspberry/strawberry notes on the nose, but also interesting savoury notes emerge. You can feel some tannins on the palate adding a touch of structure on the palate to go with red fruits, cranberry and freshening acidity on the finish.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Muscat 2017 ($28, 92 points) — Winemaker Noble decided with this vintage to move the Muscat to the top tier “En Famille” program. The estate Muscat, Moscato Giallo (yellow Muscat), is in full maturity in its tenth leaf, said Noble. “I felt it was an appropriate time to give this wine its proper respect by moving it into our reserve program.” Such a rollicking nose of fresh squeezed lime, peach, grapefruit and a basket of herbs. It is perfectly dry and refreshing on the palate with mouthwatering acidity and only 11.4% abv that highlights the lemon, grapefruit, white peach and vivid vein of lime that shines all the way through the finish.

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens Rosé 2017 ($18, 88 points) — A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and the rest Gamay Noir that shows a vibrant pink colour in the glass. The inviting nose displays a basket of summer red berries that carries brilliantly to the palate with added creamy notes and just a kiss of sweetness on the finish. Summer in a glass.

Fort Berens Riesling 2017 ($18, 89 points) — Made with a combination of estate fruit from Lillooet and fruit from Similkameen Valley. The nose shows pretty lime, lemon, green apple and subtle minerality notes. There is a touch of sweetness on the palate that leads to a playful tug of sweet and tart fruits of citrus, green apple with an interesting note of ginger on the finish.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2017 ($18, 89 points) — This Gris is mostly from the estate vineyard with the rest coming from the Similkameen Valley. It has a rich, expressive hose of peach, pineapple and golden delicious apple. It’s juicy and rocks on the palate with a range of orchard fruits, tropical mango and pineapple and vibrancy through the finish. Well made and attractive Pinot Gris form B.C.


Culmina Unicus Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($27, 92 points) — Culmina planted and made the Okanagan Valley’s first Grüner Veltliner harvested from the estate’s Margaret’s Bench — one of the highest vineyards in the Okanagan. This is an enthralling melange of citrus, peach, grapefruit, herbs and enticing slate minerality on the nose. It is lean and nervy on the palate with a range of lemon, tangerine, white pepper, melon and minerals in a mouth-watering and fresh style all the way through a long finish.

Culmina R&D White Blend 2017 ($19, 89 points) — A blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier all from the Golden Mile Bench estate’s vineyards. It shows a tantalizing nose of bright apple, citrus, peach and apricot fruit. It’s fresh and juicy on the palate with apple, lychee, spice, peach, guava and vibrancy through the vanish.

Culmina R&D Rosé Blend 2017 ($19, 90 points) — Shows a pretty light copper colour in the glass with delicate aromas of crushed red berries and citrus accents. This is serious rosé, a blend of  Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, with layered raspberry, cherry, cranberry and strawberry fruits with a subtle note of herbs and citrus on the finish. Love this.