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B.C.’s Okanagan Crush Pad goes all natural with Free Form wines, plus stunning new releases from JoieFarm’s 2016 vintage

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By Rick VanSickle

The goal at Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, B.C. was never to make natural wines per se, but to make “technically sound, vineyard-specific, unadulterated wines that are delicious, complex and thought-provoking.”

You can call ’em what you like, but that’s the strategy behind the quest.

Note: Also in this report, some stunning 2016 wines from the Okanagan’s JoieFarm.

Led by owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, and executed by key people they have surrounded themselves with, that pursuit has been relentless and unwavering. From vineyard conversion to organic, new vineyards grown organically from the outset and the purchase of organic vineyards to a winery free of oak barrels and commercial yeasts, OCP has reached a point where it’s quite comfortable making a label that represents the epitome of natural (my word), non-interventionist winemaking.

Natural wine

The team launched Free Form last month, a standalone label much like Haywire and Narrative, which is begins its journey with a Vin Gris and an Ancient Method sparkling wine. Three other wines under the Free Form label will follow this fall — a Pinot Noir, a skin-contact white and Cabernet Franc.

The wines are all made using organic grapes, native yeasts, free of additives and left to find their own course in the newly certified organic winery cellar. There they are fermented in concrete tanks, clay amphorae or large barrels and extended skin contact is used, followed by a gentle pressing and further rest before bottling. The wines are free of rough handling, commercial additives and little to no sulfites.

“For me, the quest is to produce wines that are reflective of their vineyard origins,” says chief winemaker Matt Dumayne. “First and foremost, the wines must be technically sound. From there, they should be enjoyable and I would hope they are thought-provoking.”

Says Coletta in news release: “Free Form celebrates and welcomes vintage variation knowing that we have the winemaking talent in place to address what each year brings.”

Coletta understands that there is a lot of confusion and debate about natural wines, but her winemaking team has travelled extensively since 2013 to learn about natural, skin-contact wines. Her Free Form wines will spend several months on the skins, which provide a “stabilizing effect, enabling us to rely on native fermentation and avoid filtering or cold-stabilization.”

Best B.C. wine

Also new at Okanagan Crush is the addition of Steven (Steve) Latchford, right, and Lynzee Schatz to the winemaking team. They will work closely with Dumayne. Latchford will manage custom crush client wines, while Schatz will oversee sparkling wine production, which now exceeds 7,500 cases annually.

Latchford was born in wine country, in Prince Edward County and studied at Niagara College. He has worked under winemaker Marco Piccoli at Jackson-Triggs, alongside charismatic winemaker Thomas Bachelder and spent the last decade working at various wineries on the Naramata bench.

Raised in Kelowna, Schatz has a Bachelor of Wine Science from Charles Sturt University in Australia. She has travelled widely, completing many vintages abroad including stints at Pisoni Vineyards and Winery in California, Domaine Chandon and Yeringberg in Australia’s Yarra Valley, and Tawse and Angels Gate in Ontario.

The first Free Form
wines from OCP

Note: All wines from OCP can be ordered online no matter where you live. Just click the ad on the right (if you are reading on a laptop or desktop computer) of go to Okanagan Crush Pad

Free Form Ancient Method 2017 ($35, 90 points) — Nothing has been added “but love and hard work” to this 100% organic Pinot Noir. It was whole bunch pressed into 2,000 litre concrete tanks where it was wild fermented. Fermentation was completed in bottle and after six months it was disgorged with zero dosage. It shows a pale, pale salmon in the glass with aromas of green apple, citrus, tangerine, lime and saline minerality, like salty sea breeze. It has flavours and texture of pulpy grapefruit with notes of lemon, tart apple and stony minerality to go with a gentle bubble in a very dry and puckering — yet refreshing — style. A well defined, taut and laser sharp sparkler.

Free Form Vin Gris 2017 ($27, 91 points) — So, this Vin Gris is made from Pinot Noir that has been whole bunch pressed to large concrete tanks. It was wild fermented and underwent full malo. It was bottled unfiltered. So, yes, a rosé-style wine made from red grapes but with white winemaking methods. It has a perfumed/floral nose with brambly/raspberry/savoury notes, subtle pomegranate and spice. It has gorgeous texture on the palate with racy acidity that lifts the layers of fresh red berries and earthy/meaty flavours through a long finish. Thought provoking and delicious.

JoieFarm’s stunning 2016 wines

She lists herself as “winemaker, chef-until-the-end, proprietor.” It is that middle title that drives everything Heidi Noble does in the vineyard and winery to produce her stellar lineup of Naramata Bench wines.

As a chef who is always learning, always growing and always experimenting, Noble builds her portfolio around Old World recipes she creates around her classically European-inspired wines. So, that means juicy, high-acid, flavourful wines with modest alcohol made in a less is more style that finds harmony with the recipes made with regionally-driven panache.

Noble likes to refer to her wines as having “jucidity,” an apt term that clearly defines her style. These are food wines that are juicy and loaded with mouth-watering acidity generally through the entire portfolio.

Her latest release of wines, including some from the top En Famille tier, are collectively the highest scoring wines from a single vintage I have given JoieFarm, and that’s saying a lot. There is something about the unusual growing season of 2016 and the vineyard work that went on behind the scenes that crafted some of the most thrilling wines I’ve seen from JoieFarm. And it’s no surprise that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the En Famille level lead the way.

Here’s what I tasted and liked:

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($35, 93 points) — Right off the top, I will say this: What a beauty, the best Chard I have tasted from Joie. A beautiful and attractive nose of bin apples, minerals, butter and cream, rousing spice notes, toasted almonds and subtle citrus accents. It’s rich and ripe on the palate and shows defined quince with buttery, spicy notes and a mouth of fresh minerality, splash of citrus and mouth-watering acidity. It is wholly elegant yet fresh and lively at the same time. It gives and gives through a long finish and promises to grow and evolve with 3+ years in the cellar. A marvel. Noble suggests pairing it with oysters, scallops, miso-rubbed black cod, corn and bacon.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Riesling 2016 ($28, 92 points) — Another gorgeous white from the odd growing season of 2016 in the Okanagan Valley. Such profound minerality opens on the nose with waves of lime/citrus, sagebrush, grapefruit, ocean breeze and oyster shells. What a thrilling Riesling on the palate. Look for honeydew and lime, minerals, wild honey, ginger and a firm acidic backbone to balance out the 17 g/l of RS. The flavours linger on the palate for a minute or more. Beautiful wine.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Gewurztraminer 2016 ($28, 92 points) — A stunning nose of all those exotic and unique aromas that made me fall in love with this varietal so long ago, though it was Alsatian Gewurztraminer that was my first paramour. Now that JoieFarm (and a few others in both the Okanagan and Niagara) have nailed that style with a distinctly New World flare (more intrinsic freshness), I’m falling in love all over again. This shows ginger, lychee nut, marzipan, poached pear, grapefruit and perfumed rose petals on the nose. All those exotic notes carry perfectly to the palate and the rigid acidity holds it all together through a long, balanced finish. Fabulous wine.

JoieFarm Gamay 2016 ($20, 89 points) — A nose that’s super charged with black cherries, red plums, blueberries and savoury/meaty notes. This is a juicy, ripe, earthy Gamay that’s packed with red berries all delivered on a bed of soft tannins. In other words: Highly gulpable!

JoieFarm PTG 2016 ($26, 88 points) — A jammy/spicy/plummy nose that rocks the red fruits and peppery notes on this “passé-tout-grains” blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. It’s soft on the palate with cherry and raspberry fruits, some savoury notes and meaty accents all lifted by mouth-watering acidity on the finish.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($40, 93 points) — Another beauty from the 2016 vintage, this red superstar hits all the right notes with a wow nose of black cherries, grandma’s raspberry jam, violets, incense, cedar, earth, spice and mineral notes that all work in harmony. It’s intense on the palate with persistent cherry/raspberry fruits, soft tannins, layers of spice, freshening acidity and depth of flavour through the finish.