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Wines of B.C. Part II: Reviews for Free Form, Narrative, Haywire, Vanessa, Township 7 and Fort Berens

B.C. wines

By Rick VanSickle

In Part II of our look at fall releases from British Columbia, we taste a range of wines from the Okanagan Crush Pad (Haywire, Free Form, Narrative), Township 7, Fort Berens and Vanessa Vineyard.

Part I of our series on B.C. wines (which can be found here) features wines from Culmina, Coolshanagh, Time, McWatters Collection, Evolve and Hester Creek.

Okanagan Crush Pad

B.C. wine

The Okanagan Crush Pad is the umbrella name for three key brands in the Okanagan Valley — Haywire, Narrative and the new Free Form natural wines made at the Summerland estate. It’s owned by Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie who have been steadfast in their believe to “craft wines that were as naturally beautiful as the Okanagan.” That includes the 100% natural wines from the Free Form label launched this year, plus minimalist winemaking techniques (mostly amphora/concrete fermentation and aging and oak free) throughout all the portfolios. Winemaker Matt Dumayne, very top photo, heads the winemaking team at the Okanagan Crush Pad.

Free Form

Wines of B.C.

The first of the Free Form wines — all made using organic grapes, native yeasts, free of additives and left to find their own course in the newly certified organic winery cellar — began appearing earlier this year under their own label. There they are fermented in concrete tanks, clay amphorae or large neutral 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 sulphites.

The latest addition to the portfolio is the Free Form Cabernet Franc, which I feel is the best representation of this style of wine I have tasted from OCP.

I shared the sample that was sent to Wines In Niagara with a winemaker (who I am not identifying) here I respect for his thoughts on the wine. He shared it with his harvest crew at lunch and I loved his description:

“It was a polarizing wine at the lunch table. I was grateful that you brought it as it opened up some eyes and generated lots of discussion.

“For me, wine is always about balance, or better, harmony. Think of classical music. There are many genres of classical music but all require harmony and balance to be truly enjoyed … as is with wine.

“Modern classical music in many cases fails to do this. Discordant notes forced together can be music but it lacks harmony. But every once in a while, you come across a piece that somehow seems to defy logic. Jazz music does this all the time.

“This wine did that for me, so many discordant notes that all seem to fit together beautifully … on their own they would be considered out of tune … but this Cab Franc was completely in tune. I loved it, others did not as much.”

The winemaker said the natural Cab Franc divided the tasters into two camps, so who found the “discordant” (reductive) notes too much for them and those who found pleasure in the rawness of the natural wine. That, in a nutshell is how natural wines are perceived.

Here are my thoughts.

Free Form Cabernet Franc 2017 ($40, 92 points) — What a natural beauty this is. No makeup, no fancy party dress, no sugar, spice and all things nice. Just Cabernet Franc from the organic Esther Vineyard in Kaleden that was destemmed and put into two clay amphorae and three large oak vessels. Native fermentation started spontaneously and finished in the spring. After eight months of skin contact the wine was pressed off in June and blended to a concrete tank to settle naturally and bottled mid-August. The result is this lovely wine with a rich and deep burgundy colour in the glass and a nose of wild raspberries, bramble, black currants, herbs, smoky/barnyard notes, forest floor, wet tobacco and subtle oxidative/reductive notes. It has beautiful structure and grippy tannins that perfectly frame the currants, wild red berries, herbs and earthiness of this Franc right through to the vibrant finish. What a treat to taste this deconstructed, stripped down Cabernet Franc that is not perfectly balanced or in harmony but wildly interesting, thought-provoking and should appeal to fans of the natural wine style.


Haywire Secrest Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($25, 91 points) — The grapes were whole bunch pressed to egg-shaped concrete tanks for a slow, wild ferment followed by malolactic fermentation. It spent another eight months on the less before bottling. The nose shows peach, tropical fruits and creamy/mineral notes. It’s rich on the palate and texturally beautiful with a creamy range of orchard fruits and some tropical accents all propped up by juicy acidity.

Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2017 ($27, 92 points) — This estate grown organic Pinot Gris was whole cluster pressed to concrete tanks where it was fermented using wild yeasts. The wine went through full malolactic fermentation and was left on its lees for 10 months. It’s fresh and has a lovely saline nose with creamy peach, sagebrush and some citrus accents. It has a creamy, textured feel on the palate with delicious stone fruits, herbs, soft lemon and a clean, crisp finish. Pinot Gris at its best.

Haywire Pinot Noir 2017 ($27, 89 points) — This Pinot was wild fermented in two small clay amphorae and two large Nico Velo concrete tanks. The amphorae wine rested on skins for 9 months and was pressed off in July and blended with the concrete tank wine just prior to bottling. The nose displays pretty red berries, underlying earth notes and subtle spice. It has some structure on the palate from firm tannins with rich and savoury cherries and raspberries, bramble and a touch of anise.

Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2014 ($40, 93 points) — This is the fourth vintage of Canyonview Pinot Noir. The wine was fermented in small batches with wild yeast, and manual punch downs. It was then transferred to age in concrete tanks for 11 months. This is the finest Pinot I have tasted from Haywire, such purity of fruit on the nose with earthy red berries, barnyard, cassis and black licorice with a lighter hue in the glass. It’s just gorgeous on the palate with rich red fruits, herbs and savoury/earthy notes all carried on a bed of smooth tannins through a finessed and juicy finish.


Narrative Pinot Blanc 2017 ($23, 89 points) — I have always been intrigued by Pinot Blanc especially from the Okanagan. But so much of it is gone now after becoming ubiquitous throughout the valley and fell out of favour with consumers. If it was all like this version, sourced from 32-year-old vines high above Lake Okanagan, there would probably be a lot more around today. The nose has classic melon, pear, herbs and chalky minerality. It’s fresh and clean on the palate with vibrant pear, honeydew melon, minerals and a juicy finish.

Narrative Malbec 2017 ($30, 88 points) — This small batch of Malbec, sourced from a vineyard in Osoyoos right on the U.S. border, was put into clay amphorae and a large format oak barrel to ferment using wild yeasts. Barrels were rolled daily by hand with no 02 exposure. The wine was left on the skins for 8 months before being pressed and blended into one small egg-shaped concrete tank for settling. The nose shows juicy plums, brambly raspberry, charcuterie notes, herbs and darker berries. It’s a leaner style of Malbec, cloaked in ripe tannins, with plums, anise and meaty/earthy notes all propped up by racy acidity. Very interesting wine.

Narrative Non-Fiction 2017 ($27, 90 points) — The Non-Fiction is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from a certified organic vineyard in Osoyoos. Fermented and aged in concrete vessels for 8 months, the wine has a nose of red berries, damp forest floor, roasted herbs, cassis and spice accents. It’s juicy on the palate with a range of red and dark berries, licorice, herbs, ripe and plush tannins and mouth-watering acidity.

Vanessa Vineyard

Vanessa is a small-lot, boutique winery located in the beautiful Similkameen Valley producing only 3,000 cases of wine per year. The wines are made by Okanagan Valley veteran winemaker Howard Soon.

Vanessa Viognier 2017 ($25, 89 points) — This is Vanessa’s first Vio and the winemaking team chose to let it hang and ripen late into the fall. The resulting wine is a big, juicy white with ripe peach, apricot, honeysuckle and creamy apple notes on the nose. It’s round and unctuous on the palate with stone fruits, tropical accents, a touch of honey and medium acidity through a juicy/ripe finish.

Vanessa Syrah 2014 ($35, 90 points) — A meaty nose of dark fruits, forest floor, black peppercorns, violets and savoury spice notes. It’s rich and complex on the palate with savoury black currants and anise framed by pepper, cocoa, earth and all delivered on a bed of smooth tannins.

Vanessa Meritage 2014 ($40, released this winter, 90 points) — The blend is equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and each varietal was aged separately for 8 months. The final blend was aged together for a further 12 months in American and French oak. A thick and rich nose of red and dark fruits, elegant barrel spice notes, black licorice and earthy notes. It’s highly structured on the palate with a meaty/juicy fruit profile, espresso bean, spice and fine-grained tannins on a long finish. Can age 5+ years.

Vanessa Cabernet Franc 2015 ($50, 92 points) — 100% estate Similkameen Valley fruit is sourced for this top Cabernet Franc, which is hand-picked and destemmed before a gentle crush. The cuvee consists almost entirely of free-run juice and spends 20 months in French oak, 30% of which is new. It’s a beautiful and classic Franc with a nose of crushed red berries, herbs, spice, espresso notes and lingering earthy/savoury notes. It’s highly structured on the palate with a range of red and dark fruits, gorgeous integrated herbs and spice, perky acidity and fine tannins that are smooth through the finish. Can age 6+ years.

Vanessa Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($80, 93 points) — Only made in the best years, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is made is a similar fashion to the Cab Franc above. It’s dark and thick in the glass with a nose of blackberries, black currants, graphite, penetrating oak spice notes and underlying wet earth and underbrush. It’s incredibly rich and structured on the palate with well-defined ripe fruit, that interesting graphite note, spice, depth and complexity through a long and polished finish. This should continue to improve in the bottle for 7+ years.

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs. The winery is owned by a team of eight individuals who share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine. It is the first winery built in Lillooet, B.C.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc Reserve 2016 ($32, 90 points) — A classic Cabernet Franc sourced from the Similkameen Valley with a range of savoury red fruits, bramble, integrated herbs and spices. It’s rich on the palate with garden herbs, red fruits, anise, supporting tannins and plenty of acidity to keep it lively through the finish. The regular Cabernet Franc ($26) is made in a leaner style with more herbs, sharp edges and light spice notes.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir Reserve 2016 ($30, 92 points) — This is a complex Pinot with a deep nose of brambly raspberries, cherries, beetroot, anise, forest floor and elegant oak spice. The savoury red fruits are delivered on a silky smooth bed of tannins on the palate with lovely integrated oak spice and earth notes on the finish. Very fine Pinot. The regular Pinot ($26) is a pretty nifty wine, as well, with a nose of black cherries, earth, bramble and spice that all carries to the palate seamlessly.

Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2016 ($32, 90 points) — The blend is 55% Cab Sauv, 37% Merlot and the rest Cab Franc sourced from vineyards in Lillooet, Similkameen Valley and the Okanagan Valley and aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for 10 months. The nose shows rich dark fruits, campfire smoke, anise and layered spice. In the mouth, the range of cassis, currants, cherries and spice benefit from smoky/meaty notes and a smooth tannic delivery through the finish. The regular or classic version of the meritage flips the varietal around with Merlot the main part of the blend and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc playing a back seat role. It’s a nice wine with earthy/meaty nose, savoury dark fruits and spice.

Fort Berens Red Gold 2016 ($50 or $99 for a magnum, 92 points) — The blend is about a third each of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot with 27% of the Cab Franc grapes air dried (appassimento style) for 30 days. This is a big wine with a pronounced nose of blackberries, plums, boysenberry, blueberry, anise, elegant oak spices, caramel, earth and dried herbs. All those succulent black fruits come together on the palate with supporting spice, licorice, juicy acidity and length for days on the finish. Can cellar 7+ years.

Fort Berens White Gold Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($26, 91 points) — Mostly sourced from Lillooet estate fruit with a touch from the Similkameen Valley. There’s a lot going here on the nose with pear, apple, roasted almonds, creamy pineapple, spice and salinity. It’s rich, yet has elegant spice notes, with broad flavours that caress the palate, from poached pear to buttery notes to baked apple and subtle citrus accents on the finish.

Fort Berens Riesling Reserve 2017 ($23, 89 points) — This reserve level Riesling is 100%, single block Lillooet fruit with a nose of lime, Mandarin orange, grapefruit and underlying minerality. On the palate, the ripe, off-dry range of citrus, canned peach and honey is balanced by generous acidity. Very interesting Riesling.

Township 7 Vineyards and Winery

Township 7 was founded in 2001 and operates two B.C. wineries, one situated in the scenic Fraser Valley and the other on the picturesque Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley.

The winery is named after the historic community of south Langley, who’s original name in the late 1800s was “Township 7”— the cottage on the property is a homesteaders building from the 1930s.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2017 ($21, 88 points) — A nose of pear, apple blossoms, citrus and light spice notes. It’s the orchard fruits that shine on the palate with vanilla spice and citrus accents all lifted by freshening acidity.

Township 7 Reserve Pinot Gris Naramata Bench Estate Vineyard 2017 ($27, 89 points) — This estate premium Gris is barrel fermented in neutral oak to add weight, complexity and mouthfeel. On the nose, look for white peach cobbler, Bosc pear, tangerine and minerals. It shows succulent peachy-pear and melon on a textured palate with subtle spice, citrus and flinty minerality.

Township 7 Viognier Raju Vineyard 2017 ($25, 90 points) — Wild fermented in 30% new oak with the rest stainless steel, this Osoyoos sourced Viognier has a highly aromatic nose of apricot, honeysuckle, jasmine, ginger and peaches with a subtle spicy note in the background. It’s ripe yet benefits from racy acidity on the palate with lifted apricot, guava, peach, ginger and subtle spice notes.

Township 7 Muscat Rock Pocket Vineyard 2017 ($20, 89 points) — A spicy/gingery nose of peach, apple and orange rind. It gushes with fruit on the palate, with a range of apple, peach, tangerine and ginger and just a hint of honey. Finishes dry and fresh.