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B.C. Wine Report: First look at Liquidity wines, JoieFarm’s Noble One comparison, Hester Creek’s top reds

By Rick VanSickle

In March of this year, Okanagan Falls producer Liquidity Wines made a change in leadership as Ian MacDonald and the board appointed Ruth Hanbury as president.

Note: Also in this B.C. wine report, reviews from JoieFarm and Hester Creek

Liquidity is owned by a small group of people dedicated to making wines reflective of the terroir of Okanagan Falls. Originally founded by MacDonald, Liquidity delivers a sensory experience around wine, food, and art.

In her role as president, Hanbury is responsible for the operations of Liquidity Wines. “I’m thrilled to continue this work with the Liquidity team,” said Hanbury. “I’m honoured to have the trust and confidence of the board as we build on what Ian envisioned.”

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While Hanbury, above, joined Liquidity in 2014 as general manager, her career in wine began in 2001 while working at Felton Road in New Zealand. “I fell in love with the wine industry and knew I had to be part of it,” she said.

Now close to realizing the goals of their last strategic plan, Hanbury and the management team at Liquidity are working on developing the next. “We can get wrapped up in the romance story of wine,” says Hanbury. “It’s still here, but my responsibility is for Liquidity to be sustainable by being a great employer, good land stewards, and making exceptional wines. For me, those are the foundations.”

Starting in 1991, all non-vinifera vines at the estate were replaced with the current varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot, Riesling and Dornfelder.

Hanbury and the team plan to focus on continuing to improve their vineyard soils and practice of low-intervention viticulture and winemaking while expanding the wine portfolio’s reserve tier. “This team has done so much to get us where we are,” says Hanbury. “It’s a privilege to be working with such talented people.”

In this Liquidity report, the first Pinot Gris Reserve makes its debut.

Liquidity Estate Chardonnay 2017 ($29, 90 points) — Well defined notes of pear, citrus, and peach on the nose with integrated vanilla and spice. This is a delicious Chard in the mouth with flavours of peaches and cream, pear, bin apples, roasted nuts, toasted vanilla and light spice notes to go with a lemony zesty finish.

Liquidity Chardonnay Reserve 2017 ($52, 92 points) — The reserve version of the Chardonnay is sourced from the estate’s 23-year-old vineyard block on the Allendale property in Okanagan Falls. The grapes were whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented in French oak with daily lees stirring. 23% of the French oak was new and the remaining was neutral (3-8 years old). The wine was aged on its lees for 11 months before final blending and bottling. What a gorgeous wine, with much more complexity, less forward than the estate, and a nose of Bosc pear, apple skin, lemon, integrated spices and a creamy/mineral note. On the palate, such wonderful spice and vanilla then poached pear, apple pie, toasted almonds, layers of pleasure and complexity with just enough lemon on the finish to keep it perky and vibrant.

Liquidity Estate Pinot Noir 2017 ($29, 89 points) — All estate fruit from a combination of clones, fermented separately and 15 months of oak barrel aging with 25% new oak. An expressive nose of cherries, wild raspberries, bramble, forest berries, cigar leaf and spice. It’s silky smooth on the palate with a hint of cassis to go with a basket of red berries, earth, cedar and elegant spices through a vibrant, perky finish.

Liquidity Pinot Noir Reserve 2017 ($56, 92 points) — A much more serious Pinot than the estate version above with a punchier nose of plums, brambly raspberries, dark cherries, cedar, earth, cola and elegant oak spices. It shows more structure, firmer tannins and a darker fruit profile on the palate with a range of anise, plums and cassis to go with dark cherries, strawberries, brambly raspberries and underlying earth and spice. Plenty of acidity on keeps it vibrant through a long finish. Good cellaring potential here, say 5+ years to rein in all the moving parts.

Liquidity Pinot Gris 2018 ($20, 89 points) — This is 100% estate fruit from Okanagan Falls, predominantly from the 1988 planting and the fruit is whole cluster pressed and cool fermented in stainless steel. The nose reveals tangerine, melon, minerals, crisp green apple and citrus notes. It’s bright and vibrant on the palate with pear fruit, nectarine, minerals and citrus to keep it fresh through the finish.

Liquidity Pinot Gris Reserve 2018 ($32, 92 points) — This is a new addition to the reserve program at Liquidity. The 100% estate grown fruit is barrel fermented in six select neutral barrels with lees stirring and aged on the lees for 5 months. One of the more complex and elegant Pinot Gris I’ve tasted from the Okanagan Valley with a subtle nose of creamy pear, summer apples, peach preserve, melon and spice. It has gorgeous texture on the palate, integrated spice, a range of stone fruits, creamy notes and minerals all driven by racy acidity through the finish. Bravo!

JoieFarm, Naramata Bench

JoieFarm’s A Noble Blend is made in the spirit of Edelzwicker or Gentil, the traditional Germanic varietal blend of the Alsace region of France that dates back to the 17th century and can comprise any of the four “noble” grapes (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat and Pinot Gris) with other common regional varieties (Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Sylvaner or Chasselas). The literal translation of Edelzwicker is “a noble blend” – Noble, is also proudly owner and winemaker Heidi Noble’s family name.

The original intent in choosing to produce this proprietary blend was the knowledge that many of the oldest plantings in the Okanagan Valley are Germanic varietals, which have proven to be extremely successful in this climate. Blending allows JoieFarm to utilize the different characteristics of each variety (or of the same variety from different sites) in order to help the winery achieve natural balance as well as adding greater complexity to the wine.

This wine was created out of respect for old-world traditions while learning how to make wine in our relatively young, New World winemaking region. The 2017 ‘A Noble Blend’ is a classic blend of Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Muscat.

A Noble Blend was the first wine made at JoieFarm 15 years ago, and it’s interesting to see how the wine (and blend) has changed over time. The exact proportions of each new vintage change slightly but the same five varieties have always been highlighted: Gewurztraminer for the zesty spice it brings, Riesling for the mouth-watering acidity, Auxerrois for its broad body, Pinot Blanc’s warming clove-like notes and Muscat for its elegant floral qualities.

Noble, above photo, calls The Noble Blend “a naturally balanced, satisfying and delicious wine enjoyed on its own, on a patio or as an aperitif, but it always shines in that classic sense when paired with a meal, even when that includes international foods.”

In this tasting report, we look at back-to-back vintages of A Nobel Blend and retaste some of the components that make up the blend (the En Famille Muscat 2018 is a new review).

JoieFarm A Noble Blend 2017 ($23, 90 points) — My original note for this wine, published in May 2018, is below. After more than a year in bottle, it has definitely changed — for the better. It’s a more cohesive package, more integrated and showing a greater concentration of ginger/clove and up-front ripe tropical fruits but still maintaining that zest on the finish.

JoieFarm A Noble Blend 2017 ($26, original review, 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 A Noble Blend 2018 ($23, 91 points) — A similar proportion of each variety as above — Gewürztraminer 47% Riesling 31% Pinot Auxerrois 9% Pinot Blanc 8% and Muscat 5% — and a consistent profile with a nose of lychee and ginger, grapefruit, guava, and other tropical fruits. It has a touch more sweetness on the palate with flavours of apricot, peach, citrus lime zest and that lovely integrated ginger kick on the finish. Fabulous white wine!

JoieFarm Pinot Blanc 2017 ($25, previously reviewed and updated here, 89 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 fresh-cut green apple, chalky minerality, melon and grapefuit. It’s vibrant and lively on the palate with mouth-watering and nervy acidity that punctuates the core of bin apple, grapefruit, lime zest and mineral accents.

JoieFarm En Famille Muscat 2018 ($28, 91 points) — Noble moved her Muscat to the top tier “En Famille” program with the 2017 vintage. The estate Muscat, Moscato Giallo (yellow Muscat), is in full maturity in its 11th leaf. “I felt it was an appropriate time to give this wine its proper respect by moving it into our reserve program.” The 2018 vintage has a delightful nose of peaches, garden herbs, white pepper, orange blossoms and lime zest. It’s made in a dry, austere style with minerals, herbs, peach fuzz, grapefruit and a mouth-watering finish.

JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Riesling 2016 ($28, previously reviewed and updated, 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. With just a year of age, the salinity has integrated and subtle notes of ginger and mint are integrated to add complexity. What a thrilling Riesling on the palate. Look for honeydew and lime, profound minerality, wild honey, ginger and intriguing mint/spruce, wild honey notes. It has 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, previously reviewed and updated here, 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, brown-sugar-topped grapefruit and perfumed rose petals on the nose. All those exotic tropical fruits, ripe pear and ginger carry perfectly to the palate and the rigid acidity holds it all together through a long, balanced finish. With bottle age, it’s taking on a more unctuous/oily texture. Fabulous wine.

Hester Creek, Golden Mile Bench

Hester Creek Chardonnay 2018 ($22, 89 points) — All estate Golden Mile Bench fruit, hand harvested, gently whole cluster pressed, partially fermented in French oak and stainless steel. The nose shows pure pear fruit, summer peaches, lemon and creamy/spicy notes. On the palate look for a creamy texture with peaches, citrus, pear, elegant oak spice notes and citrus zing on a clean, fresh finish.

Hester Creek Syrah-Viognier 2017 ($26, 92 points) — The blend of 84% Syrah and 16% Viognier is sourced from a combination of estate and trusted growers in the South Okanagan Valley. What a lovely red with a deep purple hue in the glass and a nose of violets, savoury spices, charcuterie, boysenberry, plums, pepper, rich red fruits and blueberry pie. It’s meaty and chewy on the palate with rustic woodsy/smoky notes to go with plums, black cherries, lavish spice, currants, blueberries and peppercorns with a balancing acidity to keep it lively through the finish. Cellar 5+ years.

Hester Creek The Judge 2016 ($44, 92 points) — This Merlot dominant Bordeaux-variety blend is aged in 75% French oak and the rest American oak for 24 months. Such a powerhouse nose of black currants, blue plums, black cherries, anise, thick barrel spice notes and cocoa. Dark and red berries mingle on the palate with added eucalypt, toasted vanilla bean, elegant spices, structure and complexity through the long, long finish. Cellar 6+ years.

Hester Creek Garland 2016 ($56, 93 points) — This is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant red blend that comes 100% from the estate’s Golden Mile Bench vineyards. It, too, sees oak aging in 75% French and 25% American oak for 18 months. A seamless nose of perfectly ripe blackberries, crushed raspberries, such beautiful spice notes, kirsch, leather and toasted vanilla. The palate reveals a nicely balanced package of blackberries, red fruits and anise with savoury spices, toasted vanilla, polished tannins, firm structure, and balanced through a long, long finish. This beautiful red should just get better with up to a decade of time in the cellar.