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Okanagan winery goes to the dogs — and we mean that quite literally! Plus new Vanessa wines

By Rick VanSickle

It’s not even the dog days of summer yet and someone — we’re looking at you Okanagan Crush Pad — has let the dogs out.

Too punny? It’s quite paws-ible we haven’t yet gone far enough, but, fur-tunately for you, we will spare you any more tails from the Bark Side of the Moon and get right into the bones of this fetching story. Ugh!

Okanagan wine
Bizou and Yukon with OCP owner Christine Coletta.

So, here are the straight goods. Bizou + Yukon is a new standalone wine label from Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, owners of Okanagan Crush Pad, which also includes Free Form, Haywire and Narrative organic wines in Summerland, B.C. Bizou and Yukon are Great Pyrenees, and as a breed are very aloof and focused on their work patrolling the ranch and vineyards. “When you arrive to feed, groom, or walk them, they nearly knock you over seeking affection,” says Coletta. “They love cuddles and to be groomed. Yet after 30 minutes they tire of this. While you are grooming them, they take turns taking off to patrol.”

Coletta says they are impossible to train, as they are bred to be independent and use their instincts over learned behaviour. They patrol whatever area is determined to be their space — in this case The Ranch. They protect animals, people and, of course, their food. At the ranch, they have been set up to protect sheep.

The three wines received by Wines In Niagara came with a handy bottle of sanitizer made at the OCP distillery.

Winters can be long and quiet in Summerland with plenty of time to let one’s imagination run wild. “I love to take Bizou and Yukon for walkies from the winter barn into a large fenced field with a pack of their dog buddies for a romp in the snow,” explains Coletta. “We often wonder: what if they escaped? What would they do? What do they do when we are not around? Who are they really, underneath all that fur? From these thoughts came the idea for the story and labels behind Bizou + Yukon.”

Coletta says the past several months “have been hard for many of us (harvest, grape wars, market pressures, trade challenges from invaders, strange viruses that have changed the course of our collective world). I thought while the vines at The Ranch grow into their own, let’s have some fun and put some personality behind what we are working to achieve. Something that people can relate to and enjoy.”

Dogs with jobs

Bizou and Yukon are brother and sister from two separate litters, Coletta explains. Yukon is older. The dogs are very different physically with Yukon being the spitting image of his father and Bizou a carbon copy of her mother. They have very distinct personalities. Bizou is a total princess. “This may be partly because she spent her first seven months at our house and being fussed over by our pack of grandkids (she looked like a tiny polar bear),” says Coletta. “Yukon is a workhorse. He is the one sitting guard on the hill in the rain surveying the lay of the land. Yukon is noble. Bizou is goofy. Bizou will chase crows circling overhead around and around, while Yukon watches with disdain. “Yukon puts up the first call at the sign of trouble. Yet when push comes to shove (and believe me it does) Bizou is the fierce one that you do not want to mess with.”

Bizou and Yukon live with the sheep. They do not crave the company of people. Winter finds them in a barn with their own very large heated dog room complete with raised sleeping platforms and a leather couch. This is their feeding and sleeping den. Yukon prefers to sleep outside on a platform under the barn awning so he can watch the surroundings. Bizou is on the leather couch.

Behind the labels

Coletta says she loves collaborating with likeminded people. “I’ve been working with the crew at Town Hall Brands for over 20 years and with Felicia Fraser who took the lead on this project, for eight years. We bounced around a little with themes. We found an artist to bring the storyboard of ideas to life and Bizou + Yukon’s mystical world took form.

“The storyline began with me wondering what the dogs got up to when I was not around. ‘What are those two dogs doing?’ I would wonder from Vancouver or from London. Matt (winemaker Dumayne) lives at The Ranch and is always close at hand should something happen, but sometimes we are both far away at a show.

“I always loved to read the Good Dog Carl books to my daughter Alison. The parents go out leaving Carl the Dog in charge with strict instructions to behave. Carl and baby have great adventures but by the time the parents return, all is restored to order and baby is tucked into bed.

“So, I started to imagine the dogs getting up to fun and shenanigans while I was away, to ease my anxiety about not being there with them.

Each of the 12 labels has some significance that relates back to the brand. “The wine bottle tipping out to create a lake speaks to our nature conservation and restoration project. The giant insects roaming the fields depicts our annual beneficial insect release. The tentacles coming out of the concrete spaceship is a nod to our farming and winemaking practices.”

There are three wines, with each wine having four different labels. “There is a serious “paw-note” on each label linking the artwork back to an aspect of our program at the ranch,” says Coletta.

The wines

Each of the three wines (all blends) have light­hearted names. Savvy Gris is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Savvy Franc is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Pinkie Rosé is created from several varietals from several vineyards, “masterfully blended by Yukon,” Coletta says.

“If this project has no other impact, it boosted my joy for life during a period where the news from around the world was very bleak, reminding me that better times would come, as they always do,” says Coletta.

Here’s what I tasted of the new Bizou + Yukon wines:

Note: Bizou + Yukon wines are being sold online by the case at the moment, 12 wines with 12 unique labels for $275 (which includes taxes and shipping). Order here. When the winery reopens, single bottles, with prices below, will be available at the winery.

Bizou + Yukon Savvy Gris 2019 ($22, 88 points) — The Savvy Gris is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris made with wild fermentation in concrete tanks. The fruit barks (I know, I promised no more puns, so sue me!), on the nose with expressive nose of grapefruit, zesty lime, kiwi, melon, herbs and grassy notes. It’s fresh and lively on the palate with lovely texture to go with guava, citrus, gooseberries, herbs and a pinch of sweetness on a vibrant finish.

Bizou + Yukon Pinkie Rosé 2018 ($22, 89 points) — A delightful and inviting nose of ripe red berries, herbs and a floral note. It’s juicy and ripe on the palate with upfront cherries, raspberries and wild sage with vibrancy on the finish. Crushable!

Bizou + Yukon Savvy Franc 2018 ($24, 90 points) — The blend is made up of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that’s wild fermented in concrete. The nose shows a rich broth of bumbleberry, savoury raspberries, earth, anise and a floral note. It has such lovely texture on the palate with polished tannins to go forward red berries, anise, licorice and a smooth delivery through the finish.

A trio of new releases
from Vanessa Vineyard

The goal at Vanessa Vineyard is to produce only the highest quality grapes that reflect the terroir from which they grow and, in time, to become one of the best red sites in Canada. Production is just 300 case annually spread over a wide-ranging variety of grapes grown in the estate vineyard in the Similkameen Valley in B.C.

For the first five years, Vanessa only grew grapes, selling high quality fruit to a select few wineries in British Columbia. In 2012, the decision was made to begin producing small quantities of premium wine, now under the careful guidance of veteran B.C. master winemaker Howard Soon. The hope is that by using only 100% estate-grown fruit in the making of small-lot wines, Vanessa can properly represent the Similkameen Valley and strengthen its reputation in what EnRoute Magazine called one of the “world’s five best wine regions you’ve never heard of.”

The wines are available at the tasting room or online here.

The Wines

Vanessa Vineyard Viognier 2019 ($25, 91 points) — An inviting nose of nectarine, apricots, honeysuckle, peach and zesty citrus. It’s gorgeous on the palate with a creamy texture and showing peach, tangerine, tropical notes, subtle spice and a long, vibrant finish.

Vanessa Vineyard Rosé 2019 ($25, 92 points) — The blend is 66% Syrah and 34% Merlot with intent the to produce a lighter, more delicate colour in the glass with the 2019 vintage. Mission accomplished! It shows a pale onion skin colour in the glass with pretty aromas of fresh raspberries, cherries, wild herbs, quince and pristine minerality. That minerality is more intense on the palate and is nicely integrated with red berries, sage, nectarine to go with a dry, vibrant finish. Absolutely delicious rosé.

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($35, 92 points) — Co-fermented with a bit of Viognier (8%) and aged for 20 months in new and used American and French oak, this estate Syrah vines planted to Clone 100 from the Côtes du Rhone. It has all the attributes I love for Syrah with a gamy/savoury nose of cassis, anise, cedar, eucalypt, plums and elegant spice notes. It’s earthy, smoky and meaty on the palate to go with saturated dark berries, crème de cassis, mocha, spice, cracked peppercorns that’s all together juicy, rich and finessed through the finish. Great job here.