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B.C. Wine Report: New wines from Bartier Bros., Fort Berens and Sunrock

By Rick VanSickle

In this B.C. wine report, we delve into new wine releases from the Bartier Bros., Fort Berens and a ripe, bold Meritage from Sunrock Vineyards.

The Bartier Bros.

The Bartier Bros. — Don and Michael (top photo) — grew up in the Okanagan Valley and have one singular goal: To make great wine that is unique and identifiable to its origin. “In the Okanagan Valley, we have a rare and precious combination of growing conditions; relatively high altitude, desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from our moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till and all of this occurs at a very high latitude from the equator,” the brothers say. “The Okanagan epitomizes all of the great qualities, which the entire global wine industry scrambles to define itself as being.”

B.C. wine

The brotherly partnership came together after Michael pined for his own winery to make his style of wine, but lacked the business and financial acumen for this undertaking. Don, an accountant, had long been a wine enthusiast and indeed about the best customer of each winery that Michael worked for.

Don liked Michael’s style of winemaking. With his fascination in wine and advice from Michael, Don planted a small vineyard at his wife Sheila’s family property in Summerland. Michael watched this project closely and helped a lot.

“Either Don passed Michael’s test, or Michael laid a trap that Don walked into,” the brothers say. “In either event, the stage was set for the partnership of the Bartier Bros., two brothers, who between them had a vineyard, business expertise, viticulture experience, an accountant, a winemaker, and most importantly, an abiding respect for their Valley and the desire to represent it well.”

Here’s what we can recommend from the recent releases:

Bartier Bros. Chardonnay 2019 ($23, 92 points) — This Chardonnay was aged in stainless steel on the lees for six months. What a beautiful wine. The fragrant nose shows notes of ripe orchard fruits, pear, lemon pith and toasty/hazelnut accents. It’s fresh and finessed on the palate with pure pear, golden apple and a touch of peach to go with flinty minerality and toasty/nutty accents on a nicely balanced finish.

Bartier Bros. Gewurztraminer 2019 ($19, 89 points) — A spicy nose of pear, grapefruit, lychee nuts, ginger and apricots. It’s made in a fresher style on the palate with ripe exotic fruits, grapefruit, ginger and citrus rind on a vibrant finish.

Bartier Bros. Semillon 2019 ($19, 91 points) — This Semillon was aged for four months in stainless steel and has a richly scented nose of melon, pear, apricot, ginger and lanolin. It has a fleshy/beeswaxy feel on the palate and drips with honeydew melon, ripe pear, apricot, lemon zest and wild honey notes with a vibrant, fresh finish.

Bartier Bros. Merlot 2018 ($23, 90 points) — Aged for 13 months in 225-litre neutral French oak barrels after pressing. The nose is rife in black cherries, forest berries, cassis, anise and lovely integrated spice notes. It’s juicy and pure on the palate with tart cherries, savoury/brambly raspberries, earthy notes, cassis, licorice, medium+ tannins and zip on the finish. Can hold and age for 4+ years.

Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc 2018 ($26, 89 points) — Aged for 14 months in 225-litre neutral French barrels after pressing with a bold and savoury nose of anise, dark cherries, earth, licorice, blackberries and spice. It shows smooth, elegant tannins on the palate with a smoky/earthy entry to go with dark berries, cocoa, herbs, peppery spices and a big acid attack on the finish keeping it peppy and balanced.

Bartier Bros. The Goal 2018 ($37, 92 points) — This 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc blend spent 17 months in 225-litre neutral French oak barrels after pressing. The nose is quite attractive with bright cherries, black currants, field raspberries, minty herbs and lovely integrated spice notes. It’s highly complex and layered on the palate and built around fine-grained tannins in support of rich dark berries, cherries, touch of earth and herbs with a long and finessed finish. Can cellar this 5+ years for further development.

Fort Berens Estate Winery

We delve into an exploration of regular cuvee wines from this Lillooet based winery vs. the estate’s “reserve” counterparts. The estate wines are generally sourced from estate vines in Lillooet, the Okanagan Valley and the Similkameen Valley, while the reserve wines showcase the very best of the estate grown grapes and grape-growing partners from the same three regions.

The Chardonnays

Fort Berens Chardonnay 2019 ($21, 88 points) — The grapes are mostly from the estate’s Lillooet vineyards with a bit of the fruit sourced from the Similkameen. The wine was barrel aged in oak for seven months. The nose shows a mélange of pineapple, peach, lemon, ripe apple and subtle oak spices. There is a creamy feel on the palate with a full range of orchard fruits — peach, apple, nectarine and pear — with underlying pineapple and citrus zest on subtly spiced finish.

Fort Berens White Gold 2018 ($30, 93 points) — This gorgeous Chardonnay is sourced solely from the Dry Creek Vineyard at the estate’s Lillooet home base. The wine was wild fermented with oak aging and regular lees stirring. It has a beautiful nose of summer peaches, nougat, pear/quince notes, vanilla toast, saline minerality and elegant spice notes. It’s rich and regal on the palate with a lovely creamy texture, canned peaches, apricot, pear, flintly notes, balancing oak spices and length on a vibrant finish. A fabulous sun-drenched Chardonnay ready to drink now.

The Cabernet Francs

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2018 ($29, 91 points) — Sourced primarily from the estate’s Dry Creek Vineyard with wild fermentation and aging in French and American oak barrels. It has a nicely perfumed and floral nose with sweet herbs, field raspberries, cassis, anise and spice. A plush texture highlights pure red berry fruits, cassis, spice, tangy acidity and length through the finish.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc Reserve 2018 ($37, 92 points) — This estate Cabernet Franc was aged in oak for 14 months and a small portion of Cabernet Sauvignon was added to provide depth and complexity. It shows a bit more intensity on the nose than the regular cuvee with notes of black cherries, plums, jammy raspberries, savoury spice notes and mulled herbs. It’s rich and complex on the palate with brambly raspberries, anise, plums, roasted coffee beans, spice and medium+ tannins with a vibrant finish. Good aging candidate, say 5+ years.

The Meritages

Fort Berens Meritage 2018 ($28, 89 points) — The blend is 68% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Cabernet Franc that was aged in French and American oak barrels for 12 months. The nose is rich in blackberries, black currants, smoky/earthy notes and light spices. A softish texture on the palate highlights dark berries, mocha, spice, smooth tannins and a tangy finish.

Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2018 ($37, 91 points) — The blend for the reserve version of the Meritage is 57% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon. A portion of the Cab Franc was made in the appassimentio (dried grapes) style and the wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak. An interesting nose of dark plums, ripe red berries, sweet spice notes, leather/cedar notes and toasted vanilla. It’s much more full-bodied on the palate than the regular bottling with meaty red fruits, black currants, smoky/toasty vanilla accents, firm tannic structure and length on the finish. Decant if drinking right away, but suggested that you cellar this for a bit.

A Meritage from Sunrock

Sunrock Vineyards Meritage 2016, Okanagan Valley ($35, Vintages Nov. 28, 91 points) — Established in 1999, the Arterra Wines Canada owned Sunrock Vineyard is 180 acres in size and is located at the northern tip of the Sonoran desert now known as the Osoyoos Lake Bench. The blend is 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc with aging in a combination of French and American oak barrels for 15 months. Right away, the nose reveals a big, juicy west coast style of red with notes of ripe blackberries, black currants, plums, cassis, toasty vanilla and barrel oak spices. It’s plush and generous on the palate and loaded with dark berries, plums, kirsch, sweet Cuban tobacco notes, mocha, smoky accents and full-on spices on a long finish. This is ready to rock from the get-go, but can cellar a few years.