By Rick VanSickle
Making wine in an unpredictable, often extreme, climate such as Canada is hard and definitely not for the faint of heart.
That was clearly illustrated this week. While Road 13 winemaker Barclay Robinson was posting a photo of bud break in the estate’s Syrah vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, Ravine Vineyard winemaker Lydia Tomek was uploading a photo of estate Chardonnay buds about to burst in St. David’s (Niagara). Both regions looked set for an early spring beginning. But … not so fast, for one of them!
Only a few days later, Tomek was posting dramatic photos of fires she lit in the Ravine vineyard to keep the vines warm enough to survive the night.
Much of southern Ontario woke up to a rare late April deluge of snow on Wednesday, prompting wineries, mainly in the warmer appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake, scrambling to start up the wind machines to protect vulnerable grape buds.
Tomek decided to get creative. “If you got ’em, smoke ’em,” she said in an Instagram post. “When temps dropped to zero, and the wind was still at 9:20, we had to try something.” Tomek started fires in cages around a “frost pocket” in her vineyard (photos above), causing nearby temperatures to rise by about a degree. She said later that she believes the idea just may have worked, but won’t know for a few more days.
Her story was picked up by The Weather Network along with her photos, which can be read here.
While Ontario wineries scrambled to deal with a blanket of snow, which was a bit of a blessing, as it created a thermal blanket over the vines to guard against the low temperatures, the west coast was basking in sunny, warm weather and well on the way to another great vintage.
In this B.C. wine report, we look at new wine releases from Township 7, Bartier Bros. and Hester Creek.
Township 7 Vineyards and Winery
Township 7 7 Blanc 2019 ($21, 87 points) — A blend of predominantly Gewürztraminer followed by Viognier, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat. It has a fresh and lively nose of grapefruit, ginger, apricot, lemon blossom and peach. It is a juice bomb on the palate with orchard fruits, grapefruit, lychee, peach, ginger and honey notes with a semi-sweet finish.
Township 7 Viognier 2019 ($28, 90 points) — The fruit for this Viognier was fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak barrels (one new, six neutral). It’s quite expressive on the nose with citrus, apricot, nectarine, honeysuckle and fresh lime slices with subtle spicy notes. It caresses the palate with a creamy texture that highlights ripe apricot, nectarine then lime and passion fruit, a pinch of spice and a bright, lively finish.
Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($30, 91 points) — The fruit comes from the Raju Vineyard in Osoyoos, one of the warmest locations in the Okanagan. A touch of Merlot was added to the blend and aging was mostly in American barrels for 18 months. It has an inviting nose of cassis, black currants, cocoa, dark cherries, barrel spice notes and muddled herbs. It’s dense and delicious on the palate with interesting anise, cherry kirsch, dark chocolate, ripe dark berries, spice, dried herbs and tannic structure with a lifted finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
Township 7 Benchmark Series Reserve 7 2018 ($39, 93 points) — This is a “Right Bank” inspired Merlot dominated blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc playing support roles. The fruit is primarily from the estate’s Blue Terrace Vineyard in Oliver and is aged for 12 months in French and American oak. It’s deep and dark in the glass with a big, ripe nose of ripe cherries, plums, brambly raspberries, blackberries, cocoa, cigar box cedar, eucalypt and savoury spice notes. It’s gorgeous on the palate with tight structure propping up the layered and ripe array of black currants, black cherries, anise, raspberry pie, earth, lavish spice notes and long, long finish. Built to age for 7+ years.
Bartier Bros. Vineyard and Winery
Bartier Bros. Rosé 2020 ($18, 89 points) — This blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Merlot was sourced from the estate Cerqueira and Summerland Vineyards. It shows a pretty pale salmon colour in the glass and has a refreshing nose summer raspberries, strawberries, wild herbs and rhubarb. It’s dry and fresh on the palate with a basket of red berries, subtle herbs, watermelon and bright, vibrant finish.
Bartier Bros. Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre 2019 ($42, 93 points) — The blend is 44% Grenache, 36% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre and was aged for 14 months in 225 L neutral French barrels. This is a gorgeous GSM Rhone style red blend that shows impeccable balance and flare with a nose of spicy plums, black currants, dark cherries, earth, floral notes and caramel/vanilla notes. It’s broad and rich on the palate, but never overpowering, with ripe red and dark fruits, lovely meaty/savoury notes, subtle black peppercorns, toasted vanilla/caramel and spice with plenty of juicy acidity to keep it fresh and finessed through the finish. Cellar this gem 5+ years.
Bartier Bros. Merlot 2019 ($23, 89 points) — From the estate’s certified organic Cerqueira Vineyard on the Black Sage Terrace in Oliver, this Merlot spends 14 months in 225 L neutral French barrels. The nose shows a ripe expression of black cherries, blueberries, cassis, stony minerality and light spice accents. There’s a lot of wine here for the money with a palate that reveals concentrated dark cherries, black currants, light herbs, smooth tannins, moderate structure, spice and a lifted, juicy finish.
Bartier Bros. Orchard Row 2019 ($37, 92 points) — This blend here is 47% Cabernet Franc, 24% Gamay Noir, 24% Pinot Noir and 5% Syrah with aging in neutral oak for 14 months. This quirky but delicious blend has an expressive nose of blackberries, raspberries, plums, savoury herbs, cocoa, light pepper and spice with a floral accent. It’s juicy and ripe on the palate with a wonderful mélange of red and dark berries, firm structure, interesting herbs and spices and a long, finessed finish.
Hester Creek Estate Winery
Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2020 ($17, 88 points) — Made from a blend of estate and grower grapes in the Oliver area. It’s fresh and forward on the nose with notes of peach, nectarine, pear and wild flowers. It shows a ripe and vibrant array of pure orchard fruits on the palate with a juicy finish.
Hester Creek Old Vines Trebbiano Block 16 2020 ($23, 91 points) — Crafted from historic old vines originally brought over from northern Italy 52 years ago, this Trebbiano is a rare treat at a smart price point. It has a ripe and expressive nose of citrus, peach, tropical fruits and subtle minerality. It’s ripe on the palate but relatively dry with a wide spectrum of juicy tropical fruits, lemon zest, a vein of stony minerality and a lively finish. Simply delicious!
Hester Creek Pinot Gris Viognier 2020 ($17, 89 points) — The blend is two-thirds Pinot Gris and the rest Viognier with a highly aromatic nose of ripe peach, green apple, apricot and a floral note. All those peaches and tropical fruits are joined by citrus zest and mouthwatering acidity on the finish.
Hester Creek Character White 2020 ($17, 88 points) — The blend for this white is two-thirds Pinot Gris and the rest Gewurztraminer all aged in stainless steel. Another bright and expressive nose of peaches, lychee, grapefruit and tropical fruits. There is a kiss of sweetness on the palate then ripe orchard fruits, guava, lychee and some citrus zest on the finish.
Hester Creek Character Red 2019 ($19, 89 points) — The blend of Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot, along with small amounts of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, was aged in French oak barrels. It has a smoky/peppery nose with meaty dark berries and savoury spices. It’s perfectly dry, has some tannic structure and shows smoky blackberries, plums, anise and blueberries with savoury herbs, pepper, allspice and a lifted finish. Great value here.