By Rick VanSickle
If you’ve got it, flaunt it seems apropos for the new look — and philosophy — at Hester Creek Estate Winery.
Note: Part II of this B.C. Wine Report, featuring Sperling Vineyards, Township 7 and Gold Hill, will be published later this week.
As one of the oldest estates in the South Okanagan with vines planted in 1968, roots truly do run deep at the Golden Mile Bench winery and now that message also runs deep with a targeted relabeling of the tiers and a focus on the history of Hester Creek.
The move wasn’t taken out of “desperation,” explains, Mark Sheridan, president of Hester Creek. In the past decade or so “the wines have evolved, the market has evolved, and our label wasn’t reflecting what we are now,” he said during a Zoom call recently.
The winery’s signature “Our Roots Run Deep” plays prominently in the clearly defined packaging in the four key tiers of wine — the Foundation Series, Source Collection, Storied Series and Origin Wines. With some of the oldest vines in the Okanagan Valley, the marketing team wanted to make sure that message was getting through to consumers.
Looking at all four tiers, the estate’s vines play a prominent and/or subtle role on each label, even the Storied Series labels, which tell stories of a key vineyards it sources grapes from. There is a consistency and fluidity to the labeling that is attractive and consistent through the tiers.
The marketing move, perhaps more importantly for wine lovers, also reflects a gradual change in winemaking style following the retirement of Rob Summers in 2020 after 14 years at Hester Creek. Summers was instrumental in overseeing the design and construction of Hester Creek’s sustainably built, state-of-the-art winery in 2008 and led the winemaking team to substantially expanding their portfolio of wines in that time.
The reins have been turned over to Mark Hopley, above, who joined Hester Creek as assistant winemaker in 2013. And with the winemaker change comes an evolving style for the wines up and down the tiers.
“I wanted to bring a little more weight to our wines,” he said on the Zoom chat. “We’re leaving the wines on the lees longer.”
Other subtle changes include: growing the barrel program, lower yields, more whole cluster pressing and extended ferments.
In short, Hopley is aiming to make wines that are fruit-driven with soft tannins and integrated oak ― wines that can be laid down but also enjoyed now. “We are pretty fortunate to have all the tools here,” he says. “We just want to let the vineyard speak, more fruit driven and terroir driven.”
I tasted a newly released wine from each tier under the new labeling. Here’s how it breaks down.
Representative of the key phrase from Hester Creek — Our Roots Run Deep, with wines founded, according to the winery, in great quality and value, born of its unique place in the Okanagan Valley.
Hester Creek Tiamo 2020 ($20, 88 points) — This whole-cluster pressed, Prosecco-style sparkling wine, is comprised mainly of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Semillon from estate and local Oliver vineyards. Production skyrocketed from 300 to 1,000 cases in 2020, a testament to the popularity of B.C. sparkling wines. This has a fruit-forward nose of peach, honeysuckle, pear and zesty lemon-lime. The tight bubbles on the palate showcase the lychee, orchard fruits and citrus notes with a subtle sweetness on the finish.
Each of these small lot wines tell a unique story of its sustainable viticulture, distinctive terroir and innovative and care winemaking practices. They are targeted at wine club members and visitors to the estate’s wine shop.
Hester Creek Viognier 2020 ($20, 92 points) — The story of the growers for this Viognier, the Fournier family in Oliver, is illustrated beautifully on the intricate label with a farmer hand-picking the fruit from Stone’s Throw Vineyard with the elevation of the vineyard (1,017 feet and sloping down to 26 feet) part of the graphic story. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and aged on the lees for four months. I love this fresh style with an expressive nose of apricot, peach, nectarine, orange blossoms, buckwheat honey and a lovely floral note to boot. It has gorgeous texture and an elegant feel on the palate to go with succulent apricot, nectarine, citrus accents and a lifted finish. Great viognier at a good price.
These wines, according to the winery, represent the “treasured” qualities of the rare Old Vine vineyard and that of its select South Okanagan growers.
Hester Creek Old Vine Brut 2018 ($35, 92 points) — This is the inaugural vintage of the estate’s Blanc de Blanc crafted from Pinot Blanc grapes selected from the 50-year-old estate vineyard. It’s made in the traditional method and the base wine aged for 24 months before disgorging. It has a big, bouncy nose of green apple, fresh pear, leesy/brioche notes and fresh lemon zest. It has a vigorous mousse in the glass and palate with bright and zesty fresh cut apples, pear and lemon with toasty brioche and creamy autolytic notes all leading to a bright and lifted finish. Can cellar this for further development up to seven years.
This tier is what the winery calls reserved for “wines of phenomenal origin and destiny.” Both the Judge and Garland are crafted from the best barrels in the cellar and are an “authentic expression of our historic Gold Mile Bench.”
Hester Creek The Judge 2018 ($44, 93 points) — The blend for this showcase red consists of 37% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the some of the oldest vines at its estate on the Golden Mile Bench. The wine is aged for 24 months in primarily French oak, 35% of which is new oak. This is a substantive, full-bodied red built for the cellar that gushes with cassis, dark cherries, black raspberries, wild meadow herbs, cocoa, leather, savoury notes and lovely integrated spices. The red berries on the palate are persistent and dense with blackberry compote, brambly raspberries and anise with interesting herbaceous and savoury notes, ripe and supple tannins and plenty of lift on the finish to keep this evolving for another 10 years. A very fine red for the cellar.