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Dear B.C. wine, it’s not you, it’s us … plus new Niagara wines, Vintages report

By Rick VanSickle

I’m a big fan of the wines from B.C. and my love for the region has only grown since the first time I laid eyes on it in 1999.

Note: Also in this report, spring wine reviews for Township 7 and Hester Creek in B.C., new wines from Vineland Estate and Henry of Pelham, plus Vintages highlights, including Westcott Vineyards and Malivoire.

Canadian wine

I was fortunate to have B.C. on our doorstep when I started life as a wine writer for the Calgary Sun in 1998. It was only a quick hop over the Rocky Mountains to the wine bounty that was just starting for flourish in the Okanagan Valley. Prior to tasting the wines from B.C. in those days, I had little interest in Canadian wine, but that changed quickly, and I made sure B.C. wines were always a big part of my wine writing despite some who doubted the quality, me included, back then.

Family trips, that’s Maureen and I at Miradoro below, always revolved around winery visits and eventually invitations to travel there for more structured visits came my way as did an endless flow of samples to our home in Calgary for possible review. I was smitten and was proud to fly the Canadian wine flag when it just wasn’t cool to do so.

Eventually, my love for B.C. wines extended to Ontario, which is where we found ourselves in the mid-2000s. And since I was now writing freelance wine columns for all the Sun papers across the country and two different wine magazines (all the while will maintaining a full-time editing job), it became crucial that I include B.C. wines in the western columns and Ontario wines in the eastern columns. I was all-in on Canadian wines and enjoyed a front-row seat as both regions, which quite frankly, blew the doors off quality in a short period of time.

Zoom ahead a couple of decades and newspaper/magazine freelance columns have all but faded into the annals of time. I built a website (with a little help from my friends), and because we were now living smack-dab in the middle of Niagara, my full attention focused on Ontario wines with a narrow scope on B.C.

But as B.C. has grown so much with so many new wineries and wines, it is obvious to me that I cannot do justice to the region without visiting more and without getting a broader view of the wines there. So, I have decided to scale back reviews of B.C. wines for now and concentrate solely on the wines of Ontario. It’s the right call from where I stand. The advertising on this site attracts Ontario wineries and Ontario-focused businesses and it should follow that all our energy goes into providing more coverage for Niagara, Prince Edward County, and the rest of Ontario’s wine regions.

I am grateful for the wineries in B.C. that have graciously provided samples to Wines In Niagara over the years. It has kept this website somewhat current on B.C. wines. The marketing and winemaking departments that have reached out over the years (unsolicited) have been generous with their support and we have been thrilled to offer a different perspective on the incredibly diverse range of wines now being crafted there in a wide range of regions.

We have reached out to many B.C. wineries to let them know of our plans going forward but will still taste and review (if warranted) any B.C. wines already en route to Niagara. As well, we are planning many more trips to the Okanagan Valley in the future (our daughter Tabria works in the wine industry there) and will provide coverage when I can.

For now, here are some new spring wines from Hester Creek and Township 7. But first, some breaking news out of B.C.

New CEO for Okanagan Crush Pad

Summerland winery, the Okanagan Crush Pad, has appointed former Mission Hill CEO and chief winemaker as well as Hillebrand/Thirty Bench/Andrew Peller Ltd. winemaker in Niagara, Darryl Brooker, above, to oversee the Okanagan Crush Pad’s senior management team, B.C. wine writer Anthony Gismondi reported first today.

He will be focused on the winery’s facility expansion plans and building out the founders’ vision for Garnet Valley Ranch, a 320-acre organic vineyard and farm.

Here is the news release, as edited by Wines In Niagara:

The Okanagan Crush Pad (OCP) announced the appointment of Brooker as chief executive officer. Brooker assumes this newly created position to take over roles played by founders Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie. The founders view the appointment of a CEO as a key part of their succession plan, as they turn their attention to the next phase of their company.

Brooker will lead the operations team that includes chief winemaker Matt Dumayne, director of viticulture Duncan Billing, and Andrew Raines, director of sales for OCP’s sales division HQ Wine + Spirits. Coletta will be part of that team for transitional support.

“Steve and I had come to a critical point: plan to sell, or develop a dynamic succession plan. It’s evident that we chose the latter by bringing Darryl into our wine family,” says Coletta. “We are excited to drive forward doing what we love, and with Darryl’s help build a stronger wine culture in our business and provide key support for Matt and Duncan, replacing our reliance on outside consultants. I’m confident that I speak on behalf of the entire B.C. wine industry in welcoming Darryl back. His talent and vast experience are rare in our field,” she continues, “and we all felt the loss when he briefly departed to a different industry.”

“I always had in the back of my mind that I would work in the wine industry again,” says Brooker. “I didn’t feel my story had finished and I know I still have a lot more to give to B.C. and Canadian wine. It just had to be a winery that I truly believed in the vision and potential,” he continues.

“OCP, Christine, Steve, Matt, and the entire team have impressed me since the beginning. Amazing fruit, unique organic vineyard sites, and a vision to be bold and push the boundaries.”

He notes that these components were a must to pull him back into wine. “The opportunity and challenge of being a part of the next chapter for OCP feels like an amazing fit.”

Steve Lornie and Julian Scholefield, OCP’s director of estates, are forming a development team with Brooker to oversee several projects under OCP’s newly formed construction division, Fairmile Management Ltd. This takes Lornie back to his construction roots and utilizes Scholefield’s post-secondary education in the field of building technology.

Hester Creek Estate Winery

Hester Creek Pinot Gris Viognier 2021 ($20, 89 points) — The blend is two-thirds Pinot Gris and one-third Viognier from long-time and trusted growers in the Okanagan Valley. The nose displays apricot, nectarine, pear, McIntosh apple, and pulpy citrus. It has some flesh on the palate and a touch of sweetness with ripe apricots, baked pear, citrus, sweet apple notes but all nicely tempered by a firm vein of acidity on the finish.

Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2021 ($18, 90 points) — The fruit comes from Block 4 (planted in 1968) and Block 9 from the estate’s Golden Mile Bench vineyard. This is made in the classic Okanagan Pinot Blanc style with a nose of apple, melon, apricot, and citrus zest. It’s fresh on the palate with pristine stone fruits, cantaloup, lemon/citrus, a touch of ginger and bright vibrancy on the finish.

Hester Creek Old Vine Trebbiano 2021($24, 91 points) — This Trebbiano is from the home vineyard planted in 1968 with vines brought directly from northern Italy. It spent four months on the fine lees. It has an inviting nose of fresh peach, nectarine, zesty lime, grapefruit, and green apple. It’s fresh and lively on the palate with peach skin, apple, and nectarine with an array of tart citrus on a finish kissed by honey. Lovely — and rare — treat.

Township 7 Vineyards and Winery

Township 7 Reserve Chardonnay 2020 ($27, 93 points) — This spectacular Benchmark Series Chardonnay is crafted from grapes sourced from the estate’s Naramata Bench vineyard and two other vineyards in Oliver. It is wild fermented and aged in French oak barrels. It’s the best reserve Chard from Township 7 I have tasted. It shows pure elegance (everything in harmony) on the nose with creamy pear, green apple, flinty minerality, lemon blossoms, salinity, and fine oak spice notes. It’s rich and layered on the palate with fleshy pear, baked apple, flint, creamy vanilla notes, citrus zest, integrated oak spices and a bright, long finish. A real gem here.

Township 7 Chardonnay 2019 ($23, 91 points) — This Provenance Series Chardonnay is sourced from mostly long-time growers and was fermented half in stainless steel and half in French barriques. The nose shows enticing notes of grilled pineapple, lemon tart, yellow pear, citrus zest, and light spice notes. It’s rich and ripe on the palate with stone fruits, pineapple, lemon zest, peach skin, vanilla toast, and integrated spices with a zippy finish.

Township 7 Gewürztraminer 2019 ($27, 90 points) — The fruit was fermented half in stainless steel and half in French oak. It has a pretty nose of pear, lychee, rose petals, ginger, blood orange and some spicy notes. It gains weight and flesh on the palate and profiles as ripe and luxurious with notes of baked pear, ginger, lychee nut, ginger spices, Mandarin orange and racy acidity holding it all together on the finish.

Township 7 Merlot 2019 ($27, 91 points) — From the Provenance Series, the fruit is sourced from three different Okanagan vineyards. It’s aged in American and French barriques for 18 months. It has an inviting nose of earthy red berries, anise, red currants, cassis, and elegant spice notes. It has structured tannins on the palate with savoury wild raspberries, dark cherries, earth, anise/licorice, rich spice notes and a long(ish), lifted finish. Can cellar 5+ years.

Just released at Vineland Estates

Vineland Estate St. Urban Vineyard Elevation Riesling 2021 ($20, 91 points) — From the famed St. Urban Vineyard, which was planted in 1979, making it one of the oldest Riesling sites in Canada. It has an inviting nose of lemon-lime, grapefruit, peach skin, pear, and river-rock minerality. It’s kissed by honey on the palate with a ripe array of peach, pear, and juicy citrus all punctuated by zesty lime, wet stones, and enough mouth-watering acidity to keep it balanced through the finish. Can cellar 5+ years, maybe longer. Only 8% abv.

A pair of 2021 wines
from Henry of Pelham

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Goat Lady Chardonnay 2021 ($17, Vintages, winery, 88 points) — The fruit was fermented and aged in American oak for seven months. It has a subtle nose of apple, pear, lemon blossom and underlying oak spice notes. It turns fleshier on the palate with more overt stone fruits and spice with a vibrant finish. Drinking fine right now.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Merry Widow Rosé 2021 ($17, LCBO, winery, 89 points) — It shows a light pink colour in the glass with pretty aromas of strawberries, fresh-picked raspberries, citrus and subtle tropical fruit notes. It teems with red berries on the palate with a touch of sweetness on the finish. Fun wine for outdoor entertaining.

Our Niagara picks from
the Saturday Vintages release

Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($30, 91 points) — The fruit was hand-picked and whole bunch pressed with no sulphur added at time of crushing. It was wild fermented and aged in 100% French oak (10% new) for 10 months. It shows a nicely ripe nose of generous orchard fruits, lemon cream, toasted spices and stony minerality. It’s rich and creamy on the palate with pear, apple, citrus zest, integrated spice notes and juicy acidity keeping it lively through the finish.

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2017 ($30, 90 points) — From estate fruit from the home vineyard with aging in French oak (15% new) for 23 months. It has an attractive nose of black cherries, cassis, earthy/bramble notes, wild raspberries, and elegant oak spice. It’s bright and finessed on the palate with tart red berries, cranberries, soft tannic structure, spice, and verve through the finish.

Henry of Pelham Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2019 ($20 for 375 mL, 92 points) — This shows a lovely mélange of peach compote, poached pear, candied lemon, and lychee notes on the nose. It’s super sweet on the palate and must have fallen just short of being declared an icewine with peachy jammy notes, apricot preserves, canned pear, and marmalade notes in a luxurious and hedonistic style. What a bargain at this price. You can age for 10+ years.

Malivoire Farmstead Gamay 2019 ($20, 89 points) — This Niagara sourced Gamay has a nose of plums, fresh cherries, fennel, bramble and just a hint of spice. It’s a lighter-bodied Gamay on the palate but packed with flavours of tart cherries, cranberries, plums, earthy/savoury notes, and a bright finish. Gulping Gamay.

Other Niagara wines released Saturday, but not reviewed:

• Angels Gate Archangel Brut Sparkling Chardonnay 2014 ($30)
• Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2020 ($17)
• Jack Rabbit Special Edition White 2019 ($18)
• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Riesling 2019 ($23)
• Trius Distinction Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20)
• Trius Distinction Gamay Noir 2020 ($20)