Picking Grapes is a new series that asks wine professionals to map out their complex relationships with British Columbian wines by citing the ignition point of their interest and some of their favourite wineries.
What was the BC wine that you first fell in love with? Do you remember where you were? What was the circumstance?
Gray Monk Pinot Auxerrois. I was 19 years old, working as a line cook at CinCin and taking WSET 1 in hopes of having some kind of secret weapon as a chef. I didn’t even know what a Sommelier was, let alone that it could be a career choice. I don’t remember trying wine before taking that first wine program. I was a teenager, so my drink preferences were on the sweet side; Mike’s Hard Lemonade and such. Some of the flavours I was experiencing for the first time were pretty jarring — bold tannins and searing acidity. When I came across the Gray Monk Pinot Auxerrois, with its touch of sweetness and tropical aromatics, I found something that was comfortable yet exciting to my young palate. I researched the grape, finding it was perfect for a cool climate. I researched the winery and region it was in, the northern end of the Okanagan Valley. All the sudden something clicked, I had a little understanding about terroir and the importance of planting the right grapes in the right location. I kept on with the wine classes and a couple years later I was an ISG certified Sommelier.
What are three local wineries that fly somewhat under the radar?
Fairview Cellars is one I love and think is so underrated. Bill Eggert’s wines are incredibly age-worthy. He’s been selling his wines out of the charming little cabin in his vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench since the 90s but has never really gotten into the self-promotion side of the industry. The Bear is his flagship meritage and a steal at $45. Hot tip; ask if he has any older vintages for sale. He’s usually got something interesting kicking around and it is well worth spending a bit extra to have the unique experience of trying a BC wine that has been properly aged and is fully mature.
Kutatas’ wines are hot within the Sommelier community, but most folks have never heard of them. They are a small outfit based on Salt Spring Island. Their style really embraces the region’s ability to produce bright acidity and focused fruit flavours.
Terravista is a Naramata Bench winery primarily focused on white wines. The standout for me is Fandango: a bright, juicy, expressive blend of Albarino and Verdejo, two Spanish grapes seldom grown in BC. Terravista was founded by Bob and Senka Tennant, original founders of Black Hills, so you know the focus on quality is there. They recently sold as they are ready to retire but they have stayed on as consultants and mentors to ease the transition.
If you could work in just one local winery for just one harvest, which would it be and why?
Synchromesh. What Alan Dickinson does with Riesling is just magic. The balance he creates between residual sugar levels so high they rival dessert wines and naturally searing acidity to produce wines that finish dry — I want to see how that process happens, learn how and why he makes the choices he does in both winery and vineyard to achieve that phenomenal balance.
Can you recommend one local, emblematic-of-BC red wine for someone who didn’t even know that wine was made here? Why would you choose it?
Le Vieux Pin Syrah. They make a few examples and the whole lineup is impressive, especially if you have the opportunity to try them side by side as they do in the tasting room. Syrah grown in the South Okanagan is a grape that I feel has a uniquely BC expression, showcasing ripe fruit balanced with the bright acidity that BC is becoming known for internationally. The herbaceous sagebrush notes that are trademarks of South Okanagan terroir integrate in such an elegant way with the savory and peppery notes often found in Syrah.
What about a white?
Unsworth Allegro. Unsworth Vineyards in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley has been integral in the development of what are known as Blattner Varietals. A tasty blend of Sauvignette, Petit Milo and Amiel, these obscure grapes were bred and tested in their vineyards by Swiss geneticist Valentin Blattner using traditional field breeding techniques. His goal was to develop varietals suited to cool and moist climates such as Vancouver Island to reduce chemical and pesticide use in these regions. These grapes were literally born and raised in BC and should be an integral part of our viticulture in the future, specifically in regions that were not previously thought to be suitable for viticulture.
And finally, a rose?
You have to give props to JoieFarm when it comes to Rose. They basically started the Rose revolution in BC. Heidi Noble created the benchmark for serious Rose in BC way back when white zinfandel was dragging the category through the mud with its cloying sweetness. It was a bold move at the time and helped open the door for Rose in our market. Now we are all obsessed with refreshing dry Roses and have so many more options, but you have to respect that she was the OG of Rose in BC.