Picking Grapes is a Scout 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.
Clearly, the love for local wine is strong with Vancouver-based wine consultant and writer, Kurtis Kolt – also the co-founder of Top Drop Vancouver terroir-focussed wine festival and Pleasant Pairings boutique shopping and wine event. Who better to answer our ‘Picking Grapes’ questions…
What was the BC wine that you first fell in love with? Do you remember where you were? What were the circumstances?
Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc. I was running the floor (and my first wine program) at the Brass Monkey on Denman in the late‘90s. I was quite green to both roles, but thankfully met neighbouring colleagues who were generous with their time and influential in some pretty big strides I took learning the ropes. One of them was Brent Hayman, who was at the helm of Raincity Grill, an early adopter and champion of all things local. Whenever I popped by, he was always keen to introduce me to wines he thought I may not have had the chance to encounter yet. I recall the Pinot Blanc’s elegance and purity of fruit – hallmarks of the winery to this day.
The holiday season is still “happening”. Is there a local vintage you are most excited about enjoying with others this season, and why?
Sparkling’s always the most fun wine to share, right? You can’t miss by nabbing anything you can get your hands on from Naramata’s sparkling specialists, Bella Wines. The year’s last few smatterings of geeky bottlings are available on their website, but you should also be able to find some of their wines at private shops or on restaurant lists around town.
Supporting small BC businesses has become especially important these days. We know it’s challenging to narrow it down, but if you had to choose just three local wineries that you think are especially deserving of our attention, who would you choose?
It was fantastic to see Ursa Major announce they’re officially putting down roots in the Similkameen, having purchased a 14-acre vineyard in Keremeos. Raj is making some of the most fascinating, thought-provoking wines in B.C. Let’s all buy Ursa Major wines and help ‘em start to chip away at their fresh load of debt!
While we’re in the Similkameen, Cawston’s Little Farm Winery is helmed by good friends my wife Wendy and I have had pretty much all our adult lives. Supporting pals has never been so tasty! We’re big fans of the low-intervention Chardonnays and Rieslings coming from their estate, Mulberry Tree Vineyard.
You know, the Similkameen Valley’s such a gem – let’s stick around. Just up the road from Little Farm is Orofino, who are embarking on their 20th vintage in 2023. Proprietors Virginia and John Weber left their respective careers as nurse and teacher to build what has now become one of our most respected local wineries. They are genuine, good-natured people making honest wine in a stunning location. If you know, you know. Orofino recently came out with these ‘MagBags’ of Pinot Gris and Gamay. They are 1.5 litre environmentally-friendly pouches, guaranteeing that each pour is a fresh as the first. The wines are honest, fresh, and juicy – each lively in their own way.
Have the last few years reshaped your approach to buying, serving, and enjoying wine in any way? If so, how?
The last few years have certainly brought both challenges and opportunities. One thing that’s really caught my attention is the dizzying growth of the non-alc category. While there are excellent local examples of alcohol-free craft beer and spirits, the wine category has been virtually non-existent, barring a few international labels that are just starting to break through. Enter Tyler Harlton, who had just wrapped up about of decade of fantastic work at his winery, Summerland-based TH Wines, only for a series of various life events that found him launching ONES+, a non-alcoholic, sugar-free wine made from quality B.C. grapes. He and Chris Pagliocchini have created bottlings that capture many of the flavour components of traditional wine, and they’ve done it without adding any chemicals. With the additional stress and handfuls of anxiety I’ve experienced over the last couple years, sometimes it’s been a good thing to put the glass aside for the odd stretch. It’s great to have tasty, well-crafted alternatives to traditional wine when opting for periods of abstinence.
What sort of changes, if any, do you think the local wine industry – from wine lovers and servers to the producers and distributors – might see over the next year or two?
I think we’ll continue to see an increase in thoughtful, sustainable vineyard practices. As more wineries move towards organic farming, there are continued strategies and methods being employed as experiments, and I believe successes in the realm reverberate beyond each vineyard’s borders. Once methods become tried-and-true in a certain region, it’s a lot easier for others to adopt them without as much risk as those doing initial trials.
If you could work in just one local winery for just one harvest, which would it be and why?
Tantalus Vineyards. The team are very good friends of mine, who I have collaborated with in many ways over the years – from winemakers dinners to seminar presentations, to trips to New York to wave the “BC wine flag”. We know we’re like-minded and get on well, and I have tremendous respect for their vineyard and winery practices, not to mention the excellence that results in every bottle they produce. Also, any closer day-to-day proximity to GM and winemaker Dave Paterson’s bright and shiny Rieslings is a worthwhile pursuit.
Can you recommend one local, emblematic-of-BC red wine for someone who didn’t even know that wine was made here? Why did you choose it?
Any Syrah by winemaker and local legend, Severine Pinte, at Le Vieux Pin in Oliver. We make some of the best Syrah in the world, full stop. It’s an oddly underrated grape variety to many, and I think our elegant, multi-layered complexity brings a lot to the table. Also, any wine that’s known for the occasional lashing of bacon as a flavour component ranks high for me.
What about a white?
Chris Carson makes a kick-ass roster of Chardonnays at Meyer Family Vineyards, from a variety of vineyard blocks up and down the Okanagan Valley. I’ve never had one from him that wasn’t pitch-perfect. The guy’s a master at deft and charming oak integration – always a suitable frame, never getting in the way of the beautiful fruit he works with.
And finally, a rose?
The Daydreamer Rosé from Marcus Ansems in Naramata is a juicy, blackberry and clove-laden Syrah that has a good dose of colour and weight – things lacking in too many pink wines right now. It’s a pink wine that really expresses the complex characteristics of the variety it’s made from. It tastes like Syrah! I have it by the glass on the program I run at Maenam right now, and we sell buckets of the stuff. Angus’s 3-flavour crispy lingcod with caramelized palm sugar, chili, garlic, fresh baby corn, coriander, and ginger glaze, washed down with this wine? Perfection.
The Red Bridge Red from orofino Strawbale winery is my favorite!
So many great recommendations in this article. Kurtis really does have his fingers on the pulse of the BC wine scene. Severine Pinte is a red wine Allstar. Tantalus are also in rarified air. All are making their mark.