Why things are looking up for the B.C. wine industry
It's an exciting season for British Columbia wine and not just because of the relatively early, promising harvest in full swing. The Okanagan Valley now boasts its own premier. Christy Clark, who lost her Vancouver-Point Grey seat in May, returned to the legislature in a summer by-election as member for Westside-Kelowna. B.C. grape fans have been clinking their Riedel stemware because they want a more thriving industry. Clark, who has already pledged changes to the province's "antiquated liquor laws," seems on their side.
I've sensed cautious optimism on Twitter. Last week, many tippling Twitterati held forth on changes they'd like to see, convening under the hashtag #BCWineChat, a sort of live Wednesday-night roundtable. Two examples: legalize secondary winery tasting-and-retail boutiques in busy urban centres (currently, boutiques are restricted to winery properties, most of which are four hours' drive from Vancouver); and reduce those infamously steep B.C.-government markups. If I could add my own wish, I'd ask for large provinces such as Ontario and Quebec to heed Clark's call to open up their borders to direct shipping.
The industry deserves stronger support. It's held up its part of the bargain by delivering world-class quality, like the examples below (B.C. prices and availability except where indicated). Autumn it may be on the calendar, but figuratively it could be springtime for B.C.-wine lovers.
Joie Farm "En Famille" Reserve Chardonnay 2011
Score: 92; Price: $29.90
Joie's proprietors, Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn, make no secret of their stylistic inspiration: France. More specifically, Alsace and Burgundy. This impressive high-end chardonnay speaks with a strong Burgundian accent, and that's big flattery to any chardonnay. Everything's in balance in this multilayered, subtle white. Medium-full-bodied, it's silky, yet crisp, with notes of cold butter, charred pineapple, lemon pie and vanilla. The oak is smartly integrated, inconspicuous. Introduce this "famille" to scallops wrapped in bacon; joiefarm.com; $38 in Alberta.
Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2012
Score: 91; Price: $25
Spoiler alert: I plan to disclose the grapes in this blend. The product's conceit, as conveyed by the financial-investment term "blind trust," is that you might want to guess the components, whose identities are listed under the foil capsule on the bottle's neck. Former investment-industry workers David and Cynthia Enns make this with pinot gris, pinot blanc and viognier. The warm 2012 growing season did wonders for ripeness, yielding a medium-full-bodied, soft white with nicely layered apricot, green melon and citrus flavours joined by subtle toast and spice. Perfect for fleshy fish, such as salmon and halibut, and also roast pork. Available at laughingstock.ca.
Therapy Artist Series Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2012
Score: 90; Price: $24 ($288/case of 12)
"Wild" refers to the yeasts, as in the native organisms resident on the grape skins and in the air versus the commercial strains typically used for controlled and predictable fermentation. As in salmon but not teenagers, wild happens to be desirable in wine, often imbuing the juice with greater complexity. This medium-bodied red shows impressive flavour concentration, with lively sweet-sour tension to the punchy berry fruit. It even kicks up a whiff of dirt, and that's a nice pinot treat. Try it with grilled salmon or seared duck breast; therapyvineyards.com.
Fort Berens Chardonnay 2012
Score: 90; Price: $19
At just over 50 degrees latitude, Fort Berens, in Lillooet, sits at the northern limit of the wine-grape belt. But it's blessed with clearer skies and drier air than pretty much any other wine district at that boundary. Owners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek had been sourcing chardonnay from the Okanagan to supplement their estate fruit because it takes time for vines to yield much quality fruit. This is their first 100-per-cent all-estate chardonnay. Remarkable, too. Full-bodied and mellow, it shows surprisingly ripe pineapple and stone-fruit flavours, with a buttery texture enlivened by bright acidity. If this were made in California, it would easily fetch twice the price; fortberens.ca.
CedarCreek Gewurztraminer 2012
Score: 90; Price $17.95
Dry but within a whisker of off-dry, this is classically opulent, Alsatian-style gewürztraminer, the love-it-or-loathe it white with bold fruit and exotic perfume. There's much to love here, with its textbook lychee and rose-petal essence joined by a spicy ginger overtone. The 14.2-per-cent alcohol is well-integrated, lending welcome weight rather than heat. Perfect for heavily spiced Asian fare; cedarcreek.bc.ca.
Quails' Gate Pinot Noir 2011
Score: 89; Price: $24.99
The winery's deft hand with pinot shows through in this bright, juicy 2011 red. It's a roll call of classic varietal characters: jammy berries, earthy beetroot, spicy cinnamon and sexy floral cologne. Available at BC Liquor Stores; $26.98 in Saskatchewan, $22.99 in Manitoba, $26.95 in Ontario; quailsgate.com
Harper's Trail Field Blend White 2012
Score: 87; Price: $17
Harper not as in Stephen but as in American-born 19th-century rancher Thaddeus. This is frontier juice, grown on a former cattle ranch on the South Thompson River in Kamloops. Ed and Vicki Collett are planning a winery on the city's outskirts. For now they truck grapes to Okanagan Crush Pad, a custom winemaking facility in Summerland, where talented vintner-for-hire Michael Bartier crafts the cuvées. A blend of riesling and chardonnay, it's mid-weight and round, with refreshing notes of orange, bitter grapefruit and spice. It would suit simply prepared lake fish – this is not cattle fare; harperstrail.com.