This was a sit-down tasting lead by DJ Kearney who moderated a panel of distinguished BC Winemakers as they discussed their wines from the 2015 Vintage and spoke of the future of BC winemaking. The panellists included Michael Bartier representing Harper’s Trail Estate Winery (Kamloops), Grant Stanley from 50th Parallel Estate Winery (Lake Country), Marcus Ansems, owner and winemaker at Daydreamer Wines (Penticton,) Pascal Madevon who makes the wines at Culmina Family Estate Winery (Oliver) and Mike Clark winemaker at Clos du Soleil Winery in Keremeos.
Kearney began by reviewing many of the global warming factors that have influenced the changing conditions in the Okanagan, which, for the most part, are having a positive effect on grape growing. Some general points she mentioned include that 2015 was a great year with higher than usual yields, though not at the expense of quality. One concern that many people had last year was would the wines be unbalanced and have the over-ripe, flabby character that is common with wines from many warm climate regions? Fortunately, though we may have had some hotter than usual weather, our northern latitude means that night time temperatures were still cool and this kept the acid levels necessary for well-balanced wine. Likewise, the forest fires, which kept us glued to news updates, did not contribute any noticeable smoke taint to the wines of the southern Okanagan.
It was interesting to hear from winemakers from a number of areas, as they were able to speak to the different conditions in each region. Michael Bartier mentioned that he was picking grapes eight days ahead of last year, which in turn, was also an early year. The Kamloops site is located at 51 degrees north latitude, which is really at the northern extremes for grape growing. The Thompson River, which flows through the area, does provide a moderating influence, but unlike Okanagan Lake, it does not provide a heat sink.
50th Parallel’s Grant Stanley, who came to Canada in 2003, said that despite the increasing warmer temperatures, BC would always be a cool climate region due to the diurnal temperatures; the difference between daytime highs and evening lows. He said that Pinot Noir requires 100 days for proper ripening and while he was picking earlier than usual in 2015, California often harvests in July, which means that grapes have to be picked before conditions are ideal.
Marcus Ansem told the audience that no matter what the beginning of the season brings, it is the weather conditions in September and October that are crucial. He went on to say that each varietal needs to be dealt with differently as does each site. To prove his point, he described how he dealt with his 2015 Riesling and Pinot Gris. Marcus has also found that old vines are better able to tolerate weather extremes. The warm summer, however, did mean his 2015 Syrah has presented more of a Barossa style rather than being Rhone like.
French winemaker, Pascal Madevon, currently at Culmina in Oliver, related that their 2015 vintage was 15 days earlier than in 2014. The Riesling is planted on a high altitude vineyard (600 m). As well as being a warmer than usual summer, it was also 50% drier than 2014 and 70% drier than 2013.
Finally, Clos du Soleil’s Michael Clark talked about last year’s conditions in the Similkameen Valley. His winery has implemented biodynamic practises and has found that these vines have better self-regulation. With his scientific background he is hard pressed to explain the reasons behind it, but he does believe biodynamic methods make a difference.
As the winemakers spoke we worked our way through two wines from each of the wineries. We tasted:
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery 2015 Dry Riesling
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery 2015 Riesling
50th Parallel Estate 2015 Riesling
50th Parallel Estate 2015 Pinot Gris
Daydreamer Wines 2015 Riesling
Daydreamer Wines 2015 Pinot Gris
Culmina Family Estate Winery 2015 Unicus (Grüner Veltliner)
Culmina Family Estate Winery 2015 Saignée (a blend of 4 reds)
Clos du Soleil Winery 2015 Rosé (Cabernet Sauvignon)
Clos du Soleil Winery 2015 Pinot Blanc
After sampling these wines, it was clear that any concerns for the vintage with respect to white wines were unfounded. The wines were all well balanced.
After the formal presentation, we sampled some red wines from earlier vintages including:
Harper’s Trail 2014 Cabernet Franc
50th Parallel 2014 Pinot Noir
Daydreamer 2014 Amelia
Culmina 2013? Merlot
Clos du Soleil 2013 Signature
We are so lucky to live in one of the finest wine regions in the world and it often takes such notable wine experts as Steven Spurrier, Stuart Pigott and Karen MacNeil, among others, to make us realize how good our wines truly are.
So buy local, buy quality, and buy enjoyment. Raise your glass and salute the amazing BC wine industry.