For years, I have seen the name, ‘Vanessa Vineyards’ listed on some wines produced by Sandhill Winery. Winemaker Howard Soon recognized the quality of the fruit coming from this site years ago and opted to make single vineyard wines from these grapes instead of blending them in with grapes from other areas.
Two years ago, when returning from a trip to Osoyoos, I drove through the Similkameen Valley and spotted a ‘Vanessa Vineyards’ sign. I pulled over to take a photo of it and thought to myself, “So, this is where their grapes come from.”
The 75-acre vineyard lies at the eastern end of the Similkameen Valley, on the north side of the road, only a short distance from the US border. This sun-drenched, sloped rocky site is planted with five varieties of grapes – Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. It is, arguably, one of the top sites in the province.
Sometime later, I happened to meet Suki Sekhon, co-proprietor, at a wine event and I found out that while they were still selling grapes to Sandhill, they had decided to keep some of the grapes for themselves and had opened their own winery. Recently retired Soon, decided to go back and work with this small ‘boutique’ winery.
More recently, I met partner John Weston at another wine event. We chatted and exchanged business cards and I decided to make a visit to Vanessa a priority for the new year. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait that long to taste these wines I had heard so much about.
As a wine reviewer, I get samples sent to me from time to time. Whenever possible, I try to get a small group of fellow judges together to taste through the wines and share the experience. On this occasion, I arranged for a Monday morning tasting after receiving the wines on Friday. However, curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t resist the temptation to open the samples and try just a tiny little sneak sip, which resulted in some profanity – “Holy @#$^& are these wines amazing!”
At first glance, these wines are a little on the pricey side, but not after you have had a chance to taste them. Fifty to eighty dollars is certainly not my everyday budget, but oh my gosh! I will certainly splurge to have a selection in my cellar. You really do need to try these wines to understand how good they are.
Here are some notes on the current releases.
Viognier 2017 $24.99
Big is a word usually reserved to describe certain red wines, but big and luscious certainly applies here. Golden yellow in colour. There is no lack of aromas on the nose given the late harvest and the long cool ferment. Expect tropical fruit – banana, papaya and kiwi as well as peach, lemon, white flowers, butter, vanilla, anise, beeswax, citrus and melon. Well balanced and unctuous on the palate with flavours echoing the nose followed by a lingering finish. Very impressive. Personally, instead of pairing this with food, I’d prefer it on its own, savoring and contemplating it sip by sip.
Cabernet Franc 2015 $49.99
This wine was crafted to maximize flavour and extraction with primarily free-run juice. Ruby red with medium-deep intensity. The nose is layered with a symphony of aromas including currants, cherries, dusty blackberries, leafy notes, plum, coffee, toast, dried herbs and hints of violets. Well balanced. The flavours mirror the nose along with undertones of sweet spice. A long lingering finish. One of the best examples of BC Cab Franc.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $79.99
This can be a tough grape to ripen in BC, even when grown close to the border, though there are often very good examples in warm years. Depth and concentration make this one of the best. Very good when opened, but will continue to improve with time to breathe. Garnet red with medium-deep intensity. Plum, cassis, dark berries, cocoa powder, dried herbs. A well-integrated wine from beginning to end with a long lingering finish. This one will make any cab lover go, “Wow!” Buy it while you can as it will likely be one of their best vintages for years to come.
Meritage 2014 $39.99
This wine leads with cabernet franc with cabernet sauvignon and merlot very close behind; each grape bringing an important component to the mix. This is a bold wine that has been made to go the distance. Each grape was fermented separately and aged prior to blending. The final assemblage was then aged for a further year in barrel. Dark fruit and berries, earthy, dusty, sage, coffee leather, smoky spice, vanilla and mocha notes. Decant if you open it soon or lay it down to rest for years if you have the patience. You will be richly rewarded if you do.
Syrah 2014 $34.99
Ten percent viognier helps to achieve just the right balance in this impressive wine. Garnet red with medium-deep intensity. Blackberry and blueberry greet you on the nose followed by aromas of plum, cherry, spice and meaty notes along with hints of white pepper. Lush, velvety smooth fruit tannins coat the tongue. Flavours linger on the finish. Elegance and depth.
These wines certainly show a common thread with the terroir making its mark with characteristic Similkameen minerality and sage notes, yet the influence of the winemaker is also clear. Huge kudos to Howard Soon who knows exactly what to do with the fruit from this vineyard and to all the others involved in making these wines. They will impress any wine lover and make a believer out of anyone who might still question the superb quality of BC wines. I guarantee it.
Vanessa Vineyards is a small ‘boutique’ winery, with a production of only 3000 cases. Their wines are available in the tasting room, online at vanessavineyard.com, through their wine club or at select restaurants. Unfortunately, their wines are not sold in any retail stores.
Interestingly enough, just days later at our Guild of Judges monthly session, we tasted through a flight of Rhone style wines. We always strive for a wide range in terms of price and quality. All we were told is that some were blends and some weren’t. As we tasted through the wines, two stood out. Of nine wines, it turned out five were from France, two from Australia and one each from Spain and BC. Prices ranged from $10.99 to $50.99. Some of the wines had Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate scores of 90 – 93.
Our second-place wine, was the Yangarra GSM $40.99 from Australia. The clear winner was BC’s Vanessa Vineyards 2014 Syrah $34.99.
(photos – Sam Hauck)
Feature image: Lionel Trudel