Larch Hills Siegerrebe 2014

Larch Hills Winery Siegerrebe 2014

Now owned by Jack and Hazel Manser, Larch Hills Winery is close to Salmon Arm, BC and is situated on a stunning ridge that faces due south, staring straight down the barrel of what appears to be an extension of the northern Okanagan Valley. Their portfolio of wines is centred around German white varieties, which is eminently suitable for this very northern and high altitude site.

A note on pronounciation: I say it as “Sig-ur-RAY-bee”. It’s easy to remember it by saying, “It’s Siegerrebe, baby!”

Zooming In: The Region and The Winery

The North Okanagan and Shuswap regions are buzzing with wine making activity these days and it’s not hard to see why. It is beautiful here and often not has hot as the southern part of the Okanagan.BC interior’s first-ever commercial vineyard operation was in Salmon Arm in 1907 so there is a lot of history here too. It is far more rural however so fine dining amenities are not going to be in as easy reach as they are in other areas. The stunning beauty of the land makes up for it and the longer drives between wineries means that there is plenty of time to catch that scenery. The added bonus for winemakers here is that the price of land in this region is a lot less than it is around the Okanagan, therefore starting up a small winery takes a lot less cash.

Original owners Hans and Hazel Nevrkla planted the site in 1992 and opened Larch Hills twenty years ago in 1997. They selected a site by intuition which has largely been proven correct. Happily, Jack and Hazel Manser continue that tradition with great aplomb and offer a wonderful portfolio of wines along with an excellent visitor experience now matter what time of year it is.

Just driving to Larch Hills is an experience. It is really off of the beaten path, which is something that I really enjoy. They are perched on the north edge of a ridge that faces south and offers stunning views of the valley below towards Vernon in the far distance. Highway 97A continues north from Vernon and technically leaves the Okanagan Valley shortly after Armstrong, where the rivers begin flowing north into the Shuswap instead of flowing south into the Okanagan. It is hard not to see how it really looks like exactly the same valley, so why this sudden shift? In long-ago geological times, the Okanagan watershed actually drained north into the Shuswap, so the continuous valley walls that make up the scenery in this area were very much part of the same system. How times have changed!

WITG (What’s in the glass)

This wine is beautifully aromatic. Spicy white pears, elderflowers, thyme, lemon verbena, and a soft perfume are all big components in this wine’s aroma. This is exactly why I love this style of wine. It isn’t just all predictable fruit-forward flavours like peaches and apricots in South Okanagan viogniers or plums and vanilla in the hundreds of merlots that get bottled every year. It is fabulously challenging and interesting and that continues to be interesting long into the meal. This wine finishes slightly off-dry but there are other wines in their portfolio that are sweeter. It is finely balanced however which makes it easy to drink with food or without.

I chose to talk about the Siegerrebe for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I knew that it was going to be good with the dinner that I had this evening. Secondly, because I believe that Siegerrebe is a fascinating grape for BC wine. Now when I say “BC wine”, I don’t mean “Okanagan wine”, which is usually what people in the trade typically mean. I really mean ALL of the wine regions in BC. On my trip to Vancouver Island last summer, I tasted some excellent examples of this variety from Saanich, Cowichan, and Pender Island. Domaine de Chaberton (now Chaberton Estates Winery) has been doing Siegerrebe for years in the Fraser Valley and other Shuswap wineries like Recline Ridge have made excellent versions of this variety. Siegerrebe is everywhere in BC.

To me, THAT IS FASCINATING!! What other grape variety do we have that we can compare so many different regions within the same province??  At best, we can compare many similar varieties between the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys and perhaps one could argue that Pinot Noir is in a few other regions as well. The dark horse sneaking up behind the pack is really Siegerrebe, and I find that amazing. Maybe I’m easily amazed, but I don’t think so. I think that is great and I look forward to doing a tasting at some point in the future that features as many Siegerrebes as possible just to see how they differ from region to region.

The Big Three Questions

Is it good for what it is?

As an aromatic white wine, it is beautiful. Complex, balanced, and endlessly intriguing. There is something about the aromatic wines that I have always found attractive (starting with Sumac Ridge’s Gewurztraminer when I first moved to BC). This wine is not overloaded with residual sugar to throw off the balance nor is it super-high in alcohol. Finishing the bottle at dinner is not going to make cleaning the dishes afterwards a potentially dangerous task.

Will it Age?

Probably not and, personally, I would probably never let it get farther away from 4 or 5 years from vintage if possible. These are fresh and fruity wines and if they are not fresh, then they probably won’t be fruity either. To me, that’s the draw for this style so these go in the easy-access areas of my cellar.

Would I buy it?

Yes, absolutely. I bought this last January while visiting the winery on a beautiful sunny afternoon and would love to return there to buy more at some point soon. I highly recommend this wine to anyone looking for a wine that shows something unique to BC.

In short…

Germanic varieties and styles of wines are a big part of BC wine’s history that include not only the grape varieties but the German-trained winemakers who have been a part of our industry here for decades. With plantings becoming more common around the province and a push by wineries to make this variety more commonly known, this is one grape variety to start seeking out. You will not be disappointed.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke