You’ve gotta visit: Mocojo

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Located just east (uphill) off Naramata Road, Mocojo is easy to find. Just look up the hill after entering the Naramata boundary and follow the signs. The actual address for you GPS people is 1202 Gawne Road but I think it’s much safer to keep your eyes on the only road to Naramata so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.

Why you should go there

IMG_0999The view is stunning. There are lots of views in Naramata for sure, but not always with so few obstructions. Owners Dianne and Kon are welcoming and absolutely wonderful to chat with. They are true garagiste wine makers, meaning that their winery is located in an actual garage. When so many wineries go out of their way to build a fancy tasting bar with lots of cute gifts to buy in it, Mocojo is refreshingly down-to-earth and authentic. They sell wine and t-shirts. Kon grew grapes before making his own wine so it’s no surprise that the wines he makes reflect that attention to detail in the vineyard more than any splashy wine making techniques.

What to expect

IMG_0998Expect to be welcomed like you were a long-lost family member, except that not everyone has family that can make wine like this. The wine shop is sparse but comfortably shaded so even when it is hot, it is still comfortable. All of the wines that they have available for sale are also available for tasting although one of them had sold out after only my first visit there.

A word of warning though: Staring at the view for too long has caused more than one person to seriously consider a career change just so that they could move to the Okanagan to have a view like this. It is that good.

The wines

IMG_1001Gewurztraminer

Viognier

Rose

Marichel Foch

Malbec

IMG_1002The view is distracting but the wines will hold your attention for sure. Aromatic whites and sleek, powerful reds are the focus here. I have not yet been able to taste the whites but the reds are absolutely solid. The Malbec (sold out at the winery but available in a few private stores – I know one in particular near me and I’ll tell you where it is but only for multiple non-sequential, unmarked bills) is truly beautiful – dark, smooth, and deeply flavored as all good malbecs should be. The Foch is also dark and distinctly fruity as only Foch can be with a complex nose and a uniquely dark tangy quality. Foch is an acquired taste that some people never acquire, which is fine. To each their own. But don’t pass up the chance to try it in the tasting room.

Make this a definite stop on your next trip down Naramata Road. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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The 2015 LG’s are in

The results have just been announced for the 2015 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in B.C. Wine. I’ve run the stats again this year and there’s some interesting things happening.

Firstly, congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

50th Parallel Estate – 2013 Chardonnay

BC Wine Studio -2012 Siren’s Call Syrah

Blasted Church Vineyards – 2012 Holy Moly Petit Verdot

Cassini Cellars – 2012 Cabernet Franc Collector’s Series

Church & State Winery – 2012 Quintessential

Enrico Winery & Vineyards – 2014 Tempest Ortega

Ex Nihilo Vineyards – 2013 Pinot Noir

Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards Winery – 2014 Riesling Icewine

Lake Breeze Vineyards – 2012 Merlot

Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery – 2010 “The One” Sparkling

Platinum Bench Estate Winery -2013 Gamay Noir Block 28

Red Rooster Winery – 2012 Syrah Reserve

Ruby Blues Winery – 2014 Commune Viognier

Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery – 2014 Mystic River Gewürztraminer

Now if you’ll allow me to get all sports-caster like and let me show you a little of what I’ve found based on the stats that now include this year’s results. I won’t do up charts like I did last year but there were some really interesting things in this year’s competition that included 425 wines from 116 wineries throughout B.C. There have now been 140 LG awards handed out in total over the 13 years that the awards have been held. 14 awards were handed out this year making it the largest pool of winners ever for a single year.

The big news this year for me is that Enrico Winery & Vineyards becomes the very first winery from Vancouver Island to win an LG! To me, this is huge in the same way that Fort Berens’ win last year was huge because it shows that great wine in BC can be grown in places other than the Okanagan. I visited their tasting room in the spring of 2012 and was very impressed by the experience and with the wines. Well done Enrico Winery! The Gulf Islands are now the only DVA to not have an LG award but that may change soon.

Wild Goose picks up another LG for the Mystic River Gewurztraminer, a vineyard that represents 4 of their total of 9 LG awards. Along with their great showing at the All Canadians, this is a nice way for the Kruger family to celebrate their 25th year in the wine business.

Two new varieties receive awards. Enrico’s win with an Ortega marks that varieties debut with a trophy and Blasted Church wins their second with a Petit Verdot. This is Blasted Church’s second LG award with the first coming in 2008 with the 2006 Syrah.

50th Parallel pick up an LG for their beautiful 2013 Chardonnay marking their first ever LG award win. It won’t be there last either. This is also the most northerly winery to win an LG award which I think is also fascinating. In previous years the competition looked like it had completely abandoned all wineries north of Naramata. I think it is great to see wineries from all over the province getting recognition through these awards and particularly from the northern half of the valley. Gray Monk’s win in 2010 for their 2007 Odyssey Brut was the previous northern limit for LG awards.

50th Parallel and Enrico are not the only newbie winners in this competition either. Ex Nihilo, BC Wine Studio, and Platinum Bench are also new the awards and will all be receiving the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of B.C. in late July.

As far as the single varieties go, only two changes have taken place in the stats. Viognier has overtaken Pinot Gris in number of wins (6-5) and Gewurztraminer has edges up over Riesling to take 4th place in the top 5 varieties in B.C.

Place Variety LG Wins % Total
1 Syrah / Shiraz 26 24.53
2 Pinot Noir 14 13.21
3 Chardonnay 11 10.38
4 Gewurztraminer 8 7.55
5 Riesling* 7 6.6

 * Table wines only – does not include Icewine 

So what does that tell us about the state of wine in our fair province?

Nothing!

But it’s fun to see what the stats can tell us sometimes. I’m also done studying for my WSET exams at the moment and have time for stuff like this.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

You’ve Gotta Visit: 50th Parallel

IMG_0948Located on the newly developed Scenic Sip wine route around Lake Country, 50th Parallel is a little far off the main route on Carrs Landing Road. Various routes will get you off Highway 97 to the shores of Okanagan Lake near Okanagan Centre. Follow the road north until you reach 50th Parallel.

Why you should go there

IMG_0949Because it’s amazing. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. But perhaps I’m being too subtle and understated. I’ve seen a lot of wineries and I’ve seen a lot of new wineries just starting out. This place is unbelievable in the sheer amount of details involved. Nothing has apparently been overlooked. The name 50th Parallel invokes their own latitudinal position and owners Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Tuner-Krouzel have creatively riffed on that for everything from marketing to design and architectural elements of all kinds. The results are clearly visible in the new building’s architecture (parallel lines are everywhere, vertical windows) and branding but are subtle rather than in your face or over the top.

It is also a vineyard with a past. For BC wine history buffs like me, this was a vineyard planted with hybrid grapes that used to supply wines to commercial wineries until the pull-out program in the late 1980’s. It was never replanted and remained essentially abandoned as a vineyard until purchased by Curtis and Sheri-Lee in 2008.

What to expect

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Winemaker Grant Stanley with Sheri-Lee and Curtis

Expect to be wowed. The tasting room is currently at one end of the winery where all of the tanks and sometimes barrels are located. Sometimes winemaker Grant Stanley might be working on barrels or racking or filtering and you’ll be able to watch the action. At the very least, it smells like a winery should – clean but with a cool, damp, refreshing feel that wine loves as it matures. The tasting bar is made from rafters from their old Quonset hut that used to be the winery for their initial vintages so it has a beautiful curve to it. There are guided tours of the vineyard that are available for a price and must be booked in advance. It’s well worth it if you like seeing where the wines come from along with stunning views of Okanagan Lake like you’ve never seen before.

The wines

IMG_0950Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Rose

Gewurztraminer

Riesling

Chardonnay

Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir is their focus here along with a collection of aromatic whites. All the wines are solid performers. They’ve been racking up awards with all of them so nothing is “filler material” at all. The Gewurztraminer is a much drier style than most BC wines which brings out a unique aromatic profile. The Chardonnay is what I call a “classy” style – meaning, it has some oak flavors on it but it’s just a part of the complexity rather than a dominant flavor. It is a style that I think does well in BC And if you still write home at all, it’s the Pinot Noir that you will want to mention. Just smelling it in the glass, it made my eyes bug out of my head and I heard that old-style car horn sound (a-ROO-ga) that always sounds funny no matter how old you are. Needless to say, I took that wine home with me that day along with a bottle of the Chardonnay.

I first visited 50th Parallel in the early spring and was blown away by the thought that went into everything that they did here and the ultimate end result is absolutely evident in the wine. Complex aromas and flavors, balanced acidity, and just a general sense of thoughtful artistry is clearly in every sip. I’ve found that sometimes new wineries take a few vintages to really get their style established, especially across the portfolio but I believe that 50th Parallel has really reached that phase early on. When it does happen this quickly, it’s usually by happenstance, coincidence, or just blind luck. But in this case, with the amount of detail that went into the planning of this winery, I have come to the conclusion that this consistency is entirely by design.

I’ll meet you anytime at the 50th. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: Corcelettes

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Corcelette’s new winery and wine shop have a prominent physical position overlooking the Similkameen Valley (Another Similkameen winery?? Noticing a trend yet?) from the northern slope which you can see from all over the Keremeos and parts of the Cawston area. It is close to the town of Keremeos at the junction of Route 3 and 3A and is located on Upper Bench Road. Follow the signs for the Grist Mill and keep going just a little further and it will be on the left. Look for the huge stones near the end of the driveway.

Why you should go there

IMG_0897At this point, wine maker Charlie Baessler does not make very much wine and he and Jesce Walker consider themselves to be garagistes although they probably won’t be that way for long. The wines that they make now are beautifully balanced and wonderfully complex made by two of the nicest people in the industry today. It’s kind of hard to explain these things without seeming all New-Agey but the personalities of the people who produce the wines can strongly influence how much you enjoy a wine. If I’m not connecting with a producer on a personal level for some reason (weird attitudes, bizarre methods, or just a “bad vibe”), it’s highly unlikely that I will like their wines. For small producers, personality will go a long way to driving sales and establishing long-term relationships with customers. I think that’s why some people prefer small boutique producers rather than large corporate wineries because they are so far removed from any human element. That’s just a theory though. Regardless of winery size, personality comes down from the top and the gang at Corcelettes are awesome and they let that awesome filter down through everything they do.

The other big reason to go, and go soon, is that they may be sold out fairly quickly and you really don’t want to miss out on the experience of this place.

What to expect

This is a small, boutique winery so expect a small tasting room with only one or two people staffing it. This isn’t a large volume winery with a big tasting bar so while they may not have many wines to taste, they will certainly have a lot of things to tell you about how they were made. Personalized service and lots of stories are part of the fun with visiting boutique wineries. They may also not have everything available to taste when you visit so enjoy the wines that they do have.

You will want to be taking lots of photos at this winery. The view is truly inspiring. It’s perfect for group shots.

IMG_0898The Wines

Trivium (Chasselas, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris)

Gewurztraminer

Oracle Rosé (Zweigelt)

Syrah

Menhir (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah)

Two whites, two reds, and a rosé in the middle. And, did you notice that first grape variety in the Trivium?? If not, I’ll type it again for you slowly.

Chasselas.

Yeah, that’s right. I typed it. There’s not a lot of that grape variety in BC let alone in the Similkameen. I’ll let you be the judge of how it tastes but if I have to type it again, I totally will.

IMG_7120The style here is subtle complexity that can evolve over time or even as you drink a glass. The Gewurztraminer starts out with a beautiful set of flavors and then, when you aren’t looking, changes into something else beautiful altogether. The Trivium, unique in the Similkameen with 50% Chasseslas (there I go again…), does that to somehow. The Oracle is refreshing without being wimpy while the reds bring a solid fullness without any harsh, unripe tannins. This is what prudent, quality-conscious grape growing can do for making wines. The Baessler family has a history doing just that. If you’ve ever tried the Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc, that wine was grown by Urs Baessler, Charlie’s father, and is what brought them to my attention years before Corcelettes was released.

Go there. Be amazed. Enjoy. Tweet it with #bcwine. Then enjoy it some more.

Cheers from wine country.

~Luke

North Okanagan Tasting Tour, Part 3: Okanagan Spirits

IMG_0886If you’ve been to Vernon at all in the past 10 years, then you’ll know why there was no way that I was going to be there and NOT try a tasting at this place. Okanagan Spirits has been going strong for about 10 years now and they are really just hitting their stride. I’ve had them on my radar for a while but have never had the time to stop in, even at their other new shop in Kelowna. Since I was in Vernon (and the kids were behaving), I figured I would take in their tour in their original facility before they moved to a new, much bigger facility very soon.

Along with a newer and bigger tasting room space, the new facility will be able to accommodate significantly bigger stills and allow them to use steam to heat the stills rather than burning wood. It’s going to boost their production and allow them to produce larger, single batches, creating a more consistent product.

But that’s for all you to discover when you go to visit them later this summer – which I highly recommend that you do. For this visit, my co-taster and I were thrilled to try many of their special offerings.

IMG_0883Like at Planet Bee and Olive Us, we were told that there was no real particular tasting order, although our host did recommend finishing with the Taboo Absinthe because it was the “big finish”. I started out with the gin while my wife tried out the Raspberry Liqueur. Their portfolio of liqueurs is astounding and have an extremely natural taste that is hard to find in other similar products from around the world. Most liqueurs I remember tasting have a kind of synthetic quality to them, as if they had been flavoured with ‘natural and artificial flavours’ like a cheap fruit juice in the supermarket. That was absolutely not the case with these liqueurs. Perhaps because we are familiar with Okanagan cherries, it was easy for us to taste them in the Cherry Liqueur and it was beautifully smooth. Whichever ones we tried, there was absolutely no synthetic taste to any of the liqueurs and they were all marvellous.

IMG_0884I moved on to try the Gewürztraminer Marc which is grappa made from Gewürztraminer grapes before trying the Aquavitus, an aromatic spirit that is infused with herbs and spices. Dill and coriander are the dominant aromas in this particular version. I found it extremely interesting because it was almost deceptively delicate for such a strong spirit. If you’ve never tried it, I would describe it as “a little like gin, but with more attitude.” It seems to me like the same idea, but the combination of spices is different. Having not yet tried another similar product from elsewhere in the world, I have no point of reference yet. I will promise I will work on that and get back to you.

Overall, it was an educational and absolutely wonderful experience that I highly recommend. Craft distilleries are becoming more common throughout the Okanagan and and are a great way to cleanse and reset the palate at the midpoint of a winery tour.Or if you are going to be in Vernon, make it the climax of your trip like I did. You will not be disappointed.

So ends my series on the Tasting Tour of the North Okanagan. It’s a beautiful part of the Okanagan Valley to explore and there is a lot of history there to check out as well. Be sure to check out the other places I’ve visited and let me know if you  find any other places that I should get to on my next trip.

Cheers from wine (and booze) country!

~Luke

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Hints of Gooseberries and Baloney

There’s an old Celtic proverb that goes, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” I’m about as Celtic as won-ton soup but I’ve always found that proverb appealing for some reason. Growing up English-speaking in a French-speaking province meant that I probably had different, minority cultural views than the rest of the province. Language is very important for determining how we view the world. In the wine world, it’s not insignificant that there is no direct word in English for “Terroir”. Nor is there a word in French for “winemaker”. (The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (not the name of an episode of The Big Bang Theory) is the bigger linguistic concept, if you want to look into this kind of thing further.)

Our language certainly influences how we see the world but I think our world also influences our language. When I lived on the east coast, any liquid that fell from the sky was called “rain”. When I moved to Vancouver, I soon discovered that there were many shades of falling liquid (“showers”, “drizzle”, “downpour”, “pissing”, “deluge”, and – my favourite – “mist”) that each had their own characteristics.

So how does language enable (or hinder) us from describing the wines that we drink?

The Wine Review

People who are new to wine (and some that have been here awhile) find wine reviews kind of bizarre at best and misleading at worst. Tasting notes in magazines, websites, blogs, and apps are filled with descriptions of how the wine supposedly tastes. This wine has “hints of cherries, violets, and forest floor” while this one has “leather, earth, and cigar box notes” with a “firm structure” and much “intensity” and “smoky overtones of licorice”.

Interesting. Wine can have all that stuff in it?

It seems to be a bizarre way to communicate about wine, which itself is a difficult task. A customer at a store I used to work at (here it goes, another one of these stories that I wish I’d made up, but didn’t) that was shopping for a wine with his wife, pulled a bottle off the shelf, looked at it, and then yells across the store, “Honey! This one’s got strawberries in it!” Aside from getting some people to think that wine makers actually add these flavours to the wines (they don’t), it doesn’t actually tell anyone very much about the wine or if they’ll like it or not. One would assume that if one likes strawberries, then if it lists strawberries on the label then one should like the wine. But is that how it is meant to work? How does one communicate that kind of thing?

One of my heroes, Frank Zappa, said (allegedly) that “writing about music was like dancing about architecture.” They are two completely different modes of expression and not easy to make sense of saying the same, or even similar, ideas. I spent years writing about music at university and it was quite frustrating at times. So I decided to start writing about wine.

Perhaps I like the challenge. Perhaps I’m an idiot that really doesn’t learn? More likely is that I’m really interested in how people communicate. How do you know you will love a wine before you taste it? How can you express what you sense so that someone else can get the same reaction? Can it even be done? If it can’t, then what’s the point?

The Point

Wine people get really serious about this kind of thing sometimes. Wine reviews in magazines and blogs, favourable or not, can have a huge impact on the sales of a particular wine. Robert Parker was as powerful as he was in the wine world because of his tasting notes and final scores in the Wine Advocate. I’ve always found those final point scores to be the most divisive within the industry and consumers. Consumers seem to like them, if only as a useful shorthand when shopping. Wine industry, especially those who produce wines that have received good reviews, also love them. The rest of the industry, while not outwardly expressing their disdain, mumble quietly to themselves about it.

I’ve always had a problem with the scores simply because they are far too reductionist. As an neophyte wine drinker, I cannot say that scores didn’t influence my purchases. To see a high score or read a good review meant that if I saw the wine on the shelf, it would very likely tip it in favour of me purchasing it. I’m not sure when that changed but I do remember an incident that provoked some thought. I was searching for a Gewürztraminer from Domaine de Chaberton in Langley. They had won a top prize for it, scored big, and was on the cover of some magazine at the same time. I loved Gewürztraminer (still do) and went after it. I went to my local wine store. Not there. I went to Domaine de Charberton’s wine shop. Sold out.

I finally found it at a small wine store in Langley. It was there!! Hallelujah, I was saved! I brought a couple of bottles up to the dude at the till. I told him I’d been looking for these all day and that I was happy I’d found it. Then I asked what he thought of it. He said, “It’s good, but it doesn’t have a lot of varietal character.”

PLOOFFFFFFFFffffffffffffffffffff….   <<That’s the blogging approximation of the sound of an air mattress deflating slowly.>>

Aside from being a gargantuanly stupid sales job on his part, this dude brought me a dose of reality about my situation. I had gone nuts over trying to find a bottle of wine based on a review, medal, or point score and this guy’s disagreement deflated it in one shot. It made me think about what I was doing searching for this bottle of wine that I hoped would be awesome based on something that was communicated to me (in this case, in a magazine). Was the wine really as good as the magazine said it would be?

Well, I liked it. “Varietal character”? Check, all there. Lovely Gew in all the ways that I liked it at the time.

The end result of this was twofold: First, I never went back to that store. Second, I started to question all of the wine reviews that I read. I started to read them more for entertainment, for a giggle at the extravagant vocabulary and erudite turns of phrase (ha, that one was pretty “erudite” eh?), than to actually learn about the wines themselves. Because to me, it didn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t going to chase after the wines that got the reviews any more than I was going to see a movie that had the best reviews. To this day, I have never sipped on a glass of wine and thought, “Hmm, that’s a 91.” Nor have I read a book, eaten food, smelled a flower, or saw a beautiful woman walking down the street and assigned a point score to the experience. To reduce a wine or any human sensory experience down to a two digit number is ridiculous.

Get on with it

Whenever I get a little ‘too serious’ about wine tasting notes, I think back to this article about a potato chip connoisseur from The Onion that kind of pushes the reset button for me. I look for wines that I think I will enjoy based on recommendations from store staff or friends, tasting samples, and my own intuition. I have lots of wine friends and I’ve come to understand their tastes in wine. One of them prefers fuller, richer styles of whites and hates overly acidic wines. Another can’t stand BC Sauvignon Blanc, finding it too saline for her tastes. Another likes to be more adventurous and loves complex wines with lots of different flavours. Sometimes I can calibrate my recommendations to or from them based on this knowledge. I know that I have made purchases based on what my friends have told me about a wine. It’s not a conscious thing but I’ve found it interesting that I even do this. I know that effective communication is a huge element of working in a successful winery wine shop (or any retail store). Quickly and effectively communicating about the product is key when making the sale.

The point is that this interaction with my friends (or customers) is something that is more useful than words in a magazine wine review or a point score. Is there even a word in English for this kind of interaction or relationship? Can we ascribe a word to it now that we know it may exists? I can see it is how I am, therefore I should be able to have a word for it. (I’ll work on that and get back to you.)

When assigning value to a wine ultimately comes down to basic person-to-person communication, everything else seems kind of pointless.

Podcast #4 – Judging Award-Winning Wines & Thornhaven’s Gewurz

In this week’s podcast, we talk about the value of awards in wine competitions. Do the best wines always win? What does it matter? Join us in tasting an award winning wine – the Thornhaven Gewurztraminer 2008,  the Best in Category at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival 2009.

Thorhaven Gew

Thornhaven's Gewurztraminer 2008