Thursday, 2 October 2014

Wineries of the Okanagan Valley - Part 2

It was another sunny weekend in the Okanagan, but slightly cooler. Great weather for another cycling wine tour, with free sweat management from a rather gusty fall wind. Due to the fairly large distance and even larger hills separating each winery, I only made it around to 3 on this particular day (well 3 locations, 4 wineries). Each one was so unique and its wines in contrast to each other that it really felt like a full day of wine education.

Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin

Due to consolidation under the Constellation Brands umbrella, these two well-known stalwarts of the Okanagan Valley are housed in a joint complex, both for production and cellar door sales. Although it was clear that interior design was still in progress, the cellar door staff Chris and Sofia were open and welcoming, taking plenty of time to showcase their wares during my visit and offering valuable insights into the production and viticulture.

The Jackson-Triggs Okanagan winemakers are Australian, Brooke Blair and Derek Kontkanen. Wines come under Reserve, Grand Reserve and Sunrock labels. I found the Sunrock range most interesting, as they claim this is the hottest vineyard in Canada, down south near Osoyoos. The reason is due to a large rock behind the vineyard which reflects the sun down onto the sandy soils.  I was most pleased by the Sunrock Shiraz, which took me back to Australia with its pepperiness and vibrant red and black fruit flavours.

Inniskillin are doing good things with Chenin Blanc. In a bone dry style, the sweet fruit aromas found on the nose turned to a crisp, citrus finish. There was an added level of complexity not often found in your typical run-of-the-mill fruit forward Chenin. Then I discovered the 2009 Pinotage. Probably the only other producer of this grape variety in the Valley apart from Stoneboat (read my review here), it was intensely perfumed with rich red berry aromas. Peppery tannins were mellowed out by some dark wood notes. One of those wines I would love to sit back and sip on a cold, reflective winter night.

Both Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin produce highly lauded Icewines, both made from Riesling and both having won major international gongs on multiple occasions. It was very interesting to compare the 2013 Jackson-Triggs offering with the 2011 Inniskillin version, as it demonstrated how the flavour profile in such a concentrated and luscious wine develops over time. Personally, I preferred the older of the two wines, tantalising with its grilled pineapple flavour and a hint of kerosene from the Riesling. In saying that, the orange peel and candied ginger of the younger wine was also quite alluring.

Fairview Cellars

Continuing with the plan of catching wineries before they closed for the winter, I decided to venture far up above Highway 97 into the 'highlands' of the Golden Mile Bench to a quietly tucked away winery aptly named Fairview Cellars. 

Striking mural on the wall of Fairview Cellars
This was a winery whose reputation proceeded it. The vigneron Bill Eggert, is known in these parts as 'the Cab guy' due to his reputable wisdom surrounding the cultivation of Cabernet Sauvignon. The focus here was on Bordeaux grape varieties.

In general, I found the wines to be lighter bodied, elegant styles but some did lack a bit of tannin structure. The exception to this was the 2011 Two Hoots which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Although being quite opaque, the aromatics of blackcurrants and cedar were in full song and the medium body was supported by some rustic, if not slightly stalky, tannins.  It was a nice touch that they had a back vintage up for tasting, which was the 2007 The Bear - a Bordeaux blend. There was some rich black fruit dancing around the developing secondary characteristics of leather and pipe smoke and the tannins were enjoyably peppery.

Unfortunately quite a few of the wines were sold out, so the selection was limited, however I was assured these may still be available in bottlehops and restaurants around the area.

After my struggle to reach the heights of Fairview Cellars, it was a rewarding glide down to Intersection Winery, just off Highway 97 on Road 8. I ride past this winery every day to and from work, so it was good to drop in and see what they are up to here. The place is very new and the cellar door felt rather empty and echoing, but this was counteracted by the lively conversation I enjoyed with the two cellar door staff (I was the only taster there late in the afternoon).

Having no pre-conceived notion of the wine quality at Intersection, I was honestly taken aback. I enjoyed their entire range, both for its freshness and thoughtfulness, with some rather clever tweaking of traditionals. Their French trained winemaker Dylan Roche is definitely of the school of innovation. 

Without overloading you (or giving all their secrets away), I will stick with what I thought they did best: Viognier and Merlot.

2012 Miles Edge WhiteViognier is the minor constituent of this 30:70 blend with Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is medium bodied with fresh stonefruit aromas and the Viognier serves to round out the palate and minimise herbaceousness.

2012 Reserve Viognier Marsanne - This 80:20 blend has all sorts of fruit flavours, from nectarine and orange peel, through to lemon and lime. Gorgeously textured and ready to pair up with a rich dish of your choosing.

An interesting point of difference with the Intersection Merlot is that it is made in an unfiltered style with grapes found in both Alluvial and Sandy soils. They do a combined version and one each of the two different patches.

2011 Unfiltered Merlot - nice berry flavours but very drying tannins

2012 Unfiltered Merlot Alluvia - a merlot with excellent concentration of both fruits and tannins. Layers of minerality add to the complexity of this elegant wine.

After my second successful jaunt sipping my way through the local cellar doors, my opinion has not changed. The Southern Okanagan Valley is in the midst of an innovation boom. They are still searching for the varieties and styles that will one day define this quality wine region. Perhaps I would add Viognier and Merlot to my list of potentials.