Okanagan On The Up

Date: 21 November, 2019 / Author: Steven Spurrier

Judgement of British Columbia. Photo by WineBC.com

The Okanagan Valley in Canada’s British Columbia represents 3,575 of the total 4,249 vineyard hectares planted in the State. The most planted grape varieties in descending order are: Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc across 185 registered wineries.

On the 49th and 50th Parallels, this is the world’s northernmost world class wine region. The Okanagan Valley lies in a rain shadow between the Coastal (Cascades) and Monashee mountain ranges, about 400 kilometres inland from Vancouver. The landscape of low hills and oblong lakes was formed by the final retreat of the glacial ice between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago – the glaciers leaving large deposits of gravel, silt and sand on the bottom and sides of the valley. The climate is continental with four precise and distinct seasons. Temperatures range from –20˚C in particularly cold winters up to and above 40˚C in summer. Rainfall is low, at between 250mm and 400mm a year, and the grapes benefit from cool nights, allowing them to retain their natural acidity. There is no rain during the autumn, which makes for a long, dry harvest.

My visit in late October was at the invitation of Mrs Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture for British Columbia, on behalf of the Okanagan Wine Initiative which has been founded to promote the region’s rich and diverse range of wines outside the state. Founding members of the Initiative include the 50th Parallel Winery, Culmina Family Estate, Haywire Winery, Painted Rock Estate Winery, Poplar Grove Winery, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, CheckMate Artisanal Winery and Martin’s Lane Winery. Tastings at all of these venues, courtesy of a helicopter provided by the organization, accompanied by Laura Kittmer of the BC Wine Institute, DJ Kearney the region’s leading wine writer and educator, and Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post, proved without a doubt that the region is now producing world class wines from a wide variety of grapes and styles. If proof were needed, it came in four tastings described as ‘The Judgement of BC’.

The Judgement of BC tastings had been the brainchild of Canada’s top wine critic DJ Kearney, whose husband is one of the partners in Haywire Wines. I presided over the first two events in 2015 and again in the last four on my final day in BC. The earlier tastings featured six BC wines and six from around the world of the same varietal and at the same comparative price. This year’s had flights of 10 wines: six from BC and four from other regions, just as had been the case in the 1976 Judgement of Paris Tasting. The following are the top three wines in each flight since the start:

Chardonnay in 2015

  • Soumah Single Vineyard 2013, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
  • Kumeu River Hunting Hill 2012, Auckland, New Zealand
  • Hamilton Russell Hemel-en-Aarde 2014, South Africa

Syrah in 2015

  • C C Jentsch 2013, Okanagan Valley, Canada, BC, Canada
  • Langmeil ‘Orphan Bank’ Shiraz 2012, Barossa, South Australia
  • Cornas Granit 60 2013, Domaine Vincent Paris, Rhône, France

Riesling in 2016

  • Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2013 Max-Ferd Richter, Mosel, Germany
  • Cedar Creek ‘Platinum Block 3’ 2013, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Wild Goose ‘Stoney Slope’ 2013, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada

Pinot Noir in 2016

  • Beaune Clos de la Mousse 1er Cru 2012, Bouchard Père & Fils, Burgundy, France
  • Bachelder 2012 Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon, USA
  • Felton Road Bannockburn 2014, Central Otago, New Zealand

Pinot Gris in 2017

  • Kim Crawford 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand
  • Zind Humbrecht 2014, Turckheim, Alsace, France
  • 50th Parallel Winery 2016, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

Merlot in 2017

  • CheckMate Black Rook 2013 Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Duckhorn Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley, USA
  • La Stella ‘Maestoso’ 2012 Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

Sparkling Wine in 2018

  • Roederer Estate Brut NV, Anderson Valley, California, USA
  • Veuve Clicquot Brut NV, Champagne, France
  • Pierre Paillard ‘Les Parcelles’ Bouzy Grand Cru Extra Brut NV, Champagne, France

Bordeaux-style Red Blends in 2018

  • Poplar Grove ‘The Legacy’ 2014, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Laughing Stock Vineyards ‘Portfolio’ 2015, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Dominus Estate 2014, Napanook, California, USA

Riesling in 2019

  • St Urbans-Hof Wiltinger Alte Reben 2014, Mosel, Germany
  • Cedar Creed Estate Platinum Block 3 2018, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • St Hubertus & Oak Bay Winery Family Reserve 2017, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

Chardonnay in 2019

  • Meyer Family Vineyards Tribute Series ‘Donovan Tildesley’ 2016 Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • 50th Parallel Estate Winery 2016, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Vineyard 2017, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Pinot Noir in 2019

  • Arrowhead Cellars Archive 2016, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • La Crema 2016, Monterey, California, USA
  • Sokol Blosser Estate ‘Dundee Hills’ 2015, Oregon, USA

Syrah in 2019

  • Tightrope Winery 2016, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Le Vieux Pin Winery ‘Cuvée Violette’ 2016, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
  • Stag’s Hollow Winery ‘Amalia Vineyard’ 2016, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

From the eight flights 2015–18, the Okanagan Valley gained three 1sts and two 2nds, while from four flights in 2019 the region gained three 1sts and three 2nds. Okanagan is indeed on the Up.

 

AUTHOR

Wine writer and consultant Steven Spurrier, joined the wine trade in London in 1964 and later moved to Paris where he bought a wine shop in 1971, and then opened L’Académie du Vin, France’s first private wine school in 1973. Spurrier organized the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which unexpectedly elevated the status of California wine and promoted the expansion of wine production in the New World.