Rhys Pender thanked the crowd for showing up so early on the Friday morning seminar “From Ground Up” at the Vancouver Convention Centre as part of the yearly International Wine Festival that takes place here in the city. The focus: the Golden Mile Bench – British Columbia’s first sub-appellation which was created in 2015.
“This is the future of wine in BC,” opened Rhys Pender. “We are going to celebrate that.”
Pender, a Master of Wine and owner of Little Farm Winery in the Similkameen Valley, helped moderate the panel alongside the Vancouver Sun’s wine expert Anthony Gismondi.
In attendance for the panel discussion were: Joe Luckhurst (Road 13), Rob Summers (Hester Creek), Walter Gehringer (Gehringer Bros.), Bill Eggert (Fairview Cellars), Andrew Moon (Tinhorn Creek), Chris Jentsch (C.C. Jentsch), and Don Triggs (Culmina Family Estate).
Gismondi is a huge supporter of the movement to get BC up to speed with designating viticultural areas. It was clear during the seminar that Gismondi has some strong opinions on the matter.
“All wines have an address,” Gismondi eagerly stated, “[and] the easiest way to figure out a wine is to figure out the address and go from there.” An address. The easiest way for us wine folks to really talk about where a wine came from is to be able to say it came from a specific location. Gismondi’s passion continued to show as he enunciated the words of “I don’t think we can wait another 100 years”. Gismondi points to the sheer fact that we need to authenticate where British Columbia wines are from, and one way to do that is by labelling various regions and sub-appellations that we can refer to, and that the world can refer to.
And he is right.
The process is not that easy, as Pender pointed out during the opening remarks. The team who began the journey to get the Golden Mile Bench sub-geographical indication (sub-GI) were, “meeting for about 5 years to get this started”. Almost five years, half a decade, 260 weeks, 1,825 days. Do the math; the process is rigorous. Our first sub-GI has only been “in existence”, shall we say, for a mere 2 years.According to www.winebc.com, the Golden Mile Bench:
is located on the western slope, south of Oliver and across from the Black Sage Bench. Its southerly latitude provides a warm climate, but its location on the west side of the valley means it gets morning, rather than afternoon sunshine, making it a cooler region than its eastern neighbour. Any winery, whether their tasting room/winery is physically located on the Golden Mile Bench or not, can use the term Golden Mile Bench Sub-GI on a BC VQA wine label, as long as the wine is made from grapes exclusively grown in the sub-GI.
Sandra Oldfield, CEO of Tinhorn Creek, was a mover and shaker in getting the GMB sub-GI started. “You want to name a sub appellation not by postal code but by soil types,” she declared, “and you have to be grounded in the ground”.
A valid point, as various viticultural experts across this giant globe press on about the particular soil types and how dirt ends up defining a wine. Terroir, the term used for how the ground and its dirt influence grapes and the wine characteristics, is what Oldfield is getting at here. Developing appellations and sub-appellations is more than just pinning a place on a map; it is about the very land the vines are planted in.
As it came to light through the course of the seminar, there are so many different types of soils in the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation. Chris Jentsch, of C.C. Jentsch Cellars, spoke to this when he commented, “I think, first of all, you should grow what works on your site. To bring the best out of each varietal, that is important. I think we are expressing some of these fruitful wines, and we really are in a special place.”
Attendees were grateful to find twelve wines placed in front of them. All of these wine samples were made from grapes grown in what is now labeled as the Golden Mile Bench. Due to its location, this sunny area is producing everything from Icewine to crisp whites to double-decade-age-worthy reds.
Expressions of the Golden Mile Bench: White and Red Wines
- Road 13 Vineyards
WHITE: It would not have been a fair GMB seminar had Joe Luckhurst (General Manager) not brought his sparkling Chenin Blanc 2013. A true mineral-driven, traditional method sparkling wine (that spent three years on lees) made from 60 year old Chenin Blanc vines started off the morning the right way. The vines grow at an elevation of 350m, and in Gravelly Loam soil. The result: a bright bouquet filled with lemon-lime zest, hints of clementine, and a palate focused on citrus bursts and lovely, dusty, stoniness.
WHITE: To continue the journey of showing how Chenin Blanc thrives in the GMB, we next tried the 2015 Old Vines Chenin Blanc. Made from the same fruit as the sparkling, this still wine has a youthful bouquet driven by stone fruit notes, floral essences, and fresh apricot. Citrus notes hang in the background with every whiff. The palate has a similar discovery as the bouquet, although the finish boasts of wet stones. An engaging wine.
- Hester Creek
WHITE: Hester Creek brought along their Pinot Blanc 2015 to share with the crowd. As Rob Summers pointed out during discussion, the Ratnip soil that is found in their vineyards is “glacial based…it is the erosion off Mt. Kobo”. The Pinot Blanc, retailing at $17.95 per bottle, was loaded with citrus characteristics, in addition to white peach, Mandarin orange, and hints of lime. Some notes of a gravelly minerality were noticed. The palate came through with no hints of sweetness, although the fruit notes were candied and stone fruit driven. It was delightful.
RED: The 2013 Reserve Merlot Block 2 came from vines that were planted in the early 1970s. This was a vibrant red wine with intense notes of plum, dark cherry, blackberry, and milk chocolate on the bouquet. The palate offered a different focus with a smokey, toast-driven, spices. As the wine ages in a blend of French and American oak, a variety of nuances develop; lay this one down for a while.
- Gehringer Bros. Estate Winery
WHITE: What would BC wine be without Old Vines Auxerrois? Having the opportunity to taste it is always a pleasure. This 2015 vintage does not show intense fruit, but is more reminisce of a “chill out” wine. Auxerrois (said OX-ERR-wah) is not widely-planted anywhere in the world, but when grown on the GMB, brings notes of white tea, lemon, hints of lime, and a whiff of dry earth. The palate is refreshing and citrus driven, and finishes with a focus on apricot and wet stone.
WHITE: Yowzas. The 2015 -9 Ehrenfelser Icewine was a definite discussion point during the wine fest. (I not only tasted it during this seminar, but also heard folks talking about it during the trade and public tastings.) A very intense, sweet wine comes from these grapes that are picked at -9 Celsius. “The magic begins” here, as the seminar pamphlet reads, and the “golden nectar of concentrated juice” is thus transformed into this rich wine. Viscous and vivacious, this Icewine will not disappoint with its mango custard, lychee nut, pineapple, and honey notes.
- Fairview Cellars
Details were not provided, but with unfortunate circumstance, something happened and we were not able to taste the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc or Bill’s 2014 Cabernet Franc. The mood was kept light, and moderators joked about having a “virtual tasting” of these wines. (Lucky for me Bill’s wines are some of my personal favourites. As such, I know them well and didn’t feel too disappointed.)
- Tinhorn Creek
WHITE: Chardonnay vines grow on sandy gravel at an elevation of 400m and then magically turn themselves into the 2014 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Chardonnay GMB. This Chardonnay is fermented naturally, and it ages in oak for approximately 17 months before it goes into bottle. A developing Chardonnay with a citrusy bouquet, one may also find hints of vanilla and toast on the nose which contribute to an apple crumble note. The palate is smooth and silky, medium bodied, and boasts of creme brûlée.
RED: As a treat (and proof that BC wines can age well), Tinhorn Creek also brought their 2005 Oldfield Series Syrah to the table. Now, while the Golden Mile Bench was not actually named yet, this wine came from grapes that were alive and well on this “severely steep, south facing, 45 degree slope” of land that is now considered the GMB. What a treat. Black tea, black pepper, dried cassis, and fig were only some of the notes that can be found in this over-a-decade-old wine.
- C.C. Jentsch Cellars
RED: Hailing from the “Golden Mile Bench Block”, the 2014 Small Lots Cabernet Franc was grown on Sandy Loam soil. Having spent about 17 months in French and American oak to age, means this wine is upfront and focused on toast and spice notes. While I quite enjoyed this particular wine, I would say that it needs more time to settle. It is a rich and intense Cab Franc that deserves to have patience given to it. If you’re keen to open a bottle now, expect dark fruits and oak-influence to greet your glass.
RED: In addition, we had the pleasure of chasing the Cab Franc with “The Chase” by C.C. Jentsch – a Bordeax blend featuring Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. While it is still developing, stewed fruits, spice, and wet black tea leaves predominate on both bouquet and palate, with a line of currants running through as well. These grapes were sourced from a few different sites: Golden Mile Bench and Testalinden Creek. Let it be known that the fruit was meticulously sorted post-pick to eliminate any fruit that was not top-notch.
- Culmina Family Estate Winery
RED: Made from 4 year old vines, the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon hails from three different blocks on the property (C, D, and G) that were purposefully planted to make way for Bordeaux-style wines. As such, this Cabernet Sauvignon was planted with terroir in mind. Grown on Alluvial Glacial soil, this inky-purple wine is still developing. Let it rest; the tannins are chewy and intense. With some age, this Cabernet will show its true colours.
RED: Mmm. Hypothesis 2013 was next; another Bordeaux-style blend thrown into the mix. Full-on intensity with this wine ensures that one is paying attention. Loads of blackcurrant, black cherry, blackberry, and spices fill the glass. The palate is particularly spiced with clove and mace notes. The tannin and acidity are both solid, so feel free to lay this down for some aging as well. As the rootstocks and clones were matched to the site’s terroir, the Hypothesis is a true expression of the Golden Mile Bench.
As we move forward, hopefully out of the dark ages, it will be critical for British Columbia’s wineries to not only further investigate how grapes express themselves in our province, but also continue the search for how terroir influences the artistic canvases that are our wines. We are a special wine making place on this bountiful planet, and if we do this right, we can, and will, be recognized for our expressive creations.
Gismondi, toward the end of the panel discussion, spoke frankly when he said, “We have the people and we have the vineyards. We just need to push it [appellations] through”.
Pender added, “There’s been a total change in how wine is talked about now; winemakers would get up and talk about what they did to the wine, and now they talk about where it comes from.”
Onwards and upwards!