Some wine is made all in the family. These days I am particularly intrigued by the ancestral homestead turned grape-growing entity. This past summer I paid a visit to Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley. Mike Lightfoot‘s apple farm has transformed into a 21st century outpost for Vinifera and local, indigenous viticulture.
Blue Mountain Vineyards has been a family business since 1971. For twenty years Jane and Ian Mavety grew and sold grapes to the commercial wine industry. In 1991 they began bottling under the Blue Mountain name. Next generation winemaker Matt Mavety came to Niagara in July for the annual 14C Cool Chardonnay event and I had the pleasure of tasting with him. His wines have been arriving in Ontario with record B.C. import speed. They have become a darling of the LCBO, the WineAlign crew and consumers for good reason. The purity of the all-estate grown wines are a study in South Okanagan clarity. The persistence in consistency across the board is increasingly apparent.
Blue Mountain’s tale of cultivation is one of intensive labour. It’s a hands-on approach in the vineyard; suckering, shoot thinning, shoot positioning, fruit thinning and harvesting are all done this way. The winery focuses on varietals; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, and Pinot Noir. In addition to the single-varietal bottles, no less than five different Sparkling variations are made in the traditional method. It’s a toss-up between the two styles to decide what the Okanagan farm does best. Neither analect should be missed.
Sperling Vineyards comes from along history near Kelowna, B.C. Giovanni and Lorenzo Casorso began the farm in 1884, going on to become the largest grower of fruits and vegetables in the area. Giovanni’s sons all planted vineyards in the Okanagan beginning in 1925. Pioneer Ranch, home to Sperling Vineyards, is one of those sites. Since 2008, Sperling has been harvesting and building the 21st century legacy of that famous Kelowna property.
Ann Sperling is one of Canada’s superstar winemakers. Alone and along with partner Peter Gamble, Sperling has elevated the efficacious fortunes of Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara and Versado in Argentina. Her categorical work on the home front has raised the bar for the Okanagan and for Sperling Vineyards.
The Kelowna winery concentrates on a Sparkling wine program, along with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Marechal Foch from some very old (1960’s planted) vines. Chances to taste the Sperling output have been more frequent of late, from i4C to VINTAGES releases and with Ann at a special LCBO tasting.
Here are notes on 17 wines tasted over the past few months from Sperling and Blue Mountain.
From winemaker Ann Sperling’s Kelowna family vineyard (dating back to the 1880’s) this is fashioned from 100 per cent (Estate only) Pinot Blanc. The vineyard sits adjacent the Old Vines Riesling of Tantalus Vineyards, another quintessential B.C. example of vines that lambaste and biff out racy, tension filled grapes. Though the ’09 is more round than linear and an invitation to a more prescient pleasure or vatic gratification, the concept is base and relative to an assessment of the ’08. The Sperling citrus, the undefined citrus, is an amalgamation or vagary of lemon, lime, grapefruit, pomello and orchard fruit that acts like citrus in nature. This ’09 is initially warm but then builds with intensity, unlike the ’08 which was (and still is) that way from the outset. In a year this should join the accessibility shelf in parallel to its one year older sibling. Tasted September 2014 @
The Sperling citrus layering is nowhere near locating the entrance to an unraveling descent. From an early vintage with an early frost, there is little wonder why it possesses so much pent-up aggression. Note to self: Wait another year, find Ann Sperling and must re-try. From my earlier, November 2013 notes: “Fasten the seatbelt for these Okanagan bubbles of tension nonpareil, acids beyond compare, fruit screaming to be heard. Estate-grown Pinot Blanc picked and aged at classic Champagne numbers, 18 brix, 2.95 PH and 36 months on the lees. Low in alcohol (11.3 per cent) and supportive in reverse balancing residual sugar (6 gr/l). Of note were green seeds, “so we’re not fighting green character,” says Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Non varietally-driven fizz that concentrates on mouthfeel, place and method. Does this Brut have the most tension ever from a B.C. Sparkling wine? Travels electrically from pole to pole, wired tight, inside a smart machine. A tale of a northern soul, “too busy staying alive.” Last tasted September 2014
This blend of Pinot Noir (70 per cent) and Chardonnay (30) was just recently riddled and disgorged so it comes across stonking and stomping on the freshness and fervor scale. After a few months in, the diminished low-dosage and Reserve style will settle and merge into an ever so slightly oxidized, Champagne stage, the platinum eyes will shine, the ginger spice will bite and the expansive mousse will blow. This is a very mature and wise bottle of Okanagan bubbles with a wistful look on its many faces, imagining what might have been, with today’s ability, in that lane of unmade Okanagan Sparkling wine. Ooh la la, Ann Sperling might say, ” I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” Tasted September 2014
Ann Sperling’s Rosé fizz is 100 per cent Pinot Noir of a style in high contrast to the Brut bottlings. Higher brix (19) and sugar dosage, shorter lees time, really low (though classic Champagne number – 2.95) pH and high-ranging acidity (10 g/L) all combine for a consistent yet very different airy apprehension. There is a sweet lavender soap aroma, a savoury edge and the classic Sperling citrus, here in lemon-lime pull. There is really nothing strawberry-rhubarb or berry-centric about it. This is Sparkling Rosé with hold the ball old school feel and modern era scoring ability. Tasted September 2014
From a 1978 planting, this teases late harvest-like with a sweet-sliding aromatic entry that glides effortlessly on the changeover to the palate and then bam! A red-letter sharp and acidulated takeover. The roots dug deep for the wise and wizened vines overtop a full limestone overlay “naturally stretch the nutrients in the bunches,” notes Sperling’s partner Peter Gamble. Low, old and slow, “all about circulation and flow.” Finishes with pith and citrus intensity. Yikes Riesling. Tasted November 2013
High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine. Tasted twice, May and July 2014
Winemaker Ann Sperling stresses clonal selection for the success of this Okanagan Pinot Noir. The structured clone 144 inhabits a south-facing block, while 777 (higher degree of sugar, weaker acidity) and 828 are planted on the north facing side. Sperling’s goal is minerality, to seek a fine streak, drawn up from soil through vine, transmitted direct to berry, cutting a multi-dimensional line crossing and interpolating the finished wine. That success is here carved from hillsides, burrowed into must and released simultaneously into wine. Ministrations are gathered from small bunch pressings, indigenous yeasts and small puncheon aging to minimize wood impact. This ’12 is a buckaroo bright, light silt and gravel textured Pinot Noir of cherries fruity and pit-tinged. As for the mineral streak, call it metaphor hyperbole if you must, but how else to explain the subtle tickle in polytypic sensation? Like a banzai effect, “a simultaneous plane of existence with our own.” Minerality. Tasted September 2014
Blue Mountain is the poster child for B.C. bubbles and this forth-righteous, tight to expansive, quintessential cool-climate Okanagan is the stalwart for the genre. The unabashed intensity in citrus acidity, zero dosage style is exactly what it should be. If you have never experienced west coast bubbles, this is the pace to start. Tasted December 2013
A blend of primarily Pinot Noir with approximately 15 per cent Chardonnay, the Rosé bubbles by Blue Mountain rest 36 months on lees. Perpetuates the clear and concise house style, shared in common excellence with the Reserve Dry bottle. The smells of strawberries are key, the texture so important to character and aridity the driving force behind its level of elegance. So faintly pink, rusty really, this is blush fizz of the domicile kind; loyal, agreeable and persistent. It pleases from the first sip and lingers with consistent tones to the last drop. What beach sit, couch lag or special event stand wouldn’t be improved with a glass of these Okanagan bubbles? Tasted October 2014
Blue Mountain’s B de B is all in Chardonnay, a 100 per cent estate fruit, cuvée first press, finished dry (6 g/L RS) and left on the lees sparkler for six years. This is quite an olfactory clot of yeast, yogurt and yellow fruit. Full and widening in the mouth, the flavours expand and contract, then expand again like fizz on life support. It’s hard to tell where this will go; the So2 is noticeable and though it blows to the mistral, beyond the element there are more elements. Magnetic to be sure and all over the mountain, these bubbles are confounding and exciting, but confounding nonetheless. Tasted October 2014
The RD from estate fruit is Pinot Noir based, with approximately one-third support from Chardonnay and a pittance of Pinot Gris. The extended lees sit is seven years and if that is not the texture kicker than nothing is. Strawberries persist throughout this very dry sparkler, from leaves on the nose to bled fruit on the palate. This carries more arid character than the Blanc de Blancs, more texture and less atomic airiness. Finishes dusty and gingered, with a hint of mineral though the subtlety is sketched. The poise here is to be commended, the grace embraced. Calming fizz for any occasion. Tasted October 2014
Juicy and immediately perceived as existing in unwavering balance. The juxtaposition of the stainless steel and (three year-old oak for seven months) barrel aging intertwines fresh and reductive aromas to a common meld. More orchard fruit than I remember, more linear acidity, more expression. Raises the bar and the score. From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Half barrel-aged, this Chardonnay has a silky mouth feel and as much nip as can be assimilated in a single mouthful. Green apple, blanched nuts and a metallic tickle give the sensation of chewing on crumbling stones. There is considerable girth and texture here, spicy folds and tangible tension. The alloy trumps the fruit so consider drinking up now and for another year or two.” Last tasted July 2014
A thick, rich and medicated goo this ’11 Blue Mountain Chardonnay. “Mother Nature just brewed it and there’s nothing really to it I know.” A traffic of oak waves in not so much woody but more so simply tannic. The palate is clenched, those tannins angular and ever so slightly bitter, intense and want to be bigger than the fruit would be willing to allow. This is Chardonnay with personality and ability, if just a bit big for its own head. Tasted July 2014
Upfront, come and get me, juicy expression of Sauvignon Blanc, free of encumbrances. Avoids grass and spice, reaching instead for tree fruits, both stone and orchard. A bit ambiguous for that reason, acting less varietal and more Okanagan, but that is a very good thing. Has terrific sapidity and more than admirable length. A touch of distracting, caustic herbal intensity on the finish. Tasted August 2014
The astucity is palpable, the innuendo more than just a suggestion. This silent but deadly Pinot Gris is quietly explosive, fruit shuddering beneath a wall of texture and grain. Aromatically speaking it gives very little of itself but in the mouth the feel is so broad and coating. This is one of those very special wines that must be tasted with prejudice to appreciate just how dramatic and evidenced it can be. The acidity is stony laminous, the juice squeezed of many an orange variety, from Mandarin to Moros Blood. The finish gets an accent in Pomello. Blue-chip value in B.C. PG. Tasted October 2014
The Reserve Pinot is intoxicating to say the list. Some whole clusters in the fermentation process add mouth feel, cure and needed grit but how this can not be viewed overall in the shiniest west coast light would be confounding. The reserve ’11 is both “sky as I kite, sticky as lips” and “as licky as trips.” If there was ever an Okanagan Pinot Noir to get you high, this would be the one. What a boisterous effort out of a less than scorching vintage and considering the modest to riches price, no shame in visiting with flavourful fare, imbued with spice, any day of the week. Tasted April 2014
The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake. Tasted October 2014
Good to go!