Last month the WineAlign judges spent an evening under the Similkameen Valley stars against a rugged mountain backdrop of glacial rock formation, the vineyards quiet, their fall foliage bright at dusk above stony, gravelly, and silty loam soil. The pizza oven was firing and the Similkameen growers hosted our motley crew with wines pouring all night long.
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These are the facts. The Similkameen Valley lies west of Osoyoos with the majority of vineyards located around Cawston and Keremeos. Significant winds help naturally keep vineyards in this arid valley free of pests and disease, making this region well-suited for organic farming. Due to the steep surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley long after the sun sets. Did I mention how beautiful a place this is?
Our hosts were the owners of Crowsnest Vineyards, a Cawston property purchased by the Heinecke family in 1985 and named after the Crowsnest Highway #3. The family was an early contributor to the development of the Similkameen wine region, led by second generation family siblings Sascha and Anna Heinecke. Here are 12 wines tasted that evening.
Clos Du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Pointed and punchy pinot blanc, stone fruit with a verdant piquancy. Not exactly edgy but crisp, quite precise and yes, surely punchy. Early picked acids maintain freshness and this is nothing but bloody delicious. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021
Clos Du Soleil Capella 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
From the Upper Bench of the South Similkameen Valley and winemaker Michael Clarke’s signature Bordeaux-inspired white blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Knowing the maker’s education and professional past one might look at this Capella as a branch of blancs that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words Capella a.k.a. the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, presents a case of two complimentary grape varieties made profound by the abstractions of soil, gently inclined land and the reflectivity of mountain rock. These building blocks of terroir and warmth may be real but it is the philosophies and methodologies of growing and winemaking that allows us to vindicate the greatness in this 2020. A virtuoso deportment of fine salinity and truffled perfume speaks in subtle Similkameen tones and a light touch is noted by both délestage and elévage restraint. This pure citrus distillate is sharp and pointed but then come the poignant flavours. Like the assyrtiko of the Similkameen with Bordeaux structure. Theoretical and physical, void of experimental tools and yes, c’est bon. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted October 2021
Corcelettes Micro Lot Series Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Fulsome, not bullish, cream centred and with exteriors all bite and wood spice. Almost too youthful still, previously misunderstood, not yet in full perfume bloom. Hinting at what’s coming, tree fruit part orchard and part tropical but no bloody pineapple. Chard of interest. Last tasted October 2021
Part of the Micro Lot Series and a cool to gelid chardonnay well into the yogurt and lemon curd with finishing almond flavours. Texturally speaking there is flesh and fluidity in a Similkameen chardonnay that receives much barrel addendum. Silky and creamy, all about mouthfeel and development. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted September 2021
Crowsnest Family Reserve Chardonnay Stahltank 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Stahltank as in stainless steel fermentation for full retention of freshness, which this energetic 2020 shows, but also big and substantial fruit. Crowsnest Vineyards is located near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley and chardonnay is clearly a specialty. Soft, creamy and devoted, available and amenable. Subtle spice, crafty and just crisp enough to remind of the fresh intendment and lively persistence. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021
Hugging Tree Moonchild Merlot 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Solid merlot in many respects, rich and caky, thick and chock full of ripe fruit. Edgy as needed, split by a streak of right proper greenness and out of a quality vintage. Steeping in acids and tannins running down grain for a result that has and will continue to please for a few years yet to come. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021
Orofino Riesling Hendsbee Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Made from the other Alsatian Clone (as opposed to the oft employed 49) from the 2006 planted vineyard by Cheryl and Lee Hendsbee adjacent to and with great soil similarities to Orofino’s home block on the Cawston Bench. A place of rich caky soil atop gravel and river rock for 100 feet. Prudent to experience this with some but not too much age and the hope is to have an experiential moment, say one or two years forward to do so again. Just now moving into some development, a secondary dance step, trip of the tongue, coupling fruit and mineral salts. Quite dry with elevated but knowing and promising acidity. At present a true matter of delight mixed with complex notions in this time of emerging secondary emotions. The appendages work together, in rhythm and forward motion. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted October 2021
Orofino Gamay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
So bloody primary, a fresh smack of Similkameen juice, a touch turbid and seemingly not quite at the curtain call of its final act towards being a finished wine. Still swimming in carbonic waters, openly fragrant and inviting. A squeeze of blood orange and tart edging while in full control to effect positively on the palate. You think it might turn botanical or volatile but it never does, instead staying a fruit persistent course. Can see this being underestimated when in fact it is simply a joy to drink. Drink 2021-2024. Tasted October 2021
Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
A well developed smoulder, purely be variety and place, not by wood. Still persistently and openly fragrant, earth, brush, flora and fruit intertwined as one in a syrah of end game integration. What was once folds, waves and shadows is now seamlessness, inertia and assimilation. Orofino’s WFS resides in a place of great comfort and equally important regard. Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021
Robin Ridge Winery Gamay 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Has advanced well into the denouement of its life with fruit persistently black of cherry and what tannins there ever were have melted into a glass darkly. Even the acids wane, effecting little to no meaning at this stage. Drinks quite well actually if showing signs of imminence. Nothing wrong about a glass with a good slice of pizza on a cool Similkameen night. Drink 2021-2022. Tasted October 2021
Seven Stones Speaking Rock Estate Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Reductive even after all this time, spicy chardonnay chai and wasabi spiced though still some juicy fruit. Showing well for its age, far from oxidative, of clotted cream and some drying to desiccating flavours. Lemon namely and a dollop of that cream. Fully developed and soon to finish all the softening. A lovely drop at this moment. Drink 2021-2022. Tasted October 2021
Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
Quite a big syrah expression while balanced and showing an ease with which it carries itself this way. Maintains composure and control in the face of a deep and hematic meatiness, high-toned culture, level, pulse and pace of play. Clearly a wine of site, revealing in a meaningful style because it just seems to be the kind of weighty wine it needs to be. No two ways around it. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted October 2021
Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley
A whopping 16 per cent alcohol but truth is you’d not really fully feel or know it. The level of fruit and the flesh it expounds hangs snugly, fitted and tied to the bone. The chalky and peppery liquidity want to be about juiciness and freshness, some way, somehow. The cigarillo smoulders still and the wine finds those realistic and honest moments. Suffers and survives, delivers the varietal goods. Well perhaps there is a moment of shock and awe but ultimately the wine is the wine, for its time and place. Drink 2021-2024. Tasted October 2021
Good to go!