2017s: Reviews & Notes – Chic Fille Tasting

Chic Fille Pinot Noirs at Caffe La Tana

Always keen to discover and taste new B.C. pinot noirs I found the invite to a JoieFarm Chic Fille tasting at Caffe La Tana, (a small cafe gem & 2 nights a week wine bar on Commercial Drive) to be pure catnip.

JoieFarm Makes Small Batch Chic Fille Wines

Caffe La Tanna
Caffe La Tanna

Chic Fille wines are an experimental series made in very small batches (about 25 to 50 cases) by Heidi Noble and her winemaking staff at JoieFarm. Heidi’s idea was to revisit some winemaking techniques such as ambient yeast fermentation, extended skin or lees contact and semi carbonic ferments, and to apply just one of these in the making of a particular wine.  For pinot noir, the team divided a single vineyard lot from the Hollenbach vineyard, inoculating one half with the Burgundian yeast strain RC-212 while leaving the other to ferment using the yeasts resident in the air of the winery(AKA ambient fermentation).  JoieFarm had been using Hollenbach pinot noir fruit in their Rosé since 2008. The clone is 113.

Side by side tasting comparisons that illustrate the influence of a particular winemaking technique are relatively scarce and usually very informative but this one looked to be doubly illuminating because it involved grapes from the Hollenbach vineyard. 


3 Wines, 2 Wineries, 1 Skaha Vineyard

The Hollenbach Vineyard is located on a bench above the Skaha Bluffs just North of Okanagan Falls.  Church & State Winery had also made a Hollenbach Vineyard sourced pinot noir from 2005 to 2009.  In that time Church and State had won a number of gold, silver and best in class medals within international competitions including gold at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards for the 2007 vintage.  The 2007 was a wine that the BCPinotNoir.com panel had also reviewed in our panel tasting so I was also looking forward to comparing how two different wineries chose to interpret fruit from the same vineyard.

Having tasted and enjoyed the Church and State wine numerous times I remember that its very persuasive aromas and flavours were an even blend of the fruit itself and the barrel program. The signature of this style was a kind of savoury caramel note on the finish. Its best features were balance, harmony and a very subtle layering of all the elements present.

The Chic Fille wines reflected a very different winemaking approach.


Different Yeasts, Different Wines

Joie Chic Fille pinot noir Hollenbach Vineyard 2017 Inoculated

The wine was very pale and showed some ruby on the rim.  It began with some interesting savoury complexities that included pomegranate, chokecherry, leather, cement basement, red currant and some other dried fruits. The flavour followed on from the nose but was rather straight forward, simple and undeveloped at the moment with very soft tannins. C to C+ ~ 87

Joie Chic Fille pinot noir Hollenbach Vineyard 2017 Ambient

In the glass, the wine was pale and showed a bright cherry rim.  The nose had notes of cherry, boysenberry and chocolate.  The flavours were a combination of lingering cherry and berry fruit with good fruit complexity and liveliness. Body and intensity were just this side of medium with subdued tannins. C+ to B- ~ 89

The differing characteristics of these two versions of the same wine clearly demonstrated the influence that the fermenting yeast can have on the final wine. The inoculated version demonstrated more savoury fruit and came across as restrained whereas the ambient fermentation wine was more immediate, lively, fresh fruit driven and interesting at this point.

I felt the main difference between the Church & State wines and the Chic Fille versions was related to the use of wood. While the Church and State wines showed a very deft touch in blending the evident oak effects with the fruit components to make a very lovely wine it might have been at the expense of showing the full character of the fruit. I also wonder what difference ten years of vine age (the difference between a 2007 Church and State and the 2017 Chic Fille) might have on fruit character and therefore on a winemaker’s options at harvest time.

At Chic Fille, for the ambient version, the grapes were hand-picked utilizing a sorting table.  A portion of the fruit was then selected to be crushed and de-stemmed and then fermented in small, open-top, 500L fermenters The juice was allowed to spontaneously ferment on its own after being gradually warmed up after a cold soak on its skins. It was aged for 3 months in neutral Burgundian puncheon on fine lees. The wine was racked out of barrel and settled before being bottled unfiltered and unfined. This very minimal contact with wood likely explains the predominantly fresh fruit impression the Chic Fille ambient ferment version gave.

(The ambient version proved to be a hit and was made again in 2018 – Current Availability)

Skaha Bench Becomes New Sub-GI

As a footnote, it turned out, four months after the tasting, Skaha Bench a 10-kilometre stretch going from the Southern outskirts of Penticton South along the Eastern shore of Skaha Lake became the fourth sub-GIs (sub-appellation) in British Columbia.  Sub-GIs are created in part with regard to their geographical location, aspect and soil types. Currently there is not a lot of pinot noir being made on the Skaha Bench. The sub-GI has a total area of 365 hectares and just 75 ha of vineyards total.    Wineries located on Skaha Bench currently offering a pinot noir include Blasted Church Vineyards, Black Market Wine Co. and Pentage Winery. A few others such as JoieFarm source pinot noir from Skaha vineyards.

Note that the wines here were tasted when they were barely a year old so very few conclusions should be drawn. It would be lovely to tasted them a few more years down the road. Also down the road, with a sub-GI now in place it will be especially interesting to follow the development of Skaha pinot noir.

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