Tasting B.C. Pinot Noir 2013s With One From Carneros #30

A tasting here of some rare B.C. Pinots from Vancouver Island, Naramata Sub-GI and Kelowna along with one from a B.C. “virtual winery”, contrasted with a classic from Carneros.

Name of WinePriceQuality Rating
#1 Emerald Coast Pinot Noir 2013 $20.00 C ~ 86
#2 Black Cloud Cumulus -Nimbus Pinot Noir 2013 $45.00 C+ to B- ~ 89
#3 Lunessence Pinot Noir 2013 $42.00 D+ to C- ~83
#4 Spierhead Golden Retreat Pinot Noir 2013 $29.00 C+ to B- ~ 89
#5 Maverick Pinot Noir 2013 $29.00 C+ to B- ~ 89
#6 Spierhead Cuvee Pinot Noir 2013 $32.00 B ~ 92
#7 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir 2013 $33.00 B ~ 92

#1 Emerald Coast Pinot Noir 2013 13.4%

Overall Quality Rating: C ~ 86
Price: $20.00

LC: Garnet. BG: Cherry/garnet. Jacquelin G: Bright and clear, light to medium garnet

LC: Strawberry/violet. pinot noir nose! Hint of forest floor. BG: Canned plums, beetroot, cement basement. Jacquelin G: Earthy, gamey, barnyard, sour cherries, pomegranate – lots going on. Well integrated.

LC: Sweet fruit (red) with a hint of bitterness. Somewhat simple. Quite long finish though a bit of alcohol burn. Pleasant clean and reasonably well-balanced. Didn’t quite deliver what the nose promised. As it sat in the glass became very soft, flabby. Finishes as though some residual sugar. BG: Suspiciously sweet, canned plums, sweet spice, acidity a bit low, ending has slightly sugary snack, yet still relatively well balanced. Jacquelin G: Excellent balance of fruit acid and tannins. Fruity palate and finish. Would like to taste in another couple of years for further development. Velvety texture. All yum.

Wine and Winery Notes:
Emerald Coast Vineyards in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, may be the least coastal of British Columbia’s West Coast vineyards. The coastal wine region includes three of the nine designated GIs (short for Geographical Indications – similar the French AOC appellations) that have been created in British Columbia.

These coastal GIs lie on both sides of the Strait of Georgia in the Salilsh Sea and include 1) Vancouver and adjacent areas in the Fraser Valley 2) The East coast of Vancouver Island on the other side of the Strait of Georgia and 3) the Southern Gulf Islands that lie between the two. Classified as a maritime wine climate, unsurprisingly, virtually all of the twenty-eight pinot noir producing wineries in the coastal region lie within five kilometers of level access to the ocean .

In the northern part of the Vancouver Island GI, the vineyards reside in the Easterly rain shadow of the Vancouver Island Ranges – mountains that run it’s entire length.

The only one not on the Eastern side is Emerald Coast Vineyards. It is located at the head of Alberni Inlet, a remarkable geographical feature that starts on the island’s West coast and thrusts 35 kilometres eastward, nearly cutting Vancouver Island, in two. This places Port Alberni on the Western side of the Beaufort Range mountains (one of the many subset ranges of the Vancouver Range) yet only ten kilometers from the island’s East coast. Here, the mountains that virtually surround Port Alberini edge the climate more continental in the Summer but also contribute to making it rainier in the Winter. The result is a shorter, hotter growing season, with a wider diurnal temperature range and fewer annual degree days than other island vineyards.

Evan McLellan’s main business is marine construction but in 1999 he started planting vines on his farm in the Port Alberni valley on a leading slope of the Beaufort Range. This was part of a conscious switch for his farm from livestock to vineyards.

His search for the right grape varieties that would succeed in the Port Alberni climate led him ultimately to getting help and advice from two of British Columbia’s wine industry pioneers. Claude Violet, the founder of the first commercial winery in the Fraser Valley helped him select a stable of early ripening vines. And much of the plant material that was eventually utilized was supplied by John Harper, a long time vine growing consultant in B.C. who had established nurseries both in the Fraser Valley and in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

The pinot noir grown on the property is the early ripening, bunch rot resistant, Mariafeld clone (UCD 23), one of the Wadensil group of clones. The original plant material for this clone is said to have come about a hundred years ago from the Mariafeld estate of General Ulrich Wille in Switzerland and found its way to North America beginning in the 1970s.

The first wine was made in 2008 and the winery opened in 2009. Emerald Coast’s pinot noir is not widely available as the annual case production is small and they are the only winery on the main road to the island’s popular West Coast tourist areas of Tofino and Ucluelet. With a million and a half people passing their door annually, they are able to sell virtually all the wine they make from the winery’s doorstep.
Closure – cork

#2 Black Cloud Cumulus – Nimbus Pinot Noir 2013 13.9%

Overall Quality Rating: C+ to B- ~ 89
Price: $45.00

LC: Ruby. BG: Ruby rim, pale. Jacquelin G: Bright, clear. Medium garnet core.

LC: Medicinal/chemical initially. Closed but eventually developed beet, blueberry, dried floral, wood notes. BG: Some heat, ripe plum, savoury fruit, beetroot, ripe cherry, some wood, chocolate. Jacquelin G: Warm baking spices. Big cherry – sweet. Baked earth dusty. Slightly hot.

LC: Short finish, unpleasant start to the finish. Hot, tannic. Improved immensely as it sat in the glass needs air/decanting and maybe some time in the bottle as well. Finished longer with fruit evident after it opened up. BG: Very savoury fruit, long, cherry, some tannic grip, excellent acidity, some good complexity, power maintains in ending. The wine pulled together nicely in the end and should improve. lovely. After a few hours very intense morello cherry with some wood notes & vanilla, plum and blueberry. Tannin masking the fruit somewhat at this point but the fruit is very much there, with some concentrated berry flavours. Well balanced though with excellent backbone of acidity. Very long. Leave for 2-5 years, Should be fabulous. Jacquelin G: Tannins dominates palate and finish. Not balanced for level of fruit (or lack thereof). Try again 2 to 5 years. Tannins softened noticeably in less than an hour. Bodes well for cellar time.

Wine and Winery Notes:
The Cumulus-Nimbus tasted here is only made in the best vintages from select fruit which in this vintage was from the Naramata Bench. This wine is a single handcrafted, barrel fermented in a small, segregated batch. It was aged for 14 months in French oak. This is the first vintage of Cumulus-Nimbus. 23 cases produced.
Closure – cork

The Black Cloud Winery label is a “virtual winery” side project of B.C. winemaker Bradley Cooper. Over his twenty year winemaking career he has worked in British Columbia, New Zealand and Washington state. In B.C. he was the winemaker at Hawthorne Mountain (the precursor to See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls), Township 7 Vineyards and Serendipity Winery as well as consulting winemaker to a number of other wineries in the Okanagan.

A “virtual winery” is a way for winemakers to create special interest wines while avoiding the astronomical costs of land, buildings, winery, tasting room etc.. Grapes are purchased from growers and access to a winemaking facility is secured either by renting or through some other arrangement. The challenges in this scenario for the virtual winemaker are continuing access to quality grapes when one doesn’t own the land as well as marketing and selling the wine when one doesn’t have a winery or a tasting room.

The Black Cloud project launched with a first vintage in 2009. The wines, which are all pinot noir, have been made under the auspices (and licenses) of two of the wineries where Bradley was the winemaker.

Despite Black Cloud’s small annual production of somewhere between three hundred to four hundred and fifty cases, there are three distinct tiers of pinot noir. The more entry level Fleuvage comes from Loveridge Ranch fruit on the Naramata Bench. The Altostratus is from the Remuda Vineyard at Okanagan Falls and utilizes a blend of clones 115 and 667.

#3 Lunessence Pinot Noir 2013 13.6%

Overall Quality Rating: D+ to C- ~83
Price: $42.00

LC: Brown, garnet. BG: Very pale, garnet throughout. Jacquelin G: Bright and clear, light bricky core.

LC: Cherry, wax crayon, meaty, hint of forest floor, black tea. BG: Very faint plum. Jacquelin G: Sour cherries, slightly gamey.

LC: Savoury fruit, hint of cloves and bacon. Longish finish with some heat, faded, balance off. Drink up. BG: Sweet spice, dried out fruit, mostly barrel marked, savoury caramel, well-balanced in terms of acidity. Alcohol medium minus, intensity low, body low. Jacquelin G: Initial hit of high acid – not in balance with tannins nor fruit, hint of sour cherries and cranberries on the acidic side. Acidity dominates the medium finish.

Wine and Winery Notes:
Music is not only the theme at Lunessence Winery it is part of their vineyard and winemaking practices. Michal Mosny, the winemaker plays classical music in the vineyards and to his wines. Once in the winery, the reds are treated to Puccini.

Mosny has been the winemaker at Lunessence since 2014 when the production facility and tasting room were renovated. The name Lunessence refers to the moon and its essential part in the winery’s approach to its operations.

This winery and its estate vineyards were formerly known as the Sonoran Estate Winery. This emphasis on the effects of the moon on wine and vine began with the Sonoran Winery who had a label called 13 moons – a reference to biodynamic practices that included planting and harvesting according to lunar cycles.

The Smits family originated Sonoran Estate in 2000 and opened the winery in 2004. Pinot noir vines were planted on the original winery site but the winery was moved to the current property in 2006. The winery was sold in 2014.

The 2013 Lunessence pinot noir in this tasting is from the Sonoran Estate Winery era. The wine would have been in the tanks and probably made by Adrian Smits the winemaker son of the Sonoran owners. It’s not clear where the source grapes for this came from. They may have come the pinot noir grapes next to the original winery. 150 cases produced. Closure – cork

#4 Spierhead Golden Retreat Pinot Noir 2013 11.9%

Overall Quality Rating: C+ to B- ~ 89
Price: $29.00

LC: Garnet. BG: Pale, ruby rim. Jacquelin G: Bright and clear, medium and garnet core.

LC: Fairly complex – wax crayon, rose petal, blueberry. BG: Some blueberries/huckleberry, cherry, some savoury minerality. Plum, marionberry, blue fruits. Jacquelin G: Ripe red fruit, bready yeasty, ripe strawberries.

LC: Cinnamon sweetness, but dark fruit overshadowed. Long finish though a little bit bitter the end. As it sat longer the finish was sweet. BG: Blueberry/raspberry/cherry,, mid-red fruit flavours, dark fruit with tannins, very simple, underripe Blackberry. Later lovely light berry fruit. Rounded fruit with good acidity. An hour later fresh plum with ripe cranberry and pomegranate notes. Rounded. long penetrating flavour, medium minus intensity, finishes plum skin. Something extra in the persistence and intensity. This is really going to be a good one. Hold 3-5 years
Jacquelin G: A bit too acidic and tannic for the fruit. Hint of savoury notes on the medium finish. Taste much better with food.

Wine and Winery Notes:
This 2013 was Spearhead’s inaugural vintage of the Golden Retreat vineyard bottling. Golden Retreat is a vineyard near Summerland on the West side of the Okanagan valley at an elevation of 1490 feet and is owned by grape grower named David Kozuki. The land is comprised of sandy loam with seams of gravel. The clones here are 60% Pommard clone, 40% clone 667. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak. The alcohol is a very restrained 11.9% . This wine won a silver medal at the 2015 Los Angeles International Wine Competition. 60 cases produced. Closure – cork.

Spearhead Winery (originally called Spierhead Winery) was established in 2008, a collaboration amongst three friends, Brian Sprout, William Knutson and Bruce Hirtle. They began with purchased grapes and Bordeaux varieties but over the next few years, settled around an aim to create a range of distinctive pinot noirs.

The first few vintages (2008 and 2009) were made at Marichel Winery by its winemaker Richard Roskell during which time SpearHead’s built its own winery and planted its own vines. The estate winery opened in 2010.

The initial seven acre home vineyard planted mostly to pinot noir is known as the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard, in reference to the fact that none of its owners (a photographer, a lawyer and a businessman) had agricultural backgrounds. In 2012 Spearhead hired Bill Pierson as their winemaker. Pierson had had winemaking experience at two other B.C. wineries with pinot noir in their lineup – Fort Berens and CedarCreek.

The tilt to pinot noir was further encouraged when the winery won a gold medal at a Canadian national award competition in 2012 for their inaugural 2010 vintage pinot noir from the Gentleman Farmer Vineyard. More pinot noir plantings were undertaken in 2014 and 2015, not only to increase volume but to diversify pinot noir clonal selection. The original plantings were of clones 115, 777 and 828. In 2014 more clone 828 was added as well as some clone 667. In 2015 the California heritage clone Mt. Eden was introduced.

#5 Maverick Pinot Noir 2013 13.8%

Overall Quality Rating: C+ to B- ~ 89
Price: $29.00

LC: Ruby almost purple. BG: Pale, purple/ruby rim. Jacquelin G: Bright and clear, medium and garnet core leading to the light purple rim.

LC: Dark blueberry in cherry, bubblegum, bit of skunkiness will but did not last. BG: Cherry, grape Kool-Aid and nutmeg. Jacquelin G: Cherries, caramel, nutmeg/clove, dark plums.

LC: Big tannins – bitter, acidic. Fruit is overshadowed. As it sat in the glass started to come together quite nicely. BG: Some present tannins, black/blue fruits, Long, black cherry. Jacquelin G: Savoury – meaty palate, well-balanced, medium long finish, full of savoury notes Let cellar for 2 to 5 years.

Wine and Winery Notes:
The succeeding Maverick 2014 vintage pinot noir won a Bronze medal at the WineAlign National Wine Awards Of Canada in 2017. 250 cases produced. Closure cork.

The founding of the Maverick vineyard is the story of two South African families. Dr. Schalk de Witt had come to Canada in the 1990s and had been practicing medicine in Alberta and British Columbia. Taken with the beauty of the Okanagan Valley he bought two properties in the Oliver/Osoyoos area with the intention of establishing vineyards. His daughter as it happened, had married a South African winemaker named Bertus Albertyn and in 2009 the couple moved to the Okanagan to help establish the new winery. Initially Bertus spent four years as the winemaker at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery before leaving in mid-2013 to focus on Maverick.

In 2011 the first seven and a half acres of vines were planted on a site beside highway 97 on the West side of the valley. It had previously been an organic fruit farm. The winery also leases three other vineyards near Osoyoos and the grapes for this inaugural 2013 pinot noir release would likely have come from those leased vineyards.

The winery and its vineyards are located in the South Okanagan, midway between Oliver and Osoyoos just below the Southern boundary of the Golden Mile Sub-GI. The winery and home vineyard sit near the base of a steep slope that provides an ideal Eastward tilt for the vines. The locations does however, does make them some of the most Southerly pinot noir vineyards in the Okanagan, deep in an area where it is generally thought to be too hot to bring out the subtler complexities of pinot noir.

#6 Spierhead Cuvee Pinot Noir 2013 13.5%

Overall Quality Rating: B ~ 92
Price: $32.00

LC: Ruby. BG: Cherry rim, pale. Jacquelin G: Bright and clear, Garnet core and rim.

LC: Wax crayon, dark fruit, floral notes. BG: Sweet spice, plum, bit of star anise, wildberries, cherry. Jacquelin G: Savoury caramel, blackberries and blueberries, black tea.

LC: Sweet fruit (dark) blueberry, pomegranate, medium long finish with fruit following to the end. Finishes a bit hot but very well balanced. Should cellar well. BG: Elevated tannins and acidity, crosscurrents of black and red fruits. Echoes quite a will while on the palate. Not ready but some focused fruit, good length, excellent acidity. Multidimensional. Hold for 2 to 5 years. Jacquelin G: Savoury – meaty palate, well-balanced tannins/acid/fruit and tertiary notes all work together. Medium plus finish dominated by pleasant savoury notes. Drink now and hold for 2 to 5 years.

Wine and Winery Notes:
2013 is the inaugural vintage of this barrel selected Cuvée from all three of the pinot noir clones in the winery’s original Gentleman Farmer Vineyard – Pommard clone (44%), Dijon clone 667 (33%) and Dijon clone115 (23%). The wine was aged 10 months in French oak. In 2013 Spearhead suffered severe hail damage to some of its vineyards. The crop was much reduced but with the thinning that was necessitated to counterbalance the damage, it may have produce more concentrated fruit. the wine was full berry fermented.

2015 InterVin International Wine Awards – Bronze Medal
2015 North West Wine Summit – Silver Medal
2015 National Wine Awards of Canada – Gold Medal
2015 San Francisco International Wine Competition – Silver Medal
2015 International Wine & Spirit Competition London, England – Silver Medal
2015 All Canadian Wine Competition – Bronze Medal
2015 Decanter World Wine Awards – London, England – Silver Medal
100 cases Produced. Closure – cork.

For background on Spearhead Winery itself, see Notes for Spearhead Golden Retreat 2013 pinot noir above.

#7 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir 2013 14.0%

Overall Quality Rating: B ~ 92
Price: $33.00

LC: Purple. BG: Pale, Ruby/purple rim. Jacquelin G: Bright and clear, Garnet/purple core and light purple rim.

LC: Fairly complex, wax, forest floor, savoury fruit, blackberry/blueberry. BG: Prolonged black/red fruits. Flavour elements on nose funnel straight to your tongue, cherry, strawberry, plum. Exuberant fruit, some sweet spices. Jacquelin G: Floral notes, toasty oaky vanilla, savoury meaty notes.

LC: Sweet dark fruit, cinnamon, meaty, lingering finish with fruit following through, well-balanced, should cellar well. BG: Big red/blue fruit, good intensity, fuller fruit flavor. Complex, some richness. Has great future. Wow, great example of what CA pinot noir can be in the right hands. A definite step up in terms of intensity of fruit flavours and accompanying wood and stops short of cherry cola. Amps the intensity without losing grace and balance. Focused fruit does kind of go out the window but is replaced by lapping waves of medium intensity fruit. Jacquelin G: Well-balanced of slightly tannic (needs 2 to 5 years in cellar), sour cherries and dark plums – along with savoury notes on the medium long finish – very pleasant now, but should improve.

Wine and Winery Notes:
Closure – cork

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