This profile is taken from a book-in-progress that I am writing about pinot noir in British Columbia. As well as examining where B.C. fits into the world of pinot noir, technical details of vineyard management and winemaking, one of the book’s main components will be the story of the grape at every pinot noir producing winery in the province. Hope you enjoy it. Cheers.
Mutating to the Vine
Like most winemakers, Mike Nierychlo is a doer. In his early thirties, he exudes a bright awareness combined with a steady zeal for his relatively new life in the vineyard and for all things wine. Mike thinks fast, speaks quickly and brims with ideas, humour and observations ranging from the everyday to the elegant and affecting. These diverse traits have undoubtedly contributed to his facility for taking his endeavors, just a little further than most people. Business oriented from a young age, his habits of action, creation, and enterprise flow from the influence of his father Henry Nierychlo (Nuh rich low) who was born in Montreal, the son of Polish immigrants. Henry was a model of work and entrepreneurship.
Raised in the country in Langley B.C., he like many farm kids had an egg business (when he was six), but by the time he was twelve, acting as a middleman for local egg sources, he had built sales to two hundred and forty dozen per week. Other kids have lemonade stands, whereas Mike’s very first business was selling dirt sifted from his backyard as topsoil to indulgent neighbours and family friends. He seems to have applied the same perseverance and enterprise to all his subsequent ventures.
After getting married to his wife Robin, he began making wine in a garage with his new brother-in-law (another Mike). But no wine kits for them. Right from the outset they bought grapes directly from the vineyards. There were numerous experiments over the subsequent years with grape varietals, blends and winemaking techniques as well as “many, many other wine adventures.”
One day, out of boredom, in the garage winemaking era he turned on his video camera and began talking as though to an imaginary audience, about the wine he happened to have in his hand. To face a camera and talk mostly unedited for seven or eight minutes in a connected manner on any subject is not that simple. But this is Mike. Two hundred videos and a web site later he had dramatically expanded his wine horizon and more importantly his network, to include not only wine reviews but interviews with winemakers, chefs, food producers and wine writers. He even had Alan Meadows of Burghound fame on his show. A copyright issue with a company in California put his Garage Wine TV creation on permanent pause, but the videos still live online at www.mnonline.ca. They provide an interesting record of one man’s awakening interest in wine and more.
Link to a Previous Saanich Winery
The story of the Emandare Winery is linked by way of its estate vineyard with another Vancouver Island winery called Starling Lane. This Saanich winery operated from 2004 to 2013 when its three sets of partners all retired, but the vineyards were not sold. Starling Lane’s Marechal Foch, their Celebration sparkling wine and especially their pinot noir were excellent wines. When a winery closes in this way, it is hard not to speculate if the excellent fruit from that estate is now the basis of a pinot noir at another winery (which one?) and to hope the vines are not languishing somewhere unkempt. In fact, the grapes for their pinot noir had not been sourced from any of the small Starling Lane estate vineyards but from a grower in the Cowichan Valley. Marcel Fleurie had planted the vineyard in 2001 and sold grapes to a number of wineries including Starling Lane until 2011 when Mr. Fleurie had to abandon the vineyard for personal reasons. The vineyard was more or less in limbo beginning in 2011.
Enter the Nierychlo’s…
Transforming a Vineyard Into Winery
The garage wine show experience and the circle of people they had met through it, left Mike and his wife Robin wanting to get into the wine industry more directly. In 2013 after searching in the Similkameen Valley and elsewhere they began their “8.5 acre adventure” with vines and wine in the North Cowichan Valley by purchasing the Fleurie vineyard. It came with an arched wrought iron entrance gate, and a white, one-hundred-year-old, renovated farm house, complete with Juliet balcony.
The name they chose for the winery, Emandare is a mostly phonetic rendering of their initials M & R, pronounced “M and darr”. However, one day an Italian speaking visitor to the winery congratulated them on choosing such a meaningful name. It turned out that “Emendere” in Latin means “to restore” and in Italian “to amend or repair and to perfect”. Clearly some fates were aligned.
Taking over the neglected vineyard in the Fall of 2013, amending, restoring and repairing were the very first items on the agenda as they replaced fence posts, weeded, renovated vineyard equipment and pruned the vines in preparation for the 2014 vintage. All this was documented on their blog “We Bought a Vineyard”.
Believing that pinot noir is grown not made, part of Mike’s aim from the start was to farm the vineyard organically and strive towards a natural sustainability. The commitment to making wine as naturally as possible began during this time of vineyard renovation. For example, weeds under the vines were removed with rakes and hoes, white clover seeded in their place, prunings chipped for mulch and straw placed down for weed control.
A Hard Test of the “Nothing Added Nothing Removed” Approach
This belief in natural winemaking, guided by a devotion to the principle of “nothing added, nothing removed” informs vineyard and winery practices at Emandare. This belief was sorely tested at vinification time for their first vintage however. The plan was to ferment naturally using ambient yeasts in the air and on the grape skins in the traditional Old World style. This meant not kickstarting it with a commercial yeast inoculation even though that would have provided a safer, certain, more controlled fermentation for their very first vintage.
So, they waited, relying on the adage that in winemaking “sometimes you have to have the courage to do nothing.” They stood by for three days, five days, eleven days – all the hard work of a year in the vineyard, sat as mere fruit juice in a fermenter and waited for the “hosts of the air”. On the twelfth day, there were some encouraging signs but it wasn’t until day fourteen that to their lasting relief, natural fermentation finally took hold and made their wine. Since then all fermentations have been natural and dependable. As an extra blessing, the 2014 vintage proved to be one of the best on Vancouver Island in recent history.
Pinot Noir Terroir & Clones at Emandare
The pinot noir part of the property comprises approximately two acres that crown evenly in the middle of the South facing terraced slope. The fifteen year old vineyard sits about one hundred and fifty meters North of tiny Somenos Lake near St. Clare’s Monastery, with Mt. Prevost five kilometers to the Northwest. A gap in the surrounding hills leads to the waters of the Strait of Georgia seven and a half kilometers distant. Mike feels this juxtaposition of the mountain, and the lake helps pulls air through the vineyard regularly lessening disease and mildew pressure on the vines. The vineyard is dry farmed and he keeps the yield on his pinot noir to about 2.5 tons to the acre. The clonal mix is 667 – 40%, 777 – 40%, 115- 15% and 114 – 5%.
Connecting to Pinot Noir
Mike looks to pinot noirs to have personality. “I want every sip to tell a story and reveal something new.” says Mike. “Where is it from, what has it been through, what has it become? If it’s just plain pinot noir, I am disappointed.”
Mike believes the potential for top quality pinot noir in British Columbia is great. He feels that B.C pinot noir doesn’t have the reputation it deserves, but that the answer is for the industry to keep working harder. In particular he observes that wineries in B.C. have to “stop making pinot noir and start growing pinot noir.” In his view, the key to improving pinot noir quality is to become aware of everything happening in the vineyard and collaborate closely with nature,” become part of the terroir” and make wine that reflects a sense of place with minimal interference. He observes that one of pinot noir’s strongest traits is its ability to mutate – a natural occurrence integral to the process of evolution that can allow a plant to adapt ever more finely to its exact surroundings. Similarly, he says, speaking of grape growers and winemakers, “we must mutate to the vine”.
If You Go…
Mike is not daunted by the technical, nor averse to elegance and elaboration in design, but his practice is to make something only as complex as it needs to be. When you are at his tasting counter you will typically be sitting ten to twelve feet from next year’s wine. Those barrels of wine sit stacked in a rack sitting like a low wall between the simple, elegant tasting room and the new winery area but the racks and barrels can be shifted easily with a pallet jack as needed to reconfigure the room. His cash register is a small tablet computer with a credit card swiper plugged into it at the end of the tasting bar. The feeling is relaxed, the room simple and a charming outdoor patio awaits.
Notes on the Wines:
2014 Pinot Noir
The wine has a pale to medium depth with a bright cherry rim. The nose holds engaging scents of chocolate, dark fruit, barnyard, cherry and just a drift of barrel begotten vanilla. The palate is rounded with soft tannins and follows through fairly completely from the nose with flavours of chocolate, earth, blackberry both ripe and less so. The intensity here is medium minus and the body medium. There are ripe raspberries on the medium plus finish with excellent balance and a very distinct flavour profile. A remarkably individual pinot noir. This was the inaugural vintage. 92 points
Tasted August 11,2016
2015 Pinot Noir
In the glass, the wine is pale with a fresh cherry rim. On the nose it is quite soft, rounded and forward with notes of plum, cranberrry and cherry. Light bodied, the fruit driven flavour follows the nose showing with dark red fruits including plums. Still showing formative fruit flavours, should benefit with some further aging. 88 points.
Tasted June 24, 2017