Impressive new releases from Franco Lourens, a new South African star

Chris Alheit and Franco Lourens

Franco Lourens is assistant winemaker with Chris Alheit, and also makes his own wines in the Alheit cellar in Hemel-en-Aarde. I tasted through the latest releases of the Lourens Family Wines and was really impressed, especially by the two new Chenin Blancs. These are pretty serious.


Lourens Family Wines Lindi Carien 2016 South Africa
34% Grenache Blanc, 30% Verdelho, 21% Roussanne, 15% Chenin Blanc. Lovely pure fruit here: stony-edged citrus and pear with a gentle personality. It’s fresh and supple with lovely personality. Delicate and fine with nice precision. 93/100 (retail 195 Rand)

Lourens Family Wines Lindi Carien 2017 South Africa
Verdelho, Chenin, Grenache on skins, Rousanne, Clairette Blanc. So fine and spicy with nice grip. Lemons, tangerines,orange peel. Lovely texture to this wine. Very fine with a lovely lemony, spicy edge. 94/100

Lourens Family Wines Contermanskloof Chenin Blanc 2017 Durbanville, South Africa
Dark brown heavy soil in Durbanville. Chenin Blanc. So distinctive with sweet peach and pear fruit. Linear and spicy with real brightness, as well as the rich fruity depth. This has lovely mineral detail. Profound. 95/100

Lourens Family Wines Piekeneerskloof Chenin Blanc 2017 South Africa
Sandstone soils at 760 m. Tangy, bright citrus fruit with some fennel and a bright spiciness. Powerful but delicate with lovely acidity and a bit of pithiness. Very intense with nice precision. 95/100

Lourens Family Wines Howard John 2016 South Africa
43% Cinsualt, 43% Carignan, 14% Grenache Noir. Very pretty and bright with a lovely floral, slightly peppery personality and fresh red cherries and raspberry. There’s lovely focus and brightness to this wine. Has a bit of grip on the finish and good acidity. A deliciously drinkable red with lovely focus. 93/100

Lourens Family Wines Howard John 2017 South Africa
Grenache from Swartland, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah. Supple, rounded and elegant, but with lots of flavour. Sweet cherries, olives and pepper. Juicy and lively with a nice damson twist on the finish. Lovely. 93/100

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In Beaujolais: the elegant wines of Domaine David Chapel

Michele Smith-Chapel and David Chapel

David Chapel has a restaurant background, having worked as a sommelier. His father (Alain Chapel) owned a restaurant that had the full complement of three Michelin stars. David also spent three years in Kobe, Japan. His father was good friends with Marcel Lapierre, and David went to work with the Lapierre family.

This is where he met his wife Michele. She was a wine buyer from New York, and in 2013 and she was visiting Beaujolais. On the second day of her trip she was late for an appointment to Lapierre, and because Matthieu Lapierre had left, he got David to meet her and do the tasting. He moved to New York a month later to be with her.

Three years later, they moved back to Beaujolais, and they set up their own domaine. They found their house and cellar in Regnié-Durette in 2017, but they’d already made a bit of wine in 2016 at Lapierre, where they shared a parcel of Juliénas that Lapierre were vinifying for the first time.

Total crush here in 2017 was just 17 tons, so they are starting small. All winemaking is very low extraction, with carbonic maceration, no pigeage, and no punching down: just keeping the cap wet. The style here is really elegant, and as Chapel gains more experience and makes more wine, this will be a domaine to watch. In 2018 they will also be making some Fleurie and Chiroubles from some parcels that they have purchased.

Domaine Chapel Beaujolais Villages 2017
This is from three parcels (Aux Vergers, Aux Bidons and La Crois Blanche) at high elevation in Lantignie, and it’s whole cluster carbonic maceration with no sulfites (just a little is added at bottling). Tried twice: at the domaine and in London a month later. Supple, fresh and elegant with a nice red cherry and spice character. Fresh, smooth with a really supple character. This is beautifully elegant and expressive with red cherries, fine spices and real prettiness. 93/100

Domaine Chapel Juliénas 2017 (tank sample)
This is from a 4 ha Côte de Bessay plot, on the limit of Juliénas, with blues stones and granite. Supple and fresh with nice brightness, red cherries and spice. Supple and juicy with some spiciness. Nicely elegant in a lighter style. 90-92/100

Cuvée David Chapel Juliénas Côte de Bessay Juliénas 2016
Made at Lapierre. Supple and ripe with red cherry and spice notes. There’s some tannin here. Fine-grained with good acidity, showing lovely savouriness. Really elegant and well defined: a new style of Juliénas? 93/100

UK agent: Uncharted Wines






Visiting the spectacular Ribeira Sacra region with Envinate

Alfonso and Roberto

Envinate began with four friends, who met studying wine at university, near Alicante. They decided to form a wine company together, and are now making some of Spain’s most exciting wines, with a focus on Ribeira Sacra and the Canary Islands.

I met with two of them, Alfonso Torrente and Roberto Santana, to look at their Ribeira Sacra project. They were inspired to start Envinate by some of the old vineyards here, which were too small to interest big companies and which were being abandoned as the older generation retired. They bought a 0.75 hectare plot in 2008, and started making wine, as well as consulting. ‘We are not rich people,’ says Roberto, ‘and we had no land. So we started little by little. At the same time they began working in the Canary Islands, where Roberto comes from. They make the wine, and take decisions together.

A film of the visit:


We looked around some vineyard plots, which were spectacular. This is one of the most remarkable wine regions of all, with impossibly steep slopes planted through intricate terracing. You can manage the vineyards by walking along these terraces, but you need a good head for heights, and sure footing. The main grape here is Mencia, but typically a vineyard will be 80% Mencia and something else: perhaps Brancellao, or Muraton, or Garnacha Tintorea (the red fleshed Alicante Bouschet). In the Bebei valley, one of the subregions, there’s often a mixed co-planting of red and white grapes, although the law says you can’t ferment them together. Brancellao in particular is very elegant, and Muraton works very well with Mencia.

Envinate make three wines from Ribeira Sacra, plus also another own-label for their US importer, José Pastor. The blend is Aldea, 30% of which is made in concrete, and the rest in barrels. Then there are two single parcel wines: Camino Novo and Seoane.

They use stems almost all the time, and the wines are never green because of them, even though the stems aren’t brown and lignified. Roberto says that it is only when you work them too hard and break them that you get greenness in the wine. He says it is impossible to get ‘ripe’ stems without overripe grapes. ‘You need to work with hands and feet,’ he says. ‘The stems have potassium and so you lose acidity, but the sensation in the wine is fresher.’ The wines are made quite naturally here with the only addition being some sulfur dioxide at bottling.

But all the plots are fermented and aged separately, and we tried through the 2017s in barrel:

  • Aldea, concrete portion: so fresh, vital and pretty, with a bit of nice reduction.
  • Christosende (close to the cellar, high up, west facing, slate with some gneiss, 100% Mencia): lovely definition here; structured but silky.
  • A Curva: 30% non-Menica, fleshy, lively, crunchy and a bit spicy.
  • Monterosso (east-facing, 80-100 years old vines, 85% Mencia): intense, fresh, vivid and well structured. Nice reduction. Tastes fresh but grippy.
  • Alaish (20 year old vines): very reduced nose, firm and a bit grippy, some tar and chocolate notes, very distinctive.
  • Alaish, but one-third each Garnacha Tintorea, Brancellao and Mencia. Powerful, fresh, elegant, nicely fruity, perfumed.
  • Penso: north facing, very old vines. Powerful, zippy and fresh with vivid fruit.
  • Peuquena (a section of Penso): so fresh and vital. Bright, pure and elegant with nice freshness.
  • Navallos (north facing, in front of Camino Novo): this is doing malolactic and is hard to taste, but it has freshness, structure and intensity.
  • Quiroga (east side of the River Sil, a very warm terroir, with lots of different varieties. Sappy and savoury with nice richness and good intensity. Different mouthfeel, with some richness.
  • Rosende (granitic soil): very fresh and light with bright, fine grained fruit. So fresh.
  • Seoane (on the west side of the river Sil): fleshy, ripe, elegant and generous. Has lots of ripeness but it’s balanced.
  • Puntos: (small vineyard next to Camino Novo, 60% Mencia): fresh and fleshy with nice weight and purity. Fresh and well defined.
  • La Espalada (small south-east-facing plot): supple and elegant with lovely purity. Has nice texture and mouthfeel.
  • Camino Novo: has lovely density and purity with raspberry and cherry fruit. Textural, elegant and fine.
  • Brancellao: this is a single variety from Navin. It’s so pretty and fresh with lovely elegant red fruits. Floral and sappy with great definition.
  • Sousón: this is the same variety as Portugal’s Sousão (Vinhão), and it is smoky and reduced with intense, powerful, structured fruit. Vivid.

Then it was time to look at some bottled wine:

A Chingao Vineyards and Envinate Misturado de Abelada 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
This is a collaboration between Envinate and José Pastor, their US importer. It’s made from 100 year old vineyard, with around 35% white grapes in it, and there are no added sulfites. It’s fresh and supple with bright cherries and raspberries, with some crunch. Bright and perfumed, this is floral and delicious, with incredible purity. 95/100

Envinate Lousas Aldea 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
Really perfumed on the nose with a peppery edge to the sweet floral raspberry and cherry fruit. Fresh, floral and vivid on the palate with bright red fruits, subtle pepper notes and some faint traces of meatiness. Good structure and freshness. 94/100

Envinate Lousas Parcelas Camino Novo 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
This has fantastic definition. Pure, quite silky and with nice freshness to the supple raspberry and cherry fruit. Shows amazing texture and finesse, with a seamless quality but also freshness and good acidity. Combines flesh with elegance. 95/100

Envinate Lousas Parcelas Seoane 2015 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
Sappy, taut, slightly reductive nose with some leafiness. Hints of tea, Juicy and crunchy with vivid bright raspberry and red cherry notes, showing good definition. There’s a nice grip, too. Pleasurable and just a little wild. 94/100

UK agent: Indigo Wines

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Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa En Rama 2018 bottling

This is the 2018 bottling of the Valdespino single vineyard Manzanilla Deliciosa En Rama. It’s from six casks of the Manzanilla Deliciosa Solera, which comes from the Pago de Miraflores vineyard in Sanlucar de Barrameda, and it is bottled ‘en rama’ straight from the cask.

Unusually for a sherry producer, Valdespino own 750 hectares of their own vineyards, and are one of the few to make single-vineyard sherries. This Manzanilla Deliciosa Solera is found in 16th Century Bodega Misericordia in the Barrio Alto of Sanlucar de Barrameda.

Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa En Rama 2018 bottling
£11.99 (37.5cl)
15% alcohol
This is rich, concentrated and powerful with very intense, salty, tangy, bready aromas and a zippy, detailed palate with a vivid salty quality. There’s a lovely weight in the mouth with lots of rich, spicy flavours, fine herbs and some notes of old casks. This is really compelling, in a bold, intense, rich style. 93/100

UK agent: Liberty Wine

See also: Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe En Rama 2018 bottling

In the Okanagan: the impressive 50th Parallel Estate Winery

Matthew, Sheri-Lee and Curtis

When we arrived at 50 Parallel, owners Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel were waiting for us. They look like rock stars, and they have built an incredible winery in the far north of the Okanagan, not far from Kelowna, that rivals even the grandeur of Mission Hill. They are also tremendously engaging and fun hosts.

Curtis and Sheri-Lee met on a houseboat back in 2000, and he reveals that his chat up line was a boast about how he was going to build a world-class winery in the Okanagan. Whether or not he was entirely serious, the relationship with Sheri-Lee continued, and he ended up living up to his word. Curtis is a first-generation Canadian and his parents have a European background (his dad was Czech and his mother Slovak), and so wine was around the family table.

A film of the visit:

When they purchased the property, which they’d seen from their holiday home on the other side of the lake, it was part cherry orchard and part graveyard for broken-down agricultural machinery. But they found out that back in the 1970s it used to be a vineyard, planted with hybrids, and had yielded a whopping 700 tons.

The architecture here though is all about parallel lines. In particular, the striking cantilever construction of the tasting room has been shortlisted for an architectural prize. But as well as being visually arresting, it’s also quite practical. ‘The long, narrow building allows us to get fruit where it belongs as fast as possible,’ explains Curtis. The design makes sure that the whole building is accessible, and the crush pad, with three doors into the winery space, also allows winemaking to be as efficient as possible. Curtis’ background is in engineering, and you can tell. The ramp from the front of the building to the back allows four people with one forklift to produce 25 000 cases of wine each year.

Granitic soils

Joining Curtis and Sheri-Lee in hosting us was Matthew Fortuna, the winemaker, who Curtis introduced as Jesus, because of his looks. He’s got a decent CV, including a stint as winemaker at Moorooduc in the Mornington Peninsula.

The vineyard slopes down to the lake, and although we are in the north of the Okanagan, it’s actually quite a warm site. It’s a north/south valley and the rainfall is just 152 mm a year, which means irrigation is needed. The heat accumulation is a respectable 1320 GDDs a year, which is comparable with Burgundy. ‘It shouldn’t get this warm this far north,’ says Curtis, citing the rain shadow and lake effect as important climatic influences. And the soils are interesting, with fractured pink granite the main theme. But the site, like much of the Okanagan, is quite complex, with five of the region’s 45 soil types in this one vineyard.

Sheri-Lee and Curtis

The vineyard, which takes up 55 acres of the 61 acre property, was planted in 2009, and the first vintage was a very small one in 2011. The focus here is on Pinot Noir, with whites represented by Riesling, Gewurztraminer and a bit of Chardonnay.

50th Parallel Riesling 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Made in a drier style, with 7 g acid and 7 g sugar. Lively grapefruit and lime flavours with some mineral notes. Good focus here, and nice acidity. Juicy, pure and pithy, and already showing a bit of development. 90/100

50th Parallel Gewurztraminer 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Dry, delicate and pretty with lovely lychee and Turkish delight notes. Expressive and pure, and really pretty. Has a bit of mandarin detail, too. 91/100

50th Parallel Riesling 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Very lively, precise and pure, with lemon and lime fruit and keen acidity. The acid is countered by a twist of sweetness. Has some pink grapefruit character, too. Nicely pure. 89/100

50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Bright and expressive with nice citrus fruit, and notes of grape and mandarin. So attractive, with nice purity and presence. 90/100

50th Parallel Chardonnay 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Lively and spicy, with some new oak (30%). Has direct clean fruit with some pear and a hint of pineapple, and a lemony finish. Very clean and focused. 90/100

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2014 Okanagan, Canada
Fresh, rounded and supple with nice fine-grained tannic structure and notes of cherries and herbs. Fine grained with a juicy edge. Nice balance here. 91/100

50th Parallel Unparalleled Pinot Noir 2014 Okanagan, Canada
This is a barrel selection of 12-14 barrels each year. There is some density here, but overall it is quite elegant and finely structured with supple red cherry and plum fruit. Has a bit of spicy warmth, too. Nice weight and texture, finishing spicy. 93/100

50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan, Canada
Very aromatic with sweet pure red cherry and plum fruit. Sweet liqueur-like edge to the fruit. Red cherries and raspberries dominate with a little jamminess. From a warm vintage, but delicious. 92/100

50th Parallel Unparalleled Pinot Noir 2015 Okanagan, Canada
Concentrated yet still fresh with sweet expressive red cherry and raspberry fruit. Lovely structure here with a grainy edge. Very appealing wine in a riper style. 93/100

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What makes for a healthy, dynamic wine region?

I’m just preparing for a seminar on The New Faces of Beaujolais, and it has got me thinking about what it makes to create a healthy, dynamic wine region?

As wine journalists, we can be a bit obsessed by the novel, or people working at the boundaries. Does this distract us from recognizing and celebrating the mainstream, or the normal, or the established? This is always a possibility. Having said this, there are certain features shared by healthy regions.

The first is opportunity. It seems strange to say it, but the obvious success of a region can become a problem. Take Burgundy. On the face of it, Burgundy is a huge success story. It is world famous, it’s making wines that sell for lots of money, and lots of winegrowers there are financially comfortable.

But there’s very little opportunity for the next generation. For the young winegrowers in the region, there’s no chance that they will be able to purchase vineyard land and build a domaine, even with SAFER. For those where there’s land in the family, this is now worth so much that when the domaine changes hands through inheritance, those who want to carry on as winegrowers won’t be able to afford to buy out their siblings. And the price of grapes and strong market for wines means that winemakers often play it very safe.

And then in the New World we can look at Napa. Here, there’s a similar problem. The price of grapes means that economically winemakers have to produce a $100 Cabernet, and get the requisite critic scores, which forces them into a style, unless they are very brave. The success of Cabernet means that other grapes are getting squeezed out. Land prices are such that you can’t, as a young winegrower, hope to buy a vineyard and make your sort of wines. There is no opportunity here.

The second is good soils. You can make a good wine through careful viticulture and winemaking, but to make a great wine you need good soils, too (of course, we are assuming that there’s a favourable climate, but climate itself is not enough to make great wine). Beaujolais has some very good soils, and the work by Sicavac charting the soil types throughout the region is a tremendous asset: we can now have fun trying to unpick the association between soils and wine character. For now, all we can say is that some soils make better wines than others, and different soils produce wines that taste different.

Thirdly, there’s the market. It’s not enough just to make a great wine. You need to be able to sell it. If people are willing to buy a wine, then you are able to make it. It sounds obvious, but in part it’s the growing market for interesting wine that allows more and more producers to make interesting wine. One of the most important bits of sustainability is financial, and regions where people are going broke aren’t healthy and can’t afford to be dynamic.

Finally, I think attitude matters a lot. People willing to look after their soils and farm sustainably, or organically. And people who are adventurous, making interesting wines that speak of place rather than style. If a wine region doesn’t have the right attitude, it can become boring. I think it’s very hard to keep doing the same thing year after year, with no change or willingness to change, and still produce something interesting.

Pictures from Ribeira Sacra, Spain: one of the most spectacular wine regions of all

I’m just back from a short trip to Galicia, northwest Spain. One of the regions I visited was Ribeira Sacra, which is one of the most spectacular regions I’ve visited (and I’ve been to a few in my time). The steep slopes have been terraced, but even so, working these vineyards would require a good head for heights and sure footing! Here are some pictures.


Gamay 39, Jean-Marc Burgaud Les Vignes de Thulon 2016

Latest in the Gamay series: it’s a relatively inexpensive but delicious Beaujolais Villages from Burgaud, a producer I really like. He tends to make quite dense, burly expressions of Gamay, and they can age very well.

Jean-Marc Burgaud Les Vignes de Thulon Beaujolais Villages 2016 France
12.5% alcohol. This is from the Château de Thulon in Lantignié, which is one of the top villages with its granitic hillside vineyards, and is probably close to cru status. 50 year old vines. Nicely structured with a gravelly, grainy, spicy underpinning to the sweet raspberry and cherry fruit. It has a slightly abrupt finish, with firm tannins clamping in on the fruit, but there’s also a nice fleshiness and density here. Finishes fresh with a hint of blackcurrant, this is serious cru-level Beaujolais at a good price. 91/100

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Okanagan: Culmina Family Estate Winery

Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon (consulting winemaker, along with Alain Sutre)

Donald Triggs has been an important figure in the Canadian wine industry. A businessman with international experience, he partnered with Alan Jackson to form Niagara-based winery Jackson-Triggs in the early 1990s, and this became part of a larger company, Vincor International, with Triggs as CEO. In 2006 it was subject to a hostile takeover by Constellation Brands. This left Triggs and fellow shareholders $1.5 billion better off, but he needed a fresh project. And so did his wife Elaine: the Delaine Vineyard that Jackson-Triggs made a Chardonnay from was her baby, and it was sold. And they weren’t ready to retire.

Sara Triggs in the vineyard

So he and Elaine left Niagara for British Columbia, and set up a new vineyard, Culmina, on a property in the south Okanagan. Joined by their youngest daughter Sara, they are clearly very ambitious, and have constructed an 8000 case gravity flow winery. The Triggs have just over 56 acres of vines split over three sites, and the first wines are now beginning to emerge. Alain Sutre is providing some consultancy advice: he’s known to Triggs because of his work at Okanagan winery Osoyoos Larose, which was owned by Vincor when Triggs was in charge.

Looking down to the winery and main vineyard blocks from the upper vineyards

Margaret’s Bench, planted to Gruner Veltliner and Chardonnay

They used Sutre’s expertise to find the right site, and their goal was to make a Bordeaux blend. They identified five potential vineyard sites, and then did a cull using data from temperature loggers. The most exciting site was the one they bought, which was then virgin land. They were keen not to inherit other people’s decision making. This site is in what is now known as the Golden Mile, the Okanagan’s first official sub-region. It’s an ancient river bed, combined with fluvial flooding deposits, and it’s quite rocky. It faces south east.

Typical soils

A pedogenic lime encrusted stone

After they purchased it they did 22 soil pits and identified 44 microblocks on three benches. It’s a site that got the check mark for Bordeaux reds, but not Bordeaux whites: Sauvignon and Semillon are just too frost susceptible. This led them to look for another white site, and rather than move north to get a cooler site, they went up to the top of the hill, where Margaret’s Bench is now planted, and it’s 200 degree days cooler. So as well as Bordeaux varieties, the property boasts Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, as well as Chardonnay.

Golden Mile Bench

Jean-Marc Enixon, winemaker and vineyard manager

We had a look round the vineyards, and then tasted with Sara Triggs and winemaker and vineyard manager Jean-Marc Enixon. He’s from Bordeaux, where he worked for 10 years in Fronsac, and he relocated his family here in 2015. Interestingly, he;d never made white wine before he joined Culmina! Alain Sutre still consults here. The style of the wines is quite modern, but they have freshness and definition. ‘There’s an interesting line that you toe to be true to yourself while bearing in mind the market,’ says Sarah.


Experimental bush vines

At the top of the property

Here is a film of the visit, showing the different vineyard blocks, a spectacular view from the top of the property, and some bush vine experiments:


Culmina Unicus 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Gruner Veltliner from Margaret’s Bench. 14% alcohol. Fine and fresh with some notes of mandarin and pepper, as well as sweet citrus notes. Really attractive and delicate, but with some body and a smooth mid-palate. Lovely expressive wine with real appeal. 90/100

Culmina No 002 Wild Ferment Gruner Veltliner 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Two stainless steel barrels, pressed to barrel without sulfites. Took two months to ferment. This has 5 g/l residual sugar and 13.5% alcohol. There’s some richness here with a bready edge and fine spices, as well as pink grapefruit. Has a bit of creaminess too. Quite pure and restrained. 90/100

Culmina No 004 Stan’s Bench Chardonnay 2016 Okanagan, Canada
This was the first vintage from Stan’s Bench, and this was the first white wine he made in his life. All wild yeasts. No malolactic fermentation, fermented in old French oak with a bit in stainless. Complex, restrained and slightly spicy with some nuts and fine-grained structure. Some ripe pear fruit and a hint of baked apple. Very expressive with a distinctly savoury character. 91/100

Culmina Dilemma 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Chardonnay. When the site was purchased there was some Gamay and Chardonnay here, with low density planting. It was hard to rip them out, but the proof in the pudding came when the old and new fruit were compared, and so the new Chardonnay planted up top was named Dilemma. 60% barrel fermentation, 40% in stainless steel barrel, partial malolactic. This has nice depth and concentration, with pear, almonds, a bit of spice and some baked apple. Nicely dense and compact with a bit of fruit sweetness, but also some savoury notes. Finished with a distinct citrus twist. 91/100

Culmina Hypothesis 2011 Okanagan, Canada
13.5% alcohol. 40% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. Complex, savoury, spicy nose. Nicely balanced palate with a spicy, savoury edge to the ripe berry and blackcurrant fruit as well as some savoury, slightly earthy development. Has nice concentration and balance, and is drinking very well now. 91/100

Culmina Hypothesis 2012 Okanagan, Canada
14% alcohol. 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc. Very compact and bright with nice structure and fresh finely spiced berry fruits. This shows good structure and refinement, and is developing nice and slowly. Quite firm tannins with red and black fruits. Should be good for a few years more now. 92/100

Culmina Hypothesis 2013 Okanagan, Canada
14% alcohol. Merlot 38%, Cabernet Franc 36%, Cabernet Sauvignon 26%. I love the focused ripe blackberry and blackcurrant fruit here, alongside a sheen of slightly spicy oak. Good structure with a savoury twist and a sleek fruit character. Should develop nicely. 92/100

Culmina Hypothesis 2014 Okanagan, Canada
45% CS, 33% M, 22% CF. This is so fresh and fine. Pure and opulent with ripe, dense, focused, floral blackberry, black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Good structure here with nice concentration and weight. Still quite primary. Really impressive fruit here showing good balance. 93/100

Culmina Malbec 2015 Okanagan, Canada
Pure, vivid, fresh and focused with lovely fleshy fruit and good acidity. Sappy blackcurrant and black cherry with a spicy edge to it. Lovely stuff. 93/100

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Visiting Okanagan Crush Pad: Haywire and Narrative

Owner Chris Coletta with winemaker Matt Dumayne

This is becoming one of the most exciting wineries in all of Canada. I first visited Okanagan Crush Pad back in 2014, and since then things have come on in leaps and bounds. In particular, the winemaking, under New Zealander Matt Dumayne, is confident, brave and spot-on, resulting in some exciting wines.

A short film of the visit:


Owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie have invested a lot into this business: they have been busy developing a beautiful estate at Garnet Valley Ranch, and this year they purchased the Secrest Vineyard, which they’d been sourcing from: the owners wanted to sell and the only way of securing these grapes was to buy the vineyard, which in the Okanagan is an expensive option.

Native scrub at Garnet Valley

Garnet Valley Ranch: young vineyards

Oakanagan Crush Pad is the name of the winery, and the two brands are Haywire (estate-owned or long-term contract vineyards), and Narrative (bought-in grapes, or things which might change each year). As well as making their own wines here, this is also a crush pad, and half the 50 000 case production is for customers, but this is gradually decreasing.

We visited Garnet Valley. The last time I was here in 2014, they’d just planted the first 10 acres of Pinot. The 320 acre property will eventually have 60-80 acres of vines, with Pinot, Riesling and Chardonnay, and in the current wave of planting Gamay and Chenin. One of the plots, at 680 m, is the highest in the region. They’ve left wildlife corridors, and the most they moved the earth when they were contouring was 6 inches, under the advice from consultant Pedro Parra. Parra’s advice was good: neighbours who’ve moved lots of earth have struggled with the vines establishing themselves.

Concrete and terracotta: this is a winery given to alternative elevage

Viticulturist Duncan Billing explained how he’s been using compost to build up the upper layer of soil so it has some organic matter. Farming here has been organic from the outset.

New concrete tanks

In the winery, it’s clear that the approach here is different. There’s a lot of concrete, not much stainless steel, and hardly any oak. Matt Dumayne explained that he’s done lots of comparisons. The barrel wine is barrel wine, the stainless steel is linear and focused, and the concrete wine may lose a bit of varietal character, but he says the layers of texture and complexity are ‘through the roof’. He adds, ‘it’s always the better wine.’ A new addition in the winery are some larger concrete tanks: there are seven each of 5000 and 3000 litre tanks, stacked on top of each other. The concrete eggs here come from Sonoma Cast Stone, but the larger concrete vessels come from Nico Velo in Italy.

Matt stopped acidifying three yeas ago, and isn’t afraid of the typically high pHs found with reds in the Okanagan. He says he has bottled Pinots at pH 4 or 4.1, and five or six years down the track they’ve been fine. ‘You can bottle at pH 4.2 with 6 g TA and freshness, so who cares?’ The young glacially deposited Okanagan vineyards tend to produce grapes with a massive potassium shift, and so you add tartaric and it doesn’t change pH, it just increases the TA.

Haywire Vintage Bub 2013 Okanagan, Canada
11% alcohol, 10 g/l TA, 2 g/l rs. This is traditional method and has had 4.5 years on lees, disgorged three months ago, no dosage. Very tight, linear and focused with concentrated flavours. Has a slight smokiness with really vivid acidity. Lemony, mineral and a bit smoky with real vitality and focus. Serious and grown up. 92/100

Haywire Secrest Mountain Chardonnay 2017 Okanagan, Canada
13% alcohol. One egg in 2016, and two in 2017. Whole bunch pressed, native fermentation, 8 months in concrete on gross lees (don’t have any reduction problems). This has lovely texture here: very fine with some lemony notes, some pear, a hint of white peach. Freshness and purity here, and some delicacy too. Very fine and expressive with lovely purity and a slight mineral edge. This is beguiling and beautiful. 93/100

Narrative Pinot Blanc 2017 Okanagan, Canada
13% alcohol. 35 year old organic vineyard in Okanagan Falls at high elevation. Very pure and lemony with lovely purity. Very refined and with a distinct mineral twist. Has a slightly flinty edge and real precision. Shows delicacy and elegance, and finishes stony. 92/100

Haywire Waters & Banks Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Whole bunch pressed into concrete, no malolactic this time. Organically farmed, steep rocky site, lots of calcium carbonate. Bottled after 6 months. Beautifully fruity and expressive with some nice tangerine and melon fruit. Quite pure, rich and generous with some fruit sweetness (it’s dry) and some lovely sage brush herbiness. Very appealing. 90/100

Haywire Free Form White 2016 Okanagan, Canada
Destemmed, stainless steel tank, fermented on skins and left on skins for 9 months before pressing. Beautifully aromatic with some tropical fruit, some IPA hoppiness. Passionfruit, a bit of lemon, lovely freshness and very refined tannic structure. This is such an expressive, pretty wine that has real beauty. Some tangerine and grapefruit notes too. Such a pretty, detailed, fine wine. 94/100

Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé 2017 Okanagan, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Fruity and lively with a hint of rosehip, some bright citrus and cherry fruit, with good acidity. Nice focus and weight here with good acidity. Dry but fruity. 88/100

Haywire Gamay Noir 2017 (tank sample) Okanagan, Canada
Secrest Mountain Vineyard, organically farmed. Lovely floral, fleshy wine with good acidity. Vivid black cherry and plum fruit. Has nice fine-grained tannic structure and a slight hint of meaty savouriness. Has a bit of crunch here. Such a lovely wine. 93/100

Haywire Pinot Noir 2016 Okanagan, Canada
pH 3.8, 13% alcohol. Fermented in concrete, 25% whole bunches, 6 weeks on skins before being basket pressed back into concrete. This is so pretty. Lovely flesh and freshness allied with a floral edge to the red and black cherry fruit. So expressive and pure with some raspberry bite, too. Very expressive and pure with nice red fruit character. 93/100

Narrative Cabernet Franc 2016 Okanagan, Canada
From Osoyoos and Golden Mile, certified organic. Fermentation in open top stainless and concrete. Crunchy and grainy with notes of chalk and gravel under the sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit, together with some blackurrant notes. Beautifully fresh and expressive with a nice grainy character under the fruit. Has lovely fruit. Very Cabernet Franc. 93/100

UK agent: Red Squirrel Wines

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