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

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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