Okanagan (1) Sage Hills and Keenan


Okanagan (1) Sage Hills and Keenan

Sage Hills is a relatively new Okanagan winery. The vineyard, beautifully situated on a lake-facing hill in Summerland, was purchased by Vancouver property developer Rick Thrussell in 2006. At the time, it was a rather run-down apricot farm that had been abandoned for a decade, and Rick planted 7 acres of vines on the site, plus another 3 on a neighbouring property.

Keenan Thrussell

His son Keenan is now the winemaker here, and he’s taking the wines in a very interesting direction. Keenan moved to the Okanagan from Vancouver in 2015 and began by farming the vineyard and also helping in the cellar. He also got experience working for Pascal Madevon at Culmina. Pascal – who consults widely – gave him experience in a number of his clients’ cellars. And Keenan also did vintage with Two Hands in Australia. Armed with this experience, he took over winemaking duties at Sage Hills with the 2017 vintage.

The vineyard has been organic from the outset. Initially, weeds were controlled using a bush wacker, but this caused some damage to the trunks of the vines, and so Keenan now takes a different approach: he just lets the weeds grow. Alternate rows are mowed to give some semblance of order, but he doesn’t do anything in the vine row.  He’s interested in seeing what grows naturally, and in this arid climate the weeds don’t grow up into the canopy, and the vines don’t seem to be suffering from any loss of vigour. ‘I wanted to see what grows,’ he says, ‘and since I’ve taken over I’ve been using native yeasts.’ He thinks the weeds are part of this.

There’s a step up from the 2016 wines to those from 2017, and there’s also a jump to the wines from 2018. Experiments involving doing less in the winery, and not sulphuring after malolactic fermentation involved just a few barrels in 2017, and then in 2018 he rolled the low intervention approach across the whole range. He says that sulphuring a barrel ‘kills the immune system of the wine and shuts it down.’

Picking here is by acid levels, and so the result is wines that are bright and drinkable, with low alcohol levels. Keenan also makes small quantities of wines under his name – a ton of Cabernet Franc in 2017 and a ton of Sauvignon Blanc in 2018. These see no sulphites at all.

This is a really exciting project, and it’s good to see young people with vision and aesthetic sensibilities making wines in the Okanagan like this.

Sage Hills Brut Sauvage 2016 Okanagan, Canada
This is traditional method Pinot Gris with no dosage. Smoky and a bit mineral with nice grapey notes. Lovely texture here with fine spicies. Lovely stuff. 90/100

Sage Hills Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
This is from purchased organic fruit from the Ghost Pines vineyard high up in Peachland. Harvested late on October 28. Tight and mineral with a bit of reduction, showing some matchstick notes. Lovely freshness with a stony texture. Nice precision here with a good acid line. 91/100

Sage Hills Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018 Okanagan, Canada
From Covert Farms in Oliver, this is 65% Sauvignon and 35% Semillon. The Semillon is picked very ripe and the Sauvignon is cofermented with it to provide natual acid balance, with the harvest in tranches and juice added successively to already fermenting wine. Lovely texture here: very fine and linear with nice weight and purity, showing rounded pear, spice and white peach. 93/100

Sage Hills Gewurztraminer 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Half was picked with 9 g/l acid, then some at 7 g/l and the final pick was 4 g/l. Fresh and floral with a lemony edge to the nose and some Turkish delight character. Supple and textured on the palate with nice freshness and some pithy notes. 89/100

Sage Hills Syrah Rosé 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Fruit from Covert Farms. Supple and textured with nice strawberry and cherry fruit, some nice richness and a bit of spiciness. Textural and appealing. 90/100

Sage Hills Rhymes With Orange Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
This is quite smoky, but when it goes through malolactic in barrel the smokiness disappears, which makes Keenan think it’s not smoke taint. Half of this went through barrel and wasn’t smoly, but the tank component was. Smoky, medicinal and herb tinged on the nose. The palate has lovely texture with a hint of mint and some earthiness. Structured with some tropical highlights. 88/100

Sage Hills Merlot 2017 Okanagan, Canada
From Kaleden Organic Vineyards. This is fresh and supple with nice cherry and plum fruit, showing nice brightness and purity. Very supple and elegant. 92/100

Sage Hills Pinot Noir 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Estate fruit, 30% whole cluster. Supple, fresh, mellow and elegant with textured red cherry fruit and some nice herby hints. Very textured and fine with a silky mouthfeel. Lovely wine. 93/100

Sage Hills Syrah 2016 Okanagan, Canada
This comes from Covert Farms in Oliver. Fresh and textured with nice ripeness and good balance. There’s a bit of pepper here with some oak in the mix, too. 91/100

Tank/cask samples of 2018:

Sage Hills Rhymes with Orange Pinot Gris 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Lovely spicy texture here with nice savoury notes. Some liquorice, a bit of spicy framing and a twist of medicine. 90-92/100

Sage Hills Pinot Gris 2018 Okanagan, Canada
This is the whole-cluster component, which will be a quarter of the blend (this is 50% whole cluster). Lovely detail with notes of marmalade and spice and tangerine. Nice weight, with some tannin. 91-93/100

Sage Hills Pinot Noir 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Wild ferment, no cold soak, 10% whole cluster. Fresh and textured with spices and a hint of reduction. Fine-grained tannins with some savoury spice and a silky texture. Lovely cherry fruit. 92-94/100

Sage Hills Syrah 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Wild ferment. This has an amazingly peppery nose with lovely vivid floral black cherry fruit. Shows precision on the palate. Bright and vivid with focus and purity. A remarkable wine. 94-96/100

Each year Keenan does a ton of grapes as his own experiment. In 2017 it was Cabernet Franc, in 2018 a skin-contact Sauvignon Blanc. These are made with no added sulphites, after he had good results with an unsulfured barrel.

Keenan Sauvignon Blanc Skin Contact 2018 Okanagan, Canada
This is whole berries with a month on skins, punched down and then pressed with an old basket press. This then went into barrels for 8 months with so sulphites. Lovely floral nose with orange blossom and citrus peel. The palate has structure and texture. Very refined with nice length, with a twist of mint and fine herbs. There’s balance, precision and freshness. 93/100

Keenan Cabernet Franc 2017 Okkanagan, Canada
This comes from Kaleden, near Penticton. No added sulphites. Supple and fine grained with nice freshness, a touch of pepper and some earthy hints under the grainy cherry and plum fruit. Has good structure with some finesse. 93/100

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