Severine Pinte is the winemaker behind two high-end Okanagan properties: Le Vieux Pin and La Stella. The former is a Rhône specialist and is currently making some of Canada’s top Syrahs.
These are superb wines with real definition, and count among the country’s very best. They are quite northern Rhône in style, but they also have a bit of the Okanagan about them. Three different Syrahs are made: the floral, perfumed La Violette, then the Classic Cuvée (which ages well), and finally the Equinoxe, which takes things up a bit in terms of concentration and structure.
La Stella is more Italian-oriented, with Tuscan villa-style architecture and some Sangiovese in the vineyard, along with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wineries draw on fruit from six vineyards throughout the Okanagan, giving a variety of terroirs for Severine to play with in creating the blends, even though it results in a lot of driving at vintage time. ‘It’s my seventh year here,’ says Severine. ‘Everything is different; none of the years are the same. There is no recipe; I adapt myself to the year.’
Because of the risk of frosts, they don’t prune short, but instead drop crop once the risk of frost has gone. A precision approach is applied in the vineyards, which have been surveyed by NVDI (which measures the density of the canopy) and also electroconductivity. From these surveys, a range of soil pits were then dug, and there are a range of soil samples that are currently being analysed at a lab in Victoria.
The whites here are OK, but the real action is with the reds. A new wine, Espressivo, is a Cabernet-based blend that will be released soon, and it is lovely. It will complement Fortissimo, a Merlot-dominated blend, which is really elegant (it includes 21% Sangiovese in 2014). Alegretto is a 100% Merlot from ungrafted vines on sandy soils, and it is grippy and balsamic with a bit of lift. Maestoso, a Merlot, and La Sophia, a Cabernet Sauvignon, are high-end wines that impress, but seem to manage to combine a degree of precision and elegance with reasonably high alcohol levels.
Black Hills Estate, on the warm Black Sage bench of the Okanagan, is well known for its Nota Bene, a Bordeaux-style red blend. It was pouring with rain when we visited, so we didn’t go into the vineyard, but we did a mini vertical of Nota Bene, along with winemaker Graham Pierce and assistant winemakers Jesse Cooper and Tamara Hagel.
I was impressed with how well the 2008 was ageing, with focus and purity, and more than a bit of elegance. 2011 was a very cool vintage and the harvest was delayed until November, and the result is a vivid blackcurrant and blackberry fruit wine with some fine green notes that reminded me a bit of Chile.
2013 and 2014 are both quite primary, but you get the impression that there’s potential for development here. These are wines that need a decade to show their best, suggests Graham. They are perhaps a little too polished in their youth, but the way the 2008 is developing is very encouraging. We also looked at some barrels, including a very interesting Carmenère, with lots of personality and focus.
Tinhorn Creek was the final visit of the day. Kenn Oldfield and a friend started this winery in 1993, and it is currently being run by his wife Sandra Oldfield, with support from the two Andrews (viticulturist Andrew Moon and winemaker Andrew Windsor). They are producing wines that offer good value for money in reasonable quantities. This is important: it’s easy to focus solely on the expensive boutique wines, when a healthy wine region needs a mix. We had an enjoyable visit with Sandra and the Andrews. The first vintage here was 1994, with just 1000 cases, and this ramped up to 40 000 annually by 1999 and since then has remained about the same. The Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer are really attractive wines at good prices. At the other end, the Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc 2013 is an elegant expression of this variety with a spicy, savoury edge.