PART I: The chang­ing FACE of wine­mak­ing in BC

Savour - - WINEMAKING IN BC - By Rhys Pen­der, MW

one of the con­stants in the wine busi­ness is change. There is a con­tin­u­ous evo­lu­tion in terms of cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tion, wine styles, un­der­stand­ing of a re­gion’s ter­roir and the tool­box of tricks and tech­nol­ogy avail­able to the wine­maker. Un­til re­cently, B.C. wine­mak­ers have been at the fore­front of us­ing ev­ery­thing they could to make clean, ap­proach­able wines. How­ever, two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence is start­ing to put the puz­zle pieces in place as to which grape grows best where. A new wine­mak­ing mind-set of “less is more” to let the ter­roir show through is tak­ing hold. The global wine in­dus­try seems on the edge of a mini-rev­o­lu­tion. The rise of con­tro­ver­sial top­ics such as nat­u­ral wine­mak­ing and con­sumer’s seem­ingly end­less de­mand for de­tails about a wines prove­nance are in­creas­ing the ex­po­sure of the non-ro­man­tic side of wine­mak­ing — ma­nip­u­la­tion. No wine­maker wants to stand up and say that their wine is re­ally a con­coc­tion of ad­di­tives, ar­ti­fi­cial prod­ucts and ma­nip­u­la­tion, but for many of the world’s wines this is the re­al­ity. Con­sumers are shocked when they find out what re­ally goes on. Be­cause of this wine­mak­ers are mak­ing changes, call­ing on the tech­niques of the past and mak­ing wines that are a more hon­est re­flec­tion of the vine­yard and the vin­tage. Tech­nol­ogy, though, isn’t a bad thing. While bury­ing grapes in an­cient am­phorae for a few months to see what hap­pens may sound ro­man­tic, the re­sult will of­ten be an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of wine faults. Much tech­nol­ogy is ac­tu­ally es­sen­tial in help­ing show­case the true flavour of the grapes. But there is a point when it is over­done and the tech­nol­ogy is what you taste rather than the grapes or the vine­yard. Too much new oak, en­zymes, sugar and some of the tan­nin ad­di­tives can turn a wine into some­thing that more closely re­sem­bles coca cola. Tech­nol­ogy can, and has, made the world of wine taste pretty ho­moge­nous. It is at the higher end of the wine mar­ket where the “less is more” change is tak­ing place. Con­sumers in­creas­ingly ex­pect their wines to show some of sense of place and, gen­er­ally, the less the wine is messed with the more this re­sult can be achieved. For Bri­tish Columbia wine, ter­roir driven wines will be­come

in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as the scale of the in­dus­try en­sures we will never com­pete at the low end of the mar­ket. The best wines will show­case the di­verse and in­ter­est­ing ter­roir of the B.C. re­gions. If the grapes need to be rou­tinely messed with to make drink­able wines then, at some point, the re­al­ity that many of the wrong grapes are planted in the wrong place will have to be ac­cepted and em­braced. Only then can B.C. start to forge ahead and re­ally make a name for it­self. Many of the prom­i­nent wine­mak­ers of B.C. are fol­low­ing the “less is more” mantra. Wisely, none are overly dog­matic and re­ject all the ad­vance­ments that have been made in wine­mak­ing, but there are dif­fer­ent takes on what in­gre­di­ents should and shouldn’t be used. Bill Eg­gert of Fairview Cel­lars calls him­self a minimalist; he re­jects adding en­zymes, nu­tri­ents and tan­nin prod­ucts. En­zymes seem to be a bit of a no-no for those aim­ing for min­i­mal ma­nip­u­la­tion. San­dra Old­field of Tin­horn Creek and Chris Car­son of Meyer Fam­ily Vine­yards both avoid us­ing th­ese aroma en­hancers while oth­ers keep the op­tion open — the prac­tice is usu­ally re­served for lesser grapes that need a help­ing hand for the wine to have any char­ac­ter at all. Barrel sales­men may be feel­ing the im­pact of this rev­o­lu­tion the most as B.C.’s love af­fair with ex­cess oak ap­pears to be dwin­dling. Out­side com­men­ta­tors have ex­pressed dis­may for years at the lav­ish over-oak­ing of many B.C. wines which smoth­ers the bright nat­u­ral fruit. Vir­tu­ally all wine­mak­ers seem to be re­treat­ing back to lower and lower per­cent­ages

of new bar­rels. Michael Bartier of Okana­gan Crush Pad sums it up well, “the new oak flavour that comes with new bar­rels absolutely sti­fles the fresh, vi­brant Okana­gan fruit.” The use of wild ver­sus cul­ti­vated yeasts is also a topic of de­bate and is made even more in­ter­est­ing by re­cent stud­ies that have shown that it is com­mer­cially cul­ti­vated yeasts that fin­ish most fer­men­ta­tions re­gard­less of whether or not they have been in­ten­tion­ally added. This is due to the re­al­ity that all yeasts es­sen­tially be­come wild as soon as they are used in a fer­men­ta­tion and then be­come a liv­ing en­tity within the win­ery. Grapes such as pinot noir and chardon­nay seem to be the favourites for wild fer­ments. J-M Bouchard of Road 13 Vine­yards and David Pater­son of Tan­talus Vine­yards both rely on wild fer­ments to add com­plex­ity to their pinot noir.

Karen Gil­lis of An­drew Peller Limited likes to keep her op­tions open to all forms of tech­nol­ogy, some­thing she sees as a re­al­ity when pro­duc­ing larger quan­ti­ties of wine. “I don’t have a bank roll big enough to let me ex­per­i­ment com­pletely with wild, no in­ter­rup­tion, no en­hance­ment, un­lim­ited ag­ing time,” she says high­light­ing the fact that it is much eas­ier to be ide­al­is­tic with small batches. “Even though we have many tools avail­able to aid us in our craft, the best wines are still made when we don’t have to pull out the bag of tricks.” While wine­mak­ers can’t agree on ex­actly what should and shouldn’t be done, there is def­i­nitely a trend to “less is more” wine­mak­ing and ev­i­dent pas­sion to try to ex­press ter­roir. It feels like B.C. wine may be at the start of its own mini-rev­o­lu­tion. Part 2 con­tin­ued in the next is­sue.

Wine­maker Karen Gil­lis, An­drew Peller Ltd. Wine­maker J-M Bouchard, Road 13 Vine­yards

Wine­maker San­dra Old­field, Tin­horn Creek Vine­yards

Wine­maker Bill Eg­gert, Fairview Cel­lars

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