I saw some recent coverage of the second BC Pinot Noir ‘showcase, and thought it would make an interesting blog topic. Not so much who was there, but who wasn’t!
But first a little background on the event itself. As per the Facebook page…”The celebration aims to bring together passionate Pinot Noir producers in the province in an interactive and fun atmosphere – giving guests an intimate experience with our winemakers and winery principals whilst building education and excitement about BC Pinot Noir.”
Hmm…kind of new age, but in general I think the concept is a great one! Pinot Noir is one of the greatest – and most controversial – red wine grapes there is – it isn’t called the ‘heartbreak grape’ for nothing! It is the grape of Burgundy, of course, where it is made into some of the most expensive wines in the world. Some Grand Crus from producers like Romani Conti and Leroy can easily approach $1000 a bottle! California also makes great Pinot, with cult producers like Marcassin and Kistler selling their small production wines for hundreds of dollars a bottle.
Style wise, Pinot can be range from quite herbal and tannic to being so fruity (in Oregon and California, for example) that it is almost candied. “Burgundian” is one descriptor, usually meaning black cherries mixed with herbs, earth and mushrooms. “Californian” is the opposite, emphasizing super-ripe red and black cherries with a touch of spice. That variation in style — as well price and quality – is how Pinot earned its reputation.
But I have digressed…what about BC’s Pinot and this year’s showcase?
Well, it was hosted by Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna and also included Meyer Family, CedarCreek, Quail’s Gate, Howling Bluff, Blue Mountain, Liquidity, Black Cloud, Summerhill, Spierhead, Mission Hill, 50th Parallel, Averill Creek, Orofino, Lake Breeze and Carson.
A quick look at this list shows a number of things. First, the bigger wineries are there in force – Mission Hill, CedarCreek and Quail’s Gate. Of those, only Quail’s Gate has a strong reputation for Pinot, although Mission Hill’s Martin Lane bottling caused quite a stir last year when it won a bunch of rewards.
Second, there are others on the list I haven’t even heard of – like Black Cloud, Liquidity and Carson.
Finally, there are those who I consider established leaders in BC Pinot Noir. Blue Mountain tops that list, as their Striped Label/Reserve Pinot Noir has almost a cult following. And for good reason – it drinks beautifully on release, but can age for 8 – 10 years in good vintages. It is a great Burgundy/Cali cross, and arguably BC’s best Pinot.
Averill Creek is up in that stratosphere too. Andy Johnston makes amazing wine on the slopes of Duncan[s Mt Prevost – on Vancouver Island of all places! It, too, can age and develop, although for lightly less time, and is quite Burgundian in nature
Finally, Howling Bluff is the new kid on the block in this group. Luke Smith has had success and awards (including the 2006 Lieutenant Governor’s award) for his Burgundy style Pinot that starts out lean and tight but can blossom into a thing of beauty.
So who wasn’t there that should have been?
Well, the obvious one is Kettle Valley. Their Hayman Vineyard is the truest expression of Burgundy in BC, and vies with Blue Mountain for the best in BC. It can age for 8 – 10 years, at which time it is almost identical to a Premier Cru Burgundy. Their Reserve is no slouch either – a little more Cali in Style, but that isn’t a bad thing.
Eau Vivre, a Similkameen winery, is also missing. Back to back LG awards for their $20 Pinot Noir (yes, that price is correct) were justified given the earthy, spicy, black cherry infused wine.
I would also add two more to the mix. La Frenz gets press for its whites, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (as well as deserved recognition for being the best overall winery in BC), but the quality of their Reserve Pinot Noir has grown by leaps and bounds. The 2012 is stunning!
Finally, I would add in Nk Mip’s Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir. I have had a number of vintages of this Cali clone and they are gorgeous.
So why aren’t they there?
Probably lots of good reasons. Not enough wine is one – there are less than 100 cases of the Hayman, only a few more of the Kettle Valley Reserve, and Eau Vivre’s is already sold out.
“Don’t need to be” is another. These wines sell out from the winery anyway, so why ‘give them away at a tasting?
And last, but not least…is maybe “don’t want to be”. The wine trade is full of politics and marketing, and competitions even more so. Words like “best” and “great” get thrown around very easily, too often fueled by who spends the most money on marketing.
The wineries I have identified as the best Pinot Noir makers are well known to wine dweebs like me and, given that, why show up – and put up – with all the bull#$%$%?
But don’t let that stop you from trying them…if you can get a hold of a bottle or two!