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B.C. pinot noir effort pays off

B.C. pinot noir effort pays off

Anthony Gismondi: B.C. pinot noir effort pays off

Using less oak seems to be having huge effect, leaving grape’s delicacy on display

By Anthony Gismondi, Special to The Sun, September 5th 2014

“The second annual Annual British Columbia Pinot Noir Celebration played host to by Tantalus Vineyards is over but not before about 125 pinot noir fans had a chance to enjoy the latest from the heartbreak grape grown in vineyards on Vancouver Island, the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys. Internationally-acclaimed wine educator and author Karen MacNeil (The Wine Bible) kicked off the event speaking to the peculiarities of the pinot noir grape and the precision it brings to the glass.

It was MacNeil’s first visit to the Okanagan and she was kept busy for two days as she traversed hundreds of kilometers of highway visiting our vineyards. Among her remarks was the suggestion that B.C. pinot noir was going to give Oregon a run for its money somewhere in the near future, intimating our pinot may have something even more special. Time will tell.The single biggest advancement in B.C. pinot noir is the decision by many producers to use less new oak. So many earlier editions were obliterated by gobs of new oak that would sit on the fruit, like a giant wooden plank, smothering all the delicate details that make pinot so inviting on the palate. It takes a measured hand to do less and it usually takes time for that realization to come to young regions and young winemakers.

On the surface, doing less would seem logical given the delicate nature of the pinot noir grape. It is not easy to grow, it’s thin-skinned and temperamental and it tends to ripen earlier on the vines, making the decision of when to pick crucial. Once one comes to know pinot noir and its foibles, it can be enchanting. I call it the not-too-much grape as in: not too much colour, not too much acidity, not too much tannin and often not too much weight. Really the only thing big about pinot noir is the flavour (if well-made) and the price. It’s rarely inexpensive, and when it is, it usually not very pinot noir–like.

Pinot embodies all the above and more and while it’s often about mouth-feel and that rich, silky, fruity earthy barnyard fruit that spills across your palate, it’s also about searching for perfection. It’s what attracts producers and drinkers alike. That pinot needs constant care and attention drops it off many production lists. It is also site-specific. Translation: you can’t grow it everywhere, further reducing its appeal. It also requires patience and nurturing to really tap into its soul. If you make it that far, the rewards can be substantial because few wines can fill a glass as comfortably as pinot noir.

So how are we doing? We are doing very well and are light years ahead where we were a decade ago.

If there is a shining light, it is at Blue Mountain, where restraint and soil have conspired to make some very compelling pinot noir that appears to age forever gracefully. Under-valued perhaps are the offerings of Lake Breeze and Spierhead and overlooked are the very fine offerings (read value too) coming out of Mission Hill, CedarCreek and Quails’ Gate older and bigger isn’t always a bad thing.

Polished would include Martin’s Lane, now going from a wine to a standalone winery. You can add Meyer, 50th Parallel and Tantalus to that list. Under the necessary heading of explorers I would place Howling Bluff, Liquidity, Orofino, Summerhill, Carson Pinot Noir, Black Cloud, and Averill Creek and there is more to come.

Most of these wines are allocated to wine club buyers or restaurant wine lists only. The best way to buy B.C. pinot noir is direct from the wineries. In the coming week I’ll track down some prices and availability. Some are as difficult to buy as they are to produce and pinot noir fans wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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