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Author Archives: Geoffrey Moss

Marketing Manager at Phantom Creek Estates.

Renaming a Historic Vineyard

We always knew we had to change the name of Sundial Vineyard. It had nothing to do with the name itself, but, well, lawyers. After careful consideration, we feel it is only right to respect the vineyard’s rich history by renaming it to Becker Vineyard.

The 52-acre vineyard was initially developed in 1977 as part of the pioneering Becker Project, which demonstrated that traditional European grape varieties could thrive in British Columbia. Led by renowned viticulturist Helmut Becker, chief of the Geisenheim Institute in Germany, the Becker Project trialed more than thirty different grape varieties over eight years. Many of these varieties became and continue to be the Okanagan’s backbone, including Riesling. During a time when the Okanagan was dominated by lesser labrusca and hybrid varieties, the Becker Project spearheaded the industry’s transition to high quality vinifera varieties.

Working by hand on Becker Vineyard on the Black Sage Bech

Becker Vineyard’s potential for late ripening red varieties was later identified by Harry McWatters in 1993. That year, the property was predominantly planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc by Richard Cleave. This would help to change the winegrowing philosophy of the South Okanagan, and proved that Cabernet family varieties could excel here.

Tucked up against the Okanagan Highland mountains, the steeply sloped topography of Becker Vineyard means it basks in the Okanagan Desert’s afternoon sun while also capturing the last rays of sunset. The vineyard’s higher elevation, on the upper terrace of the Black Sage Bench, results in a more gradual growing season in comparison to Phantom Creek Vineyard. The wines are richly concentrated, but maintain a sense of vibrancy and freshness.

We can’t wait to share our first vintage of single vineyard wines from the historic Becker Vineyard with you. Join the wait list for our wine club by clicking here.

A Journey Continues

Acclaimed Canadian wine writer Anthony Gismondi recently revisited Phantom Creek to see first hand the latest progress at the winery. With a camera crew in tow, Anthony toured our newly acquired vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench as well as the burgeoning construction site. In the cellar, he enthusiastically tasted “the impressive pinot gris and…the much vaunted syrah from the original Phantom Creek Vineyard site on Black Sage Road.” The stunning footage is now available to watch here:

 

 

Read Anthony’s full article at Gismondi on Wine.

Olivier Humbrecht MW joins Phantom Creek

We are pleased to announce a long-term collaboration with Olivier Humbrecht MW of Alsace’s Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Phantom Creek is Olivier’s first and only winery consulting project.

Olivier Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine, is the owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. The renowned estate has been in his family since 1620, and today is one of the world’s leading Pinot Gris and Riesling producers. Olivier initiated the winery’s transition to organic and biodynamic practices in 1997. He is now the President of Biodyvin, a prestigious biodynamic certifying body based in Europe.

Olivier-Humbrecht-Okanagan.jpg

As we expand our portfolio to include Pinot Gris and Riesling, two of British Columbia’s signature grape varieties, Olivier will be instrumental in helping to select and develop vineyard sites that have the potential for excellence.

“Having visited three times already, I know the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are capable of producing exceptional Pinot Gris and Riesling with great vineyard character,” said Humbrecht. “With the ambition of ownership and the skilled team at Phantom Creek, I am enthusiastic about what we can achieve.”

Working closely with Winemaker Ross Wise, Olivier will have an integral role in Phantom Creek’s white winemaking program. Our state of the art winery, including an Alsatian inspired foudre room, was designed with Olivier’s input.

Olivier will also guide our transition to organic and biodynamic farming practices. Our 67 acres of estate vineyards on the Black Sage Bench, including the historic Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards, have been farmed according to organic practices since 2017.

“We believe organic and biodynamic farming will result in the highest quality fruit from our estate vineyards,” said Ross Wise. “As the authority on biodynamic farming, Olivier is an indispensable source of knowledge.”

Our inaugural wines will be released in Spring 2019, coinciding with the opening of the winery.

Vintage 2017

As I write this, we only have a small number of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere blocks left to harvest. That means the finish line for the 2017 vintage is in sight.

Hand Harvesting

Hand harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon from Phantom Creek Vineyard

This year’s growing season got off to a slow start with bud break occurring nearly two weeks later than average. The cool, wet spring meant challenging conditions during flowering, resulting in poor fruit set and relatively low yields throughout the valley. Although producers may curse the reduced volumes, the good news is the quality appears to be quite high.

The summer was warm, but not excessively hot. Nights were cool. And the South Okanagan was exceptionally dry. Growers who practiced thoughtful deficit irrigation were able to harvest well-balanced fruit that combined ripeness with purity of fruit and freshness. The reduced yields and low precipitation resulted in small, concentrated berries that should produce wines of depth and intensity.

Merlot Bin

A bin of Sundial Vineyard Merlot

The 2017 vintage has been well-paced and organized. To date, pristine harvest conditions have meant that fruit could be picked as it was ready. There were no heavy rains or snap frosts to force our hand. Our picking decisions have emphasized balance first and foremost; flavour development is important, but so is freshness. With picking spread out, there’s a calm and focus in the cellar that is rare for this time of year.

Hand Sorting

The harvest crew around the sorting table

It’s still early to talk about the precise character of this year’s wines. The sparkling base wines have finished fermentation and are now resting in a combination of oak casks and stainless steel. They combine lively acidity, a requisite for quality sparkling wine, with delicate, subtle citrus fruit flavours. The wines will be bottled for secondary fermentation (what’s known as tirage) in summer 2018.

The white wines – Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Viognier – are slowly fermenting. We now just check on them every few days. Even at this early stage, the wines show exceptional varietal expression. If Ross did not have the winery locked and alarmed, there’s a Pinot Gris in oak cask that I’d be tempted to siphon into bottle and drink liberally. It is rich and complex – and distinctly Okanagan.

Pinot Noir Juice

Cellar Master Ryan McKibbon sampling Pinot Noir juice from the press

We have started pressing our first red lots. Today was Syrah from Phantom Creek Vineyard. No surprise: it is dense, heady, and a true expression of this historic vineyard.  Others have just started fermentation. So far, the reds have a bright fruit character, but with no shyness in ripeness.  The last remaining blocks will be harvested next week.

Maybe most exciting about this year for us: no commercial yeasts. Every fermentation in the winery – and we mean every – has been started and finished with naturally present yeasts. We tasted a number of 2017 lots this week. The wines have impressive complexity, but also are clean and pure. I think John Pires is right when he calls 2017 an archetypal Okanagan vintage.

Stay tuned.

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Deciding When to Harvest

Last week, we started taking berry samples from Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards. Each vineyard block is sampled individually. Even for the same grape variety, some blocks will ripen earlier than others. The fruit’s maturity will depend on the block’s unique mesoclimate as well as the clone and rootstock. Precise sampling allows us to harvest each block at its optimal ripeness.

Berry Sampling

Taking berry samples of Malbec at Phantom Creek Vineyard

The key is making sure the Ziplock bag full of berries is a representative sample of a vineyard block that may be several acres in size. To this end, berries are individually picked from different parts of the grape cluster. Berries that are sun exposed will be sweeter than those that are more shaded; the top of the cluster will always be more mature than the tail. The range of maturity within a cluster may be up to 1 to 2 weeks. Consequently, berries are selectively taken from the front, back, top, middle, and bottom of different clusters.

Berry Sampling

We’ll run the numbers on each block, specifically looking at sugar ripeness (measured in Brix), pH, and total acidity. Samples are taken once a week to begin with to monitor a block’s development. We also have the benefit of using phenolic analyses. As the block gets closer to optimal ripeness, the frequency of samples will increase and John and Ross will taste the fruit on an ongoing basis. The difference between underripe and overripe is often a narrow window.

John and Ross will also keep an eye on the upcoming weather forecast. A heatwave, like occurred recently in Napa, or unseasonable rain may move the harvest date forward. Optimal ripeness cannot be considered in isolation; it’s also relative to the vintage.

Sampling Pinot Gris

John and Ross tasting Pinot Gris berries in Okanagan Falls

As the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for our inaugural sparkling wine starts fermenting at the winery, Ross and John are tasting Pinot Gris berries to determine when they should be picked. These rows in Okanagan Falls are tasting like they’ll be ready to be picked this week.

Managing Tannins Before Harvest

When it comes to red winemaking, there are few things as important as tannin management. Harsh, astringent tannins dry out the mouth, leaving one grasping for a glass of water over another pour of wine. Well managed tannins provide the structure to age a wine – tannin is a natural antioxidant – but with a silky, plush texture. Think of the difference between licking coarse sawdust versus a cashmere sweater. (Not that I particularly recommend either.)

Ouch

Tannins shouldn’t feel like this

Managing Tannins in the Vineyard

Like almost anything to do with wine, tannin management starts in the vineyard. The level of tannin will depend on the grape variety as well as factors such as harvest date, temperature, and sun exposure. For example, the sundrenched Central Otago region in New Zealand, averaging 1973 hours of annual sunshine, results in deeply coloured, structured Pinot Noirs. The wines are distinctive for a variety that is generally pale hued with low tannin levels.

Phenolic or physiological ripeness is a loaded term that is often used during harvest. Although it may refer to a number of factors – there are thousands of phenolic compounds – it is commonly used in reference to skin and seed ripeness. The idea is that properly ripe fruit should have soft tannins. In some cases, this may necessitate long hang times prior to harvest to achieve the desired tannin profile.

But, interestingly, the level of skin tannin does not significantly change in the weeks before harvest. Rather, the level of anthocyanin – or colour – increases over the four weeks prior to harvest. In other words, anthocyanin is a critical indicator of phenolic ripeness.

Cabernet Sauvignon post-veraison

Cabernet Sauvignon post-veraison at Phantom Creek Vineyard

The Impact of Anthocyanins

To be sure, the colour of a wine does not relate to its quality. Think of Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, for example. However, anthocyanins do something else: they bind with tannins to form polymeric pigments, adding body and creating a softer tannin profile in red wine. This starts on the vine, but occurs mostly during fermentation and maturation. And this can be why it’s difficult to taste for soft tannins. The tannins have only started to be modified by anthocyanin before they’re harvested.

The other risk is going too far with hang time. Anthocyanin levels decrease as fruit becomes overripe. This is largely because anthocyanin continues to bind with tannin to form polymeric pigments. However, wines with very high polymeric pigment levels are overly developed and oxidative. Put simply, the resulting wines taste older than they should. Think of undesirable flavours such as stewed prunes or barley sugar. Again, it can be difficult to taste oxidative characteristics before the fruit has been picked. Jamie Goode argues that “by the time grapes taste ripe, they are overripe.” This is why using anthocyanin levels as a guide for harvest decisions can be incredibly useful.

Phenolic Analysis

As a result, phenolic analysis is increasingly becoming an important tool in making harvest decisions.

Phenolic analysis: an assay that measures compounds such as tannin, catechin, polymeric pigments, and total anthocyanins in grape juice and/or wine

Some Napa wineries, after using phenolic analyses, have found that they could actually harvest fruit earlier than they previously thought. This makes sense: it’s impossible to measure anthocyanin levels with the human eye. It also provides context for the vintage. For example, is it a low, medium, or high tannin year?

Green Grape Seeds

Green, or unripe, grape seeds

Phenolic analysis also helps to measure seed ripeness. It’s not uncommon to hear winemakers say they’re looking for brown or lignified seeds at harvest. The reason? Grape seeds impart a harsh tannin that is easily extracted in alcohol. High levels of seed tannin can indicate unripe or green seeds. This will impact harvest decisions as well as how the winemaker treats the fruit in the winery. Seed tannin typically declines over the four weeks prior to harvest, but this varies by grape variety. For example, Pinot Noir has naturally high levels of seed tannin.

Phenolic ripeness indicators are one – but certainly not the only – piece of the puzzle in making picking decisions. And this information will also influence how the fruit is handled in the winery. Part two of our look at tannin management will consider how phenolic analysis can be used to influence winemaking decisions after harvest.

Follow our blog, Pressing Matters, over the coming weeks for an in-depth look at the 2017 harvest:

Trialing Palissage

Grapevines grow upwards towards sunlight. But this isn’t necessarily obvious when you walk through a vineyard. Each shoot is uniform in length; generally, no taller than 6 feet.

Canopy Management 101

There’s a reason for this: to prevent one vineyard row from shading the next. Uniform sun exposure means fruit will ripen at an even pace within the same block. We don’t want to worry about fruit from one vine being overripe while the next is green and unripe. We’re aiming for uniform ripeness.

Palissage.jpgThe magic ratio is 1:1. In other words, the height of the canopy (or shoots) should not exceed the width of the row.  The solution is often to cut the tips of the shoots, what’s known in the industry as hedging or shoot-tipping. This isn’t done with pruners, but rather with what’s best described as a chain-saw attached to a tractor. (It is more sophisticated than a mechanical version of Leatherface, though.)

However, hedging eventually perpetuates the problem it is meant to solve. Shoot-tipping stimulates additional shoot growth (specifically laterals), resulting in more shading. This then leads to another round of hedging, stimulating even more – well, you get the idea.

What’s Palissage?

Which brings us to palissage. With this technique, shoots are trained back down into the canopy by hand – not trimmed. Palissage is much more time consuming, but advantageously slows down shoot growth, reduces the number of laterals, and focuses the vine’s energy on ripening fruit. And no tractor passes are required, reducing our carbon footprint.

We’re trialing palissage for the first time this year on both Phantom Creek Vineyard and Sundial Vineyard. Thus far, we’re encouraged with the results. According to Ross, palissage-treated vines at our estate vineyards show better overall balance when compared to hedged vines due to reduced vigour and lateral growth. It may also have the added benefit of retaining higher acidity levels, providing more freshness and vibrancy in the resulting wines.

But let’s not forget another reason for hedging: aesthetics. Vines are often carefully manicured, with no leaf out of place. So, don’t be surprised if our vineyards look slightly different. There’s a natural reason.

The Old World Fallacy

New World wine regions have a tendency to liken themselves to the Old World. The idea is that the perceived prestige of the Old World will rub off on an emerging region and its producers, i.e. honour by association. Of course, this is a logical fallacy.

Comparing Growing Conditions

Regions start by comparing themselves to the Old World based on similar growing conditions. The argument goes something like:

Burgundy is a classic wine growing region

x wine region has a similar climate to Burgundy

Therefore, x wine region can be a classic wine growing region

The problem – outside of the flawed logic – is how we define “similar climate.” The most common variable used to compare regions is Growing Degree Days (GDDs).

 Growing Degree Days (GDDs): a measure of the heat accumulated over a period of time.

However, GDDs don’t holistically capture how a vine experiences a growing season. As Jamie Goode describes, “Even an identical number of GDDs can have very different effects on two vines. Early season GDDs count a lot more than later ones, because the benefit of later GDDs will be incrementally more, because the vine will make more of those later GDDs with its bigger canopy.”

A simple comparison would be two hiking trails with the same elevation gain. An experienced hiker will know that the difficulty of the hike will depend on how gradually the elevation changes, whether it’s all in the first kilometre or over the trail’s entire duration.

Take the Okanagan and Bordeaux. Both regions have similar GDDs in some years. But the actual climates could not be more different. The Okanagan is a dry continental climate with hot summers and a relatively short growing season. Bordeaux, in contrast, is a maritime climate with more moderate temperatures and a greater number of frost-free days.

Temperature Comparisons: Bordeaux v. Okanagan

Comparing Bordeaux and the Okanagan

Osoyoos in Blue; Pessac (Bordeaux) in Red
Source: en.climate-data.org

There’s also a significant difference in rainfall. The Okanagan is a semi-arid climate with little rainfall during the growing season. As such, careful irrigation is required. In comparison, Bordeaux has relatively high rainfall, resulting in high disease pressure and potential fruit dilution. Harvest rainfalls can make or break a Bordeaux vintage.

A comparison of the GDDs of the Okanagan and Bordeaux simply doesn’t capture the complexities of each climate.

Comparing Winemaking Techniques

The mistake, then, is thinking that what works in one region will work in another. This applies not only to vineyard management, but also winemaking. The argument goes something like:

x famous winery uses winemaking techniques x, y, and z

We use winemaking techniques x, y, and z

Therefore, our wines can be as good as x famous winery

The problem – again, outside of the flawed logic – is thinking that winemaking techniques are universally applicable. Just because you use the same winemaking techniques as Domaine Romanée Conti (like using only François Frères barrels), doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for your fruit. A talented winemaker adapts to what best suits the fruit from each individual vineyard in any given vintage.

That’s not to say that learning from other regions and winemakers is not important. It is essential. Or that there’s only one correct approach. As Nova Cadamatre writes, “multiple winemakers can get fruit from the exact same vineyard however the translation of the terroir will be different depending on that individual winemaker’s concept of what the terroir should give them.”

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But let’s take the example of tannin management for red wines. In the Okanagan, hot summer temperatures can result in thick skins with high tannin levels. Consequently, soft, gentle extraction is critical to avoiding overly assertive tannins in the finished wine. Alternatively, regions (or vintages) with lower tannin levels would require more aggressive extraction to build structure and weight.

And, Well, Who Cares?

The other challenge, as I’ve noted previously, is that Old World comparisons often fall flat to consumers. You should know this if you’ve ever worked in a tasting room. In the United Kingdom, only 59 percent of wine consumers are aware that France is a wine producing country. We should not expect the average consumer to understand our analogies to Bordeaux or Burgundy. And why should they care? If they wanted to drink Bordeaux or Burgundy, they’d do exactly that.

Let’s not forget that one of our greatest advantages in the New World is our ability to innovate without the restrictions of tradition or legal regulations. Randall Grahm argues, “I don’t think that the New World can afford any more to be derivative – the world’s gotten too competitive.” In Australia, many wineries have embraced Australian – not Bordeaux – blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Other New World regions may benefit from thinking similarly.

Ultimately, I’d argue that comparisons to Old World regions portrays a lack of confidence and maturity. To be sure, Bordeaux is not comparing itself to any other wine region. The story of a region should be self-sustaining; Old World analogies are a crutch.

At Phantom Creek, we’re an Okanagan winery growing what we consider to be the Valley’s signature grape varieties. Period.

On Tasting Notes

“Tasting notes are a clinical approach to what is, at heart, an emotional connection.” – Ron Washam, also known as the HoseMaster

Wineries use tasting notes for – well, it’s not clear. A Cornell University study found tasting notes do not sell wine. Think about it: would you buy a wine just because it has flavours of blackberry or cola? And what if you didn’t like one of the fruits listed? Worse yet, tasting notes can be comically inaccurate. It doesn’t help that some tasting notes are written months before the wine is bottled, so that the note can be included on the back label.

Tasting notes also verge on the bizarre. Flavours of dried tobacco leaves, cigar box, and forest floor? It’s hard to imagine anyone who would willingly chomp down on a clump of dirt. And that’s not even mentioning minerality. Instead, we’re more likely to embarrass and put off consumers who don’t know the peculiar vocabulary of wine. Some aromas – smoke, tar – sound better suited to a construction site than a glass of wine, after all. If we’re “selling poetry,” we’re often failing.

On Tasting Notes

There’s also the risk of the consumer’s focus becoming the tasting note and not the wine itself. The sheer pleasure of wine is neglected; instead it becomes a desperate search to find strawberry or raspberry. If one doesn’t taste what’s described, then self-doubt creeps in. One’s tasting ability is brought into question. And this can go on for five, ten, or fifteen different flavours. To borrow a quote from the Journal of Wine Economics: “The pretense that we shall be able to discern all those tastes and aromas is pure bullshit.”

The problem is actually ours: using the “language of wine,” or insider jargon, over the vernacular. This may help to explain why consumers cannot identify a wine from its tasting note. Trying to speak in the same language as the consumer doesn’t mean we’re talking down to them. Would you insist on speaking English to a Francophone even if you were bilingual?

The truth is the wine trade often isn’t bilingual. In the United Kingdom, only 59 percent of wine consumers are aware that France is a wine producing country (!). And yet we continue to describe our wines as “Bordeaux blends” or “Burgundian.” Worse, we use confounding vocabulary (“terroir,” “cépage”) when perfectly fine lay terms could be used instead. In short, we simply can’t manage to translate our gobbledygook. This isn’t surprising: we can’t even agree on the meaning of minerality.

To be sure, wine vocabulary has a place. The trade has largely coalesced around a common language to talk about wine. This is due, in part, to the role of educators like WSET and the Court of Master Sommeliers. For example, WSET Level 3 aims to “develop to a high-level your ability to describe wine accurately” using a systematic approach to tasting. Just as problems arise when lawyers or engineers use different languages, the same can be true for wine professionals.

So, while there’s a pragmatic side to conversing in “proper” wine vocabulary to wine enthusiasts and professionals, we need to be able to communicate with the average consumer. This means moving past tasting notes and flavour descriptors to focus on style and structure. Is the wine “light and juicy” or “rich and full-bodied?” Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, makes a similar argument. More importantly, we need to emphasize and communicate our “emotional connection” to the wine. I may not remember exactly how some of my most memorable bottles tasted, but I do remember where and with whom I had them.

And this is why our goal at Phantom Creek is to move past tasting notes, and focus on the story and emotion behind every bottle.

Free My Grapes: R. v. Comeau

Canadian wine law is confused and confusing. Legislation is often out of touch with how wine is consumed and sold in the 21st century. Currently, one of the most contentious issues is interprovincial shipping of Canadian wine.

The wine industry won a minor victory in 2012 when the federal government passed Bill C-311. This bill removed the federal prohibition on transporting wine across provincial borders. But the regulation of alcohol is provincial jurisdiction. In other words, Bill C-311 was largely symbolic, and could not compel provinces to act. To date, only British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia have opened their borders to all Canadian wineries. Unbelievably, BC wineries can only legally ship wine to 23 percent of Canadians.

Put simply, this is due to archaic legislation that dates to the period directly after the bootlegging era of Prohibition. You wouldn’t think twice about transporting most goods – clothes, jewellery – from one province to another. Free trade, perhaps now more than ever, is being debated. But free trade within the same country? That should be uncontroversial. Wine is the rare exception.

Comeau.jpg

Gerard Comeau
Source: theccf.ca

That brings us to R. v. Comeau. The facts of the case are relatively straightforward: Gerard Comeau was fined for transporting alcohol from Quebec to New Brunswick under the New Brunswick Liquor Act.

Mr. Comeau’s bounty from Quebec:

  • 2 cases of 24 bottles of Sleeman’s Light beer;
  • 2 cases of 24 bottles of Miller Genuine Draft beer;
  • 2 cases of 24 bottles of Molson M beer;
  • 3 cases of 20 bottles of Budweiser Light beer;
  • 3 cases of 20 bottles of Budweiser beer;
  • 3 cases of 30 cans of Coors Light beer;
  • 2 bottles of whiskey, 750 ml per bottle; and
  • 1 bottle of Stinger Premixxx liqueur, 1.4 litre.

However, rather than pay the $292.50 fine, he decided to challenge the legislation in court. Specifically, he argued that the New Brunswick Liquor Act contravened s. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which states:

 “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.”

I’m not a lawyer, but to me this clearly suggests that alcohol produced in Canada can be sold and transported interprovincially. And, in this case, the New Brunswick Provincial Court agreed: the offending provision of the New Brunswick Liquor Act was struck down. This meant not only a victory for Comeau, but also that Canadian wineries, at least for the time being, can legally ship to New Brunswick.

However, the case has been taken to the Supreme Court, where it will be heard on December 7, 2017. Comeau now has the potential to open interprovincial trade not just in New Brunswick, but all of Canada. This would be a major victory for Canadian wineries.

A similar case in the United States had profound implications for the domestic industry. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Granholm v. Heald (2005) that state regulations regarding the shipment of wine could not discriminate between in-state and out-of-state wineries. This explains why, today, direct-to-consumer shipments are still prohibited in six states. And regulations for direct-to-consumer shipments in “open” states can still be arduous and limiting – far from “admitted free.”

Nevertheless, the Granholm decision did result in significant growth in direct-to-consumer sales. In 1996, direct purchases accounted for less than 20 percent of domestic wine sales. Today, in contrast, DTC is the dominant sales channel for domestic wineries, accounting for 59 percent of overall sales. Of course, there are other factors that impacted the rise of DTC sales – the consolidation of distributors, the emergence of online wine sales – but the Granholm decision set the stage by striking down protectionist state regulations.

Which brings us back to Canada. The scope of the Comeau case may mean its legal impact is even greater than Granholm. The best possible outcome is interprovincial free trade with no barriers or limitations. According to a 2016 Senate report, eliminating all provincial trade barriers has the potential to add billions of dollars a year to the Canadian economy.

Canadian wineries would then be able to legally ship wine to customers in any province. It’s not a secret that many wineries are shipping to “closed” provinces already. But the existing legal grey area undoubtedly discourages both consumers and couriers alike. This has the potential to change with Comeau.

However, there is always the possibility of defeat, and that could result in a significant step backwards for the industry. If the Supreme Court upholds the protectionist policies of the New Brunswick Liquor Act, it may give provincial liquor boards the confidence to move away from the status quo and take a harder stance on out-of-province shipments. It’s not surprising that every province will be represented at trial. In other words, the stakes are high.

It only seems fitting that during the 150th anniversary of the Constitution Act, 1867, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to uphold the principles for which it stands. The wine industry is ready and waiting.

Want to show your support? Donations to the Canadian Constitution Foundation go towards supporting their representation of Gerard Comeau. The case is being argued, pro bono, by Ian Blue, QC.

Dry Farming and Deficit Irrigation

Dry farming is not an option on the Black Sage Bench. As a result, principled and precise deficit irrigation is critical.

Why We Irrigate

There are a number of factors necessitating irrigation in the South Okanagan. First, there is relatively low precipitation. The “Okanagan Desert” nickname exists for a reason. The town of Oliver averages approximately 300mm of precipitation per year (250mm of rain); vines generally require at least 500mm. This helps to explain why the South Okanagan only became an agricultural zone after the introduction of an irrigation canal in the 1920s. Orchards, the focus at the time, also needed more precipitation than the valley could provide.

Oliver_Irrigation_Canal_May

The Okanagan River is now the primary source of irrigation water in Oliver

To put the South Okanagan in a global context, 300mm of precipitation is less than Napa Valley, Walla Walla, Central Otago, the Douro Valley, or even Santorini. The Limari and Elqui Valleys in Chile have less than 100mm of annual rainfall. However, recent drought conditions meant many vineyards were “left to die” without irrigation.

And to make things more challenging in the Okanagan, the majority of precipitation falls in the winter and spring as opposed to the hot summer months.

Oliver_Average_Precipitation.png

Average precipitation, showing rain and snow fractions, in Oliver from 1961-2000
Source: Toews, M.W. and Allen, D.M., 2007, Aquifer Characterization, Recharge Modeling and Groundwater Flow Modeling for Well Capture Zone Analysis in the Oliver Area of the Southern Okanagan, BC, page 41.

This isn’t uncommon. Mediterranean climates like Santa Barbara and Napa also have rainfall predominantly in the winter. There are select sites in Napa like Dominus that are suitable for dry farming. The key is heavier soils such as clay that can retain water throughout the growing season.

The confounding issue on the Black Sage Bench is that the soil, largely sand and gravel, is well-drained with very little water holding capacity. In other words, the soils do not retain much, if any, moisture.  Even after a wet spring, the soil pits we dug with Dr. Paul Anamosa did not have any pooling water.

Older vines will have more established root systems, reducing their sensitivity to heat and water stress. However, the water table sits at a relatively low elevation on the hillsides of the valley and, consequently, out of reach for even the most ambitious roots. According to John Pires, there is over 100 metres of sand between Sundial Vineyard and the water table. In short, irrigation is still required regardless of vine age.

Precision Deficit Irrigation

Quality producers, those likely to dry farm in the first place, are also the most likely to use precision deficit irrigation. We’re not guessing when we water the vineyard. Irrigation can be abused, but it need not be. Not only is there a financial and environmental cost to excessive irrigation, but there’s also negative quality implications. Carefully restricting water to each vine produces small berries with a higher skin-to-juice ratio, resulting in expressive, concentrated wines.

Pressure_Bomb_Close_Up_Web.jpg

Pressure bomb testing

We use technology such as portable pressure bombs to take plant-based measurements, specifically analyzing the moisture content of grapevine leaves. This is done on a block-by-block basis, so we can manage irrigation with greater precision. Not all blocks in the vineyard will have the same irrigation requirements, varying by soil, topography, rootstock, clone, and grape variety. We’re sparing in our water use and selective regarding when it is applied. For example, we have not yet opened the valves this year. The overriding principle: water only when needed.

Drip irrigation is used to reduce water usage and minimize water loss to evaporation. Overhead sprinklers, which spray water into the air over the entire vineyard, use 80-100 m3/hour/ha of water versus 10-20 m3/hour/ha for drip irrigation – a decrease of up to 90 percent.1 In short, drip irrigation allows us to use water to its maximum advantage.

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Drip irrigation line at Phantom Creek Vineyard

And we certainly push the vineyard – sometimes too far. Last year, a relatively cool growing season, we had to drop the crop of some vines at Phantom Creek Vineyard due to water stress. Precision also means taking risks, and not being overly cautious, in trying to reduce our water usage.

Looking Forward

Our aim is, ultimately, to become self-reliant with regards to our water usage. We’re currently preparing to drill an exploratory well on one of our properties. There is no guarantee of finding a suitable, long-lasting aquifer, but it’s an important step to control our access to water. And water is critical, since we know dry farming is not an option on the Black Sage Bench.

It’s Complicated: Sub-Regions

There is a sense that a mature wine region must have established sub-regions or sub-appellations. France, of course, is inevitably the model.

It's Complicated: Sub-Regions

Appellation systems like France’s appellation d’origine contrôlée are hierarchical – a rank order that has been established over centuries. For example, nestled within Burgundy is the Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet, and then Montrachet. The more precise the geographical delineation, the higher the quality level. At least in theory. Italy goes a step further, layering in a classification system for each region. In Chianti, wines can be labelled as Superiore, Riserva, or Gran Selezione, in increasing order of quality, based on meeting certain standards. Again, in theory.

An appellation system not only suggests a quality pyramid, but also intrinsically emphasizes the diversity of the region. For a sub-region to exist, it has to be different from its neighbour. This is important for regions that are perceived as monolithic. Napa Valley Vintners uses sub-regions to promote Napa as more than just Cabernet: “[the] great diversity within the Napa Valley allows a wide range of fine wine grapes to grow well.” Sub-regions are an intuitive way to frame this story and influence consumer perception.

The diversity implied by sub-regions can also provide depth and nuance. This may be important for regions that have developed a signature variety, such as Argentinian Malbec or Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. By promoting its three sub-regions, Marlborough is seeking to elevate its brand and pricing as well as counter laughable claims that it has “no terroir”.  The logic is easy to follow: if Sauvignon Blanc tastes different from one sub-region to the next, then it has to be vineyard-driven.

(The Lack of) Sub-Regions in the Okanagan

Currently, British Columbia is legally divided into five recognized Designated Viticultural Areas. The Okanagan Valley is the largest, with 84 percent of the province’s total vineyard acreage. It is in a unique position: the current appellation system does not capture the diversity of the Valley.  That’s because there is only one official sub-region to date. As a result, the vast majority of wines are simply labelled as “BC VQA Okanagan Valley.”

The challenge is that “BC VQA Okanagan Valley” doesn’t tell you much about what’s in the bottle. The Okanagan stretches over 250 kilometres north to south. The result is considerable diversity – both in terms of climatic conditions and soil types – from one end of the valley to the other. Napa, as a point of reference, is only 50 kilometres in length.

This diversity means the style of a wine will depend on the source of the fruit. A Chardonnay from Osoyoos will be soft and rich with exotic tropical fruits; one from Lake Country will be fresher and more citrus fruited. But both will be labelled as “BC VQA Okanagan Valley.” Sub-regions may provide the consumer with more informed expectations.

Certain grape varieties are also better suited to some areas than others.  Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the landscape in Napa, having one signature grape variety for the Okanagan is simply not realistic. Plantings change from north to south and east to west. However, sub-regions inherently have the uniformity to support a meaningful signature variety. Riesling from East Kelowna or Syrah from the Black Sage Bench could be the next Torrontés from Cafayate.

The Problem with Sub-Regions

However, some sub-regions are simply not meaningful to consumers.

Exhibit A: Cafayate.

Cafayate Torrontés and Napa Cabernet

This is especially problematic when a sub-region is supposed to indicate a higher quality level. Take the example of AOC Corbieres-Boutenac. This relatively new AOC is a sub-region of AOC Corbieres, which is itself a sub-region of AOC Languedoc. Confused? You’re not the only one: AOC Corbieres-Boutenac has little to no search traffic, and AOC Corbieres only fares slightly better. Maybe it’s not surprising that some Languedoc producers would bid adieu to its sub-appellations.

Google Trends and the Languedoc

Sub-regions, in short, are a brand – and some are more successful than others. Robert Joseph argues:

Wine appellations are like football teams. There are a few world-famous teams like Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, of whom even people with only a passing interest in the sport will probably have heard.

The remaining appellations are largely irrelevant except to the most feverish wine geek.

A sub-region’s brand can also have negative implications. Regardless of the producer, an appellation connotes a certain price and style. Put another way: your neighbourhood can impact the value of your home. This explains why some producers are working outside of their respective appellation system – even in France. Domaine Sainte Rose bottles its wines as “Vin de Pays” as opposed to a more specific appellation. In this case, the aspirations of the producer outweigh the limitations of the Languedoc brand, which has a reputation for value priced wines. “Unfortunately…Languedoc wines will only ever be able to command a certain price point, which is a crying shame as in many cases these wines are worth a lot more,” said the Domaine to Wine-Searcher.

Lastly, sub-regions risk weakening the brand of the region as a whole. “It’s better to be under one identity rather than splitting, and diluting the message,” said one Languedoc producer in Meininger’s. In the Okanagan, the problem is reduced through conjunctive labeling: the sub-region and region must be listed. However, each new sub-region creates more noise for the consumer. The quality hierarchy suggested by an appellation system also puts the sub-region and region at odds.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy for wine geeks and the trade to see the value of sub-regions. At the same time, does wine need to be more confusing for the average consumer? Engaged consumers will ask about a producer’s vineyards regardless of whether a sub-region is listed on the label. So, maybe we should have the answers without posing the questions. Let’s identify appropriate sub-regions, but not forget that Okanagan is the brand.

Photo Gallery: Planting Sundial

As we begin to redevelop Sundial Vineyard, the first vines are being planted by hand this week. It’s surprisingly fast work: it takes only five hours to plant and stake one thousand vines. The first block being planted is Cabernet Franc.

It will be three years until this block’s first, small crop. And 10-15 years until the quality is consistent vintage-to-vintage. Patience is required, but the wait will be worth it. There’s a lot to love about Cabernet Franc on the Black Sage Bench.

The Fallibility of Taste

The flavour characteristics of a wine are objective. It’s how we interact with wine that is not.

In a glass of Syrah, I may smell blackberry, black pepper, and violet. I could then analyze the aromatic compounds in the wine using gas chromatography and see if what I’m smelling is present. Blackberries are not added to the wine – a surprising misconception. However, if present, the wine will have the same aromatic compound as a blackberry. Saying “it smells like wine” doesn’t truly capture our immense sensory abilities.

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The challenge is that people have varying sensory thresholds to different aromatic compounds. In extreme cases, one may not be able to sense a specific aroma. Twenty percent of the population can’t smell rotundone, for example, the compound for black pepper. In other words, our interaction with wine is subjective. This is why one person’s tasting note will differ from the next one.

But that still doesn’t mean we, as tasters, can’t be wrong. Finding dark chocolate in a youthful Riesling? In this case, it’s more likely you haven’t found the correct vocabulary to describe what you are tasting. This is a skill in itself. Hence the more common refrain, “it tastes like wine.”

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This quote from Oz Clarke illustrates the effort required:

You must love flavours. Taste everything. Tap water, milk, coffee. Fresh baked bread, frozen peas, the breath of wind on a Spring morning, the new-laid tar by the roadworks, your Auntie Doris’s eau de cologne… Take every chance to revel in the joy of our senses – of sight, of taste, and, above all, of smell. When you do have to sit down and taste wine seriously, you’ll have the vocabulary and memory to make sense of those glasses of anonymous red and off-white liquid sitting sullenly in front of you.

At the same time, our sensory abilities are limiting. There’s good reason to believe that we cannot reliably identify more than four aromas from a glass of wine. Tasting notes that wax poetically about ten or fifteen different aromas not only are unhelpful, but also likely exaggerated. Some senses are also more accurate than others. We aren’t programmed to sense sweetness with any great precision. This is why there’s disagreement over what constitutes a “dry” wine in the first place.

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And let’s not forget a very important sense: our eyes. Research has shown that a wine’s colour will influence what aromas we smell. Wine experts described a white wine that had been dyed red more accurately when it was presented in an opaque – as opposed to clear – glass in one study. Put another way: we are prone to tasting with our eyes.

Our perception can also be skewed by expectation. The price, label, and context may all influence how we taste a wine. This happens subconsciously, too: a 2007 study found  “that increasing the price of a wine increases…activity in [the]medial orbitofrontal cortex,” which corresponds to our experience of pleasantness. We don’t just think we’re enjoying the wine more, we actually experience increased pleasure.

Maybe all of this helps to explain why drinking wine engages more of our brain than any other behaviour. And, ultimately, the fallibility of taste and why blind tasting is so challenging.

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Bud Break is (Finally) Here

It’s been a cool, wet spring, which delayed bud break until last week for most varieties. This is a change from recent years, when warm spring temperatures resulted in bud break occurring in early-to-mid April. According to John Pires, this year represents a return to more typical Okanagan weather conditions. He should know: he’s been farming Sundial Vineyard for nearly twenty years.

Cumulative Growing Degree Days at April 30: Osoyoos

Cumulative_April_GDDs

Growing Degree Days (GDDs) are a measure of the heat accumulated over a period of time. In short, more GDDs equals warmer temperatures. As of May 9, Phantom Creek Vineyard has 68 GDDs.

Bud break starts the stopwatch for each year’s growing season. The challenge in a continental climate, such as the Okanagan, is not knowing when this stopwatch will be stopped. Autumn frosts may quickly – and dramatically – end a growing season. This happened during the 2009 vintage, when frost hit as early as October 9th. The benefit of early bud break is extending the length of the growing season, enhancing the potential for fruit to reach optimal ripeness.

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Elsewhere, this year has illustrated the risks of early bud break. After an atypically warm spring, Bordeaux recently suffered a devastating spring frost that damaged 70 percent of its vineyards. Some vineyards have lost their entire crop for this year. Growers may try to protect their vineyards with smudgepots or wind machines, but there’s not much that can be done at severe temperatures.

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Frost damaged vine. Image source: OMAFRA.

So, what should one make of the 2017 vintage, then? It’s much too early to prognosticate. However, the 2009 vintage is, again, illustrative. On some sites, bud break was delayed by as much as two weeks. However, a hot summer with warm temperatures into September ensured fruit was properly ripe before frost hit. And the proof is in the bottle: 2009s from throughout the Okanagan are outstanding.

In other words, being slow out of the blocks doesn’t have to negatively affect performance.

Wine enthusiasts: don’t miss Wine Summit Lake Louise at the Post Hotel & Spa from June 1-4, featuring Château Angélus, Castello Banfi, Leeuwin Estate, and Paul Jaboulet Aîné among others. Look for Ingo’s recap later in the month. More information can be found by clicking here

Fermenting Reds in Barrel

When I hear “barrel fermentation,” my first thought goes to a high-quality Chardonnay. But increasingly that is changing. Once uncommon, ambitious wineries are now doing the same for red wines.

Fermenting red grapes in barrel is laborious and time consuming. The head is popped off, and the barrel is filled with a meagre 250 kilograms of fruit.

After replacing the head, the barrel can be rotated by hand on a specialized rack to gently achieve the desired extraction. No punch downs or pump overs. The head is then removed again to empty the barrel for pressing. Imagine doing this for nearly 100 barrels over harvest – it’s a daunting task.

So, why do we bother? Texture, complexity, and integration. Barrel fermentation provides a rich, plush texture with layers of dark fruits and well-integrated oak. And it is especially suited to fruit from Phantom Creek Vineyard. This vineyard produces wines with the intensity and concentration to harmoniously balance the oak. The result: the wines are uniquely approachable in their youth, but with the density and depth to improve in bottle.

We use a combination of oak barrels, large oak vats, and stainless steel tanks to best suit the characteristics of each individual parcel of the vineyard. The small volume of a barrel also makes it ideal for research and development.  In 2016, we worked with 61 distinct micro-lots, averaging just one hundred cases in volume. This ultimately provides us with a full palette from which to make our blends.

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On Syrah

“What’s the most effective way to sell Syrah?” The industry joke nowadays: “Don’t put ‘Syrah’ on the label.” In the United States, the number of consumers who purchase Syrah has decreased by roughly 36 percent since 2008. In British Columbia, the acreage of Syrah has been relatively stagnant over the same period of time:

Syrah_Acreage_Chart

It’s hard to understand this trend. Syrah/Shiraz – the same grape variety – is responsible for many of the greatest wines in the world, whether from the Northern Rhone, Barossa, or Okanagan. The wines are complex and savoury, ranging in style from refreshing and quaffable to dense and ageworthy. It is a grape variety for nearly all occasions: it’s even made into sparkling wine.

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Old Vine Shiraz

Maybe that’s part of the problem. You’re never sure exactly what’s in the bottle given the range of styles and flavours.  In theory, “Syrah” should refer to more restrained, savoury expressions of the variety from cooler climates. “Shiraz,” on the other hand, should denote fruit-forward, high octane wines from warm regions. But it’s not this straightforward. The decision to label a wine as “Syrah” or “Shiraz” is often left to the marketing department, and the style of the wine may not be a consideration.

For a long period, Syrah also became ubiquitous with Australian Shiraz. Not Barossa Shiraz. Or McLaren Vale Shiraz. Australian Shiraz – typically generically labelled as from “South Australia” –  competed on price. Bottles were often adorned with critters or the like. An argument could be made that it cheapened Syrah’s brand equity. Also likely: consumers simply tired of Shiraz. This helps to explain in part the boom and bust of Australian Shiraz, and why Argentinian Malbec’s stock is now stagnant. The wine industry may be more similar to financial markets than we’d like to think.

There’s hope on the horizon, however. Washington brought in a record 21,000 tons of Syrah in 2016. It trails only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as the most planted variety in the state. Both Washington and the Okanagan have established a reputation for the variety. “British Columbia is renowned for outstanding Syrah,” writes acclaimed wine critic Ian D’Agata.

At Phantom Creek, our estate vineyards also have a recognized history with Syrah. Anthony Gismondi has written that Phantom Creek Vineyard, planted in 1996, is “a great site for Syrah.” And there’s no question that the wines we have in barrel are distinctly and uniquely Okanagan Syrah. We’ll proudly put “Syrah” on the label.

So, we’re bullish about the future for Syrah in the South Okanagan.

The Soil Doctor

We are fortunate that our activities on the Black Sage Bench have piqued the interest of renowned soil consultant Dr. Paul Anamosa, who has analyzed and evaluated vineyard soils in many prestigious wine regions. This week, Paul is leading a digging expedition to assist with the development of two new properties on the Black Sage Bench. The plan is to dig two pits per acre, each five feet in depth, to evaluate soil texture and structure as well as nutrient availability. In short, we’re trying to answer: what’s the soil like?

Soil_Analysis-18

Broadly speaking, soil analysis matters for two reasons. The first is to identify plots that share common soil characteristics. We can then design the vineyard so that the soil in each block is as uniform as possible. This, much like using only one clone, best ensures vines will ripen at an even pace. As Dr. Anamosa maintains, “Great wines are not made with grapes that have a broad variance of ripeness.”

Soil_Analysis-15.jpg

Second, Dr. Anamosa’s analysis will allow us to make more informed choices in the vineyard design on a block-by-block basis. Soil characteristics will influence factors such as row spacing, vine density, trellising, rootstock selection, and irrigation. Ultimately, we want to work with – not against – what nature has provided. “Moving and sculpting soil is great for airports, roads, and strip-malls,” says Dr. Anamosa – “not vineyards.”

SoilPit3.jpg

It’s a time-consuming process. Dr. Anamosa examines the physical structure of the soil in every pit. In total, he will evaluate 45 pits over three days. He then draws soil samples from different layers of the soil profile to be analyzed by an accredited lab.

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Soil samples from three layers (0-22cm, 22-55cm, and 55-120cm) in pit number 22

From our experience on the Black Sage Bench, we know these two properties are ideally suited to late ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Dr. Anamosa’s analysis will help us fine-tune our planting decisions.

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Sorting, Seriously

You could say we take sorting seriously. After all, why would we make wine from fruit you wouldn’t want to eat?

Sorting refers to the diligent selection of ripe, healthy fruit

After being hand picked by our vineyard team, fruit arrives at the winery to be sorted. The triage starts by hand around a sorting table.

Hand_Sorting_Wine

The berries are then gently destemmed and rigorously sorted using a Pellenc optical sorter. This cutting-edge technology rejects any berries that do not meet Ross’ specifications. For each lot, he adjusts the desired berry size, shape, and colour to best suit the character of the fruit from that vintage. The aim is to remove unripe or damaged berries as well as MOG – material other than grapes such as leaves and stems.

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The optical sorter has an attention to detail that cannot be matched by the human eye, and ensures we’re using the best possible fruit from our estate vineyards. A camera continuously scans and analyzes every berry at a rate of up to 2,000 berries per second. If a berry is rejected, a shot of compressed air tosses it into a rubbage bin. The time between a berry being scanned and rejected: just 30 milliseconds.

Because you don’t want this in your wine:

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On Fine Wine

As an MW student, you’re supposed to be able to quickly and concisely define key terms. I never quite managed a definition for “fine wine”.

If fine wine somehow related to price, the concept would be less abstract. Sure, we could argue over the appropriate price range for a bottle to be considered “fine”. It could be any wine over $50. Or maybe $100.

A price-based approach is more fitting for terms like “luxury wine”. Within the global wine industry, Dr. Liz Thach MW classifies “luxury wine” as a bottle priced from $100-499. An “icon wine” is one from $500-999. These are wines that have to be perceived as unattainable. Consequently, the notion of luxury is just as much a function of marketing as it is what’s in the bottle. Of the seven defining attributes of “luxury”, only one has to do with the quality of the product.

But that’s not really what we mean when we talk about fine wine. We’re referring more to the wine itself. Imagine yourself in a marketing void with just four ounces of wine in your glass. Does it taste, well, fine?

It’s a rather laughable question, and demonstrates that this second approach also doesn’t capture the notion of fine wine. It’s not merely a quality judgement. Take the example of two different $30 bottles. You’re served both wines blind. You say, “Both wines are excellent. Why shouldn’t these be considered fine wines?”

Then, you’re shown the labels. The first is from a small, family-owned winery practicing organic and biodynamic principles. The second is from a publically traded company that makes 50,000 cases of this particular SKU per year.

Is one now finer than the other? Ask yourself: which of the two wines would you buy? Even if you liked both wines equally, your perception of the wines has changed.

Jamie Goode has previously said, “I want the good guys to win, not just the guys with big marketing budgets.” We like our underdogs, whether real or perceived. It helps to explain the uproar over Bianca Bosker’s article, Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine, in the New York Times. Alder Yarrow, in his articulate response on Vinography, wrote “those of us who know something about wine…have a responsibility to point people towards something better” than mass-market wines.

At this point, you may think it’s unrealistic that both wines showed equally well blind. The biodynamic wine has to be better than the mass-market wine. Maybe it’s a root day, you said to yourself. I’m not so sure.

So, what about fine wine then? I’d argue the term refers to a concept of what wine should be. A quality product that’s not too cheap and made the right way. It’s this last qualification – made the right way – that makes fine wine difficult to define. And open to endless interpretations.

Redeveloping Sundial Vineyard

Redeveloping a historic vineyard is not an easy decision.

Our Sundial Vineyard was initially planted in 1977 to over thirty different grape varieties as part of the Becker Project. Its potential for Bordeaux red varieties was later identified by Harry McWatters in 1993. That year, Richard Cleave was contracted to plant the property with some of the first Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc vines in the South Okanagan.

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Why redevelop a vineyard after 24 years? It’s more common than you’d think. The iconic Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard in Napa is one year younger than Sundial and will be replanted in phases beginning this year. But it’s not a decision we took lightly. The quality of the fruit from Sundial continues to be exceptional. However, yields are progressively low and unsustainable.

The benefit of redeveloping Sundial is the opportunity to update the vineyard design. Ross and John are currently working on the replant plan. Not only will this allow us to refine which grape varieties are planted, we’ll also be able to make changes to clonal and rootstock selections.

This is the replant plan to date:

Replant Plan for Sundial

We’re starting this year with 2.2 acres of Cabernet Franc. From Black Sage Road, you can see our new hand-split cedar end posts and metal line posts in place. Now we’re just waiting on the vines.

The plan outlines not only what variety will be planted in each block, but also the clone and rootstock. For example:

CF refers to the grape variety, Cabernet Franc.

13 refers to the clone.

101-14 refers to the rootstock.

Over time, Sundial will be almost completely replanted to Bordeaux red varieties, specifically Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. This means saying goodbye to some of the white varieties previously planted: Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay. The sun-catching aspect of the vineyard, combined with the warm climate of the Black Sage Bench, makes it best suited to later ripening varieties.

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The differences in clone and rootstock between blocks will allow us to bring more complexity of flavours to the palette of the vineyard and optimize quality.

Clone: a population of vines derived from a single “mother vine”

Rootstock: the root system grafted onto the desired grape variety

Each block is planted with one clone to ensure uniform ripeness as some clones will ripen earlier or later than others. Planting a vineyard with multiple clones across different blocks then helps to build complexity, as each clone has a different sensory profile. Take the example of two Cabernet Sauvignon clones:

Clone 337: approachable, fruit-forward flavour profile

Clone 4: more structured with an herbal influence

The vineyard is harvested and vinified block-by-block. We’re left with many different micro-lots – over 60 in 2016, for example – providing us with a full palette from which to make our blends. With nearly a quarter-century of experience, we can also update the rootstocks we use so that they’re perfectly matched to each block. The focus is now on low vigour, low yielding rootstocks over higher yielding alternatives like SO4.

Replanting requires patience. We don’t expect to replant the last block until 2024. And then there’s three more years until the first crop from each newly planted block. But we can’t wait to share the results with you.

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The Geology of Phantom Creek

Maybe it should be the Black Sage Benches.

As a glacier retreated north through the Okanagan Valley approximately 10,000 years ago, a large piece of ice was left behind at what is now Vaseux Lake. This, combined with till and sediment, created a dam that resulted in the formation of a natural reservoir, which would later become Skaha and Okanagan Lakes. Streams emanating from the dam filled the south Okanagan with sand and gravel deposits (or outwash) over several hundred years. As a result, the valley floor was much higher than it is today at 550m above sea level.

Outwash Plain

Example of an outwash plain in Godley River Valley, New Zealand

However, ice is not an ideal material for a dam. At least four catastrophic failures occurred, resulting in violent flooding that eroded and cut into the existing deposits. This created four distinct terraces on both sides of the valley, and dramatically lowered the valley floor to 275m. With each flood a new, lower terrace was formed.

South Okanagan Terraces

The star marks the approximate location of Phantom Creek.

Source: Toews, M.W. and Allen, D.M., 2007, Aquifer Characterization, Recharge Modeling and Groundwater Flow Modeling for Well Capture Zone Analysis in the Oliver Area of the Southern Okanagan, BC, page 27.

Today, the Black Sage Bench encompasses two of these terraces. The upper terrace (350-430m elevation) is the third carved by flooding. An outcrop of bedrock sheltered this terrace from further erosion, which explains why it has remained relatively wide. The lower terrace (320-350m elevation) is the fourth and last, and is much narrower in comparison.

The upper terrace, roughly to the east of Black Sage Road, is slightly more moderate with greater sun exposure. In comparison, the lower terrace is closer to the hot valley floor, and produces wines with more weight and intensity. Wines from both terraces are characterized by the distinctive aromatic flora of the area such as desert sage.

Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards

Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards on the Black Sage Bench.

In our case, Phantom Creek Vineyard is located above the valley floor on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench. Sundial Vineyard is largely on the upper terrace, closer to the Okanagan Highland foothills. The two vineyards are separated by just over 100 metres, but the resulting wines could not be more different.

Thanks to Audrey Perry for her work in researching the geological history of the Black Sage Bench and Phantom Creek Estates. This article draws heavily from her report.

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Introducing Phantom Creek Estates

Phantom Creek Estates has been over two years in the making.

The journey began with the Bai family’s vision to build one of the leading wineries in Canada. Their search took them to the Black Sage Bench with the acquisition of three vineyards, including the historic Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards. The estate currently grows predominantly Bordeaux reds and Syrah.

PCE_Arch_Plan

A new state of the art winery, designed by Napa firm Backen Gillam Kroeger, will be built on the Sundial Vineyard property beginning in Spring 2017. The winery is projected to open in Spring 2019. The first vintage, now maturing in barrel, was made in a temporary facility on the property in 2016.

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Phantom Creek Estates is led by President Ingo Grady. He is joined by Winemaker Ross Wise, Vineyard Manager John Pires, and Marketing Manager Geoffrey Moss. The team works closely with James Cluer MW, Project Strategist, as well as consulting winemaker Annie Vawter and viticulturist Cameron Vawter.

Be sure to follow this page as we launch Pressing Matters: A Blog by Phantom Creek Estates. The blog is our opportunity to share what’s happening at Phantom Creek and the world of wine at large. With contributions from the entire team, we hope you’ll join in with your own thoughts or questions.

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Pruning 101

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Pruning on a gorgeous spring day with the Okanagan Highland foothills in the distance.

So, why do we prune? To state the obvious, it’s important to remember that a grapevine is a vine. When you find grapevines in nature – and you do throughout Canada and the United States – they’re often crawling up fencing, houses, or trees. This is not what you see when you drive past a vineyard.

Left on its own, a vine will continually grow. This is problematic in a vineyard for a number of reasons. For example, vines will begin to shade one another, resulting in uneven fruit ripeness. Pruning is one of the means by which to limit the growth of the vine.

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Ernesto removing last year’s canes, which will be tilled into the vineyard.

When we prune, we’re removing much of the growth from the previous year as well as establishing how the vine will grow in the upcoming season. This is critical because it is the first chance to set the balance and yield of each vine. On a vine-by-vine basis, we’re determining how many buds to retain, which will determine how much fruit is produced.

To Cane or Spur Prune

Vines are typically pruned in two different ways: cane or spur pruning. The former keeps one or two canes from the previous year, which are tied down to the trellis wire.

Cane Pruning

Cane pruning

Spur pruning retains short canes, or spurs, on older wood called a cordon.

Spur Pruning

Spur pruning

At Phantom Creek, we typically use cane pruning. This is more laborious and time consuming, however we believe it is ultimately better for the health of the vine. With fewer cutting wounds and less old wood, there is reduced potential for disease or virus. Grapevines are similar to people in a lot of ways. Cane pruning also helps to keep yields low and vines in balance.

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Ignacio cane pruning Block 1E, Cabernet Sauvignon, on Sundial Vineyard. Our vineyard team uses electric pruners to save time and prevent repetitive strain injury.

However, we’re not dogmatic. Some vines we may decide are best spur pruned for the upcoming growing season. We are also testing a spur pruning trial on a block of Syrah on Sundial Vineyard. This trial is based on our Vineyard Manager John’s recent visit to Côte Rotie, where he saw winegrowers retaining fewer spurs closer to the head of the trunk. The thought is that this technique may promote more balanced fruit ripeness.

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A spur pruned Cabernet Sauvignon vine on Phantom Creek Vineyard.

As we finish pruning both Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards, it is a sign that spring is (finally) approaching. And we can look forward to budbreak and the start of the growing season in the weeks to come.

Have questions about pruning? Reach out to us on Twitter (@phantomcreekest) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/PCEWine).