By Kurtis Kolt – Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based freelance wine consultant, writer, and competition judge. Certified by London’s Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Court of Master Sommeliers, his enthusiasm and experience have resulted in many high-profile appearances, from being the subject of a Wine Enthusiast magazine profile and appearing at New York’s James Beard House, to leading wine festival seminars and beyond. Catch him at KurtisKolt.com.
There’s a certain element of democracy in the wine industry, in that it’s the people who hold much of the power. While wineries and regions are always free to pursue their own style, if things aren’t selling, you can bet they’ll change. When we look at broader trends in the world of wine, from the oft-swinging pendulum of oak levels, to the skyrocketing success of both the sparkling and pink wine categories, these are the results of consumer desire and demand.
The consumer’s opinion holds a lot of sway, so any savvy industry player is wise to keep engaged with their thoughts and actions. Recently, the British Columbia Wine Institute held the Best of BC Wine Country Awards, where wine enthusiasts of all stripes voted on their favourite wines and experiences over a period of four weeks to the tune of almost 2000 votes in total.
Now that the season’s first snow has fallen on much of B.C. wine country, there seems no better time to tuck into some local reds. Let’s look at those that rose to the top in each regional category.
Painted Rock Estate Winery Red Icon 2014 – Okanagan Valley
It takes guts to call your wine ‘Icon,’ but proprietor John Skinner knew his estate vineyard on the Skaha Bench would lend itself darn well to what has become a – yup – iconic British Columbian ode to Bordeaux. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon all show in fine form, whether for immediate consumption, or for an excellent Christmas gift that can be cellared for five or more years with ease.
Orofino Winery Scout Vineyard Syrah 2016 – Similkameen Valley
The rugged, windswept Similkameen Valley is known as the organic agriculture capital of Canada due to its extremely dry conditions. It’s also home to plenty of hot, beaming sunshine throughout the summer, a high level of calcium carbonate in the soil lending well to wines with great mineral character, plus a broad diurnal temperature swing allowing natural acidity and excellent structure. All of those things come into play with John and Virginia Weber’s Scout Vineyard Syrah, which is chock-full of meaty, peppery blackberries and charm. Syrah’s quickly becoming one of the most acclaimed varieties in B.C., this example shows why.
Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015 – Fraser Valley
While Backyard Vineyards is located in the Fraser Valley on the outskirts of Vancouver, the fruit here is sourced in the Okanagan Valley, where Cabernet Franc thrives. Outside of France’s Loire Valley and bits and bobs around Napa, California, seeing a single-variety wine made from the grape is a rarity. It’s quite possible we’ll see British Columbia casting a brighter light on Cabernet Franc, as our local examples burst with freshness, including ripe, delicious red fruit and a dusting of hallmark wild sagebrush seen dotted around the landscape.
Enrico Winery Cabernet Foch 2015 – Vancouver Island
We don’t get the heat units on Vancouver Island to properly ripen classic big, red varieties like we do in the Okanagan or Similkameen. At the same time, there’s a desire to have hyper-local, juicy reds – so it’s necessary to broaden our scope. Enter Cabernet Foch, a grape variety created by Switzerland-based grape breeder Valentin Blattner, when he crossed the richness and sturdy character of Cabernet Sauvignon with the cool-climate hardiness of Marechal Foch. The result is an herbal, savoury wine ready for rich, wintery stews.
Fort Berens Estate Winery Meritage 2014 – Emerging Regions
The ‘Emerging Region’ in question here is Lillooet, B.C., about a two-hour drive northeast of Whistler; that’s where this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is made. A quintessential British Columbian wine, the fruit here is sourced from Lillooet, the Okanagan Valley and the Similkameen Valley – think of it as a provincial highlight reel. A dark and brooding red ready for a host of grilled meats, this ain’t a shy wine, which is probably why so many have taken notice.