Stag's Hollow Winery flies under the radar in the Okanagan
I still run into people who think that Stag’s Hollow Winery—one of the woefully underappreciated gems in B.C. wine—is brand-new. I’ve written about them a number of times—including their rosé in last week’s column—but the good folks at Stag’s Hollow can’t seem to shake their underdog, under-the-radar image.
Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger bought an existing 10-acre vineyard in lovely Okanagan Falls in 1992, and the first vintage under the Stag’s Hollow label was released in 1995—which I’ll wager means it was among the first 30 or so wineries registered in the province. (There are now more than 270.)
A new winery building was built in 2006 with environmental concerns in mind, including a geothermal heating and cooling system, high-efficiency windows, energy-efficient lighting, and more.
So, good dirt, good people, good equipment. What’s the holdup in the Hollow?
If you ask me, the winery has suffered, like many before it, from a bit of an identity crisis. The winery now produces at least 20 different wines that I know of, including standards like Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, along with more obscure ones such as Vidal, Marsanne, Tempranillo, and Grenache, plus a handful of blends for good measure.
In a related digression, the debate rages on about whether our province should declare a signature grape, like Burgundians did with pinot noir and chardonnay, the Australians did with shiraz, and the kiwis did with Sauvignon Blanc. Most B.C. wine lovers recognize that our region is still relatively young and its soils not fully understood, and feel that we should instead celebrate the spirit of diversity. I’ve no problem with that, but as far as a winery is concerned, too much diversity makes it difficult for consumers to understand it.
One thing Stag’s Hollow does have going for it is a dynamite winemaker named Dwight Sick. Trained in the classroom at UC Davis and on the job for more than 10 years at Stag’s Hollow, he’s intelligent, creative, thoughtful, and very good at what he does. His passion seems to lie in gently coaxing balanced flavours from obscure varietals like viognier and grenache. They’re pretty tasty too.
So if the winery can make a few fewer labels but focus on those that Sick does well, I’ll bet that Stag’s Hollow will step into the spotlight and stay there for a good while.
I was lucky to taste through a few of their newer releases recently. Most of these wines are available directly from the winery or at private stores and restaurants.
Riesling 2011 ($20)
This one might change what you think about Riesling. More floral and honeyed on the nose. I could have sworn it was another aromatic white like Pinot Blanc or even Ehrenfelser, but the acidity and palate was all Riesling. A perfect pairing for a wide range of Asian cuisines, as well as gorgeously gulpable on its own.
Viognier 2012 ($22)
Oliver’s aptly named Golden Mile provides the fruit for this rich, musky beauty. I got notes of kiwi, mango, lime, and grapefruit in the aromas. A heavier-weight wine with plenty of freshness, you could tell there was some barrel work going on here. Nicely complex for its mid-range price point.
Grenache 2012 ($30)
You’d swear this wine was from southern France or maybe even Spain, rather than our own B.C. back yard. Easy to fall in love with and even easier to drink, you’ll be treated to notes of sweet spice, meat, light smoke, blackberry, and black olives. Nicely balanced on the palate, this is 100 percent Grenache from Kiln House Vineyard in Penticton and Blind Creek Vineyard in Cawston. A labour of love, and it shows.
Syrah 2010 ($25)
Even vegetarians say they love the smell of bacon, and it’s right here in this glass of Syrah, mixed with notes of pepper, cherry, and violets. Sick even fermented this with a small percentage of Viognier for a subtle aromatic lift. A little lighter on the palate than previous vintages, but that makes it even better with food. Grab a bottle while you still can and fill a basket with artisan salami, tapenade, some good cheeses, and freshly baked bread. If the weather’s nice, take your mom out for a picnic on the beach. Don’t forget the flowers.