As gestures go, it was certainly the Thing to Do, and it was timely. It was also magnanimous. To say nothing of savvy. One of the South Okanagan's premier wineries, Golden Mile Cellars, has changed its name, its look, its manifesto, and its bottle closures all in one dramatic gesture, to become Road 13 Vineyards. The new slogan is cool too: "It's all about the dirt," one of the winemaker's favourite sayings.
What hasn't changed is the location of those vineyards: they're still on the Golden Mile, on Highway 97 between Fairview and Road 18.
The new look is clean, contemporary, eye-appealing. Going with screw caps clear across the board is a major move, and precisely the way to go. The wines within those screw-capped bottles are (was there ever any doubt?) superb—in some cases, nothing short of sensational. A bucket of kudos to the owners, Pam and Mick Luckhurst, and the winemaker, Michael Bartier. And everybody else involved in this major make-over project. Including the designers.
The winery's original name—the Luckhursts inherited it when they bought the place in 2003 and got a faux castle as part of the bargain—took full advantage of the fact that the area—the South Okanagan's prime grape real estate—is known throughout B.C. as the Golden Mile. In a letter that arrived with press materials, the winemaker, on the subject, said: "The big deal is giving the name of Golden Mile back to our area. I can think of few credible wineries in the world”¦[that] are not part of a region”¦[that] is recognized as unique.
"As Golden Mile Cellars [we] would never be able to present the region”¦to the world by ourselves. Thus it is important that all of our wineries in this area own the term, to be able to make and market its wines and to be able to tell the story of them. So now ”˜Golden Mile' belongs to the area rather than to one winery."
There's a cost involved in such a move, and it's considerable. So let's make a toast to the principals for making it happen, and what better way to do it than with a handful of the just-released Road 13 wines. A dozen have been sent out into the world so far, and three more are still to come: the Road 13 Syrah and Zinfandel, and the Jackpot Syrah, all of the 2007 vintage.
That 15-wine portfolio falls into three major subsections. There's Honest John's red and white, table blends in both official colours that are named for "Honest" John Oliver, B.C.'s premier from 1918 to 1927. Oliver's major contribution to the region was the construction of the irrigation canal that transformed the Golden Mile into outstanding farmland.
Then there's the Road 13 varietal series, intended to express the particular characteristics of the South Okanagan's most famous stretch of road. Here's where the majority of the wines are to be found: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the yet-to-be-released Syrah and Zinfandel.
Top-tier wines are in the Jackpot series, which is named after one of the many old gold mines that dot the region. This is the quartet of Road 13's premium wines, and they come with corresponding price tags.
Last but certainly in no way least is the sole Fifth Element wine, a Meritage-style red blend built on 26 selected barrels of separately fermented and aged wine from five Bordeaux varieties. For $35.99, it'll come home with you, to live happily for years in the cellar. Or not, if you've got a serious rib roast standing by.
So since I've spent the better part of this column giving you the background and the lowdown, there's not much space remaining to taste the wines. Consequently, this will be Part 1 of 2, with a follow-up set of tasting notes to come, perhaps when the last three varieties are released into the market.
Honest John's White 2007 ($16.99) must be what used to be the winery's Road 13 White. The blend is primarily Ehrenfelser and Sauvignon Blanc, with a splash of Viognier. Bartier points us to "a mouthful of white peaches with a flinty finish" and "tree fruit and sage aromas". Works for me. An excellent table wine, fresh and lively.
Honest John's Red 2007 ($18.99) is the other table blend: a simple, clean, fresh, Merlot-fronted red wine, bright and full and fruity. The white delivers just a few extra grace notes, though, but then that's what you'd expect to hear from someone who drinks white in two-to-one favouritism over red.
I'll leave the eight mid-level varieties for another tasting and get right to the heady stuff: Fifth Element 2006 is predicated on the winemaker's insistence that "we're not making Bordeaux or Napa, we're making pure Okanagan Valley [wines]”¦this is our best wine from this season." If oak is of interest to you, there's info on the label about that aspect, as well as a mystifyingly algebraic "x+a-b-c" puzzle I'll ask Bartier to clarify for us one of these days.
There is no doubt that this is a stylish, classy (and classical) Bordeaux-style blend: rich, robust, just starting to mellow, but with lots of time-travelling left before it truly comes into its own. There are beautiful dark-chocolate and ripe, black fruit elements—all five of them!—already in place. The thing to do, if the budget's there for it, is to acquire a boxful and serve the first one with a hearty dinner during Christmas-New Year's week and see how it develops after that.
If you were to do it in six-month intervals, you'd be into the summer of 2014 by the time you unscrewed the last one. My gut and my palate both tell me the wine would be just stunning that year, still.
All found, a noble initial release for Road 13 Vineyards' new lineup. I'm looking very much forward to sharing the rest of the releases with you in a few weeks.