I first met winemaker Jordan Kubek when she was beginning to work at Summerland’s Okanagan Crush Pad in 2011, just as the place was being built. For a half-dozen years, she’d worked under Michael Bartier, then current winemaker Matt Dumayne, stewarding the sparkling-wine program under the winery’s Haywire and Narrative labels.
I’ve long had an affinity for the wines she was behind and was delighted to learn she and her husband, Tyler Knight (also from Okanagan Crush Pad’s winemaking team), were moving along to their own venture last year.
Dubbed Lightning Rock, the duo’s new project consists of three Summerland vineyards purchased in partnership with Kubek’s father, with a capability of producing 2,500 cases annually. They’re farming all three organically; the Elysia vineyard was initially planted in 2006, the Canyon View vineyard in 2003, and the St. Katharina vineyard in 1968.
Yup, that last property was one of the first in the Okanagan to be planted with Pinot Noir and has just passed its golden anniversary.
I recently met Kubek and Knight for lunch at Chambar to taste through their wines: a handful of 2017s that marked their first vintage, and some yet-to-be-released 2018s as well.
“Yeah, that St. Katharina vineyard was a great find,” Kubek said. “It was a family property that had basically gone wild and untended over the last seven years while developers and others were looking at it. We approached them about taking it over and the previous owners were keen on it continuing to be vineyard land.”
Those roots have found their footing so well that irrigation is only needed twice a year.
Being on the west side of Okanagan Lake, these sites are cooler than those on the opposite (Naramata) side of the lake, primed for making lighter wines with bright, juicy acidity. This works well, as they’re the kind of wines the couple enjoy drinking, and it’s also suitable land to make quality sparkling wine, Kubek’s specialty.
In fact, I was surprised to see they have a Viognier on their roster; the grape is generally a late ripener and often results in richer—sometimes heavy—white wines, dripping with ripe peaches and honey.
Lightning Rock Viognier 2017 ($25) is like no other Viognier I’ve had. At a scant 12 percent alcohol, it’s probably one of the lightest, as well.
“Yes, we’re managing to make Summerland Viognier, and it’s quite a rarity,” Kubek told me. “But with careful pruning and harvesting at the ideal peak of ripeness we’re looking for, we’re really happy with how well it’s come out.”
The wine reminds me of a briny and buoyant Chardonnay out of Chablis. River rock, salty sea air, and lemon blossom make for charming aromatics, followed by lemon curd, guava, and green grapes that sail across the palate. A plate of chef Nico Schuermans’s seared albacore tuna with sautéed kale, broccolini, greens, and papadums, dressed with a miso and sesame emulsion, partnered up pretty darn well with it.
Their 2017 Blanc de Noir was mighty delicious, and at $30 a pop, it’s quite the steal for a traditional-method sparkling of this quality. After its second ferment in the bottle, the wine spent a bit more than a year on the lees, bringing that lovely fresh-baked-bread note to the nose; a host of Granny Smith apples, quince, and fresh limes make for a lively palate.
I was pleased and almost shocked when they pulled out their 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé ($25). With the rising popularity of ultrapale pink wines out of Provence during the past few years, there’s been a trend for wineries around the world to make their rosés lighter and lighter, with a good handful looking pretty much like white wine. Lightning Rock has gone in the opposite direction: with such a dark hue, it brings to mind candy apples and cherries. So fun! Granite and limestone soils lend a good mineral core, while Bing cherries, Italian plums, and Turkish delight are all quite generous on the palate. Looking at the wine, one may think it’s going to be sweet, but it’s not. I’m thinking salmon on the barbecue or creamy seafood pastas would be worthy companions.
Currently, the only other wine they have available is their 2017 Pinot Noir ($35). Wild and partially whole-cluster-fermented, the juice spent three weeks with the skins and then aged on lees in neutral oak for eight months before going to bottle, unfined and unfiltered. There’s plenty of charisma here, with gobs of blood orange, raspberries, cardamom, and a nice bit of marzipan on the finish.
With such small production, availability is quite limited. The best bet is to visit lightningrockwinery.com to nab a few bottles before they are gone. After giving them a whirl, I’m sure many will want to be at the front of the line when the 2018 vintage is released later this year.