B.C. Pinot Noir finds its own freshness

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      I’ve recently returned from a handful of days in British Columbia’s sunny Okanagan Valley, where vintage 2019 is humming right along. We’re at the veraison point of the year, when grapes are ripening at a good clip, and the skins are beginning to change colour. There’s a palpable sense of relief at the relatively small number of wildfires in the region this season; let's keep our fingers crossed.

      The purpose of the trip was to moderate a seminar at the fifth edition of the B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration. Titled Something Old, Something New, it was an exploration of the age-ability of B.C. Pinot Noir, with four wineries each presenting a library edition of their Pinot alongside a current release.

      My big take-away is how local Pinot Noir reflects its terroir of origin, rather than its producers trying to emulate other iconic Pinot regions around the world, from Burgundy in France to the Russian River Valley in California. No matter which B.C. region it hailed from, each one had a freshness and purity of fruit, along with juicy acidity—a common trait in B.C. wine. I was quite impressed that compared to other reds—from Bordeaux-inspired blends to Syrah—the B.C. Pinot Noirs were all tasty and approachable, whether we were looking at current, more fruit-forward releases, or bottlings as far back as a 2006 from Averill Creek on Vancouver Island. It had started to exhibit those more savoury, tertiary notes like sarsaparilla and sun-dried tomato, but still had great structure and was buoyant on the palate.

      Here’s a look at highlights, first from the four wineries participating in my seminar, and a couple extra gems I enjoyed over the weekend. As I personally experienced during our deep dive into the variety, these can all be enjoyed now, but by all means lay ’em down a few years to allow them to integrate more and hit their stride.

      Averill Creek Vineyard Somenos Pinot Noir 2016

      (Vancouver Island; $49.08, averillcreek.ca/)

      With climate change showing no sign of stopping, the cool-climate conditions of Vancouver Island make it poised to be the next great home of Pinot Noir in North America. Until recently, proprietor Andy Johnston had to tent or wrap the vines early in the season to create a greenhouse effect so the vines would jump-start into action, ensuring a long enough growing season. But he’s now doing away with the method, as they seem to be good on their own these days. This is a lovely, breezy ode to cherries and plums, as pretty on the palate as it is on the nose.

      CedarCreek Estate Winery Block 4 Pinot Noir 2016

      (Okanagan Valley; $54.99, cedarcreek.bc.ca/)

      Winemaker Taylor Whelan’s sandy, loamy soils in Block 4 of the CedarCreek vineyard offer great drainage, ensuring those 20-plus-year-old vines work hard, digging deep for water and any nutrients down there. Concentrated darker berry fruit is all in the right place: blackberries, mulberries, and blueberries are on a fine pedestal of French oak, lifting them but not getting in the way.

      Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018

      (Okanagan Valley; $22.71, mfvwines.com/)

      Winemaker Chris Carson’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are some of the best in Canada, but don’t ignore his “entry-level” take on the grape, sourced from Okanagan Falls, Kelowna, and Kaleden vineyards. It bursts with Rainier cherries, Italian plums, and roasted Red Haven peaches, dusted with a light smattering of nutmeg and clove. Stock up!

      Tantalis Vineyards

      Tantalus Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017

      (Okanagan Valley; $29.99, B.C. Liquor Stores)

      I’m a huge Riesling fan, and I think winemaker Dave Paterson’s takes on the grape are some of the best in the nation, which is why I feel guilty when my visits with his Pinot Noirs don’t occur nearly as often. Every time I have one, I fall in love all over again. Here, his deft touch brings fresh lilacs to red berry fruit, kissed with just enough French oak to frame it all well.

      Kitsch 5 Barrel Pinot Noir 2017

      (Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $69, kitschwines.ca/)

      If you’re looking for a Pinot Noir that has a little more weight and power, check out winemaker Grant Biggs’s bottling of the best fruit from his top five barrels, and revel in gobs of purple fruit, hearty splashes of mocha, and charismatic notes of cardamom and garam masala.

      Niche Wine Co. Pinot Noir Blanc 2018

      (Okanagan Valley; $20.49, nichewinecompany.com/)

      Every year I enjoy James and Joanna Schlosser’s quirky take on Pinot Noir, removing the skins off the bat and making it into a white wine. There’s a lush, brioche-y roundness to it, with apricots, nectarines, and a good lashing of nutmeg on the finish.

      All of those listed as available winery-direct can also be found at private retailers around town, usually for just a few bucks more.