A few days ago, Road 13 Vineyards announced something quite shocking: They are retiring a bunch of their single varietal wines in favour of two new blends: Stemwinder and Rockpile. On the chopping block are the Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The two new blends will be released on April 1. Stemwinder, the white blend, will be $22, and Rockpile, the red, will be $25.
We'll be hearing more about this move in the next few weeks. Road 13 has been very PR proactive, sending out samples and information to wine media around the province. Not only do Road 13 make fantastic wine, but they really must be the most PR-savvy winery in the province. They produce videos on their winemakeing process, update their website regularly, Tweet enthusiastically, and send out detailed vintage reports immediately on request. If a great product combined with sincere, detailed communication can't produce a successful winery, well, nothing will.
Pam Luckhurst, owner of Road 13, asks us to think about this change as a new era not only for Road 13, but also for BC wines. And winemaker Michael Bartier calls this a sacrifice for the greater good. Hmmm. But that doesn't quite answer the question of why they are they killing off no less than six of their varietal wines.
The view from Road 13's tasting room.
I've heard a lot of talk lately about blends being the wave of the future, but there are many arguments for and against this concept. For example:
Con: After years of building recognition for varietal names and getting consumers used to the idea of buying wine by varietal, blends can be confusing. The consumer won't know what they're getting.
Pro: There is so much quality difference among varietal wines that people don't really know what they're getting anyway. People may like a Merlot (for example) from one winery, but be disappointed by another from a different winery. Both wines may be good, but tastes and expectations differ.
My theory (only a theory, with no actual evidence) is that Road 13 is making a savvy business move. They want to play in the pool with the big boys. To do that they need volume, and with their existing vines they can only get that volume with two blends. With six varietals there is not enough volume. But with two blends from those varietals? Maybe.
I could go on, but I'll let you fill in your own theories, pros, and cons. Suffice it to say that Road 13's move is controversial. I'm quite devoted to their Cabernet Sauvignon, and I'm sad to see it go. However, I'm glad that their Old Vines Chenin Blanc hasn't been sacrificed.
But what about the wine anyway??
Road 13 Stemwinder 2009
Tonight my honey and I tasted the Stemwinder -- it was delicious. The blend is 60% Chardonnay, 32% Sauvignon Blanc, and 8% Chardonnay Musqué.
On the nose: Apple, clover, and honey. Not sweet, but fresh and gentle like a breeze.
On the palate: Big, complex, intense, and dense! Round and full, minty caramel, green plum, and Macintosh apple with hints of citrus -- especially grapefruit. The finish is long and intense -- with a hint of ginger flavour but no ginger spice. Minerality -- fresh mountain stream. Dry, and really well balanced. Not tart at all even though it's only been in the bottle for about 6 weeks. What kind of stunner will this be after another 6 months or year?
It's all here, it's gorgeous, and it stands up to intensely flavoured food. We tried it with smoked and fresh cheeses, dried olives, and even a light chicken molé. Fantastic.
Okay Road 13, you've come up with the goods. This is one delicious blend.
360 degree panoramic, scrolling view of nearly everywhere, including the middle of nowhere. I can practially smell the air.
Then it occurred to me to find out how many BC wineries can be visited virtually via Street View. Let's see, shall we?
Virtual Okanagan wine tour, Part 1, Westbank
We'll start in suburban Westbank, across the lake from the city of Kelowna -- just because this is area is home to some of my favourite wineries, and because it's a suburban area, it's most likely to have street view coverage.
This is where we're headed, west across Okanagan Lake from downtown Kelowna along the new bridge (a recent, long awaited replacement for the old, overloaded three-lane floating bridge). Because this is a wide angle view, the hills look much flatter than they are in reality. Mount Boucherie is straight ahead -- it's the decayed remains of an old volcano on the shores of the lake. All of the wineries we're visiting are in its vicinity, on Boucherie Road. The volcanic soils give their character to the grapes grown here, though most of the Westbank wineries also have extensive vineyards in the South Okanagan and Similkameen.
This is perhaps my all time favourite winery (here's a few of my posts about them). Their Syrah taught me to appreciate BC reds. Mt. Boucherie grows most of their grapes in the Similkameen, but their winery and cosy cabin tasting room is here, in Westbank.
Ah! The first Street View gap! The Quail's Gate portion of Boucherie Road isn't covered. What a shame. It's a big, lovely winery with a super gourmet restaurant and a billion dollar lake views. The wine's super too! Their Chenin Blanc is an all time favourite of mine.
Well, here's a view from above, looking down at Quail's Gate between the houses. It gives you an idea of that killer lake view.
Unfortunately on Street View, spectacular Mission Hill is the Queen Victoria of Westbank wineries. You just can't get close to her. But fortunately, I have a few posts on the loveliness of Her Majesty and her delicious wine. Here's a view of the gate:
We'll end our day's tour at Bliss Bakery in Peachland, just another 10 minutes south along the lake. Peachland isn't covered by Street View, but we can see the setting from the highway. Here's the turnoff to the bakery, with Okanagan Lake in the background.
This is a case where (to my taste) a bossy alcohol level gets in the way of a very pretty wine. There is so much good here -- a delicate nose with peach, blossom, and mineral notes, followed by a very complex bouquet of flavours that includes rose petal, lemon, sweet anise, lavender, and hints at a whole lot more. But the alcohol is like the guy sitting in front of you in the theatre, who's just a little to tall to keep from obstructing your view, and keeps shifting in his seat so you can't quite see around him.
My honey and I had it with roasted peppers stuffed with goat cheese, quinoa, green chile, tomato, black bean, and corn -- it paired perfectly. We just couldn't quite get past the heat of the alcohol.
I know zippo about wine making, of course, and it's possible that they simply couldn't bring out all those terrific flavours without the high alcohol content. So perhaps we just have to take the good with the bossy!
One of the most delicious, most satisfying meals I've ever had in my life was at Manhattan's Momofuku Ssam Bar. The five Momofuku restaurants, as you may know, are the babies of hot young chef David Chang. They are worshiped in New York, and nearly every article about Chang and his food spends at least 50 words expressing amazement that the hype surrounding him is completely justified.
If you want to slaver, just have a look through these Serious Eats posts. On the other hand, unless you want to go into debt with an unbudgeted-for trip to NY, don't look at those posts. Personally, I could easily justify a cross-continental trip just to eat Chang's food again.
Some of the events, dinners, seminars and guided tastings are already sold out, so if you don't have your tickets yet, get them now before it's too late.
This year the Wine Fest's regional focus is Argentina and New Zealand, which will give us a chance to explore further these fantastic new wine regions. Now, wine lovers aren't shy, so most of us are already familiar with the vast potential in these countries. We already love Marlborough Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, and Argentine Malbec. But with 250 lovingly made, highly regarded wines coming from 36 Argentinian and 40 New Zealand wineries, we are bound to discover new wines to fall in love with.
I already have! Here's a photo of my beloved:
Man O' War Ironclad 2008 and I met at last night at the Wine Fest media preview at Vancouver's Shore Club. Now, the lighting at the preview was very dim, or I swear -- I swear -- I would have snuggled this bottle up to my chest and forced some poor soul to take a pic.
Tasting notes? Are you kidding? Would you take tasting notes on a first kiss?
Ah, but it was beautiful. Rich, complex, very fruity and concentrated, but with a backbone of tarry depth. Or so it seemed, in that dark and crowded room as I elbowed people aside to pour myself just another ounce. No spitting!