Every year, I proclaim May my favourite month of the year.
Not just because I was born on the 23rd of May (I’m a Gemini), but because it’s spring and that means new vintage releases of fresh white and rose wines.
One of my all-time favourites is 2019 Old Vines Trebbiano ($21) from Hester Creek Winery in Oliver.
While the Italian variety is one of the most widely planted white wine grapes on the planet, Hester Creek is the only winery to grow it in the Okanagan.
“We make a big deal of that,” said Hester Creek winemaker Mark Hopley.
“Plus, our Trebbiano is from 52-year-old vines. The original owner, Joe Busnardo, brought cuttings from Italy. Trebbiano is usually used as a blender grape, but when cropped low, like we do, it produces a very special wine with flavours of key lime pie and nice minerality.”
Hester Creek is also proud to be located on the Golden Mile Bench, a sunny and warm location that comes as close as the Okanagan can to the Mediterranean climate Trebbiano thrives in.
Hopley, who has worked at Hester Creek for seven years, is now the main winemaker since senior winemaker Robert Summers retired a couple of months ago.
Over 14 years at Hester Creek, Summers helped the winery grow from a 6,000 cases a year operation to 60,000 cases.
Going forward, Hopley is taking what he learned from Summers and adding his own twist.
That means ripe-fruit wines, with integrated tannins and oak for reds and vibrant acidity for whites.
One of those whites is the 2019 Pinot Gris-Viognier ($17), a wine that started as a customized blend for sale in Save-On Foods grocery stores.
“It’s done really well at Save-On and about 90% of all the Pinot Gris-Viognier we sell is sold through Save-On, the rest is through our wine shop,” said Hopley.
The Gris provides the structure and the Viognier the aromatics for a lush blend with flavours of peach, pineapple, lychee and honey.
Hester Creek’s stand-alone 2019 Pinot Gris ($17) delivers with a profile of honeydew melon, apricot, honey and minerality.
The winery cold soaked Cabernet Franc grapes for three days to make a full-bodied, electric pink hued 2019 Rose ($18).
The tart-sweet result has flavours of strawberry, rhubarb, cranberry and white pepper.
Vineyards are budding
A hard, tight shoot morphs into a woolly bud that suddenly bursts into a leaf.
It happens every year at this time as grape vines experience bud break, the start of the annual growth cycle.
“It’s right in line for the first of May,” said Hester Creek’s Hopley.
“The South Okanagan is usually a little bit ahead of the Central and North Okanagan, but generally we’re all right in the middle of bud break right now. Everything is starting to pop. It means the soil temperature has warmed up and everything is ready to grow and make grapes.”
Fall grape harvest is usually the most exciting time of the year, viticulturally speaking, because it means wine will be made immediately.
However, the annual cycle has to start with bud break, a sure sign of spring, followed by flowering, fruit set, grape ripening, harvest, leaf fall and winter dormancy.
Township 7 releases
Township 7 Winery in Naramata is celebrating spring with a release of a sparkling, a white and two reds.
Seven Stars Polaris ($36) is the label that launched the winery’s sparkling program two decades ago.
The just-released 2017 vintage is a bubbly made from 100% Chardonnay, called Blanc de Blanc Brut in Champagne and sparkling wine terminology.
The Polaris is made in the Champagne tradition with secondary fermentation in the bottle so the resulting wine is fresh.
Polaris is a flagship for Township 7 and the 2016 vintage was named Canada’s best sparkling wine at the Champagne and Sparking Wine World Championships in England.
As such, it was the perfect bottle of sparkling to sabre and drink to celebrate my son Alex’s 28th birthday last week.
The 2018 Reserve Chardonnay ($27) was fermented in French oak barrels, 20% which were new.
The result is a full-bodied Chard in which the oak is discernible, but not dominant, so the apple, apricot, pineapple and vanilla flavours remain in the forefront.
NBO stands for North Oliver Bench and Township 7’s 2017 vintage ($36) of this initialled beauty contains 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot from the Blue Terrace Vineyard on, you guessed it, the North Oliver Bench.
The wine’s profile is strong and dark with aromas and flavours of cherry, black currant, cocoa and flint.
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux red varietals Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot are featured in the 2017 Reserve 7 ($38).
Since you can’t visit tasting rooms right now because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association is bringing the tasting room to your home, virtually.
Wine educator Moss Scheurkogei from Oliver-based The Vinstitute wine school is hosting Uncork the Sun podcasts and interactive tastings on Facebook Live.
The first 30-minute podcast, about building a wine collection to drink now and in the future, is available free at OliverOsoyoos.com or on iTunes or Spotify.
Episodes will be released every other Friday, with the next coming up May 8.
Monthly virtual tastings with Scheurkogei continue May 26 at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live featuring whites and roses from Black Hills, Oliver Twist and vinAmite.
Many of the 44 member wineries of the Oliver Osoyoos association are also hosting their own virtual tastings.
Joe Luckhurst of Road 13 leads Tireside Tastings on the winery’s red tractor every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on Instagram
Every Sunday at noon on Facebook and Instagram, Kismet Winery hosts tastings with food pairing suggestions.
Bordertown Winery’s virtual tastngs are every Saturday at 6 p.m. on Facebook Live.
And Hester Creek’s Hopley has taken to YouTube with a series of virtual tasting videos.
Steve MacNaull is an Okanagan wine lover. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org