FROM Comox to Creston, another generation of pioneering B.C. wineries is starting to emerge in areas that, a couple of decades back, wouldn't have been considered for growing vines.
But as the industry continues to mature, everything from improved growing techniques to a shifting climate and a booming wine culture are combining to present new opportunities.
Last month, on the way to Sun Peaks, we stopped in to check out the progress at Harper's Trail, a new planting on the north shore of the Thompson River, just east of Kamloops. Owners Ed and Vicki Collett have plans to eventually increase the 7.5-hectare initial planting to some 27 hectares.
The couple started work on the project in 2007, reshaping the land to make best use of the south-facing benches. Since then they've invested heavily in deer fencing, irrigation equipment, and labour. In short, they have every intention of being serious players. Their longer vision also calls for a winery, a tasting room, and a landscaped picnic area to make the most of the dramatic mountain setting.
Varieties planted include, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, with other trials ongoing. Later this spring should see the first Riesling released, made by Michael Bartier at Okanagan Crushpad. Last year turned out to be a challenging vintage for just about everyone in British Columbia, but it will be interesting to see the results from yet another borderline region, and both winemaker and owners are excited to see what the influence will be of the lime rock that runs through the site.
Harper's Trail (named after Thaddeus Harper, the legendary cattle drover and founder of the Gang Ranch) has now been joined by two other neophyte plantings in the area.
As we hopped out of the car very briefly to stand overlooking the valley, the mercury was somewhere around -15 C, with a brisk wind that made it feel a lot colder. Winter kill is a serious concern, but vineyard manager John Dranchuk mounds the base of each vine with earth to bring added protection.
B.C. wine pioneer Harry McWatters knows a thing or two about pushing the boundaries of grape growing. In fact, he bought some of his very first Chardonnay from a (now vanished) grower in the Kamloops area. He's bullish on the prospects for new growing sites, especially further west, along the Fraser Canyon, and cites affordability (compared to the high-priced Okanagan) as one of the key lures to pushing the envelope.
McWatters is working with Fort Berens in Lillooet, established by Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, on a bench just across the bridge from the town, right on the edge of the Fraser. They too will release their first estategrown Riesling this spring.
Fort Berens already has a good track record, having produced their inaugural wines with Okanagan fruit under the guidance of McWatters and uber-grower Richard Cleave, made by former CedarCreek winemaker Tom Dibello.
We touched on Fort Berens Meritage 09 last week: The fruit (70 per cent Merlot, 25 per cent Cab Sauv and five per cent Cab Franc) is from McWatters' Sundial Vineyard, formerly known as Black Sage. Vanilla and black fruit notes on top, with a smooth palate of cassis and plum. Quite plush with firm tannins through a long close. $28.
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Belly's Best Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
A prime example of the quality and value defining Chile: layered red and black fruit with tobacco notes wrapped in plush tannins for a long close. Think roast beef. BCLS on special through February, $22.99.