A few weeks back, I was part of a group that was invited to a pre-season cellar tour and tank sampling event at Lang Vineyards on the Naramata Bench. We decided to make a mini tour of it and took up Rob Thielicke’s offer of a visit to Joie Farm, which is not open for tours or tastings so we were feeling very lucky indeed! A bus was organized for us with Dino from Grape Escapes and we headed for Naramata on a gorgeous sunny spring day. We met Rob at Joie in their outdoor staff lunch area, complete with outdoor oven – we’d like to return in the summer, please, to join the staff for lunch in the middle of the vineyard, shaded by fruit trees, overlooking Okanagan Lake – gorgeous! We followed Rob into the winery building where Heidi Noble, owner and head winemaker, joined us. Rob first gave us a barrel sample (stainless steel barrel that is) of their 2012 ‘En Famille’ Gewürztraminer, which comes from their home vineyard. It has been aged sur lie, but not stirred, and will spend another 5 months still in barrel. It has a beautiful rose petal nose with great spice and creaminess on the palate. It is very well-balanced with good acidity. Next, we moved into the barrel room where Rob talked about their reds and treated us to some more barrel samples. The 2012 Pinot Noir from the Albrecht Vineyard (north of Naramata) is a medium purple with a bright fuchsia rim. It has great acidity and flavours of sour plum, cherry and spice. This year, Joie Farm will be releasing a couple of entry-level reds under Stelvin closure – a Gamay and a Pinot Noir, both to be released this fall. We sampled the 2012 Hardman Vineyard Gamay, which will be destined for the PTG blend. It has a nose of strawberry, sage, spice and pepper, great acidity with flavours of ripe strawberry and spice. The Hardman Vineyard is located below Elephant Island, on the Naramata bench. We finished off with the 2012 Whitman Pinot Noir, from Summerland. It has a nose full of baking spice and beautifully rich flavours of cherry and spice, with great acidity. I very much look forward to these 2012 wines being released down the road – delicious! As I mentioned, Joie Farm is not open to the public; however, their wines can be found at the BC Wine Info Centre in Penticton, along with other BC VQA stores and select private wine shops and restaurants in BC, Alberta and Ontario.
After our time at Joie, we continued down the road to Lang Vineyards, which was the first BC winery to be licensed under the Farm Gate Winery status in 1989, named as such because all product had to be sold from the farm “gate”, and opened its wine shop in the spring of 1990. It was particularly well known for its Marechal Foch, as well as its Canadian Maple Wine (Pinot Noir with pure maple syrup added to make a sweet dessert wine). In recent years Lang Vineyards has been through some ups and downs. It became part of the Holman-Lang group of wineries in 2005 when Günther Lang sold to Keith Holman, but unfortunately the group went into receivership toward the end of 2010. New owners bought the winery in 2010 and have been working hard ever since to bring it back. They have brought Günther Lang back on board as a consultant and hired Günther’s nephew Mike as General Manager. Recently winemaker Richard Kiltz, formerly of Blue Grouse Winery on Vancouver Island, has joined the Lang team. He led our group through the cellars, which have just been upgraded to include a glycol heating/cooling system to all the stainless steel tanks. Richard gave a great explanation of the complete winemaking process during the tour, putting it all into easy layman’s terms. We concluded the tour back in the tasting room, where there were several tank samples (unfiltered and unfined) of the 2012 wines for us to taste. The 2012 Riesling, from the winery property, was up first. It has aromas and flavours of citrus, peach, stone fruit and some floral notes with great acidity. The 2012 Pinot Gris, from grapes bought from Summerland, was “frostbitten” and picked at 27 Brix. This wine’s nose tricked me; it smells of tart lemon curd and I expected a dry wine. But it has a lovely round mouthfeel with lemon and caramel on the palate and is most definitely a medium-dry to sweet late harvest wine. The 2012 Zweigelt Rosé was definitely one of my favourites! It comes from grapes that were bought on the Naramata bench. This wine has a beautiful colour to it – I hope that it will be retained through the filtering process. It smells of strawberries and cream, has lovely acidity and flavours of strawberries, rhubarb, citrus and spice. The 2012 Pinot Noir, from the winery property is quite pale in colour. It had oak tannins added to it, rather than being barrel aged. It has flavours of sour cherry. The 2012 Marechal Foch is grown on site, from 50-year-old vines. It started off a bit green on the nose but it opened up to lovely chocolate and dark fruit aromas and flavours and is very well-balanced. We then sampled some of the winery’s recently released 2011 vintage wines. The 2011 Rosé was quite light in both colour and flavour compared to the 2012, with light citrus flavours. The 2011 Farm Reserve Riesling has a stone fruit nose with peach and citrus on the palate and is very well-balanced. The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes from the Oliver area. It has a pale ruby colour, is lightly oaked, with a light-to-medium body and tannins. It has lovely flavours and for $18 I would be happy to drink more of it. I’m not sure if I could recommend it to someone looking for a Cab Sauv though, as it is so light; not really varietally characteristic of a Cab Sauv. A recommendation for a pleasant light-bodied red? Absolutely! The 2011 Merlot is light-to-medium-bodied with some nice earthiness and flavours of cherry. Toward the end of the tasting, a draw was made for a mixed case of wine and I won! I never win anything and was happy to add some bottles to my wine racks at home, and to share with my friends who were also attending the tasting.
On our way back to town we had a bit of time to spare so we asked Dino if he would mind if we made one unscheduled stop. As Dino is quite amenable, we stopped in at Upper Bench Winery & Creamery for some tank samples of new wines (and to buy some tasty cheese on the way out!) Gavin handed us each a glass and escorted us back into the winery. First up was the 2012 Chardonnay, with great spice and tropical fruits on the nose. The front palate is full of lovely pineapple and there is some interesting minerality on the finish. This is a wonderfully balanced wine. The 2011 Pinot Noir has an incredibly deep dark colour to it – great colour extraction. This is a big Pinot, make no mistake. It has bigger tannins than many local Pinot Noirs but these tannins are also quite fine and are well-integrated. It also has lovely flavours of cherry and spice. The 2011 Zweigelt is another example of Gavin’s great colour extraction. This wine has spent 18 months in oak and has a beautiful balance between the fruit and the acidity. The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a sunny acre at the top of the winery property. It is incredibly rich with well-integrated tannins, deep dark fruit and spice and great concentration of flavour. This is one that I hope to stock up on once it is released later this year! As always, it was a pleasure to visit with Gavin and Shana at Upper Bench and I look forward to their other new releases.