I spent some time yesterday with the lovely Rufiange family – Kathy, Mark & Kelsey – at their Echo Bay property in Okanagan Falls. The property itself has been in Kathy’s family for five generations and served as a family gathering place on the shores of Skaha Lake. They planted their 5-acre vineyard in 2013 to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. Their first two vintages, 2015 and 2016, were made with the help of Alan Dickenson at Synchromesh Wines. Echo Bay has similar ideals in viticulture and oenology as Synchromesh – keeping very much along the lines of chemical-free farming (organic, biodynamic) as well as minimal-intervention winemaking, so that relationship makes sense to me. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of their wines, ever since I had a sneak peek taste of their 2015 Cabernet Franc, courtesy of a colleague this past winter, so when I saw a little note on social media recently that their wines would be released soon, I got in touch!
Kelsey Rufiange, who studied Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University in New Zealand and is now the winemaker for the Echo Bay wines, showed me around their cellar – a nice simple barn-shaped design – and led me through a tasting of their two current wines, in their rock-walled barrel room.
We began with the 2015 Synoptic, whose name refers to the synoptic weather symbols that cover their labels. This is their field blend red, the percentages of each component subject to change each year. This vintage is made up of 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 3% Carmenère & 3% Petit Verdot, from 3 year old vines. It was fermented naturally (not innoculated with commercial yeast), with most of the varieties each being fermented separately but the Petit Verdot and Carmenère were co-fermented. The wine was aged 19 months in 30% new French Oak before being blended and bottled last summer. It has a very aromatic, perfumed nose, with elegant layers of dark berries, violets, dark cherry and Damson plum. On the palate it is dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium ripe tannins, medium-plus body and flavours of cherry, plum, dark berries and some oak spice that is not fully integrated yet, with a long finish. This is a complex and elegant wine that will benefit from a bit more time in the bottle.
The second wine that I tasted was the 2015 Cabernet Franc, which is the wine that initially got me hooked on Echo Bay Vineyard. This wine has complex aromas of raspberry, spice, dark berries, some earthy notes and a hint of something herbal and a few things that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium body, medium-plus ripe tannins and flavours of cherry, red plum, liquorice, and spice. It is lovely and complex with a lingering finish. I wish I could have walked out with a case or more, but with its production only being 50 cases, there is a 2-bottle limit and it’s almost gone.
This is one of those small, quality wine producers that I’d really love to keep all to myself because I know that, once word gets out, their wines will be snapped up quickly every year, along the lines of Synchromesh and Bella Wines. But I also want to see them succeed, and so here I am sharing this little secret gem. For more information on Echo Bay Vineyard and how to get their wines, please check out their Instagram & website.