What’s New At Hester Creek Estate Winery?

Hester Creek Estate Winery in the South Okanagan has been slowly changing, putting several different pieces together, in the vineyards, the winery and around the winery, to put together a unique experience for their customers.  I enjoyed a few hours with General Manager Mark Sheridan and winemaker Robert Summers talking about the winery and some of their wines.  We met at Central Bistro in the west-end of downtown Vancouver.  Central Bistro is cozy, they source local ingredients as best as they can, and try to showcase BC VQA wines.  Hester Creek’s wines are on their list.

One of the things that you will notice with their wines is the changing of their bottle labels.  The new labels will be officially unveiled during the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Fair in April.  The new label still keeps the logo of Hester swimming after a fish in the creek, but it is now smaller, and bringing forward the name of the winery and varietal(s).  It is very classy looking.  Another related labelling item is that their back label will have a ScanLife code which you can scan with your smart phone / iphone and it will provide you with a flavour profile and food pairings.  If you have not heard of a ScanLife code, it is a square shaped grid that can encode a significant amount of information.

What is in the bottle is also very important.  Winemaker Rob Summers described how they have improved their vineyards, installing drip irrigation, and now are using 100% Ganimede fermenters, which pump over the cap with their own CO2 produced during the fermentation process.  These fermenters according to Rob makes brighter fruit flavours and softer tannins.

Speaking about their wines, I was able to try two wines with Rob and Mark. The first wine was their Pinot Blanc 2009 ($15.99).  It had aromas of flowers, peach and melon on the nose for me.  Very vibrant fruit with medium acidity and a bit of roundness on the palate.  A long minerally finish.  I’d enjoy this wine this summer with some shellfish.  The other wine was their Reserve Cabernet Franc 2008 ($25.99).   Cabernet Franc grapes typically have an aroma profile that contains a cedar note.  For some reason the Cabernet Franc grapes do not have this cedar component, and instead have raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavours.  Something unique with their terroir, and that is what is so interesting about wines, and where they are produced. Their Reserve Cabernet Franc had a very fruity nose with raspberry, strawberry and some oak.  Lots of bright raspberry fruit flavour.  Medium acidity with a vanilla undertone and nutmeg spice.  Medium length with a cherry / spice finish.  In both cases, there was bright, vibrant fruit, and that is a character theme they want to have across their wines.

The Next Chapter for Rob Summers is his “The Judge” ultra-premium wine.  With this wine he wants to show that he has something special at Hester Creek, when the weather, terroir, and vineyard practices all mesh together.  This wine is a blend of his best lots in the cellar of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, to produce a wine that will age for several years.  The wine from each grape is matured for up to two years separately, then are blended together and the blend is then further aged.  Only 200 cases of The Judge will be produced.

On top of the wines, there are 6 villas where you can stay, a stylish curved bar, an executive barrel room, a dining room, and a gift shop.  And if you are a foodie, Hester Creek is offering a teaching kitchen that seats up to 14 people.  Past chefs have included Chef Neil Taylor of Vancouver’s Cibo Trattoria, Chef Heinz Schmid of Kaleden’s Catering Done right, and famed restauranteur Umberto Menghi.

That is Part 1 of my article on Hester Creek.  Part 2 will be in summer this year when I visit Hester Creek Winery’s winery.  I am looking forward to it.  Enjoy!

Get Ready to Enjoy Spanish Sherry – Part 1 #VPIWF

Have you ever tried sherry, or know what it is?  There is a lot to sherry, which may surprise you.  The quick Wikipedia definition of sherry is “Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez, Spain“.  Jerez is located in the southern end of Spain which is very hot and gives the grapes in the area a very long ripening season.

We can break this down into different types or styles of sherry, which will give you a wide range of taste profiles so that you can enjoy sipping sherry on it’s own or with appetizers or a main meal, if you choose.

There are 3 main grape varieties that go into sherry production: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel.  The majority of sherry is produced from the Palomino grape, with lesser contribution from the other 2 varieties.

The production of sherry is a three-step process.  The first step is the fermentation of the grape into a dry, white wine. The must (juice) from the first pressing of the Palomino grape is fermented in stainless steel vats till all the sugar has been used up.  This takes till sometime in November.

Step number 2 is evaluating the quality of the wine produced in step 1. The wines are placed in casks and the casks are graded with a stroke (or mark). The grading process works as follows (from Wikipedia):

  • / a single stroke (una raya) indicates a wine with the finest flavour and aroma, suitable for fino or amontillado. These wines are fortified to about 15 per cent alcohol to allow the growth of flor.
  • /.     a single stroke with a dot indicates a heavier, more full-bodied wine. These wines are fortified to about 17.5 per cent alcohol to prevent the growth of flor, and the wines are aged oxidatively to produce oloroso.
  • // a double stroke (dos rayas) indicates a wine which will be allowed to develop further before determining whether to use the wine for amontillado or oloroso. These wines are fortified to about 15 percent alcohol.
  • /// a triple stroke indicates a wine that has developed poorly, and will be distilled.

Image courtesy basicjuice.blogs.com

In Step 3, the /, /., and // quality wines are fortified with distilled wine up to a set alcohol level to allow or prevent the growth of flor and are then aged in oak barrels.  The aging aspect is quite unique and interesting for sherry.  The barrels are placed in a “solera” system, which consists of barrels of sherry from different vintages being stacked on each other up to three barrels high.  The youngest sherry is placed in the top level and progressively older sherry is at the bottom level.  What makes this unique?  The process of taking some of the youngest sherry and placing it in the next row of older barrels below it.  The portion of wine from this level of barrels is then placed at the lowest level of barrels.  A portion of wine from the lowest level of barrels is extracted and bottled for sale.  So at any one time the sherry that you buy has a mix of wines from many different vintages, in  theory from EVERY vintage ever produced from that solera.

The other interesting thing about sherry is the layer of “flor”, a natural yeast, that grows on the top of the wine for fino or amontillado, keeping oxygen away from interacting too much with the wine.  To exist, the flor feeds on oxygen, alcohol and glycerine, which reduces the overall acidity of the wine.  It also increases the level of acetaldehyde, which gives sherry it’s unique flavour. Flor is affected by temperature, so is less active in the summer and winter, and more active in the spring and fall. This change in temperature and amount of flor activity helps to give sherry, from each bodegas a individual style. Oloroso style sherry are also affected by the change in temperature but are not protected by the flor due to the higher alcohol content and thus oxidize.  Fino sherries are aged in a solera for on average 3-5 years, and up to 10 years for Amontillados and Olorosos.

You may have heard of Cream Sherries.  These are sherries that have had Pedro Ximenez wine added before bottling to sweeten the sherry.  Pedro Ximenez grapes are typically used as a dessert wine produced from sun-dried grapes before they are fermented.  This provides a very concentrated grape flavour and raisins.    There is much more to say about the different styles of sherry and I will leave that to Part 2 of this blog.

I hope that this peek into the production of sherry has peaked your interest to try the different styles of sherry, both on your own, and at the upcoming Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Fair.   There is a sherry and tapas event you may want to attend.  Here is the link to the sherry and tapas event.   Cheers!

The casks are marked with the following symbols according to the potential of the wine: 

/ a single stroke indicates a wine with the finest flavour and aroma, suitable for fino or amontillado. These wines are fortified to about 15 per cent alcohol to allow the growth of flor.
/. a single stroke with a dot indicates a heavier, more full-bodied wine. These wines are fortified to about 17.5 per cent alcohol to prevent the growth of flor, and the wines are aged oxidatively to produce oloroso.
// a double stroke indicates a wine which will be allowed to develop further before determining whether to use the wine for amontillado or oloroso. These wines are fortified to about 15 percent alcohol.
/// a triple stroke indicates a wine that has developed poorly, and will be distilled.

Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Fair – Day 3

Yesterday was my last day at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Fair. I tried many wines from the theme countries of New Zealand and Argentina, and gave you my picks. Today I’ll give you some of my picks for the rest of the world.

If you like Italian wines, Altesino is a nice coice. I particularly liked their Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2004 and their Alte d’Altesi “Super Tuscan” IGT 2003. The Brunello was pale reddish orange. Light strawberry and woody nose. Light body with strawberry and oaky flavours. Medium tannins. The Alte d’Altesi was fuller bodied. Medium garnet. Smoky, earthy, oaky nose. Cherry flavour with very firm tannins.

A South African winery I had not tried before but will now look around for is Alto. South African wines tend to have a different aromatic profile than other New World wines. There is something earthy about many of their wines. Alto’s Rouge 2007 and Shiraz 2006 were wonderful. I was told their Fine Old Vintage Port 2006 was really good, but never got around to trying it. The Rouge 2007 was light/medium garnet in the glass. Capsicum and cherry nose. Cherry, meaty and spicy flavours. Their Shiraz 2006 was deep purple coloured. Sweet black fruit aromas. Firm tannins and bursting with blueberry flavours. Very full bodied. Nice!

Back here in Canada, a must try is Cedar Creek Estate winery’s Platinum Malbec 2007 and their Platinum Syrah 2007. The Platinum Malbec 2007 is their first single varietal release. Medium purple colour. Plum and dark fruit aromas. Rip, black cherries with some green stemminess. Very smooth. Vanilla and medium spice. The Platinum Syrah 2007 had nice blueberries and plum aromas. Quite spicy on the palate with black cherry flavour. Medium tanning and long length.

Another BC wine to try is the Chardonnay 2007 from Church & States Wines. The Chardonnay 2007 is medium lemon colour. Nice apricot nose. Vanilla, sweet spice, pineapple and apricot flavours, with a bit of spice. Lots of flavours coming out the glass the more you swirled it around in your mouth.

If you like biodynamic wines, there is the Cadenizia 2008 from Gemtree Vineyards in Australia. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, and Shiraz). Medium garnet. Nice nose with butterscotch, cherry and vanilla. Lots of cassis flavour with black cherry and spiciness. Firm yet fine tannins.

My third recommended BC wine is the Mission Hill Family Estate Quatrain 2006. This is a Syrah, Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, and Cab Franc blend from the Black Sage area of the Okanagan. Deep purple coloured. Blueberry and plum nose. Cherry and plum flavour, peppery with firm tannins.

If you are a Pinot Noir lover, try the Freedom Hill Pinot Noir 2006 from Panther Creek in Oregon. The Freedom Hill Pinot Noir 2006 is light cherry coloured. Smoky, strawberry aromas. Earthy, cherry flavours, with a bit of spiciness and low tannins.

There are many more wines for me to write about for you. That will be happening over the next week. Hopefully you would have tried some of these wines and/or purchased some. Enjoy!