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Wine from British Columbia? Why not?

Oculus_2

   "People hear Canada and they think cold," says Peter Wille, scoffing, "so they

don't think good wine can be made there."

   In fact, his area of British Columbia is so balmy they call it the Banana Belt. They

even grow peaches there, says Wille, who represents Mission Hill Family Estate winery, 240 miles east of Vancouver.

   All things being relative, it still means winter nights of 15 below zero, near the

point where the vines start to die.

   Summers can veer from 105 degrees in the afternoon to 40 degrees at night, but that's good for grapes. They ripen during the day, then shut down at night, preserving the acids that give wines their crispness.

   Mission Hill controls 1,000 acres of vines in the Okanagan Valley, which runs 100 miles north from the U.S.-Canadian border, nestled between the Coast Mountains on the west and the Manashee Mountains on the east, which protects them from Arctic winds.

   It also puts the valley in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains, turning it to near-

desert with only 12 inches of rain a year, but unlimited irrigation water from melting

glaciers.

   It's still a difficult place to grow grapes. Vines are planted on slopes above the

valley floor, so the coldest air can settle below them. Huge, propane-powered fans pull

down warmer air from 50 feet up to further moderate the chill. The growing season is

called "short and intense."

   But any grower will tell you grapes do best in the very farthest reaches of where they

can survive at all. See Champagne. See Chablis. See Sherry.

   Here, Vancouver-born wine broker Anthony Von Mandl bought out a defunct brewery and, in

1997, built a state-of-the-art, $40 million winery with tasting room, culinary school and

restaurant that lures 110,000 visitors a year.

   Given the climate, it's no surprise that Mission Hill wines are mostly lean and

restrained, with pure, intense fruit. It's also no surprise that the winery makes ice

wines -- super-sweet dessert wines from grapes dessicated from hanging on the vines into

January and freezing. When they're crushed, still frozen, the sugars and acids are

released and the water is left behind with the skins.

   Mission Hill wines are just entering the United States. In South Florida, they're

available at Total Wine & More plus restaurants including Miami City Club, Ruth's Chris

Steak House, Cielo and Vix at the Victor Hotel.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

   • 2003 Mission Hill SLC Syrah, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: complex aromas

and flavors of black plums, tobacco, black pepper and meat: $39.

   • 2004 Oculus Red (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite verdot grapes):

shifting aromas and flavors of mint, licorice, black raspberries, bitter chocolate; medium

body, firm tannins; powerful and ageworthy; $70.

   • 2004 Mission Hill SLC Riesling Ice Wine, VQA Okanagan, British Columbia: moderately

sweet, very crisp, spicy; pure apricot flavors, excellent balance; $80 per 375-mililiter

half bottle.

   RECOMMENDED

   • 2006 Mission Hill SLC Chardonnay, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: aromas and

flavors of oak, green pineapples and vanilla; buttery, very dry and fruity; $29.

   • 2003 Mission Hill SLC Merlot, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia: pure, intense

black raspberry and black coffee flavors; lean, firm tannin; $40.

   • 2006 Mission Hill SLC Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, VQA Okanagan Valley, British

Columbia: oak, green apples and vanilla, very dry and crisp, food-friendly; $29.

   • 2006 Mission Hills Five Vineyards Riesling Ice Wine, VQA Okanagan Valley, British

Columbia: very sweet, soft; candied orange peel flavors; $20 per 187-mililiter one-quarter

bottle.

   • 2006 Mission Hill Reserve Riesling Ice Wine, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:

quite sweet; flavors of golden apples, coconut, apricot; $60 per 375-mililiter half-

bottle.

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