40 Knots Estate Winery, Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Topping out at 20 hectares and producing about 6,000 cases annually, 40 Knots is Vancouver Island’s second largest estate winery.

Located just outside of Courtenay in the Comox Valley, 40 Knots was purchased in 2014 by its current owners – Layne Robert Craig and Brenda Hetman-Craig – who immediately set about making significant changes to vineyard management focusing on regenerative agriculture, and acquiring gold-level Sustainable Tourism certification.   Their Dall sheep, Pinot and Gris, are responsible for mowing and ground cover, while the gaggle of geese take care of the weeds and bugs.

Layne claims it was a purchase that was ‘meant to be,’ since as a former pilot, his plane had a stall speed of 40 knots, so the winery’s name had real meaning for him and his family.

However, one of the most interesting things  about this winery is their decision to age an increasing percentage of their wines in 800 litre handmade, Italian terracotta amphorae.  Yes, that’s not a typo – 800.  Do you know how big that is?  It’s  b i g.

Now, ageing wine in clay is not a new idea – it’s been around for about 6,000 years.  However, it’s not necessarily attempted by that many winemakers – the amphorae can be expensive (whether made of clay or concrete) and let’s face it – the shipping can be a pain.  It also seems that during a global pandemic, sometimes getting one’s order filled can be, well, impossible.

But why pick clay over oak or stainless steel?  The former allows for oxygen to reach the wine and tannin from the wood can affect the wine as well, whereas the latter offers an oxygen-free environment and doesn’t impart any flavors into the wine.  Terracotta clay is porous like oak so allows oxygen to affect the wine’s texture, but like steel, it’s neutral and doesn’t impart flavours.

40 Knots is not ageing everything they produce in amphorae, but Layne is not afraid to experiment with options and alternatives.  This is evident in their wide array of offerings ranging from bubbles, to oaked and unoaked whites, reds of all stripes, and some unique dessert and port-style treats.  Just as an example, the Trie Emily is a vin de curé made from dried grapes.  Yes, essentially a strohwine on Vancouver Island.

You can purchase 40 Knots Estate Winery products at the winery, on Vancouver Island at private wine stores serviced by Storied Wines and Spirits, and throughout BC’s Lower Mainland.

 

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An Oregon Wine Board Tasting with Winderlea Vineyard + Winery, and Troon Vineyard

If these were normal times, and the world’s longest undefended border was open, I would have been in Oregon’s Willamette Valley last weekend, participating in the 2020 version of the Wine Media Conference.

But alas, these are Covid-19, not normal times.  Nevertheless, the Oregon Wine Board, made it possible for me to participate in this at-home tasting by generously sending me the bottles via courier, paying for customs clearance, and covering the tax hit.

Oregon is a favourite state, and I’ve visited both AVAs featured – Willamette Valley (Winderlea Vineyard and Winery), and the Applegate Valley (Troon Vineyard) many times – but I hadn’t known that the state has 52% of US Demeter certified biodynamic vineyards located there.

Troon is Demeter certified biodynamic, as well as CCOF organic, while Winderlea is Demeter certified, and organic, in addition to being a Certified B Corporation.  What’s that?  It’s “…a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” Oregon has 8 B-Corp wineries (more than any other US state).  There are a mere 12 in the US, and only 28 in the world.  The exacting ethics and standards demanded make it rare for any business to be a member of this group.

When everyone is onboard with these serious certifications, you can bet that attention to detail exhibited in the vineyard, and during the wine making process will be second to none – and that the quality of the wines produced will follow suit.

This was borne out during the tasting.  Troon’s Kubli Bench Amber (US$30), a very cool and delicious orange wine made with indigenous yeasts and foot trodden from 74% Riesling, 16% Vermentino, and 10% Viognier, was sherry-like with navel orange peel, marmalade, honey, and some salinity.  A tannic black tea rinse, and great acidity rounded out its balanced beauty.  Winderlea’s whole cluster ‘Imprint’ Pinot Noir (US$53) was an outstanding version showing cassis, purple plum, and bramble with an elegantly savory umami, Five Spice, and soya sauce punctured minerality.

Our 22 person online discussion regarding the wines and their production in accordance with biodynamic and other tenets was fascinating.  Craig Camp of Troon spoke about biodynamics as the framework for moving forward into regenerative agriculture, as well as the realities associated with buying thousands of yards of cow dung to build soil health (that’s a lot of poop).  And it culminated with an observation by Bill Sweat of Winderlea.

“There’s a growing cohort of consumers who have an
interest in buying products that are sustainable…
Biodynamics represents an ethos and a
way to frame the sustainability… We think about
everything growing in, above and on the vineyard floor.”

The way the world is evolving these days, regenerative agriculture seems like a small amount of effort to keep our planet on an even keel, to fully participate in being part of the change we want to see, and to reimburse the earth for the burden it has carried for so long.

Are you one of those consumers?  I’d love to see your comments below.  Enjoy the wine.

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Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier, Extra Brut Rosé, Nichol Vineyard, Naramata Bench, Okanagan, BC, 12.1% abv., 2018

It’s August 2020 and by some miracle, there are Covid NHL playoff games happening on TV.  So, what does a Canadian do?  Celebrate this miracle on ice with a delicious (and pretty) sparkling wine, of course.

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Pinot Noir, Unsworth Vineyards, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC, 12.9% abv., 2018 (C$35)

Pinot Noir is the perennial ‘heartbreak’ grape.  Its skin breaks easily, which makes it especially susceptible to disease and genetic mutation.  And talk about fragility with regard to climate.  Fickle doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But, Unsworth Vineyards has figured out how to grow a clearly superior grape in Vancouver Island’s newest officially named region, Cowichan Valley – and make delicious wine from it as well.

A gorgeous, translucent ruby, this wine has classic aromas of summer ripened Byng cherry, strawberry, and cedar.  The dry palate has soft tannins with flavours of more cherry, ripe boysenberries, forest frond, and fresh earth.  An elegant body and long finish complement this well balanced, Burgundian style wine.

We enjoyed this on a warm west coast August evening with barbecued Italian sausages on a bed of quinoa, with kale and cranberry salad.

 

 

*This wine was provided gratis by Storied Wines & Spirits

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Cabernet Franc, Nichol Vineyard, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC, 12.4% abv., 2018

Nichol produces some of the best, and food friendliest wines in the Okanagan Valley.  This Cabernet Franc is no exception.

The grapes were handpicked in 2018 from 13 rows planted at Naramata Village in 1989.  Basket pressed, it was raised in neutral oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered in February 2020.

On the eyes, it’s a translucent ruby with aromas of fresh raspberry, red plum, and a brush of nutmeg.  The palate is dry with light meat-embracing tannins and crunchy flavours of more berry, summer rhubarb, green leaf, and cinnamon bark with light baking spice.

Absolutely delicious, it also has a rather delicate alcohol by volume for a red at only 12.4%.  This only means you can enjoy more of it.

 

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Ortega, Vintner’s Reserve, Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, BC, 12.3% abv., 2019

A winery in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley just northeast of Courtenay you say?!  Really!?  Why, yes!

I was truly delighted to show up for a tasting with the exceptionally knowledgeable Katie Phelan and realize this boutique-sized winery works with its own estate grown grapes, West Coast hybrid varietals that love the cool climate, and has made some of the first moves toward serious sustainability on Vancouver Island.  Just as an example, they’re using bio-char in the vineyards to help with water retention and drainage. 

These organic and sustainable practices reflect the philosophies embraced by James Cameron – yes, that James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of Avatar, Titanic, and The Terminator – who bought the winery with his wife Suzy Amis in 2014.

Beaufort and their winemaker Freya Timmermans, is also responsible for some delightful wines including a delicate bubble, and this one that’s been fermented and aged in French oak.

The Vintner’s Reserve is a pale gold with aromas of ripe mango, some pineapple, apricot and lemon verbena.  The dry palate’s got food-friendly acidity, and more tropical fruit notes alongside some peach, and lemon curd.  Aged on its lees over the winter, it’s got a lovely texture and mouthfeel.

This winery is in a stunning setting in the heart of the Comox Valley.  The artwork inside their main building is beautiful and they’ve chosen to put some of it on their creations (for example, the lovely 2018 Zephra bubbles pictured here, also made from Ortega).

Here’s a team running an incredible enterprise perched on the precipice of viable viticulture at the 49th parallel – which will only continue to improve with climate change.  Organic, and using the right varietals for West Coast weather, they’re operating with true panache and style.

 

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Pinot Noir, Ashlyn, Anthony Buchanan Wines, Black Sage Gravelbar Vineyard, Oliver, Okanagan Valley, BC, 13.2% abv. 2018

Here’s a silky, West Coast Pinot Noir which is not only delicious, but also a beautifully appointed work of art.   Anthony Buchanan’s dipped-in-periwinkle-blue-wax gem has been completed with new artwork and named for his daughter, Ashlyn.

This bottle was #1547 out of 3480 produced, and it was unfined and unfiltered, with all the best bits left in. 

On the eyes, it’s a deeply translucent ruby with serious aromas of late season raspberry, cherry, earth, wet leaves, and fir – leaving you to imagine a walk through the forest following a cool rain.

The palate is dry with food friendly acidity and elegant tannins, more cherry, red plum and field berry, cranberry and bark.

This is a slender, restrained wine that isn’t looking to overpower, but rather to impress with its finesse.

 

 

 

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Gamay, Pinot Noir, Field Blend, Unsworth Vineyards, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC, 2018, 12.5% abv, C$25

Just last week, there was a surprise announcement made by the Turyk family of Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Vineyards – they’ve sold their winery to the Banke-Jackson group from California.

Considering global warming and climate change, it should be no surprise that Napa and Sonoma investors are looking northward for opportunities.  This started a decade ago in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and has continued into the wine regions of Washington state, Canada’s Okanagan, and now Vancouver Island’s new Cowichan Valley Sub-GI.

It’s no small feat to sell a winery, so good on the Turyks.  That said, I’m relieved that there are no changes apparently planned for the foreseeable future.   We can continue to see wines like this Gamay-Pinot Noir blend come from winemaker Dan Wright’s efforts.

The colour is a pretty, translucent ruby with delicate alcohol, and perfumed aromas of field berry with floral meadow and rhubarb.  The palate has lip-smacking acidity and more berry, with ripe cherry, pomegranate, solid white pepper, and a flash of fresh tobacco.

This is a tasty wine -excellent with everything from charcuterie, to salmon, to the lamb croquettes and beet salad I enjoyed it with at the Unsworth restaurant just recently.

 

 

 

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Syrah, William Dean, Three Boys Vineyard, Anthony Buchanan Wines, Oliver, BC, 13.6% abv., 2018

It’s just a guess, but this weekend may call for a socially distanced barbecue in celebration of Father’s Day and a few stellar humans.  If this is part of your Covid-19 celebratory plan, consider opening a bottle of this delicious Syrah from BC’s Anthony Buchanan Wines.

A whole cluster ferment and foot trodden wine, this bottle was #57 of 1,488 produced.  Unfined and unfiltered means all the good bits and full flavours have been left in.  The grapes for this wine were harvested on October 21, 2018 and bottled more than a year later after some time in barrel on November 19, 2019 for release in spring 2020.

On the eyes, it’s a deep ruby with heady aromas of ripe red plum, berry and fresh West coast fir frond.  These carry over to the dry palate which has a lovely acidity balanced with ripe tannins, and more field berry, cedar plank, black pepper, and baking spice.

It’s a gorgeous wine that was named after Anthony Buchanan’s grandfather – whom he was actually named for.  Says the winemaker, “…I never met him as he died when my mom was 15.  He was an amazing, hardworking, loving father, and apparently just adored my grandma, his soulmate… Dean is Nichol’s dad…and is a very important part of our family… So it just made sense that we include these two fine humans on our label.”

The label and the bottle, topped with pretty periwinkle blue wax, are as beautiful as the wine.  Enjoy with this weekend’s meal meant to celebrate the fine humans in your life.

 

 

 

 

*This wine was provided gratis.  Bottle shot taken from Anthony Buchanan Wines website

 

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Riesling, Synchromesh Wines, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, BC

A 2019 Rieslings review on these three off-dry beauties.  Pair any of them with a spicy Thai meal, cheese board with Stilton or Blue, or a brunch spread with egg dishes and fruit salad.

Riesling, Long’s View Vineyard, Synchromesh, Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC, 8.47% abv., 2019

Riesling, Thorny Vines Vineyard, Synchromesh Wines, Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC, 7.75% abv., 2019

Riesling, Drier, Synchromesh Wines, Oliver, Okanagan Valley, BC, 10.03%, 2019

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