CONSIDERING our harsh winter climate, it's amazing to see how many Manitobans work in the wine biz (although, of course, most of them have moved elsewhere to do so). From critics to winemakers to Masters of Wine, most have a cool story to tell, and few forget their Manitoba roots.
Wes Pearson grew up in Winnipeg and moved to Whistler, B.C., when he was 18 to snowboard. Not surprisingly, he was a bit of a wine neophyte.
"I was completely clueless about wine when I left (Winnipeg)," Pearson, 39, explains by email. "I think I had tasted Baby Duck or Hochtaler once or twice."
After five years working in restaurants in Whistler, things had changed. "I was well on my way to becoming a sommelier, working in some of Whistler's nicest restaurants. But I always thought the restaurant business wasn't for me, it was just a means to an end -- working nights allowed me to play in the snow during the day."
So how did a Wildwood Park boy end up making his own wine halfway around the world?
First, Pearson and his wife decided to move to the Okanagan, where he pursued a degree in wine biochemistry from UBC's Kelowna campus. He worked at Tantalus under the tutelage of Aussie winemaker Matt Holmes before heading to the Saint-Julien region of Bordeaux to work at the prestigious Ch¢teau L©oville-Las Cases.
Bordeaux was an eye-opening experience.
"It was my first job out of school, so to go to a situation like that where you're living in this chateau, making wine... there's no expense spared, and the attention to detail borders on insanity," Pearson explains. "To be immersed in that culture, with all that history, and everything that goes along with it, was simply magical."
Pearson's connection with Holmes led him to Australia, where he worked for Pirramimma until 2011 before becoming a sensory analyst at the Australian Wine Research Institute.
But the idea of making his own wine was already in his head. Before long Pearson teamed up with Peter Bolte (and, eventually, Peter Somerville), and Dodgy Bros. was born.
Their first release, the 2011 Grenache-Shiraz-Mourv®dre (a popular red blend in the region that tips the hat to France's Rh¥ne Valley), followed shortly thereafter. Future plans for Dodgy Bros. include a single-vineyard 2012 Shiraz and (not surprisingly) a Bordeaux-style red blend, and he hopes all three will make it to Manitoba.
With just one wine made in relatively small quantities from three vineyards in McLaren Vale, Dodgy Bros.' production is limited -- in fact, Winnipeg's Banville & Jones is the only store outside of Australia that sees the wine.
"Manitoba is definitely a big part of who I am," says Pearson. "To have buyers taste my products and tell me they love it and want to sell it feels great, whoever and wherever they are. But to be able to do that in Manitoba is extra special. It's a clich© but it's like giving back."
To read the full interview with Wes Pearson, check out my blog at www.winnipegfreepress.com. For more on Pearson and his wine, check out www.dodgybrotherswine.com.
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DODGY BROS. 2011 GRENACHE SHIRAZ MOURVàDRE
(McLaren Vale, Australia -- $42.99, Banville & Jones)
The breakdown of the inaugural Dodgy Bros. wine: 60 per cent Grenache, 30 per cent Shiraz, 10 per cent Mourv®dre. Blackberry, cherry, red licorice, ripe raspberry, mocha and white pepper aromas are intense on the nose. The Grenache does lots of the heavy lifting in the red/black fruit department, delivering great ripeness without turning sweet. Shiraz adds cracked pepper and cherry notes, and the tannins on this wine are fine but firm, bringing a black tea component into the mix. At 15.5 per cent alcohol, there's some heat on the finish that's a touch rough right now; some time in the cellar, a touch of decanting and/or some big meat should solve most of that. 92/100