Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2014 (2429 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Can one wine hurt a country's burgeoning industry? A recent press release from a new British Columbia winery certainly has me thinking it might.
The winery in question is One Faith Vineyards, a project in the Okanagan Valley driven by Bill Lui, who made his name in the medical-supply business before turning to his passion -- wine. Having taken wine education courses in California and B.C., as well as visiting many properties in France's Bordeaux region, Lui publicly launched his winery last week.
Made by Napa-based winemaker Anne Vawter, One Faith Vineyards' primary focus is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In their inaugural 2012 vintage, they have spared no expense and cut no corners -- everything is done by hand, grapes are fermented in the barrels, and then the blended, almost-finished wine is aged in new and one-year-old French barrels for 20 months.
No worries so far -- it sounds pretty good.
It's not what's in the bottle that's concerning -- it's that the winery has dubbed their wine a "First Growth" that is problematic. Fans of wine from France's Bordeaux region will recognize the term, which has defined its wines for decades.
Bordeaux has a legally defined classification system for wines/chateaux, with many producers falling somewhere between first growth ($$$$$) and fifth growth ($). There are five first-growth wines in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, and they sell for ridiculously high prices (more on that in a minute).
Is Bordeaux's 1855 classification outdated? Maybe... but at least it's defined and regulated.
There are certain terms regulated in the Canadian wine industry; "estate grown," for example, means all grapes are grown on the producer's land -- none are bought. Similarly, the Vintner's Quality Alliance (VQA) designation on the label of a Canadian wine means the product has undergone specific tests by an external board and contains 100 per cent Canadian-grown grapes. But in Canada we don't rank wines as "first growth," etc., meaning One Faith has put itself in a category of its own -- which I guess is the goal when you market a product.
But Canada's wine industry is relatively young, and in many areas of the world is relatively unknown. Plus our two primary wine-producing regions are thousands of kilometres apart -- and there's still plenty of work to be done to cultivate a national wine culture. One Faith's "First Growth" self-designation will only serve to confuse consumers, especially those new to Canadian wines.
It also downplays the hard work done by Canadian producers.
"We believe that by using our combined knowledge and experience, and being free of financial constraints, we can produce a world-class wine in the Okanagan, a Grand Vin," Lui says on the winery website, as if no other Canadian producer has yet produced a "world-class wine" -- whatever that means.
Then there's the price. One Faith isn't cheap -- in fact, it's one of Canada's most expensive wines. With only 144 cases of the 2012 vintage produced, the wine sells in hand-labelled wooden boxes in three-bottle lots for $495, which breaks down to $165 a bottle.
This wine is undoubtedly meant to capitalize on the red-hot Asian wine market, where wealthy investors snap up any Bordeaux they can get their hands on, often at ridiculous prices. The "First Growth" moniker will help One Faith hit plenty of sweet spots for these collectors.
I can't speak to the quality of what's inside the bottle, but I know enough to say this "First Growth" requires some sober second thought.
Tyrrell's 2012 Lost Block Shiraz (Heathcote, Australia -- $18.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
The Heathcote region is producing some of Australia's most elegant, balanced Shiraz. The Lost Block offers bright ripe cherry notes on the nose, with secondary leather, chalky, blueberry and blackberry aromas. Medium-plus bodied, this is a juicy Shiraz with big red and black fruit flavours that don't get overly jammy thanks to those secondary notes that add complexity. Tannins are light -- this is drinking very well right now. 4/5
Two Oceans 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (Western Cape, South Africa -- $10.49, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A tarry, somewhat smoky note on the nose is fairly prevalent, but the Two Oceans red blend also lets some cassis, plum, herbal and leather aromas through. That smokiness is ramped up on the medium-plus bodied palate, with blackberry, cassis and plum notes struggling to keep up to the funkier side of this wine. It needs sharp cheeses or some chili. 2.5/5
Daniele Pelassa 2012 "San Pancrazio" Barbera D'Alba (Piedmont, Italy -- around $24, private wine stores)
This Piedmont red offers pretty aromatics: blackberry, anise, mint, plum, leather and light spice show nicely on the nose of this Barbera. It's a medium-plus bodied red, with balanced black-fruit flavours fleshed out by spice and anise notes. The acidity is bright but not bracing here, and tannins are lean but firm. Purchased at The Winehouse. 4/5