Apologies for the long delay in posting since I arrived in Canada. I have such a wealth of topics before me that I hardly know where to begin. That’s actually been a bit of a problem, in that the first few wines I tried here would have required discussion of not just new regions, but also new grapes and possibly even winemaking styles. So while I’ll certainly get to those wines, I’m making things a bit easier on myself and sticking with an old favourite as far as grapes go with this JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009.
Having spent so much of my time learning about wines in Australia, it’s liberating to walk into a Canadian wine shop. There’s certainly no shortage of Australian wine on the shelves here, but they’re joined by a huge collection of wines from both the Old World and the New, and in particular many wines from Canada and California. And while I look forward to writing about some interesting wines that are not so widely available in Australia, it would be poor manners to begin with anything other than a Canadian wine.
Yes, wine is produced within Canada. The most famous is certainly Inniskillin Ice Wine from Niagra-on-the-Lake in Ontario, but wine is made across Canada including several parts of British Columbia. The most prominent wine region in the vicinity of Vancouver is the Okanagan Valley, accounting for 90% of BC production, and which is sometimes known as just the Okanagan outside the context of wine.
Roughly 400km to the east of Vancouver as the crow flies, the Okanagan Valley is the area surrounding the lake and river of the same name. While the first vines were planted by missionaries in the 19th century, it’s best described as an up and coming wine region, with commercial plantings of Vitis vinifera having been established only as recently as 1975. As with many cool to cold areas outside of mainland Europe, early efforts at viticulture started with hybrids of European and North American grapes, such as Vidal Blanc, but through the 1980s the focus shifted to Alsatian and German varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürtztraiminer that were then bred specifically to cope with the cold conditions. Since then, as specific terroirs have become better understood, a much wider range of varieties have been planted, and the area is also now known for Bordeaux blends and Syrah. Merlot is the most widely planted variety, followed by Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinots Gris, Blanc and Noir rounding out the top six.
The climate is continental, though mitigated by the lake and river. It is also in the rain shadow of the Cascade and Coast Mountains, making much of the area, particularly in the south, inhospitable to vines without irrigation. Parts of the region are frequently described as a desert. While cold winters make frost a danger, the distance from the Equator means summer days of the ripening season are particularly long. The soils are varied, with gravel, sand and silt making up much of the topsoil over different types of bedrock.
I don’t have anything to say about Chardonnay that I haven’t already said, so let’s look at JoieFarm. It’s a small producer founded by two sommeliers who got married and ran off to make wine. While I love sommeliers, and they have a great story, I’m glad they made a wise call and hired in an actual winemaker to round out the team.
It looks as though 2009 was in fact their first vintage and they are dedicated to white and rosé wines of Burgundian and Alsatian varieties (though they produce some red as well). They grow a small amount of Gewürtztraiminer and Muscat and buy in grapes from a dozen producers. In addition to this wine and an un-oaked Chardonnay, they produce varietal Riesling and Pinot Blanc, an Alsatian inspired white blend, a blend of two types of Muscat, a rosé of Gamay and Pinots Gris, Noir and Meunier, and a Pinot Noir / Gamay Passetoutgrain blend.
As to this wine in the glass, it’s clear and bright with a pale lemon colour and thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing with notes of green apple, oak, smoke and some nuttiness. On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium plus finish. There are notes of smoke, sawdust, tart green apple but also some sweet apple skin, and some minerality.
This is a good wine. I want to like it more than my notes will allow in that it’s from an area that’s new to me, it has a fun story behind it, and I can’t help but like anyone who makes a Passetoutgrain outside of Burgundy. The wine itself has good concentration and length, but I can’t go any higher than good because it lacks complexity. It tastes as though the vast majority of the wine was made from apples and oak, and as someone who enjoys cider I don’t mean that in a bad way. If it were from Chablis I would want more steel, from Macon I would want more richness, and if it were from the Adelaide Hills I would want a range of citrus. That said, good is certainly a step up from acceptable and a worthy score for what I think is a fine