I’m just back from two fantastic weeks in Vancouver and I’m pleased to report that in addition to having had a great holiday with the family, I managed to complete all three of the modest items on my Canadian Wine To Do list. While I only wrote up a couple of wines of British Columbia while I was there, I have notes and photos of several more that will be turned into posts over the next few weeks. While the two wines I’ve already written up didn’t hugely impress me, I’m pleased to now be writing about a wine I enjoyed a great deal, the Road 13 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011.
I’ve managed to bring back ten bottles of wine with me from this trip, which I suspect puts me at the top of the league table of Australia for the largest collection of Canadian wine. While I did pick up a red Bordeaux style blend and a couple of wines made from more familiar grapes, I have seven new (to me) varietal wines to work my way through. Some of the new grapes I only know from theory exams while others are completely unknown. However, rather than having a couple of weeks of nothing but wines from unusual grapes which are largely impossible for non-Canadians to source, I’ll be spreading them out over the next few months.
However, today it’s a wine I actually drank with friends in Canada. This is not the first time we’ve seen these three grapes – I’ve had each on their own as varietals and together in the form of John Duval’s Plexus. Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne are natives to the Rhône Valley in France. In the Northern Rhône, Roussanne and Marsanne are blending partners, while Viognier is typically found as a varietal white or as a fractional blending partner with Syrah in red wine. Only in Southern Rhône appellations can the three be found together in the same wine.
This wine is labelled British Columbia VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) which is similar to the appellation system found in many other countries, though more concerned with the origin of the grapes than with regulating which varieties are grown and what winemaking techniques are employed. British Columbia is a political rather than a geographically defined appellation, and so the use of it on the label indicates that the grapes are from more than one regional appellation, in this case Similkameen Valley and the Okanagan Valley.
Since this is the third wine in a row made with grapes from the Okanagan Valley, it’s worth digging deeper into the sub-appellation (as yet unofficial) in which this producer is based, Golden Mile. Note however that most of the grapes in this wine in particular are actually from the Similkameen Valley, and the Okanagan grapes actually came from the opposite side of the valley in the Black Sage Bench.
Golden Mile is an area to the southwest of Oliver, on the western benches between the mountains and the valley floor. The soil is made up of several distinct types of loamy sand and gravel with good drainage, though it was the construction of a canal running north to south that made the area as a whole useful for agriculture. In particular a large pipeline constructed of wood allowed water from the canal to be pumped uphill to the west to irrigate the Golden Mile subregion itself. Normally altitude means cooler temperatures, so somewhat counterintuitively the region can be several degrees warmer in the western benches than on the valley floor, providing protection against frost. This is largely due to the favourable aspect which catches more sunlight, particularly in the morning. While the area is larger than its name suggests (roughly 13 miles top to bottom) it contains less than ten percent of the vineyard area of Okanagan and Similkameen.
Another reason Golden Mile is worth mentioning in the context of this producer is that Road 13 was formerly named Golden Mile Cellars when it was purchased from the Serwo family in 2003. The current owners, Pam and Mick Luckhurst, decided that it would be better to change the name and to free up “Golden Mile” for use by all the neighbouring producers which seems like a fairly generous move.
Road 13 produces three ranges of wines – entry level blends in red and white called Honest John, Road 13 branded blends and varietal wines incorporating largely grapes of the Rhône, as well as some Alsatian white grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Malbec, and a Jackpot premium range. They also produce both sparkling and late harvest wines of Chenin Blanc.
Another interesting note about Road 13 is that their winemaker is Jean Martin Bouchard. The name immediately conjures up images of the famous Burgundian négociant, and then for me at least a favourite producer of Pinot Noir in South Africa, Bouchard-Finlayson. However, this Bouchard is a Quebec native who started in the wine trade in Australia through a friend he made while working in a youth hostel. His work in Australia started with Moorooduc Estate in Victoria, but he’s also worked with local favourites Wirra Wirra, Torbreck and as an assistant winemaker at Penfolds, in addition to work in Germany and Alsace. Prior to Road 13 he was the winemaker at Hidden Bench Winery in Ontario, and joined Road 13 in 2010.
The grapes for this wine were hand picked as whole bunches and pressed without destemming. The juice was fermented in old barrels, underwent weekly lees stirring for three months, and then had a further four months in neutral oak before bottling.
In the glass it’s clear and bright with a pale lemon green colour and visible legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean with medium plus intensity, developing, with notes of white peach, citrus, and white pepper. On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol and medium plus length. In addition to delivering on the palate what the nose promised, there are notes of pear and minerality.
This is a very good wine, and the best I’ve reviewed so far from Canada. It has a fair amount of complexity, with the pepper and minerality balancing out the fruit flavours. It could use a bit more acidity, but Viognier dominated wines (92% in this case) often struggle with that, even when grown in cooler regions. The intensity was good on both the nose and palate, and the flavour profile was very agreeable, particularly with food.