Why You Need to Check Out Okanagan Valley’s Old Vine Wines
There’s a reason why some oenophiles make such a fuss over old vine wines. Ask any winemaker and they’ll tell you that old vines yield fruit of exquisite concentration – perfect building blocks for intensely-flavoured, complex wines. And as wine lovers, we can all attest to that being a very good thing.
How Old Vine Wines Get Their Flavour
The magic starts in the soil. The vines’ roots dig deep into the earth where they tap into subterranean water sources, minerals, and nutrients which when coupled with ample sunshine, fuel their growing cycle. Compared to more recently planted vines, older vines produce less fruit. Because there are fewer bunches, the vines expend less energy to ripen grapes, allowing for more of a vine’s energy resources to be directed to the developing bunches. This concentrates acid, tannins, sugars, and flavour.
In general, no matter where you go in the world of wine, ‘old vines’ isn’t a labelling term regulated by law (there are a few exceptions). This means you’ll see a wide spread in what’s considered an old vine. In the case of Okanagan Valley, many of the older vine vineyards will be a few decades old rather than the several decades up to over a hundred years old vines we see in parts of the Old World.
Because Prohibition put a hitch in things back in the early days of Canadian winemaking, it took a minute for the industry to get a proper start. A post-Prohibition moratorium on issuing winery licenses was in place until the 1970s at which point many winemakers being planting new vineyards. The following decade saw an even greater number of producers planting vinifera vines. Some of those vineyards still exist and today, we get to reap the fruits of these masterful winemakers’ labour. Here are a few of the many wineries with older vineyards that you should be seeking out.
Quail’s Gate Estate Winery
One of the stars of Okanagan Valley, Quail’s Gate produces exceptional, sustainably-made wines vinified from their south-facing vineyards, not far from the shores of Okanagan Lake. The estate’s oldest vines, which are over 40 years old, are in the Osooyos Vineyard. Not to be missed is the Old Vines Foch. Made from the French hybrid grape Marechal Foch, it is an exquisite introduction to the intense, concentrated flavours found in old vine wines. This variety comes into its own the older the vines are and wines made from Marechal Foch exhibit ripe cherry, cocoa, coffee, a touch of cured meat, sweet tobacco, and vanilla notes.
Blue Mountain Vineyard
The Mavetys of Blue Mountain Vineyard have been farming grapes at this incredible site since the early ’70s. Since 1991, they’ve crafted wines under the Blue Mountain label using various sustainable farming methods. The Mavetys’ boast a few older plots in their estate’s vineyard holdings, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Gamay vines, all of which are around 30 years old. Each represents an excellent example of some of the fine terroirs around Okanagan Valley – mineral-driven wines, with vibrant acidity, purity and depth of flavour, and harmony.
Tantalus lays claim to the oldest continuously producing vineyard in BC. The vineyard site was planted with table grapes back in 1927 and was known as Pioneer Vineyards. Tantalus is esteemed by many for its outstanding single vineyard wines which include the Block 5 1978 Riesling, as well as plantings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier (which incidentally, are the three main grapes allowed in Champagne) all dating from 1985.
Little Straw Vineyards
Another example of well-made, family-owned winery this time located just outside of Kelowna, in the foothills of Mount Boucherie. Little Straw Vineyards has made a name for itself for its high-quality wines. For something unique, you’ll want to check out their signature wine, the Old Vine Auxerrois. The grape is mostly known as being a component in Cremant d’Alsace and some of the ‘Pinot Blanc’ wines of the same region (where wines labelled Pinot Blanc may also have Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir).
Sperling Vineyards – since 1925
Sisters Ann and Jill Sperling teamed up with their husbands to bring Sperling Vineyards to life. The land has been the in the family for generations, with vines first planted in the 1920s. Sperling Vineyards offers a gorgeous old vines Riesling of extraordinary elegance sourced from vines planted back in 1978. One other thing to note, just last year, Sperling Vineyards earned organic certification, so this is another winery to add to your list if you’re big on ‘green’ wines.
These are only a few of the old vine offerings in the Okanagan Valley and surrounding regions. If you have any favourites, please share them below in the comments.