Growing grapes and making wine in a newer wine region can often mean more space for experimentation as the region’s wines (and styles) develop. In British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley where commercial winemaking is seeing the tail end of a first generation, there remains plenty of enthusiasm – and space – for a winery to find itself amongst its vines. This is the case for Bench 1775 on the Naramata Bench.
Since Valeria Tait joined the Bench 1775 team in 2013 as general manager and winemaker, there has been a marked upswing in quality and consistency. Tait is a knowledgable viticulturist who has had her hands in soil throughout the province, extensively in the Okanagan, and is passionate about Cabernet Franc clone 214. With education from the University of California Davis (oenology and viticulture) and Simon Fraser University (plant biochemistry and molecular genetics), Tait has a working vine-to-wine knowledge not held by many in the role of GM.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve known Val for several years and had the privilege of working with her at an Okanagan winery where she was viticulturist. Does that mean I love every wine she makes? No, but it does mean I know a bit of the background on what she’s trying to achieve for BC and how hard she’ll work to accomplish it.
This was not a full portfolio tasting, but a range of their self-described “small lot” wines – and one very special bottle. Don’t be surprised if some of these are available only to wine club members.
Who: Bench 1775
What: partial portfolio tasting (samples)
Where: Naramata, BC
When: September 22, 2017
Portfolio standout: 2013 Cabernet Franc cl214, for its elegance and grace
2013 Cabernet Franc cl214 sample
12.2% alcohol | RS 2.9 g/L | cases 580
If you’re curious as to why Tait has such an affinity for this particular clone of cabernet franc, find this wine. Intensity and elegance meet in beautiful harmony, with persistent flavours that go the distance. Graphite and flint with deep, rich berry aromas. Sipping brings unfolding layers of dark fruit, bright acidity, and silky smooth tannins. If, for some reason, you don’t finish the bottle on the first day you’ll be in for a treat – the wine will show you a glimpse of its future, and the future is beautiful.
2016 Viognier sample
84% viognier, 9% pinot gris, 3% muscat, 3% riesling, 1% gewürztraminer | 13.5% alcohol | RS 7.4 g/L | cases 900
A blend of fruit from vineyards in Osoyoos and Naramata brings dimension and life to this viognier (FYI: a small amount of blending with single ‘varietal’ wines can be normal but is not often disclosed). Ripe, rich aromas of pear, peach, stone fruit, and tropical fruits with honeycomb, beeswax, and green apple. Sipping brings more tropical notes bounded by acid, a softness given rigidity by steely minerality. Mid-weight, bright and zesty with some sweetness to match foods with heat.
2014 Pinot Noir sample
13.5% alcohol | RS 2.6 g/L | cases 430
All estate fruit from Naramata, this cool climate pinot noir has one foot in the new world and one in the old. Pencil shavings, graphite, late season strawberries (those small but intensely flavoured ones with exquisite strawberry ripeness), a hint of leather and preserves. Sipping brings delicate fruit with a long shadow, bright berries and refined layers, a long finish, although it presents a touch warm (alcohol) and has a bit more tannin than I usually prefer. With these building blocks, it could be interesting to see how this wine develops in time.
2016 Malbec Nouveau sample
Identified as a project by a French winery intern, the wine underwent three types of fermentation: carbonic maceration, alcoholic, and malolactic. Its youthful vigour is evident in its bright purple/garnet colour. A touch of gamey with cured meats, graphite, fallen trees / sweet earth, dark cherry. Sipping brings more of that dark cherry with a creamy mid-palate (that malolactic ferment), easy tannins, and a shorter finish. Unusual, and worth investigating if you can find it.