BC wines from plonk to world class in forty years. by John Gerum

You’ve come a long way baby! That famous advertising line from the 1970’s pretty well sums up the growth of quality of BC wines from the early 1970’s to present. We often take for granted the type of BC wines we enjoy now such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Forty years ago British Columbians’ had to endure sweet sparkling wines made from Concord grapes and fortified wines whose alcohol levels disguised the off flavours and foxy aromas. If you wanted a good bottle of wine you had to buy imported French or German wines.


It was only in the mid-seventies that grape growers backed up by government research grants began to experiment with premium vinifera grapes that produced world class wines that mostly came from Europe at that time. Thousands of different vines were planted and only a few showed promise. The vines selected were producing predominately white grapes. A few brave souls ventured into growing and producing top quality wines in the late seventies lead by such wineries as Sumac Ridge and Gray Monk. These wineries along with eleven others was the sum total of wineries in 1984.

In 1988 Canada signed the North American Free Trade agreement and the BC wine industry lost their long term government subsidies. Without these subsidies the wine industry as it stood could no longer compete with imported quality wines from around the world. Many left the business but a few pioneers realized the potential of the Okanagan and persevered.

Fast forward to 2015 where over 240 wineries now call BC home. 900 hundred different wines are released every season and the list keeps growing every year. BC produces some of the best aromatic style wines in the world lead by Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Ehrenfelser, Kerner and Siegerrebe.Reds are also strong with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon leading the pack.

Find out how far the wines of BC have come by attending BC Uncorked Wine and Food Festival in Port Moody on October 24th.The festival is raising funds for cancer research. http://www.bcuncorked.com


It’s not very often you can experience the birth of an iconic winery and get invited to tour the vineyards with one of the founders of the modern BC wine movement. I was fortunate to be invited to discuss, tour and sample wines with Harry McWatters at his newest project, TIME Estate Winery, in the Okanagan Valley on the Black Sage Bench near Oliver, BC.
Harry has been involved in the BC wine industry since the 1960’s and has 48 vintages of experience under his belt. After touring the vineyards and winery with him I am convinced this winery will set a new standard in quality and sheer wow factor in years to come.

We began the tour by hopping in Harry’s truck and surveying the vineyards that have been owned by Harry since 1992. TIME Estate has a large variety of Bordeaux grapes growing on the 115 acres of prime wine real estate. Harry and long-time vineyard manager Dick Cleave – who himself has 35 years of grape growing experience – are able to coax rich aromas, strong tannins and full flavor from these vines by placing the vines at the correct angles to gain maximum sun exposure, and spacing the vines to produce large quantities of outstanding grapes.

The Sundial Vineyard is an ideal site to grow premium grapes with a southern exposure and stone free sandy soil which drains the root system of the vines very efficiently. This meticulous attention to detail and decades of experience results in red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc reaching ideal ripeness levels. They also plant Carmenere, a rarer varietal that seems to respond well to the climate and soils of the Black Sage Bench. White wine grapes grown here include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon that seem to pick up more tropical nuances than the rest of the Okanagan.

These vineyards are so ideal for growing vinifera grapes that TIME was able to harvest Syrah grapes from third leaf which is unheard of in most of British Columbia, or any other wine producing regions. Every detail is explored including changing the traditional east west planting of the vines to a more advantaged north south position, experimenting with irrigation systems and reducing yields to encourage maximum flavor development and sugar content.

The tasting room and winery are in a temporary building on the property, but the foundation of the winery is complete. Harry and I toured the cavernous underground facility that was originality designed in a more vertical fashion. However Harry decided that the vertical design was too intrusive and commissioned a more vertical design that is buried deep into the side of a hill.
The lower portion of the future winery is complete with a sparkling wine vault and riddling room as Harry plans to craft only the finest sparkling wine using the traditional method found in fine Champagne wines. On the upper levels the tasting room, a hospitality suite, four guest suites and commercial kitchen are planned. There will be no restaurant at TIME Estates but they are planning many food and wine pairing events that is sure to delight visitors.
TIME has released wines since the 2011 harvest and I had the opportunity to sample vintages with Harry ranging from 2012 to 2014. These are no starter wines; they are outstanding in quality and would stand up to some of the world’s best wine region offerings. When TIME Estates is in full production they will craft approximately 30,000 cases of wine a year.

The 2013 Cabernet Franc is already sold out and I would expect the entire portfolio to be sold out soon due to the excellent price points, quality and small case production. Here are some notes on the wines I tried at TIME Estate Winery.

Sundial White, 2013
A successful blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc this 100% cold fermented wine results in a mixed fruit basket of pear, apple, melon and citrus flavors. This slightly off dry white has a surprisingly creamy and complex texture for a wine at this price point. To balance this texture the wine displays angular acidity that leads to a racy, fresh finish. 88 points. $20
Chardonnay, 2013
Partly fermented and aged in oak this wine defines the modern Chardonnay style of balanced fruit to oak ratio. A combination of pineapple, melon and citrus fruit greet the nose. French oak aging adds complex touches of toasty vanilla and caramel flavors. A very well balanced Chardonnay, worthy of five to eight years cellar ageing to bring out potential tertiary flavours. 89 points. $28
(White) Meritage, 2014
If you have never tried a white meritage this would be the one to try! This wine is a classic blend of two thirds Sauvignon Blanc to one third Semillon. Partially fermented in oak, the creamy mouth feel of the Semillon blends seamlessly with tangy Sauvignon fruit. It features a perfumed nose that includes sweet melon, orange blossom and nectarine. The finish is extensive; I could best describe this wine as opulent. 91 points. $25
(Red) Meritage, 2012
This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc charges out of the glass with red and black fruits, plum, sage and toasty clove spice. Complex, extracted and well-structured this Meritage will age well for eight to ten years. A price of $30 makes this an outstanding cost friendly candidate for your cellar. 91 points. $30
Syrah, 2012
Only 100 cases of this bold and complex Syrah are available. On the nose jammy blackberry, blueberry fruit with hints of eucalyptus, nutmeg and pepper. The Syrah grapes were fermented on the skins for three weeks which extracted maximum flavor and color from the grapes. This is a warm climate Syrah that delivers quality and complexity. Another cellar candidate, I would age for five to eight. 92 points. $35

I thanked Harry for his generous hospitality as he had a flight to catch. Harry is a busy man with a talent for creating a series of successful wineries and an ambassador of British Columbia wines. The new winery will be a crowning jewel in Harry’s career as time will tell.

What wines should I use for cooking? by John Gerum

wine cooking
A reader asked me a to write a blog outlining the types of wines to use when cooking up favourite recipes. I’m only too happy to oblige since I have had the privilege of working with top chefs across the country and learned a trick or two from them!

The reason wine is added or used in cooking is to enhance and add flavour without using extra salt or fat, and to add an extra dimension of flavour. The good news for people with a low tolerance for sulphites is that simmering removes sulphites from wine. Also simmering a dish with wine removes alcohol from the wine; after 30 minutes of simmering about 35% of the wine’s alcohol is all that remains.
Wine is used as a marinade or as a cooking liquid but beware of cooking wines sold in supermarkets, they contain a high amount of salt and other additives you may not want in your dish. Do not add wine to a dish at the end of the cooking process, it needs to cook at least 5 to 10 minutes to blend into the dish, otherwise the wines’ strong flavour will overwhelm the recipe.

The general rule to use when purchasing wine for cooking is don’t add anything that you would not drink by itself. Cheap, poorly made wine will not help in adding flavour to a recipe, it is better not to use any at all. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy an expensive bottle, a well thought out $15 bottle will work out nicely, and you can drink a glass while cooking or enjoy it with your meal.
cooking wine
White wines are generally used for cream and cheese sauces or poultry and fish dishes. Reds are used for brown sauces and red meat recipes.

If a recipe calls for a dry white wine, consider a Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps a Carmen or Sendero from Chile. If you are cooking a spicy or bolder dish a Riesling/Gewürztraminer from Hardy’s of Australia will work well. Sauvignon Blanc works well with fresh herbs as it accents the flavours found in herbs. Avoid heavily oaked Chardonnay as this can overwhelm lighter dishes.

When the recipe calls for a dry red wine consider a Shiraz, Grenache or Merlot for full flavoured, longer simmering dishes. I suggest Las Rocas Garnacha, Spain, Nero del Nago, Italty or Rosemount Shiraz, Australia. To deglaze a pan or for pasta sauces look to lighter styles of wine. I love cooking with Chianti from Italy; it brings pasta sauces to life. I use basic Chianti such as Cecchi, or search for La Bastide from France.

Fortified wines are a great way to add intense and bold flavours to your sauces. They have a longer shelf life than table wines but make sure that they are still sound before adding them to your recipe. Many are available in 375 ml half sized bottles, ideal for cooking. Meat based casseroles and slow cookers are making a comeback and Ports are perfect for these types of foods. I use a LBV (Late Bottle Vintage) Port; any producer from Portugal will do just fine. Use an authentic dry Sherry when sautéing or adding to stews; a dry Olorosa Sherry works well. If you desire the flavours of the Mediterranean when sautéing use a splash of Pellegrino Marsala, its light fruit and caramel flavours will add punch to these dishes.

Remember that your meal is only as good as the ingredients, so use the above guidelines and bon appetite!

Do you drink Cabernet Sauvignon? by John Gerum

The Cabernet Sauvignon vine has its origins in southern France. It is a chance crossing of two other vines; Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Sauvignon can be found in most wine producing countries around the world including the Okanagan valley. The northern area of the Okanagan is too cool for the growth of Cabernet but the southern end of the valley between Oliver and Osoyoos and into the Simikameen Valley is ideal for this vine. The key to good Cabernet in this part of the valley is to keep yields low so the subsequent fruit is more concentrated and fully ripened.

Drinking cab

The vine produces small berries with tough skins. It results in the vine being very resistant to disease and mildew. Top quality cabernets’ contain higher levels of tannin, a natural preservative found in red wines, therefore these wines can be aged for decades which add complexity and develop new flavours. The textbook aromas, bouquet and taste of Cabernet Sauvignon can include black currant, cassis, black cherry, mint, leather, cigar box and cedar. The vine produces better fruit and fruiter wines in a warmer climate such as California and Australia. In cooler climates the resulting wines can often be less fruity and more vegetal with flavours of green pepper.

Many winemakers will age Cabernet Sauvignon in oak barrels to add extra dimension to the wines resulting in smoke, spice and cedar bouquets. These barrels are charred on the inside to add smoky and meaty extracts found in top quality examples. The wine is also used extensively in higher quality blended wines. Bordeaux wines, which can command prices of thousands of dollars per bottle, are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and some lesser known varietals. The term Meritage is used in North America to denote the blend of wines used in the Bordeaux fashion. In Australia the preferred varietal to blend with is Shiraz especially in the Barossa valley region of South east Australia.

Whichever manner in which it’s used, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best varietals in the world and is worth exploring at your local wine store.