How to Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (February 14, 2003)
Every emerging wine region needs a magnet, a visual attraction that draws
wine lovers to the area (and, more importantly, those who have yet to
see the light).
California has many such magnets: Gil Nickel's antique car collection
at Far Niente; Francis Ford Coppola's movie memorabila at Neibaum-Coppola;
the US$5 million gold nugget the size of a barrel at Ironstone Vineyards
in the Sierra Foothills; the magnificent art at The Hess Collection on
Mount Veeder and Clos Pegase in Calistoga; the Opus One winery that resembles
a Mayan temple and Robert Mondavi's Copia, America's Center for Food,
Wine & the Arts in Napa City.
We're beginning to get the message in Canada: to be successful a wine
region needs to stimulate agri-tourism. After a drive from the city there
has to be something for the consuming public to see other than tanks and
bottling lines. Concerts and events are fine, but you need an all-year-round
Ontario will get its own magnet in four years' time when Le Clos Jordan's
winery is finally built. Designed by Frank Gehry, it will draw architecture
buffs from around the world with its amazing roof that looks like whipped
egg whites. The design is so complex that it will take three and a half
years to build. Ground will be broken next spring.
In British Columbia, the magnet is already in place: Mission Hill Family
Estate Winery. In 28 years of chasing the grape around the world I have
visited literally thousands of wineries and I can say without being accused
of chauvinism that this is the most extraordinary facility I have ever
If Dionysus dreamed of a cathedral to celebrate wine he could happily
take residence here. A soaring bell tower dominates the valley, its bells
tolling the quarter hour. The crypt-like cellars with their massive curved
cement ceilings are spaces for contemplation. The tasting rooms and glass
collection boast museum-quality artifacts. Every detail is in perfect
The remodelling job cost owner Anthony von Mandl $31 million. This investment
has given a boost of confidence to every other winemaker in the Valley
and they, too, have started to put money into their vineyards and infrastructures.
Vincor, the other BC wine enterprise with deep pockets, has also been
busy investing in the province. Their joint venture with Groupe Taillan,
the large Bordeaux shipper, has produced one of the best red wines I have
tasted from Canadian soil. At the newly-designed winery in Oliver, Pascal
Madevon, a winemaker from the Médoc, made Osoyoos Larose 2001.
I sampled this wine from barrel last September; it will be bottled in
April after 18 months in oak. Very St. Emilion in style, it's a blend
of 70 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 per cent
Cabernet Franc. Dense purple in colour, it offers a many-layered, fragrant
nose of vanilla, cedar, chocolate, violets and blueberries. Firmly structured,
well extracted with ripe tannins, it finishes with a minty note. This
was Madevon's debut vintage in Canada and he likened his first child to
"a Third Growth Bordeaux." The wine augurs well for the future
of a young vineyard.
Vincor's talented resident winemaker, Bruce Nicholson, walked away with
the "Red Wine of the Year" trophy at the Canadian Wine Awards
announced in November: Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietor's Reserve
Shiraz 2000. As good as this wine is, I preferred the blended J-T Proprietor's
Grand Reserve Cabernet Shiraz 2001 when I tasted them side by side in
September, so watch for that one.
And last September Vincor saw its joint venture with the Osoyoos Indian
Band bear fruit with the opening of Nk'Mip Cellars – the first aboriginal
winery in North America. Although the wines – all from the 2000 harvest
– were competently made, this first vintage of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay,
Pinot Noir and Merlot were relatively costly for the quality.
Certainly the winery, set in Canada's only desert, has an attraction
that must be unique in the wine world – a cage of rattlesnakes caught
on the property, tagged with an electronic device for tracking and then
released. Signs throughout the 50-acre heritage centre warn you to keep
to the paths.
To find out more:
"Master architect Frank
Gehry presents design plans for Le Clos Jordan winery in Canada's Niagara
"Nk'Mip Cellars –
North America's First Aboriginal Winery"