(Updated reviews 20/02/16) For a couple of years now I’ve been watching the progress of Maverick Estate Winery. The wines made by South African born Bertus Albertyn impressed me right out of the gate—even before I knew that Bertus was (briefly) the winemaker at Don Triggs’ Culmina project, before moving on to Burrowing Owl.
Since I last visited (and was duly struck by the wines we tasted), Maverick has continued to evolve at a pace. When I visited last week we sat in a private room off the smart new tasting room and building completed last year.
This small family winery is fast becoming one of the Okanagan’s stars, for numerous reasons, in all too many to mention, so here are five…
1. It’s about joy and passion
One thing’s for sure: you could never accuse Bertus Albertyn of taking himself too seriously. As we went through the wines, it occurred to me that, while I’ve met more than my share of winemakers, few are as driven by such joyful passion in their work. In fact, every tasting is sprinkled with a liberal quantity of mirth.
But while there’s plenty of good humour at play, there’s also something very elemental at work here. In fact, the all too modest Bertus likes to say that his passion for wine is simple.
“I’m actually a wine drinker. I just love wine. Wine-making is an easy way to get to drinking wine,” he jokes.
I like that approach. Here’s a guy who more than knows his way around the cellar but also truly understands that it’s important to make wines that are not only interesting but approachable and fun to drink.
He also likes to quote his unofficial mentor, Croze-Hermitage’s Alan Graillot (with whom he’s worked):
“I look at the world and see that everyone is making wine to make a living. But we live to make wine. Making wine is a way of life for us.”
2. Experience Counts
Despite his youthful looks (he’s only 37), Albertyn has had plenty of experience, having worked in several of the world’s major regions.
Again he laughs: “I know just enough to get myself into a lot of trouble.”
During his early career in The Cape he worked for both large and small. After graduating from Stellenbosch (with a B.Sc. in Viticulture and Enology) he worked for Wellington Wine Cellars, in the Western Cape. Later he became head viticulturist and winemaker at Avondale, a leading edge, ecologically aware Cape producer. The latter seems to have very much helped shaped Maverick’s own philosophy.
He also greatly expanded his horizons by working in Northern hemisphere vintages between his regular duties.
In short, he rarely misses a chance to make wine. In fact when we were talking about his Okanagan experience, Bertus was careful to explain that the reason he moved on to Burrowing Owl was that the vines at Culmina weren’t ready. “Don was still a long way from making wine. I’m a winemaker and you only have so many seasons,” he told me.
The winemaker has worked vintages in Sonoma, Italy, Cotes du Ventoux and Northern Rhone, although it’s apparent that his time with Graillot left a lasting impression. “I went looking for him,” says Bertus.
3. A Fresh Start
When he first came to Canada, almost a couple of decades ago, Albertyn’s father in law, Schalk de Witt, had recognised the Okanagan’s potential. He was struck by the valley’s similarities to South Africa. Eventually, he and his wife, Lynn, purchased 48 acres in Osoyoos in 2005.
After Bertus met his wife Elzaan in 2007, they too decided to investigate possibilities in Canada.
“We drove through the valley and said, ‘this looks very similar to home.’ We tasted some of the wines—and they were quite drinkable,” jokes Bertus. (“No, there were some very good wines,” he’s quick to add.)
The couple purchased an old, neglected organic farm, on the Golden Mile near Oliver (immediately to the south of Castoro d’Oro). They and the family spent long hours clearing the property of remains of greenhouses and old sheds, one of which was converted into a winery—just to get going.
“We planted everything from scratch,” says Albertyn. “Luckily, because of my background, we actually dug the soil and planted in about one acre lots, with everything specifically geared to what we felt would grow here: we picked the varieties based on the soils.”
Maverick Estate Winery came to fruition with about 400 cases made in 2011, growing to some 4,000 cases this year.
4. A Desire to be Different
Albertyn has no illusions on the bottom line reality of owning a winery.
“It’s not really a business you get into to be a millionaire. You have to love it…
We wanted to be hands-on; to do everything ourselves. The entire family’s involved; and it just gets to be a way of life.”
He says the main idea was to move away from what’s happening in the wine industry, which he suggests is “slipping.”
“The bigger are getting bigger—not that they make bad wine it just seems to be getting more impersonal. So you have people like us who are smaller, going back to the idea of sustainable, more natural winemaking.”
“It’s about individuals,” he says.
“There are some strong personalities—and that’s what makes it interesting for people to taste different styles. Wine is about tasting: it’s sensory but also an intellectual experience. People want to know and understand what’s behind it.
“I always tell people that winemaking is such a simple thing. If you get fruit that’s nice and and clean you can make good wine. You don’t need millions of dollars worth of equipment.”
“I was in the big business of making wine and I said: ‘Done.’ We’re going to make wine and we’re going to make it our way.”
5. Value in the Bottle
Maverick’s wines continue to impress me. They’re some of the cleanest and well made, value driven drops coming out of the south valley. If you’re in the South Okanagan, make sure you drop by the family’s exquisite, just completed tasting room.
• Maverick Estate Origin 2014. Equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurz, with 10% Viognier and a splash of Pinot Gris, yield citrus and floral aromas before a juicy, quite textured tropical and lime palate with mineral hints. $17, 90 pts.
- Maverick Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014. More gooseberry and citrus than grassy on top, vibrant goosberry and citrus wrapped in broad mouthfeel, with a lengthy, gently mineral end. Think more Old World than New. $19. 92 pts.
- Maverick Estate 2014 Pinot Gris. Albertyn says it reminds him of South African Chenin Blanc. Whole cluster pressed with a portion fermented naturally in oak. Lees aged for three months to increase the palate weight. Tropical, fig and orchard fruits on top, followed by a generous, lush stone fruit palate with a spicy backbone from a splash of Gewurz. $19, 92 pts.
- Maverick Estate 2013 Pinot Noir. Hand picked into 30 pound trays, whole bunch fermented in a large wooden vat. Aged 9 months in 25% new, 75% old French oak. A Pinot that nestles comfortably between New and Old Worlds, with up front dark cherry and tobacco notes, followed by a smooth but well structured palate with earthy and mushroom notes, juicy acidity, good length and lingering spice. $29, 91 pts.
- Maverick Pinot Noir 2014 (Okanagan Valley)
Winemaker Bertus Albertyn’s inaugural Pinot release brings red fruit and earthy hints on the nose before a layered medium bodied palate of black cherry, damson and peppery notes, wrapped in structured but approachable tannins with definite mineral hints. Should develop very well over the next 5 years. 91 pts. $29
- Maverick Rubeus 2013 (Okanagan Valley)
The former Rubicon returns with a slightly different moniker, with complex aromas of mocha, mulberry and red fruits preceding a layered and evolving palate of plummy and cassis notes with good structure and well integrated tannins underpinned by flinty hints and a lingering close. 90 pts. $25
- Maverick Sophia Port-style 100% Syrah. “For the spirit, we take all the little bits we don’t use and send them out for distilling,” says Bertus. “The grapes are fermented and fortified on skins and stems. We don’t even clean the old barrel.” One of the best Okanagan Port-styles tasted to date, this wine sports intense red fruit, dark chocolate pepper and spice notes, with very well integrated alcohol that’s not in any way overt. Bring on the blue cheese. 500 ml. $30, 91 pts.
- Maverick Ella Brut Rosé 2013. This ‘methode traditionelle’ Pinot Noir – Chardonnay (80/20) is a show-stopper, due for release end of August. Hand-picked, aged 95% in stainless and 5% in used oak. Disgorged after 16 months yeast contact, with dosage added. A pretty salmon colour, with streams of fine small bubbles, strawberry and earthy notes on the nose with a balanced, well textured and creamy, definitive Pinot palate. 93 pts.
Also due for release shortly: Syrah 2013 and Rubeus (the re-named Rubicon).
I could go on. For instance: Bertus is also a cheesemaker—who knew? And he also made Broken Ladder Cider for BC Tree Fruits …
My hunch? For Maverick Estate, it’s just the beginning.
More at maverickwine.ca