With two of the best vintages in recent memory (2012, 2013) and a third in the barrel (2014), most agree: it’s a pretty good time to be making red wines in the Okanagan Valley. However, it’s already been several years that Bill Lui has been thinking seriously about what it would take to make the best red wine the Okanagan can produce.
After building a successful pharmaceutical business, and working in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, Lui (who moved to BC as a youngster) decided to study wine. He schooled locally, took winemaking courses at California’s UC Davis and tasted extensively through Bordeaux’s First Growth wineries.
Late last year, Lui officially launched One Faith, a project undertaken (a few years back) with the aid of pioneering Harry McWatters (consultant, VQA guru and founder of Sumac Ridge estate). The name is a reflection of Lui’s devout faith, as well as an homage to famed Opus One, the Rothschild – Mondavi Napa Valley collaboration.
Faith in First Growth
No question, Lui is truly dedicated, and unswervingly passionate about his goal: “to produce Canada’s first First Growth, an exceptional wine of unparalleled quality.”
His comments have pushed a few buttons in wine circles. “First growth” is a term rarely, if ever, used outside of Bordeaux, where it designates a parcel of vines known to produce wine of the highest possible quality. Introduced in 1855, it can be employed by only the legendary châteaux of Bordeaux: Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild.
Even though he’s already declared: “One Faith Vineyards is Canada’s premier First Growth wine,” Lui is anxious to clarify that he uses the term as an aspiration rather than a ‘fait accompli’.
“It could be some years before that,” he says.
Lui was anxious to source the best fruit available, so he turned to McWatters for Bordeaux varieties grown in his Sundial Vineyard (the portion of the original Black Sage vineyard that McWatters declined to sell to Constellation Wines, retained for his own Time Estate winery).
For winemaking he turned to Anne Vawter, a respected Napa vigneron.
Vawter (whose grandfather was born in Trail, BC) visits the Okanagan six times a year to work on the project from vineyard to barrel. Despite being from elsewhere, the winemaker says she’s “passionate about finding that Okanagan character and not making a global wine.”
Vawter adds that she likes the iron ore—almost oxide—streak she sees in Black Sage. The “last thing she wants to do,” she says, “is to make perceptibly sweet, over-unctious wine.” So far, she’s been impressed with the quality of the fruit she’s had to work with.
A Taste of Faith
Opening up in the glass, One Faith 2012 (45% Merlot, 30% Cab. Sauv. and 25 Cab. Franc) yields vibrant aromas of vanilla, damson and dark berry fruit, with a still youthful palate showing sweet fruit, cassis, leather, and chocolate notes, appealing viscosity with good balance of oak and fruit, integrated tannins, and a lingering, slightly mineral finish. 91 pts. Limited supply.
There’s an inherent risk—some would call it a calculated gamble—in bringing to the market a singular wine heralded with such a bold statement. Only time will tell (as will blind tasting beside comparable wines and vintages) if One Faith can justify its gutsy ‘first growth’ Okanagan claim—or its equally bullish price: $495 for a three bottle case. More at onefaithvineyards.com
There’s a bit of a back story here. When the glowing press material arrived for One Faith, I was truly intrigued to note this quote from renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson:
“Easy to see how it has become a cult wine in BC.” – Jancis Robinson, MW”
I was a tad surprised, considering that the wine hadn’t yet been released.
I e-mailed Ms. Robinson:
“Can you please tell me when / where you tasted the wine and if there’s a review out there?”
She obliged me with a reply by return:
“It is a very partial quote! I tasted the wine at the Master of Wine symposium in Florence in May and reported on it in this article: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mws-collected-works-the-tasting-notes (Members only page)
I introduced my tasting note with long background to the project and then my tasting note in full is
‘Winemaker Anne Vawter is ex Napa and it tastes like it. Sweet palate entry and a typical sweet bordeaux-blend nose. Some freshness. It’s well made even if it’s not that distinctive. Easy to see how it has become a cult wine in BC.’ “
Even though the timing was off (Robinson had been misinformed as to the release date) I thought her observation was interesting.
The moral of the story? Never use a partial quote…