Natural wines. Coming to a glass near you, soon.

Natural Wine Defined

What’s a natural wine, you might ask? It means the wine in your glass is in the purest possible form. It’s the closest it can be to the fruit that was in the vineyard, preferably organically or bio-dynamically farmed. Most likely it’s made with wild (not commercial) yeast, and with no sulphur added. Also, finished unfiltered and unfined—with minimal intervention. In the end, the goal is to achieve the purest expression of the site and variety.


Natural Wine on a roll

Haywire’s Christine Coletta is among a handful of BC winery owners  leading the charge for Natural Wines. The co-founder of Haywire / Okanagan Crush Pad has long been a big part of the changing face of BC winemaking. In the last few years, Coletta and chief winemaker Matt Dumayne have been upping their game even more. From the outset, Okanagan Crush Pad has followed a different path. It’s now the province’s largest user of concrete fermenters and, more recently, amphora vessels.

The winery is also among a small cadre of Canadians who attend RAW WINE, the UK’s rapidly growing Natural Wine fair. Offshoots are now also in New York, Berlin and, as of this year, Los Angeles.
RAW (as its website states) “celebrates wines with emotion. Wines that have a humanlike, or living, presence. They are also wines that are an authentic expression of a place. They are the polar opposite of industrialised, big-brand, manufactured, nothing-but-alcoholic-grape-juice wines, that use imagery and suggestion to sell a product.”


Embracing Amphora

I’m always impressed by Matt Dumayne’s wines when I taste at OCP. That was again the case last month, when several made my 90 point plus list. But what I wasn’t ready for was the first taste of 2016 Free Form Red, a 100 percent Pinot Noir made in amphora. A couple of things to note. This is the first Pinot to come from Haywire’s spectacular, Rabbitbrush ringed Garnet Valley property. It’s also one of the highest elevation vineyards in the Okanagan—and certified organic. The wine is from last year’s vintage and has never been in oak. That’s now the norm at Okanagan Crush Pad, which has only a smattering of barrels remaining, used only for its clients’ wines. They’ve also just installed a wall of concrete, square tanks, which will allow for increased production. Next year 8,000 out of 20,000 Haywire cases will be natural wine.

I was struck by the purity of fruit, both on the nose and palate, as well as the mouth filling structure. There’s also an elegance woven through with a beautiful savoury element.  A seamless expression of Pinot. 93 pts. $55. Look for it later this fall.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Okanagan Crush Pad has purchased several more amphorae.


An all natural showcase

An array of natural wines from across the Okanagan

An array of natural wines from across the Okanagan

A tasting before last month’s BCWI Colours fall tasting presented a few natural (and close to natural) wines. They were chosen and introduced by educator Michaela Morris. When it comes to natural wines, as they say, “your mileage may vary.” Or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Not everyone is an immediate fan of what can be a highly esoteric and wide ranging style.

From this tasting and others, what was interesting for me is the performance of Syrah. It’s a varietal that seems to lend itself well to natural winemaking—and amphora in particular, and even concrete pipe.

Hard to find but worth tracking down, they include…

• Bella Wines Gamay Noir Ancestrale Sparkling 2016.

Pretty, medium salmon in the glass with wild berry notes on top. Yeasty and leesy notes on the palate and more berry notes evolving. 90 pts. c. $40

• Little Farm Pied de Cuvée Wild Ferment Riesling 2016.

Made with the purest form of natural yeast available. “We dump it (the grapes) in a bucket and leave it in the vineyard” (to ferment), says Rhys Pender. His partner Alishan Driediger is the winemaker. Definite Riesling varietal nose, with baked and apple skin notes, and a firm mineral undertone through the finish. 91 pts. $26

• Summerhill ‘Summerhill Vineyard’ Grüner Veltliner 2015 VQA.

Certified biodynamic, from the generally acclaimed pioneer of the BC organic movement, produced from a small parcel of GV planted on a whim. Precarious winemaking from partial stuck fermentation. Not as varietally apparent as some of the others. Some citrus and mineral notes with good fruit and acid balance. 89 pts.

• Sperling Vineyards Amber Pinot Gris 2016.

Quite opaque in the glass, with rusty towards caramel colour, tropical and stonefruit on the nose. A pleasing juiciness on the palate, a touch of acidity and a little heat in the finish. 90 pts. $90

• Tinhorn Creek Innovation Series Kerner Orange Wine 2016.

A good natural wine example, lifted stone fruit and citrus nose. Orange, apricot and peach palate, sporting a savoury edge and fresh acidity through the finish. 91 pts. Only at select restaurants. A hallmark wine for many reasons, not the least of which is that the vines have been pulled out. We’ll just have to wait to see if the Innovation Series continues under the new ownership of Andrew Peller. Hopefully it will.

• Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage Amphora Project 2014.

Aromas of crushed red and dark berry fruits, layers of redcurrant and herbal hints with mineral notes and cedar, all unmasked by oak,  90 pts.

Tantalus Pinot Noir 2015

Wild fermented, unfiltered and unfined. Good varietal expression on the nose. Dark cherry and plum before a juicy, well balanced palate. Cherry and chocolate notes, approachable tannins and spice, lengthy end. Some sulphur used. 91 pts.

• Laughing Stock Amphorah Syrah 2016.

Intense purple, formidable blue fruit and cassis notes. Again, a pure fruit flavour that seems to the hallmark of amphora wines. Rounded and well integrated tannins, with spice and pepper plus more layers and complexity. 92 pts

• Clos de Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2013

Blend of cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc, hand harvested and vinified separately. Expressive red and blue fruits on the nose. Juicy, layered raspberry and cassis, defined by a round, plush and plummy palate wrapped in approachable tannins through a lengthy end. Unfiltered and unfined. 90 pts.

Amphora at Chile’s de Martino winery, one of the first to revive their use