Stag’s Hollow Winery, which was founded by Larry and Linda Pruegger, just outside of ‘OK Falls’ over 20 years ago, in 1995 has always intrigued me. Often as not, I find myself in awe of the perseverance displayed by winemakers and viticulturists. And in Stag’s Hollow’s case, that evolution has been truly fascinating. What intrigues me, in particular, is how this winery is so representative of the different directions BC winemakers are taking in seeking out lesser known varieties to see how they do. Although, in the case of Stag’s Hollow, they have plenty of experience with lesser known grapes …
Surely, one of the Okanagan’s more distinct wineries, Stag’s Hollow was founded on a 10 acre vineyard which was home to the region’s largest planting of Vidal, that was being sold to a major winery to produce ice wine. The variety is better known in Ontario, where it remains by far the most widely planted white variety; and, indeed, is commonly used to make ice wine.
Early on, the Prueggers realised the challenge of selling Vidal; and became one of the first producers in the valley to depart from the traditional norms of conservative wine labelling when they launched ‘Tragically Vidal’. It’s a fun and edgy take on the idiosyncratic variety, and a nod to the fact that Vidal, which makes a beautifully expressive wine, was rapidly vanishing from the BC landscape under the wave of better known varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and, in particular, Pinot Gris.
Their experiment turned out to be a success, so much so that they wound up returning Vidal to rootstock on which they had previously grafted Chardonnay. The current release (2015) shows vibrant aromas of pear and zest notes followed by a luscious, juicy pear and tropical plate with good mouthfeel and just enough acidity to keep it structured. Think pad Thai or other spicy bites. ($17, 90 pts.)
Stag’s Hollow’s New Horizons
Winemaker Dwight Sick (above) who came on board in 2008 (after starting out with very reputable Pentage Winery, just up the way in Penticton) has worked with the couple to move the winery in different directions, most notably fine tuning and focusing on the more established varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir; but also in forging a different path by boldly going where others have not.
In 2011 Stag’s Hollow purchased land closer to the town of Okanagan Falls and transformed it into a vineyard on which it could focus on Pinot Noir. The soils, with the remains of an alluvial fan from the nearby namesake creek, suggested definite promise. But with Sick’s encouragement, they established Tempranillo and Albarino, as well as Italian varieties Dolcetto and even lesser known Teroldego. Early signs are that these were inspired choices. Dolcetto is grown in Piedmont in Northwest Italy, in a cooler climate setting not unlike where it’s planted here. Albarino also thrives in a cooler environment—although one thing that Stag’s Hollow won’t have to worry about is the moisture that can be a challenge for some maritime plantings in northwest Spain and Portugal.
I was lucky enough to taste their 2015 Albarino last week (to be released later this spring) and was impressed by its intensity (helped by a touch of malolactic fermentation), citrus and stone fruit notes, along with layers of flinty minerality that suggest it’s a natural for expressing the terroir. (91 pts). It should also be a killer pairing with west coast seafood.
Stag’s Hollow Tempranillo 2013
A truly impressive example of what this variety might be able to do: up front black fruit and tobacco notes before a well balanced, full and structured palate of cassis and black cherry, with spicy notes underpinned by good acidity, and a lingering end. 92 pts. $25.99.
Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Grassy and citrus notes before on top followed by a pleasantly viscous, mouth filling palate with layers of citrus and tropical notes. $17, 91 pts.
Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Pinot Noir 2014
The flagship Pinot yields black fruit with cherry and plum, along with very good balance of fruit and acidity on a fairly full bodied palate with stony hints and a pleasing savoury edge. 92 pts. $34.99
Also coming soon, perfect for summer, a citrus and mineral toned, frizzante Muscat Ottonel / Riesling (90 pts).
If you’ve been to ‘OK Falls’’ the chances are you made a stop for Tickleberries ice cream. Next time, instead of just continuing south, turn off down the road to discover Stag’s Hollow and their neighbouring wineries: You’ll be well rewarded.
Plus, the chances are you’ll discover there’s a whole lot more growing there than you ever imagined. Welcome to the future of BC.