(Updated 20/02/16 with 2013 reviews)
Vanessa Vineyard is at the eastern end of British Columbia’s stunning Similkameen Valley. The place (which reminds me a bit of New Zealand’s Gibbston Valley) is extraordinarily beautiful. But the other thing about the Similkameen that’s truly striking—and unavoidable—is the rocks. Big rocks—those are some ginormous mountains—and little rocks are what sets Similkameen apart.
A couple of other facts make Similkameen distinct: whereas most valleys in B.C. run north to south, this mountain-locked valley runs east to west. Also, Similkameen has the highest concentration of organic farming anywhere in Canada. With more than 40% of all crops grown organically (on 88 Certified Organic Farms), the region is increasingly hailed as the ‘Organic Capital of Canada.’
Ultimately, though, in matters of wine, it really is all about the rocks.
Unquestionably, one of the most anticipated new arrivals of the year, Similkameen’s Vanessa Vineyard’s inaugural release lives up to expectations. It’s good to see yet one more example of the quality (and complexity) that’s driving the true potential of the Similkameen Valley, in its own right.
This project is very much terroir driven, which means that these wines are grown on some of the rockiest terrain you’ll find anywhere, even for Similkameen. The soils are ideal, quite barren, windswept and well drained—and the rocks (which have great heat retention) are significant.
All those factors help to explain why the wines just released are impressive, even in their relative infancy.
The vineyard (a partnership between Vancouver businessmen Suki Sekhon and John Welson) was planted in 2006. The west-south-west facing, 75 acre vineyard (which is on the sloping, north side of Highway 3 not far from Seven Stones) turned out to be a serious challenge to plant. In fact, the rock crusher brought in to help prepare the land wore out its teeth in no time flat.
There were signs early on that Vanessa might be something special. If the name sounds familiar, the grapes have been going into Sandhill Vanessa Vineyards Cab-Merlot, made by Howard Soon. The Peller master winemaker has always been excited about the vineyard’s possibilities—and consulted on these new wines.
These are impressive early releases, with the promise of much more to come as the vines continue to mature.
Vanessa Vineyard Meritage 2012 (Similkameen Valley)
(50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc.) Vibrant black fruit with definite cassis on the nose, followed by a plush, though not extracted, well structured palate of blackberry and anise, with well integrated tannins, a pronounced mineral streak and a lengthy, spicy finish. (Aged 6 months pre-blend and 12 months post blend in French and American 60 percent new oak.) 91 pts. $36
Vanessa Vineyards Syrah 2012 (Similkameen Valley)
(94% Syrah, 6% Viognier). The heat units and lengthy exposure suggest this should indeed be a good site for Syrah. Aromas of damson, mocha and cedar-y notes, followed by a generous palate of black fruit, chocolate and pepper notes, and some smokiness before a lengthy, spicy end. 91 pts. $39
Look for the wines to be in the market in the next couple of weeks.
Vanessa Vineyard Meritage 2013 (Similkameen Valley)
Lifted black fruit, blackberry and cassis precede a plush and well balanced palate of blackberry, black cherry and anise, with well integrated tannins, a pronounced, stony mineral streak and a lengthy, spicy finish. 91 pts. $36
Vanessa Vineyards Syrah 2013 (Similkameen Valley)
Second release shows more varietal character from still young vines, with a splash of Viognier for complexity. Black plum, mocha and cedar notes precede a meaty palate of black fruit, chocolate and pepper notes with some spice and smoke before a lingering end. 92 pts. $39
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