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A visit to the Okanagan Crush Pad

Concrete fermenters at the OKanagan Crush Pad
Concrete fermenters at the OKanagan Crush Pad
Timo Puolitaipale

On an overcast spring day shortly before the Okanagan Crush Pad Winery opened for the 2014 season, we had the chance to visit the winery located on the 10 acre Switchback vineyard overlooking Lake Okanagan in Summerland, British Columbia and taste through some of the wines made there, both by the owners who make the Haywire and Bartier Scholefield wines, and the winery’s clients.

My only previous exposure was mainly from a Haywire Portfolio Tasting two years earlier where I had my first taste of not only Haywire wines but Kurtis, a Semillon made by Vancouver sommelier Kurtis Kolt that was the first in a line of Sommelier-created wines from the winery’s Wine Campus program that each year allows Vancouver’s sommelier of the year to create 100 cases of wine.

Now, two years later, it is interesting to see how the winery has grown from a small offering of Pinot Gris in 2010 to a 12 000 case production and a growing list of clients now only four years later.

There’s a buzz about this place that, even on this quiet spring day, is in the air, and it has a lot to do with the innovation that the winery has embraced, unafraid to test out different approaches to achieve sometimes splendid results.

A part of this innovation are the California-made concrete eggs that the winery is using more and more in their winemaking. Lined up down one wing are the black, red-eyed, war-of-the-worlds style concrete eggs that began the story.

Down the main stretch of the building are the big boys, the titanic new concrete fermenters that dwarf the original eggs. This is a clear sign of the major growth in volume and the increased use of concrete, which as you’ll see from my notes below, are proving to bring out the “truth” of the fruit in the grapes.

And off in the corner (well, not quite in the corner, because “nobody puts baby in the corner!”) was the newest of the new, an orphan of a clay amphora fresh off the boat from Italy and ready to dance. There’s talk that the amphora may be used to make an orange wine, something the winery has not tried before.

But enough gawking around the winery and off to the tasting room.

THE WHITES

First up were the whites, among them two Chardonnays that knocked my socks off, the Haywire Canyonview Chardonnay (2012) with its notes of birch leaves and lakeside saunas and then the Coolshanagh Chardonnay (2012) named after the Naramata vineyard from whence it came and then raised in steel, concrete and oak, making it the super-powered Chardonnay it is. Here’s my broader tasting notes that I wrote about on Chardonnay Day earlier this summer.

A truly interesting comparison was tasting two Haywire 2012 Pinot Gris from the same Switchback vineyard, both raised in concrete but one wild fermented (wtih 100% wild yeast) and the other “tamely” fermented. It’s the first vintage the winery has produced the wild fermented Pinot Gris, and we’re hoping to see more of this not only here but at other wineries.

THE REDS

A duo and then a trio of Pinots kicked off our reds. Haywire’s white label Pinot Noirs from 2011 and 2012 were both solid, However, the silver labeled trio from Canyonview vineyard kicked things into high gear.

First up was the 2011, which with its cherry and spice and tannins that tickled my fancy, was "solide" as the Parisians might say. And it looks like we’re not the only ones who really liked it as it would soon receive the The Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wines. It was good to see the Lt. Gov gave the wine its stamp of approval because your truly never got beyond the rank of a lowly sergeant and as we in the game know, low rank doesn’t push bottle.

But the 2012 vintage rolled over anything that came before it. If the 2011 was oh-so-fine, the 2012 (which is not on the store shelves yet) is something to look forward to. It was even more refined, with a silkiness and spiciness that I admired. Haywire-Pinot-Noir-2011

We tucked into a barrel sample of the 2013, which was a treat and showed promise and continuity of style, but I won’t say much beyond that mainly because I don’t want to affect the Okanagan Pinot futures market (oh there’s no such thing? Business idea!).

These silver-label Pinots were aged in old French oak barrels then moved into egg-shaped concrete tanks for further rest time. The purity of fruit comes through and the limited oak contact, with the concrete leaving no flavor imprint, allowing the wine to mature on its own strengths.

There it is, another jaunt in the books and boy was it a hoot. Learned so much, got to geek out on wine with the ever so hospitable Julian Scholefield, and taste through wines that left me thinking there’s no new Okanagan on the horizon, it’s already here, and this little valley is proving there’s some world-class winemaking going on north of the 49th.