Lana & Jon Popham loving tend the only Certified Organic Vineyard on Vancouver Island. Halfway down the driveway you'll know why it's called Barking Dog Vineyard, as George the yellow Lab trots out and woofs his greeting. John's father Ed Popham, a Victoria lawyer and lacrosse legend, dreamed of a vineyard on this well-sited Saanich farm, and Lana & Jon carry on his legacy. The main varieties are Ortega and Bacchus, two cool-climate whites that produce a crisp, balanced blend. Newer plantings include 4 clones of Pinot Noir, and Foch, a hybrid red that makes an earthy red wine.
As Lana is fond of saying, "Can you taste the love?"
Black Hills Winery sits in an enviable position on the Black Sage Bench between Oliver and Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan Valley. Don't let the Quonset hut and causal air fool you, Bob & Senka Tennant, and Pete and Susan McCarrell are serious growers and winemakers. Their Nota Bene, a Bordeaux-style blend, is one of the most sought-after reds in Canada, and their new Sauvignon/Semillon blend, called Alibi, sells out within days of release. Fortunately for us, Senka has her hands full with Note Bene and Alibi, and we're able to take the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from their Sharp Rock Vineyard. The site produces grapes of deep intensity and a characteristic earthiness. Pinot is at the edge of its range here but, handled carefully, shows wonderful cherry and black fruit flavours. The ripe Chardonnay is well-suited to barrel-fermentation.
WINTER: Pruning begins in January or February when the vines are dormant. On Vancouver Island we prune down to one or two of last year's canes, and lay them out along the wire as arms. In the Okanagan many growers use permanent arms, called cordons, and prune last year's shoots down to two buds.
SPRING: There's a magical moment in late March or early April when the tiny buds break open and the first green shoots emerge. Then it's all the grower can do to keep up with a spray program (to keep mildew and botrytis at bay), and to train the growing shoots up into the trellis. The goal is a light, airy canopy that allows sunlight and air to circulate within the canopy.
SUMMER: As the fruit clusters emerge, the vine gradually shifts gears
and starts to develop and ripen its fruit. The grower responds by managing the crop load through thinning and dropping fruit, ensuring that the vine doesn't bear too much or too little crop. The keyword in viticulture is balance.
FALL: As the growing season wanes, everyone prays for a dry, warm fall. Grower and winemaker follow "the numbers" carefully: Brix (sugar), acid, and pH. But there are subtler signs of ripeness, including grape color, browning of seeds and stems, softening berries, and of course taste. Finally picking day comes and all hell breaks loose in the scramble for bins, pickers, equipment and tank space. Meanwhile the vines, having completed another annual cycle, drop their leaves and settle into dormancy till next spring.
Ken Winchester started making wine in a garage in Montreal back in 1983 and hasn't looked back. While working as Editorial Director of Sunset Books in San Francisco, Ken studied enology and viticulture at California's UC Davis. Later he moved to Paso Robles, north of Santa Barbara, planted 15 acres of Rhone varietals, and started his own label, Winchester Vineyards. Wine Spectator has described his wines as "complex, elegant and cellar-worthy" and singled out his 2000 Syrah as a "California heavyweight."
In 2002, Ken and his family decided to pull up stakes and return to Canada. They settled in Victoria and Ken immediately became deeply involved in the Vancouver Island wine industry. He is a consultant for several Island wineries, the President of the Wine Islands Growers Association, and a member of the Wine Islands Vintners Association. He has also taught Viticulture for Okanagan University College, the first such program on Vancouver Island.
They're proud to be garagistes, as the French call small, craft winemakers. It refers to a small-scale, hands-on approach to handling wine from grape to barrel. For instance we gently destem rather than crush the grapes. This leads to a slower fermentation and extraction of flavours. They punch down the fermenting red must by hand rather than pump over the juice. The finished wine is gently pressed and siphoned into French oak barrels for aging. The barrel room is their spice rack. They use different coopers, forests, and toasts for different lots: Francois Freres for Pinot Noir; Saury for Syrah; Cadus for Chardonnay. They grow, and work with other growers, to source the best fruit possible. Then they try to intervene as little as possible--a tweak here, a nudge there, good barrels and a lot of patience.