I have to admit that I have mixed feelings when it comes to submitting our wines for evaluation and review by wine critics/columnists. On the one hand, 3rd party evaluations of our wines are an invaluable source of information that helps us to ensure we are producing wines at the quality level that we perceive them to be. Additionally, wine reviews can provide marketing opportunities and product education assistance to the consumer making wine purchase selections. On the other hand, opinions expressed by wine critics / columnists are just that. They are the opinion of that person alone be it negative or positive. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that opinion can cause a ripple effect influencing sales of said wine. Wine reviews also, at least in my opinion, have a tendency to convert some consumers into wine score ‘trophy hunters’. Sales of gold medal 90 point wines are a no brainer in the wine shop but the sale of a silver medal 87 point wine can be like trying to convince the consumer that it is OK to kiss their sister.
All in all I consider myself to be very gracious when receiving compliments and/or criticism regarding our wines. This past weekend I read a review written about the Stags Hollow 2010 Renaissance Pinot Noir. Overall it was a rather neutral review; that is to say that it wasn’t overly complimentary or critical but it contained a phrase that rattled and struck a cord with me… “Next step, more Varietal Authenticity”.
Stag’s Hollow Winery has been producing a respected Pinot Noir for over 15 years from 100% estate grown fruit. Of all the wines in the Stag’s Hollow portfolio this is the one that I have strived to ensure is done correctly. Pinot Noir is well known for being fickle in that it is a problem child in the vineyard as well as being unforgiving to mistakes made in the cellar. But, if all goes according to plan, it is also one of the most rewarding wines to produce and drink. In making the Stags Hollow 2010 vintage the stars and moon aligned for the Pinot Noir and we felt it was an extraordinary wine and warranted being released under the Stags Hollow Renaissance label.
Wikipedia describes Pinot Noir as “The tremendously broad range of bouquets, flavors, textures and impressions that Pinot Noir can produce sometimes confuses tasters. In the broadest terms, the wine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of black and / or red cherry, raspberry and to a lesser extent currant and many other fine small red and black berry fruits. Traditional red Burgundy is famous for its savoury fleshiness and ‘farmyard’ aromas (these latter not unassociated with mercaptans and other reductive characters), but changing fashions, modern winemaking techniques, and new easier-to-grow clones have favoured a lighter, more fruit-prominent, cleaner style… It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine.”
Without getting into actual production details (come visit me in the cellar if you want to discuss them), no short cuts were taken in the production of this wine with the goal being to present the purest expression of the varietal; ie minimal intervention and manipulation from grapes in the vineyard through to bottled wine in the cellar. Therefore I questioned myself, how can this wine lack Varietal Authenticity?
Nagged by this question I spent an evening re-tasting the 2010 Renaissance Pinot Noir along with the 2011 Renaissance Pinot Noir. I pulled a barrel sample of the 2012 SHV Pinot Noir and compared it to the previous two vintages. Finally, I opened up several other Okanagan Valley Pinot Noirs to compare them to the Stags Hollow Pinot Noirs and, in doing so, I had an epiphany moment. It seems that the wine reviewer’s opinion was 100% correct in that our Pinot Noir does taste different than other wineries Pinot Noir. I observed that the unique flavour profile of each of our Pinot Noir vintages was transcendent and the continuity from vintage to vintage is clearly obvious. Is it possible that the observation of lacking Varietal Authenticity could have been misinterpreted? I have always strived to create wines that respect what I feel is the unique terroir of our vineyard site and to create wines that will one day have their own identity and a sense of place. Now I know I have succeeded in doing just that. In reading that one critic’s words I realize I have truly succeeded.
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson