La Dolce Vita

Creston Valley's Skimmerhorn Winery continues to improve with age

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance

There are numerous reasons why a new winery’s products should improve noticeably in the first several years.

Most of them are obvious. As the vines mature they produce more, allowing for more selectivity in how much the winemaker wants thinned as the fruit develops—fewer tons per acre of better fruit equals better wine. At the same time, the vines’ roots are growing ever deeper, bringing up more and different minerals from the soil to the fruit, making the grapes more complex and interesting.

On a more subtle level, the vineyard manager is learning more about the microclimates that might slightly, but still noticeably, affect the growth of vines and development of fruit. Prevailing winds, angles of the sun, damp areas—all can have an impact on the ultimate taste of the fruit. Plant Sauvignon Blanc in one area of a vineyard and you might get consistent winter kill. Move it a few hundred feet and the results could be much better.

Also, while the fruit is developing with vine age, the winemaker is learning more about what he has, and can expect, to work with. His or her approach can vary with each vintage, and experience is a big factor in learning over a period of years.

So it shouldn’t be surprising when a winery, after a half-dozen years, produces wines that impart a greater sense of terroir—the message should come from the bottle that vineyard and winery personnel are growing in their knowledge of the land and climate and about how to bring out the best in the fruit.

That’s exactly what I was thinking recently when I tasted through the lineup at Creston Valley’s Skimmerhorn Winery. Like any start-up, owners Al and Marleen Hoag and winemaker (although he didn’t come back from New Zealand last fall, for the first time) Mark Rattray, went through a learning stage. One thing the Hoags have clearly learned is that it is important to listen to customers. More than a few winery owners haven’t succeeded, or at least failed to reach their full potential, because they produced what they want, and not want the market demanded. Ego is a necessary characteristic of successful business people, but not to the extent that it stops them from responding to the people who are buying their products.

Many is the time that I have heard a winemaker talk about a wine, explaining that “people kept asking for something a little sweeter, so I made this.” Most wineries produce more than just a couple different wines and there should be room for a variety of styles and sweetness levels. It’s smart business.

On the shelves right now at Skimmerhorn are:

2011 Pinot Gris: This versatile wine offers pink grapefruit and peach on the nose with stonefruit flavours and a lingering citrus finish.  Pairs well with shellfish, turkey and cream-based dishes. Slightly off-dry.

2010 Gerurztraminer: This wine offers rose petal and spice aromas with tropical fruit notes.  The palate follows suit with more spice and lychee fruit flavours and a soft, mellow mouth feel.  A pleasing accompaniment to spicy Asian and Mexican dishes, pork, turkey and cheese plates. Slightly off-dry.

2011 Ortega: Ripe peach aroma with a full peach flavour, hints of cantaloupe and a crisp citrus finish.  An excellent pairing for chicken and seafood fishes.  Slightly off-dry.

2011 Autumn Tryst: Abundant aromas of stone fruit are followed by flavours of mulled apricot and lemon meringue.  The superbly balanced sweetness and acidity create a smooth, lingering finish.  Enjoy this wine on its own or paired with pork and chicken dishes.  Off-dry.

2010 Pinot Rose With it’s deep pink colour, raspberry nose and raspberry with strawberry flavours this wine is a pure delight. Its crisp finish lingers pleasantly on the palate. Enjoy it well-chilled as an aperitif, with Asian cuisine, ham, or paired with semi-sweet to bittersweet chocolate desserts.

Devil’s Chair This deep ruby red coloured wine is a blend of Pinot Noir and Marechal Foch varietals and has aromas of plum and cherry along with spicy vanilla notes.  It has a broad, velvety mouth feel with flavours of ripe stonefruit, plum, mocha and juniper with a berry finish.  Enjoy with cheese plates, pastas and grilled or roasted meats of any kind.  Dry.

Marechal Foch Intensely coloured with a complex earthy nose, this wine fills the mouth with velvety feel and flavours of ripe plum, dark chocolate and hints of tobacco. The soft tannins deliver a full, pleasant finish. This wine will readily pair with game meats, hearty beef dishes and full-flavoured tomato pastas. Dry.

The tasting room is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. The popular, and very good, Bistro opens for the summer on June 12.