Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is That the Sound of Prices Falling?

By Julianna Hayes

Last January when the first rumblings of an economic slowdown were making themselves heard, I recall real estate purveyors trying to soothe frayed nerves with reports suggesting the market had “slowed but was holding steady.”

Despite the fact the real estate crisis south of the border was beginning to creep north of the 39th, there was this sense in the Okanagan that we were immune, untouchable even. After all, this is a highly desirable place to live – we certainly couldn’t anticipate the same challenges as Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan, or Wawa, Ontario.

I was well acquainted with the hopeful sentiments as we were preparing to list our home. We simply couldn’t imagine the white hot real estate market in our area could turn stone cold in short order.

Yet, now a year later, the average price of a family home in Kelowna has been dropping at an alarming rate and people in need of selling are helpless as their precious equity circles the drain. Our house still isn’t sold and it’s now listed for almost $100,000 less than realtors originally suggested we ask for it.

Where am I going with this – aside from lamenting my own sad story? Well, I’m now wondering what the future holds for the wine industry, particularly on the local front.

Much has been written on the subject in recent months – but the reports have been contradictory. Studies indicate that wine consumption in most parts of the world, including Canada, is actually up, but others suggest that wine sales are down, which doesn’t seem to jive.

It all made sense when I came across some numbers from Wine.com – an online U.S. retailer that moves a tremendous amount of product. It reported that the number of bottles it sold in December 2008 was 15 per cent higher than what was peddled the same month last year. But – and it’s a big one – the average price of a bottle of wine sold in December 2008 was 17 per cent below the average price of one sold in December 2007.

So Americans seem to be drinking more, but what they’re drinking is quite a bit cheaper.

If this same trend also spreads north, that unfortunately doesn’t bode well for the B.C. wine industry. Since 1992, the average cost of a bottle of VQA wine has virtually tripled. It will now cost you $17.83 for a wine that typically retailed for $6.86 17 years ago.

Those consumers with loyalty to all things local may simply opt step down a tier and buy more wallet friendly B.C. products – perhaps driving prices down. That would be the best case scenario. The worst case would be if wine enthusiasts looking to save a buck simply switch to cheap and cheerful imports without giving the domestic market a chance to correct itself.

There has already been a softening of the once incredibly buoyant local wine market. The dollar value of VQA wine sales rose four per cent in 2007/08, but that was entirely due to price changes. The volume of sales actually dropped by three per cent. This is following double digit volume growth in six of the seven years leading up to this period.

In an industry where owning a winery seemed like a license to print money, this slowdown may come as a shock to local producers, especially if we haven’t seen the worst of it. Many of the more exclusive vintners have become accustomed to their wines being in high demand, selling out long before most people get a taste. There’s a certain headiness to that power. But enthusiasm seems to be dwindling. Indeed, I’ve noticed more and more elusive bottles lurking on retail shelves – selection is better than ever.

Despite all the doom and gloom, two major events are coming up that will thrust B.C. wines into the spotlight. The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, one of the world’s oldest and most respected wine events, has selected B.C. as this year’s theme region. The event, scheduled March 23-29, is expected to attract some 25,000 consumers and trades people globally. These are individuals with substantial buying power and, assuming the wines show well, sales should be brisk.

B.C.’s selection as the theme region is to whet appetites for local wine in anticipation of the other event I want to mention – the 2010 Olympics. I expect visitors for the games will snap up B.C. bottles simply out of curiosity, given that the local industry is largely unknown in other parts of the world.

Speaking of the Playhouse Festival, consumer tickets go on sale Tuesday and are known to sell out fast, particularly for signature and key events related to the theme region. Call 604-873-3311 for more information or visit http://www.playhousewinefest.com/.

Wine Notes

Burrowing Owl 2007 Chardonnay
Aromas: Baked apple, vanilla, butter, orange peel, mineral, spice
Flavours: Apple, nutmeg, vanilla, citrus, butter, peach, mineral, lime
Body and Finish: Quite luscious on the entry with good weight on the midpalate, mouthcoating but clean on the finish
Overall Impression: Lovely effort without the overkill of oak.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, but could cellar a couple years
Score: 88/100
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, some VQA shops, private retailers

Twist Tree 2006 Syrah
Aromas: Black fruits, meaty, pepper, orange rind, black vanilla, earth
Flavours: Earth, ripe black fruits, citrus peel, pepper and vanilla
Body and Finish: Ripe fruit entry with a weighty palate and a long slightly hot finish and good acidity
Overall Impression: Nicely done and a reasonable price for Syrah.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: 2-5 years
Score: 87/100
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Top Drops of 2008

By Julianna Hayes

From the mail I get, the article identifying my top 25 wines of the previous year seems to be my most anticipated column.

While I try to impress upon people to trust their own palates, I understand the appeal a list of this nature has to the consumer. I also clip recommendations of this type written by other critics. I enjoy discovering new wines and I want to taste anything a critic raves about that I haven’t tried yet.

I was asked last year how I selected the wines for this list. I can tell you it isn’t easy. It’s not a matter of simply selecting the wines that got the highest scores, but also about the wines which made the best impression on me. Certain wines seem to leave their mark and typically they are ones I choose to fill my own cellar – assuming I can even find them again.

Here are my 25 picks from the past year. I’m including brief tasting notes.

My Top 25 Drops of 2008

1. Mission Hill Perpetua 2006 Chardonnay $33
Orange, green apple, hints of lime, some buttery notes, a touch of toast and mineral and lovely vanilla. Very fresh on the palate with just enough roundness and creamy character without being overly woody. Citrus, apple skin, tree fruit flavours, a hint of nuttiness and a clean elegant finish.

2. Lang 2007 Farm Reserve Riesling $20
Fabulously bright, green apple, white peach, mineral, spice, lime and the slightest hint of petrol. Loads of mouth watering acidity and a snappy finish that lingers.

3. Black Hills Nota Bene 2006 $43
Black cherry, cassis, black plum, smoke, tobacco, menthol, leather, earth, toast, blueberry and violets. Big entry, firm tannins and elongated finish
Overall Impression: A yummy wine with a lot big fruit and surprisingly easy to drink for its youth.

4. Sandhill 2006 Phantom Creek Vineyard Small Lots Syrah $35
Black cherry, cassis, black pepper, jam, violet, chocolate, herbal notes, toast. Luscious entry with a great deal of complexity on the palate, moderate tannins, slightly hot, elongated finish.

5. Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2006 $33
Cedar, savoury, earthy, chocolate, dried cherries, bell pepper, orange rind, cigar box, black pepper. Hard tannins require some time in the bottle.

6. Sumac Ridge 2005 Pinnacle (Red) $50
Blackberry, tobacco, leather, plum, jammy black fruits, nuts, baking spice, olive. Ripe, luscious entry, velvety texture, rich, warm and mouthfilling, extended finish, moderate tannins

7. La Frenz 2005 Shiraz $29

Earthy, cherry, plum, pepper, a bit of smoke and savoury meatyness. Spicy, plum, blueberries, cherries, sweet oak on the palate. Elegant and silky texture, medium weight, supple tannins and elongated finish.

8. CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot $40
Spice, plum, black cherry, blueberry fruit, chocolate, orange peel, vanilla, mineral and some savoury notes. Luscious big fruit on the palate with a long finish. Needs some age.

9. Jackson-Triggs 2006 SunRock Vineyard Shiraz $35
Peppery, meaty, savoury, earthy notes with black fruits, a touch of smoke, and chocolate. Quite firm tannins, and a slightly hot finish that will soften up over time.

10. Laughing Stock Portfolio 2006 $39
Black fruits, dried cherries, chocolate, mint, dark vanilla, leather, violets, coffee bean, leather, meaty notes with ripe luscious black fruits on the palate. Savoury finish, lovely effort.

11. Quails’ Gate 2006 Family Reserve Chardonnay $30
Apple, pear, vanilla, citrus, buttery leesy notes with nutty, spicy, baked apple character in flavours. Mouth-coating and buttery on the finish.

12. Stoneboat Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir $22
Nice complexity on the nose with bright fruit aromas of Bing cherry, straw.berry and a touch of rhubarb accented by tobacco, vanilla, white pepper and a bit of smoke. upple mouthfeel with bright fruit flavours, pepper and good length on the finish.

13. Sumac Ridge 2004 Steller’s Brut $27
Displaying a fine mousse with long lasting bubbles and a slightly peachy hue. This sparkling wine offers up a crisp nose, aromas of apples, yeasty notes and mineral. Nice, clean effervescence on the palate with loads of crisp acidity on the finish.

14. Wild Goose 2007 Autumn Gold $19
A delightful blend that includes Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, it features baked apple, rose petal, apricot and spicy notes. Bright and fresh fruit character on the palate with some mineral and lime on the finish.

15. Road 13 2007 Old Vines Chenin Blanc $18
Floral, grass, green jujubes, green apple, mineral, yellow grapefruit, lime, gooseberry. Clean, crisp entry, touch of spritz on the palate, zippy finish. Fabulous price.

16. Blasted Church 2006 Syrah $27
Perfumy aromas of blueberry, plum, violets, blackberry jam, pie crust, vanilla and spice. Luscious on the plate with black fruit flavours, lots of elegance and a smooth, round and slightly spicy finish.

17. Red Rooster Winery 2006 Malbec $23
Complex nose of crushed violets, plum, blueberry, leather, pepper spice, smoky oak, vanilla. A big, weighty mouth feel with good fruit concentration, toasty oak, coffee bean, earth and moderate to firm tannins.

18. Tinhorn Creek 2005 Oldfield’s Collection Merlot $28
Excellent effort – gets better each year. Features jammy blackberry, black cherry, herbaceous, savoury flavours, some menthol. Robust on the palate with a long peppery finish.

19. Osoyoos Larose 2006 Le Grand Vin $45
Black cherry, pepper, savoury, leather, black vanilla, coffee, meaty, smoke, herbaceous notes, licorice, black olive. Has flavours of black cherry, herbal, leather, spice, earthy, coffee bean, meaty, vanilla. Elegant and multi-layered.

20. Peller Estates 2006 Private Reserve Pinot Noir $18
One of this winery’s four gold medal winners from the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, this is a stunning wine at an affordable price. Lovely cherry, chocolate characteristics with some earthy herbaceous notes. Silky texture. A best buy and widely available.

21. Church & State 2006 Syrah $26
Black cherry, mocha, pepper, some savoury notes, licorice, vanilla. Black fruit flavours, mocha, smooth tannins, orange peel. Quite pleasant to drink even young.

22. Inniskillin 2005 Discovery Series Zinfandel $30
Bing cherry, blackberry, jam, chocolate, perfume, coffee, toast, earth. Licorice, pepper, vanilla. Super ripe and luscious, full bodied wine. Well made.

23. Quinta Ferreira 2006 Obru-Prima $35
Blackberry jam, plum, pie crust, smoke, violets, cedar, coffee, vanilla, spice. Luscious ripe fruit, big mouthfeel, dryness on the mid-palate with some tannin and a long peppery finish.

24. Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2006 $25
Aromas of baked apple, honey, spice with leesy and oily notes. Flavours of pear, apple, honey, spice and a creamy, fat, sweet, nutty texture in the mouth. One of the bigger, creamier B.C. chards with. Appealing to those who like fat, juicy wines a touch on the sweet side.

25. Van Westen 2007 Viognier $25
Distinct spicy, ginger, butter, floral, peach and lemony character. Apple and lemon peel, some floral, orange flavours. Crisp citrusy finish.