2016 Mission Hill “Five Vineyards” Pinot Blanc, Okanagan VQA, British Columbia, Canada (13% Alcohol) LCBO General List $16.95 (750ml)

After tasting the most recent release of Mission Hill’s “Five Vineyards” Pinot Blanc, I was seriously impressed by both its varietal character and price point. Pinot Blanc is a grape that has always fascinated, as when it’s done well it is more than capable of making some truly delicious wines.

This 5 Vineyards by Winemaker Darryl Brooker is no exception, bursting with lusciously ripe pear and apple, with orchard fruit blossoms. The medium-weight palate is all about the round, generous texture for me, with just enough acidity to keep all the fruit in check. For a Pinot Blanc I found it pleasingly rich and satisfying with nary a hint of flabbiness, and exceptional length.

Yesterday we spoke with Darryl about this most attractive Okanagan bottling…

Good Food Revolution: What are your thoughts about PB as a varietal in the Okanagan? What does the region bring to the grape?

Darryl Brooker: It is actually a really good match to the Okanagan.  Pinot Blanc needs dry weather to ripen without rot.  We have that in spades (88 days without rain during the 2017 growing season).  It is also a very late ripener, so you do need a decent amount of heat to fully ripen, however too much heat and you lose the telltale acidity, so we still look for cooler sites.  I think the Okanagan brings the dry, low disease pressure but more importantly the diversity in vineyard sites.  Meaning we can grow this in relatively warm areas but with Northern facing slopes to reduce the heat a little and keep the natural acidity, which is truly what makes Pinot Blanc special.

GFR: How much do you make?

DB:Depends on the vintage but anywhere from 1,000 – 2,000 cases.  Not enough, we always seem to be running short.

GFR: Please tell us about the viticulture/vinification? (how do you get that get texture?)

DB: Viticulture is pretty cool actually.  Standard two cordon, VSP trellis and the crop is reduced in June or July (pre-veraison) to ensure a balanced cropping level.  We don’t reduce too early to keep the acidity.  We remove leaves morning side only to avoid acid loss through direct sunlight in the afternoon. We remove morning more for airflow and reduce any disease pressure we may have.  All our vineyards (including PB) are now managed Organic, with certification to follow after we reach three years of Organic management.  The texture is two-fold, anywhere from 15-20% of the wine is fermented in neutral French oak.  These are naturally fermented and the lees are stirred quite heavily.  The balance is fermented in stainless steel barrels (to allow stirring of lees) and larger stainless tanks.  They are fermented cold to stretch out the fermentation and maintain the fruit/brightness in the wine. No Malolactic to keep the acidity as bright and fresh and play against the leesy, oak aged component.

GFR: How would you introduce someone to the varietal?

DB: Funny timing as I have been talking about Pinot Blanc a lot lately. It was so popular in the Okanagan 10-20 years ago, which is why we have so many old vineyards of Pinot Blanc, however it has really gone out of fashion and plantings are disappearing.  It is on its way back in my opinion (or hope) as it is a great food wine.  The relatively neutral aromatics are more subtle than a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, which makes it more versatile and the acidity makes it an obvious food wine, especially with fresh, vibrant food.  I usually get people started on Pinot Blanc in the summer (which is when I first started drinking Pinot Blanc many years ago) and people soon find it can carry over to the fall/winter if they pair it right.  I would say if people want a change from really aromatic wines and looking for more texture, Pinot Blanc is a good alternative to Chardonnay and Pinot Gris and usually at a very good price for the quality.

GFR: What would you tend to pair this with?

DB: The acid makes it pretty versatile and we have been playing around a lot at Mission Hill.  It is great with crab, scallops and the usual seafood suspects, however I quite like it with charcuterie and softer cheese as well.  My favourite pairing is actually chorizo and manchego, nothing too exotic but works well and the I love the freshness in the wine but just enough texture/mouthfeel.

GFR: Thanks for your time Daryl. Hope to see you again sometime soon!

4 apples out of 5
(Four apples out of a possible five)

Jamie Drummond

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’d like to see more Pinot Blanc in Ontario.