It's often said that the last buggy whip manufacturer was the very best buggy whip maker in the world—the business moral being that there's no future clinging to a dying market regardless of your efficacy (I work in print publication so I hear, and use, this idiom, a lot). This idea was on my mind this week when I learned that CedarCreek's 2019 Ehrenfelser would be their last.
And before we dive too deep into this decision—some background. Ehrenfelser is what we call a hybrid grape, meaning that it was created in a lab by splicing two other varietals (one classic vitis vinifera like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir etc and one a hardy other non-vitis vinifera strain) to craft a grape with certain desirable qualities. In the Okanagan we used to have a problem with frost and cold weather so hybrids that could withstand that were some of the most successful grapes in the early days. Prime examples Oretga, Vidal, Marechal Foch, Siegerrebe and Ehrenfelser.
But as our climate warmed and our technology improved the need for these hybrids has waned. There's more money in the classic grape varietals and, to be honest, generally more substance in them as well—there's a reason that Riesling is grown all over the world while Kerner is only grown where people are concerned about frost. And off all the hybrids it was Ehrenfelser (which is a cross between Riesling and a grape called Knipperle) that most helped boost the nascent Okanagan wine industry in the 1970s. I went on the BCWI Wine App (which is awesome btw) to search for who was still growing the grape and it's a who's who of industry veterans: Lang, Gehringer, Gray Monk, Summerhill, Hainle and CedarCreek—for 2019 only.
But this isn't one of those nostalgic yarns about how much better things used to be. The wine coming out of the region now is exponentially better than it used to be. And the wine coming out of CedarCreek is the best it's ever been under the stewardship of Anthony von Mandl and I don't think anyone who doesn't have some axe to grind would disagree. But it's still a moment to sit and contemplate where we've come from and where we're going. Like the buggy whip manufacturer, this Ehrenfelser is one of the best ever produced in the Valley (in my admittedly limited experience with the grape): it has a fresh and balanced take on melon and citrus and doesn't ask so much from the taster—it just gently and thoughtfully leads you by the palate. But here's the hard truth—as great as it is, it's not in the same league as CedarCreek Platinum Rieslings which are tight and racy and age-worthy. It's not a fair fight—like Nascar vs Formula 1.
But while Ehrenfelser is waning there's another bottle out there that likewise packages all the best the grape has to offer and brings it forward in a modern, approachable style. It's the Unwinder Ehrenfelser from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards. If that name sounds familiar, it's because it was the Fitzpatrick family that sold CedarCreek to Anthony von Mandl in 2014. It's one of those rare win/win deals: CedarCreek is better and the Fitzpatrick's new winery makes far and away some of the best sparkling wine in the Valley. But they clearly still have a soft spot for Ehrenfelser and their version is, at $19.50, the best deal in the valley if you're looking for an easy going, well rounded friend to take you a short journey to yesteryear.