In this series on the state of B.C. Pinot Noir, I want to start with a confession: I wasn't always a fan of B.C. Wine. After graduating from UBC, I returned to Alberta for work and, as a young articling student, I quickly adopted the conventional wisdom that B.C. wine was too expensive. It wasn't entirely a wrong view: this was still in the early wild west days of Alberta's privatization when the deals on imported wines were insane and duties and production costs made BC wine relatively pricey. More truth: a lot of the wine was just ok.
But after move back to BC in the 2000s, I began to do some more open-minded exploring. It was admittedly a gradual process, but there were a few key events that I recall as vividly helping me adjust my views. Key among them was a vertical tasting of Blue Mountain Pinot Noir held at Diva at the Met circa 2008 or so. I had been familiar with Blue Mountain, but mostly for the well-regarded and well-priced sparkling wines, which to this day continue to lead the region in both excellence and value. But here was the assembled Mavety Family—iconoclastic father Ian, winemaking son Matt, marketing daughter Christie (the latter two are pictured below)—making a case for the ageability of their Pinot Noirs, some of which, were a then-unheard-of 15 years old. And they were a flipping triumph: vibrant, alive, complex. These were wines that sold for well under $30 at the time (maybe even under $20) but they were acting like they were from some choice cool climate vineyards in Sonoma. I was an instant acolyte.
A million things have changed since then. The price of B.C. wines has broadly come down, quality has shot way up and Pinot Noir now has some serious competition from Syrah (or Cab Franc, or Merlot) as arguably the red grape with the most potential given our terrior. But what hasn't changed is that the Pinot Noirs coming out of Blue Mountain are, in terms of quality and value, so impressive that I'd be more than comfortable to put them up against Sonoma, Oregon or Argentina on a per dollar basis in a blind tasting. It's even more of an accomplishment to stay at the front of the pack given that all the other wineries—96 percent of whom weren't around when Blue Mountain made its first vintage—have brought a hugely impressive Pinot game in the last few years.
These four Pinots represent Blue Mountain throwing down the gauntlet again to say "We're not going anywhere." They also represent the winery finally valuing their product more appropriately (although they're still solidly in the deal category). One of the problems of Blue Mountain (for fellow wineries, if not consumers) is that for years their wines have been underpriced. I've never asked, but I've always assumed that this stems from Ian Mavety making such a serious investment when great vineyard land in the Okanagan was a fraction what it is now, so for years they could charge under $30 for a Pinot that a competitor who bought their land at near current rates would have to charge at least 25% more for. But make not mistake these single vineyard expressions at $55CDN, when the equivalent bottle from Williams Selyem in Sonoma—to cite a winery who blazed a trail in North America for Single Vineyard Pinot—is sold out at $85USD represent an amazing deal.
I bring up Williams Selyem because I think the pioneering Sonoma winery has blazed a trail not just in terms of quality, but really diving down on the importance of terrior on Pinot. Almost every bottle contains a vineyard designation—some from the rich Russian River Valley, some form the cool Sonoma Coast, some even from the very warm Central Coast with the idea being that, with all other production variable being the same, you can get a sense of a the impact of place with these wines. That's the lead Blue Mountain is following with these wines, but if anything they're doubling down on the idea in that these vineyard specific wines are not 100 miles apart but all different plots on the Blue Mountain estate. It's the subtle variations in soil, drainage, exposure that help make up the significant differences in these bottles.
This might be the most accessible of the wines right now: relatively ripe (I say relatively because there's still considerable restraint here and it checks in at 13%), with a background a savoury sage and wild herbs. This might be the Willamette Valley of the bunch.
This seemed to me the bruiser of the bunch, which makes sense given that it sounds like a mid-70s Clint Eastwood movie. Still not overly ripe, but a hefty structure and attack of black cherry that makes this a candidate for some cellar time. This is the Sonoma Coast of the bunch.
This seems the lightest and the fresh of the bunch and that deft allows some more herbal notes to shine through. A little bit brighter on the acidity (although they all have great acidity) so it by default becomes the Burgundian one.
Well, given that this is made up of the other 3, but is 10 dollars less, this becomes the deal. It is the most accessible, rounder and pleasing with black cherry and light cola notes. It's the Russian River Valley of the group.
The short answer is that the real treat here is to buy the set. Seriously. At $210 you're paying the same amount as a bottle of premier cru Burgundy from Jadot and I venture to say the results will be exponentially more illuminating. Ideally you'd buy a set to drink and a few to cellar because they all appear to be made for the long haul. The wines are only available from the winery here. For Pt.2 of the Pinot Chronicles we'll look to another producers who's arrival on the scene a few years ago helped kick off both the quality and the price boom in Okanagan Pinot.