Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pinot Noir Examination with WinePlus

I find it difficult to turn down a chance to try eight Pinot Noirs from around the world. As a maker of Pinot, I like to take every opportunity to see what other producers are creating and compare them with our accomplishments here in the Okanagan. So when the opportunity to join the Wine Plus Pinot Noir tasting event in Penticton last night came up, I jumped at the chance.

Wine Plus has a raft of courses and single night workshops that suit wine lovers at every level of interest. Rhys Pender steers the Wine Plus ship and he and his special guests make the proceedings casual, informative and lively.

The guest commentator was my old friend and Taboma master Mike Bartier from Road 13 . After a quick intro and outline by Rhys, it was time for Mike to make a few comments about Pinot Noir in general. His basic points, misquoted below:
  • Is there a positive correlation between colour and quality?Absolutely. Not.
  • the difficulty associated with the 'heartbreak' grape is not in making a good wine but in making 'great' wine.
  • Never mind climate or region so much, the defining moment in Pinot Noir quality is site selection when it's planted. The soil structures (how it's put together in layers and levels) are as important as the actual material it's made from.
  • In this region (the Okanagan) anything over 5 tons per acre will not fare well.

We tasted blind, with a reveal at the completion of the exercise and some discussion. One of the discussion points was the ability of Pinot Noirs to change in the glass very rapidly. This trait showed itself repeatedly over the course of the evening. First impressions were not always the last impression.

Please note: the prices are at time of purchase not at time of tasting. I believe they are all prices in BC but whether they are BCLDB or private store prices I don't know.

Here are my notes:

1 - Ventolera - Leyda Valley - Chile - 2007 - $19.99 - 14.5% alcohol

I put this one in my top three. Partly on value. Great fruit expression throughout the nose and palate with a little smoke up front. A velvety mouthfeel with lots of cherry and a hint of spice, maybe cinnamon? Lengthy finish. I'd expect some wonderful development over the next few years.

2. - Golden Mile Cellars* - Black Arts - Okanagan Valley - BC - 2006 - $35.00

Another one that made it into my top three. Quite a bit of complexity. I got a neat toffee and picnic ham on the nose with an earth cocoa dust that emerged in the palate as milk chocolate. A little leaner than other New Worlders, with a little rhubarb and Fisherman's Friend in the finish.

3. - Colutta Gianpaolo - Friuli - Italy - 2003 - $30.00 - 13% alcohol

Actually called Pinot Nero. I found this one slightly medicinal on the nose, with some adhesive or Vicks 44 qualities. Not one of my favourites. I found the palate a little lean, some cherry notes and an over all 'drying' aspect to the tannins.

4.- Yering Station - Reserve - Yarra Valley - Australia - 2006 - $50.00 - 13.5% alcohol

Strawberry/cherry nose with a lot of the group chiming in to mention a coffee note. Lots of bing cherry in the palate. I rated it in the middle of my group with an appealing bitter note in the background of a fresh plum finish. Superb balance with the acids well-represented.

5. - Cameron - Abbey Ridge - Oregon, USA - 2006 - $67.90 - 13.6% alcohol

Slightly candied/maraschino cherry in the nose with lots of cherry and developing secondary flavours in the palate involving clove-like expressions. The alcohol was a bit more noticeable on this one for some reason. This one also went through some remarkable changes over the course of the tasting.

6.- Louis Latour - Bourgogne - Burgundy, France - 2007 - $21.99 - 13.% alcohol

Cherry gum and slightly solvent smells in the nose. Sour cherry and cola in the palate. Somewhat drying in the finish and a short finish. Not my favourite.

7. - Volnay - Olivier Leflaive - Bourgogne - 1er Cru Clos des Angles -Burgundy, France - 2005 - $69.99 - 13.5% alcohol

Middle of the pack but a crowd favourite. Lots of creamy vanilla and toffee on the nose mixed with some slight herbal/medicinal notes. Leaness and lots of cherry on the palate. Structure was balanced and finish medium.

8. - Rabbit Ranch - Otago - New Zealand - 2007 - $27.00 - 13.5% alcohol

This proved to be my top choice and a crowd-pleaser as well. It had a nose that defied my ability to describe it at first. I have notes reading strawberries, raspberries and kiwi. The overall nose are these things but freshly cut or smashed. There's a sour cherry palate with underpinnings of dark, complex fruit. Perhaps the controversially termed "bramble berry". This wine is boldly structured and has a long finish. It's only question mark may be a slight deficit of acid. Next to the Chilean, it's probably one of the best values for what it offers too.

* Now known as Road 13

Monday, December 14, 2009

Black Cloud Fans - You Need To Get Cloudy

We've been very pleased with the recent sales surge for Black Cloud Pinot Noir. It's been almost 10 months since we released the 2006. Despite having little marketing experience or budget, word has spread and people (you) seem to really like what we have to offer. It's really starting to take-off.

This kind of success means it won't be long until we'll have to start allocating Black Cloud wines. This means our partners and our private customers will have first dibs on any new release. We only make a few hundred cases. As you may imagine, we can't supply everyone.

So now we're asking our fans to get Cloudy.

If you're one of the restaurants or private liquor stores that have been selling Black Cloud, you're automatically on the list.

Private individuals who are interested should submit their email address by sending it to wine@blackcloud.ca . Don't assume you're automatically on the list because you bought some Black Cloud previously. We only add people to the list who really want to get Cloudy news. Nobody needs unwanted email.

Media: please indicate who you are and your primary food/wine focus.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Black Cloud Partners

Time to update everyone with our most recent places where you can find Black Cloud Pinot Noir.

O'Hares The wine selection at this store is very good. One of the better ones I've seen outside of the urban scene. Staff take an active role in rating the wines - all the wine notes are written in-house.

Gudrun This place has been getting great reviews since it opened. Meticulous care is given to every aspect of the menu and beverage list. It's all about rare cheeses, artisanal meats, eclectic beers and, of course, great wines!

Hamilton Street Grill The 'HSG' is one of the stalwarts of Yaletown. A traditional big-city steakhouse that you can depend on to deliver the goods. My favourite with my robust Pinot? The "16 unapologetic ounces of marbled certified angus" ribeye.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Okanagan Vineyards for Sale - Is now the time for you?

Over the past few weeks, the weather has turned cool and the leaves are all but gone from the deciduous trees and grape vines. While nature is in repose, signs advertising the services of realtors have multiplied in the Okanagan Valley. Choice vineyard properties are festooned with FOR SALE signs like rarely seen before.

If I stand on my deck here in Penticton facing northwest at the southern end of the Naramata Bench, I can see three or four parcels growing grapes and looking for new owners. As a winery and vineyard consultant I need to know why. After all, somebody reading this may be my next client.

Why now? The quick answer may be a knee jerk reaction. It would be easy to say it's because of the recession. While that reason is probably a big contributor on a macro scale, closer to home there are a number of other contributing factors.

Taking a look at fiscal cycles and lending institution practices, it doesn't take too long to determine that some of the owners are in a little tight. They need to divest themselves of properties that may not be as attractive as they were one, two or three years ago. Now that it's time to re-write the mortgage, it may be a better time to sell. But at what price?

Prices are down. Just around the corner is a property with fruit trees, a shade under 10 acres, three homes (not palaces by any stretch) and much work needed but potentially a great vineyard location. They're asking about $75,000 an acre. I doubt they'll get that much given the work needed to get the property in shape. Two years ago that property would have been closer to $90,000 an acre and would have been scooped up quickly. Now, it's been hanging out there for a few months.

This next point needs a little background.

The wine business is good but changing. Most of the 130 or so wineries grow varying percentages of the grapes they need. Some buy 90% of what they require. Others are self-sufficient, needing no other growers to supply them with grapes. Before you've been in the wine making business long, you realize the advantages of controlling the production of the grapes you'll need. More and more wineries over the years have started growing more of their crop

requirement. As an example, when I started with Township 7, the two locations managed to grow about 10% or less of the crop for a 3800 case winery. Next year we anticipate growing close to 30% ourselves and our production is in the 8500 case territory. On a large scale, Vincor's massive plantings in the Oliver - Osoyoos area are reaching maturity. If you used to grow grapes for the makers of Jackson Triggs and such, you may be looking at being cut loose soon.

More background.

Over the past four years we've seen unprecedented expansion in the planting of speculative vineyards. These are properties not tied to any particular winery by ownership or contract. The idea was to plant great grapes and then sell the fruit for the best price each harvest. This has worked for a couple years: prices have been high, tonnages have been lowish due to two hard winters in a row and the consumers have participated by buying up everything.

Here's the point: While land prices are down and wine quality is up, winery inventories are also up. I've heard rumour of some wineries thinking of making only the MINIMUM amount of wine necessary over the next harvest period. The consumer is looking for deals and is no longer co-operating like they did in the boom years. If you own a speculative vineyard, there's no guarantee you'll sell your crop or get the price per ton your banker expects you to earn. The 2010 harvest should be the largest ever recorded in the 'modern'* era.

Owners of vineyards know this and are doing what they can to ensure viability. For some it means sell. It means sell the land and get out. For others, it means locking in commitments from wineries. One of Township 7's best growers was around this week just to pose this question: Are we still on for next year? For my personal brand, Black Cloud, I've already locked in my supply of top end Pinot Noir. I can't afford not to. Which leads me to the next point.

If you're planning on owning a vineyard, be diligent about these items.

  • Quality: your grapes must be the best that can be grown. Make sure the site/variety selection is as close to perfect as possible. High quality grapes are the only way to increase or sustain your value in the market place. You need to set the benchmark for your peers.

  • Commitment: Lock in your customer's loyalty. Grape sales contracts are not worth much but a friendly, productive relationship with the winery buying your grapes is gold.

  • Passion: Cripes, what an overworked term. But you do need to surround yourself with people who have the drive and enthusiasm for the job at hand. People who sit on their hands and are happy with the way things are have no place on your team. That goes for the winery you sell to or your banker or the kid who comes in to cut the grass once a week.

  • Timing: I can't tell you when it's right for you. Yes, change is here in the marketplace. But I see more turmoil ahead as independent grape growers scramble to find a place for their 2010 crop. This may lead to lower vineyard properties but probably not. Land prices are sustained by other factors here in the Okanagan. What we may see is well-run wineries being in a position to acquire more real estate.

I have several clients and acquaintances actively looking for vineyard property. I'd be happy to assist you if you have questions about this post or the Okanagan wine/vine business in general. Drop me a line. Let's kick it around.

*The modern era dates from 1988-90 when most inferior grape varietals were uprooted in favour of traditional wine grapes in a government-sponsored re-plant program.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Harvest Report: A Preliminary Look at the Rollercoaster

The harvest in Canada's famed Okanagan Valley and across BC is coming to a close for the wine business. Virtually all that remains are the vines designated for ice wine or late harvest wines.

It has been a truly exceptional year with a number of weather anomalies that kept wine growers guessing right to the end. Punishing winter temperatures last year resulted in smaller crops for many varietals. A late spring left growers wondering when they'd get a break. The summer growing season was long and warm. September, the month we must have perform, was beyond optimistic desires. And then, just a few days ago, the temperature plunged to record lows and abruptly slammed the door on the season. Milder weather is in-bound, but the vines are finished for the year and the crop is being pulled in.

Black Cloud Pinot Noir fared extremely well. A slightly smaller crop resulted in remarkable flavours. At this time, the Pinot is residing in French oak. It's finished alcoholic fermentation and is just beginning malo-lactic fermentation.

A more detailed report will follow in a few weeks.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The BlackCloud Harvest Offer

The Black Cloud Pinot Noir grapes are coming in now and it looks like it's going to be a stellar year for quality. Two rugged winters in a row mean that volume is down a little on a per vine basis. But with all the recent vineyard start-ups lately things should even out.

Lower yields generally mean excellent fruit. That's what we're looking for as we prepare to harvest our 2009 Pinot Noir from Remuda Vineyard in Okanagan Falls. As we work through this vintage, we'll be documenting the whole process so fans of the Cloud will be able to see the process step-by-step.

To celebrate the vintage, we're offering this great deal to you and your friends:

Buy a case of 2006 Black Cloud Pinot Noir at regular price ($300) and get 33% off the next case. This is a great way to stock up the cellar for the cool months ahead when a hearty Pinot like Black Cloud is truly appreciated. Get together with your friends and take advantage of this great deal.

In addition, we're tossing in FREE SHIPPING to the Lower Mainland, southern Vancouver Island, Whistler and major urban centres in the Interior of British Columbia. That's about a $30 value per case.

This is how it works:

1. Your discount code is available on Twitter or by request email wine@blackcloud.ca

2. This offer expires at 23:59, October 31, 2009

3. Tell us how much you want. Contact us by phone or email. We'll need method of payment details and an address for daytime business hours delivery.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer's Second Safety Meeting features Salmon and BlackCloud Pinot Noir


This Friday is the second Safety Meeting of the Summer.

We've got a big fish from Nootka Sound and plenty of Black Cloud Pinot to go with it.

If you're anywhere in the neighbourhood around 4:30 and after, drop by for a drop with local wine folk and wine fans at this strictly casual event.


  • a side dish if you plan to eat

  • an interesting bottle if you'd like to share

  • a chair

It's at 1450 McMillan in Penticton.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Woodstock for Wine Bloggers

Wine Bloggers Conference II

Santa Rosa, California

July 24-25-26, 2009

Years from now, everybody is going to say they were there even if they weren't. Just like Woodstock in 1969, the actual attendance is somewhat smaller than the legend suggests.

I knew the Wine Bloggers Conference was going to be a wine-filled, wine-centric and wine saturated affair. I just didn't know how much it would be.

I always need a little time for things to sink in. The more information, the more time I need to establish what exactly it was that I experienced. I wasn't ready to blog about this because there was a tremendous amount of data.

Most of those who attended the Sonoma County-based affair were citizen bloggers. Around 275 dedicated believers who more-or-less regularly blog about their passion. What they got for their admission was a full-on, slightly over-the-top assault on their wine-loving senses.

Due to the size of the group, not everyone got the same experience, the itineraries were split up to better present the Napa and Sonoma wineries. At a couple of venues the group reassembled en masse. At the Culinary Institute of America, (photo)for instance, and later at Quintessa for the Grand Tasting. It was a marvel of mini-bus logistics with only a few hiccups.

Our headquarter for the conference was the restored Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa. I recommend the hotel for a wine country base of operations. It would be a good place to park the kids (with supervision, of course) while you and your partner or posse head out to wine country.
The conference itself was packed with activity and detail. From registration on, every moment seemed to be choreographed to jam as much tasting and talking in as possible. Like a small herd animal, I went along with the flow. I could have opted out at any time and taken some 'me' time but I was there to see what was on offer. So I was all in.
I had brought some Black Cloud Pinot Noir and a selection of Township 7 wines I'd made in the hope that I could stage a little impromptu tasting event. Can you say crash the agenda? I could have given it a shot at a poolside table around 10 pm Friday or Saturday but by then most of the conferencers were at one of the sponsored 'after-hours' activities or asleep, exhausted by the day's rigorous pace. I ended up handing out full bottles to interested parties and that seemed to be appreciated.
There are many details I've left out. But over the coming weeks I'll use this space to explore some of the wine country concepts and images we were presented with and how this ultimately effects the consumer.
By the way, the third annual Wine Bloggers Conference is scheduled for June of 2010 in Walla Walla, Washington, Registration is open now.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Alberta Orders BC Wineries To Stop Shipping Wine

Nothing shows how bizarre and antiquated our interprovincial trade relations are in this country than the letter I have reproduced here.
Every winery in BC got one of these. Basically the Alberta government is saying, don't try and evade paying us our share of the taxes. Stop shipping wine into Alberta because the dollars we're owed for every drop of alcohol is being evaded.
Never mind that BC is already getting 100% of their tax on the sale. Alberta wants their share too! Consider for a moment the tiny amount of lost revenue this is.
A ridiculous display of governmental malfeasance.
Legally, no, but morally and de facto - yes.
I believe clicking on the letter makes it bigger to read.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Marriage, WIne and Social Media

The wine will flow and the vows will be said on the 18th of August. Karen and her man are getting married in Napa County, California. Trouble is: they want to get married in the vines but they don't have a location yet.

In a test of social media, Karen is hoping one of the winery/vineyard operations (or still some other) we visited during the Wine Bloggers Conference last week will step up and fill the bill. This isn't some elaborate set-up with hundreds of guests and music and food. It's just Karen, the groom, a photog and the vow-sayer. As I write this, the word is going out among the Twitterverse, the blogosphere and the interwebs. The experiment has begun.

She's got a few essentials to cover but really, it is simplicity in itself.

The bonus is: the winning wine operation will get international coverage. Lots of eyes read Karen's Winebard blog and you know she will relate (dare I say 'gush') all the details.

It's a win-win for all.

So if you run a Napa vino scene or know somebody who does, let them know about the Winebard's quest. When they get hitched, the winery gets pitched. It's that simple.

Karen's K.I.S.S list:

  1. Rose bushes at the end of the rows of vines

  2. Picturesque location for Wedding photos

  3. Can accommodate four people for about one hour on Aug 18th

  4. Preferably in the Napa Valley

A big bonus for the couple would be if you could hold a vid camera for 10 minutes.

Spread the word!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shipping Wine is Troublesome

No easy way.
On my way to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa.
I thought I’d just outline what’s been happening over the past week as I’ve tried to ship 24 bottles of wine to the conference.
In case you don’t know, I live in Canada and I’m a Canadian citizen. The shipping of alcohol by private citizens into the U.S. is pretty well prohibitive. It’s the same going the other way as ‘authorities’ want to inspect everything and get a piece of the action. As an example, outside of the allowed 2 bottles (roughly) Canadian customs permits, the border folks collect the 117% (approx) the BC government monopoly demands. But I digress.
The conference is in the United States. I’m allowed to bring a couple bottles of alcohol across the border each time I make a crossing. So since May of 2009 I’ve been visiting my mother’s summer home in Washington State. Slowly, I’ve been stockpiling wine for the enjoyment of my fellow bloggers.
Like most Canadians, I live within a short distance of the international boundary so this has not been an onerous task.
On Monday, I visited the shipper in Oroville, WA to send the wine. I was aware that shipping of alcohol from this particular depot was illegal. I also know that people do it all the time and there existed a “don’t know, don’t tell” attitude. Put it in an approved shipping container with no outside markings and say its vinegar if asked. Everything went very smoothly.
Or so I thought.
I was in line to return to Canada a half hour after shipping when I got a call from the shipper to return to the depot a claim my wine. Evidently they took it upon themselves to open my boxes and decided to reject the shipment. Indeed, when I returned, the boxes were opened.
Now I was a bit desperate. I had to ship that wine. How?
I put out a call on Twitter and @ksyrah responded saying she would help if I could get the wine to Burlington, WA. After some consideration, that looked like a good plan. Scheduling and commitments prevented me from getting to Burlington until yesterday. I was flying out of nearby Bellingham which made the 4.5 hour drive manageable. So I overnighted it and, with any luck, it will be at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa before I will be.
I hope it arrives and we all get to enjoy it. Maybe some day this will all seem quaint but I don’t hold out much hope.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Safety Meeting Next Week

Relax, if you can't make it, we're having a couple more this year.

What's a safety meeting? It's our euphemism for a casual get together in a rather plain setting.

Friday, July 10 at about 4:30 to whenever.

Place: Township 7 crushpad at 1450 McMillan, Penticton

We'll be supplying some beer, some BBQ and some BlackCloud Pinot Noir. You bring a side dish or appetizer and something to drink. Well-behaved kids and dogs are welcome. It's a good idea to bring a folding chair. And bring a friend.

Who's going to be there? Lots of people from the wine industry especially from along the Bench and other places. People who like wine and want to hang with the producers. People on vacation who would like to get some 'authentic' into their Okanagan experience. We always encourage people from all walks to represent!

If you're reading this, you're invited!

Questions? bradley@blackcloud.ca

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Vintage in the Okanagan - Some thoughts about 2008 and other years gone by and what the future may hold.

Lately I've enjoyed fielding a few comments and questions regarding the Okanagan and the conditions under which we grow grapes and make wine. These days, most of the discussion takes place on Twitter. One hundred and forty characters is a difficult constraint for this subject so I thought I'd expand a couple ideas here on the old blog.

As people become more acquainted with something like wine, it's normal to expect a desire for more knowledge to surface. Depending on the individual, this can be a passive absorption of what comes their way or a single-minded compulsion. Most of the time it's somewhere in between. Personally, I find these discussions invigorating.

I think I made a comment about a vintage being typical. This led to some retorts about what defines typical in our neck of the woods. I now realize I was making one of the first mistakes of good journalism: assuming your reader already has a lot of the information. It occurred to me that I need to define Okanagan typical. So first, what are the factors that make this area unique among wine growing regions?

I want to try to establish what "cool climate" wine growing is and how it fits in to what we are doing in the Okanagan Valley. And finally, what kind of wine can you expect from the Okanagan in typical and atypical years?

There's a popular saw these days that sounds like this: there are no more 'good' or 'bad' years in the world's wine regions anymore because technology and spread of good cultural practices in the age of information have given producers the tools to eliminate or obscure some of the serious deficiencies of past vintages.

To a great degree this is true. The modern winemaker has a vast array of tools in the kit. There really is no excuse for the release of flawed wine. (Was there ever?) The grape grower also has many newish developments over the past decades to tap into. Together, a lot of factors can be manipulated.
At the end of the day, grapes and wine that have had a heavy hand applied will tend to be more homogeneous in style and quality.

Notice I didn't say good or bad. All I'm saying is that robust handling results in a displacement of the wine's sense of place.

(Well, I can hardly believe I wrote that last bit because, out here in the wild North west, terroir and all that is probably a few decades off. Or is it?)


The Okanagan is a wine producing region that knocks loudly on the doors of unconventionality. We grow a huge variety of different grapes, tended in a number of fascinating ways, harvested under a myriad of conditions and regimes. It's impossible to get a consensus-building answer on the right way to do anything wine and grape-wise in this valley. Wine makers and growers from all over the world bring their influences and teachings and put them to work. The result is: a Syrah made by me has almost no resemblance to one made by Jackson Triggs just down the road.

(old world wine growing regions: restricted by law or custom to a few varieties in each region, in-grained growing practices that differ little from one vineyard to the next, winemakers that are produced generationally at the same institutions)

Having said that, why not throw a couple more cats in the bag?

The climate here is unlike anywhere else. It doesn't allow that same Syrah to ripen like anywhere else in the world. We're farther north than anywhere on the globe that seriously grows grapes. We lucked out by having a chain of lakes that moderate the winters (and summers) so that all this is possible. Otherwise, it'd just be a dusty, sand and gravel extension of the North American desert system: arid and violent. Too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

Another factor that defines the Okanagan and causes the wines to be the way they are is the short growing season. When our pals in California are enjoying bud break and the beauty of wild mustard blooming we're still shoveling snow and breaking snot-sicles off our noses while we prune. The vines, though, are sort of pre-programmed. Cabernet Sauvignon needs in excess of 180 days of growing season. That's six months. IF April is nice you may see the buds emerge late in the month. Do the math. Has it been a long, warm summer? You MIGHT have ripe grapes by the third week of October. But probably not.

One thing in our favour: in the warmest part of the year, because we're so far north, the sun shines harder and longer than in points south. This is only good for a couple months but, hey, we'll take what we can get.

If you combine some of these factors you get degree days. It's a way of measuring the value of the sunshine. We rock. We often exceed a lot the 'classic' wine growing area like Germany and Bordeaux when it comes to degree days. Problem is: we have little shoulder season. It takes a long time to warm up and the season goes off a cliff around October 10th, give or take a few days.

So those are some of the factors that makes the Okanagan wine region 'unique'. We are cool climate wine growing. We are extreme cool climate wine growing. Next time you hear somebody from a 200 day growing season or anywhere south of 45 degrees latitude (northern hemisphere) wax on about cool climate conditions, give them a light cuff to the occipital and remind them that winter temperatures that hover near freezing do not make a region cool climate. If at harvest all you're worried about is a little rain, that's not cool climate. Try looking at your vineyard heavy with Merlot and 1 brix short of target and the weather man is saying the first Arctic Express is poised to break-out and head your way. That, my friend, is cool climate.

And that is unique.

Typical Okanagan vintage. Hmm. difficult to define. Because of our wild conditions, vintages here are less consistent or typical than other regions. But here's what: budbreak in early May, generally May is nice. Pray we don't get a killing frost during the first 15 days of May to whatever deity you wish. A couple of days or even weeks may see temps in the low 30'sC but the nights are still cool. June is encouraging at first but usually there are a couple weeks that seem a little too rainy. Usually during flowering which is a bummer. July it suddenly goes heat crazy with long periods of mid-30'sC. Nights are still refreshingly cool. But then the temps spike, temperatures in the south end are in the mid-40's and the nights don't dip below 20C. You get massive growth from vines that don't shut down in the mid-30sC (some do). August is when the grapes begin to colour and start tasting like grapes. If we get a heat spike in August there is rapid ripening (at the expense of flavour complexity) and we start picking grapes in September.

In a normal year, September is our golden child. We need 20/20. We need 20 days at 20C (daytime median) and then we should have it in the bag. Anything after that is bonus time, hang time, whatever. If the weather is dry you get to call the shots and wait for more on-vine flavours to develop. But don't wait too long, my friend. In a matter of days, you can go from crisp sunny days to 10 cm of snow in the vineyard and not a leaf on the vines.

In 1998, we had a very warm year, did the whole harvest in short pants and were sitting in the pub, showered, grinning ear to ear and having a beer while our friends in California were still waiting for grapes to come in. Atypical.

What can you expect from a season like this and a region like this? We will always struggle getting our reds ripe in typical vintages. Accept it. Celebrate it. Indeed, these conditions create wonderfully nuanced wines that have flavours and bouquets like no other. When it all comes together, they rank with the best in the world. We just have to understand it won't come together as often as we wish. With climate change there have been more good years for reds lately. But '08 put the kibosh on that. More on that in a moment.

Our white wines thrive here. With solid vineyard practices and good winemaking, our white will maintain their place as premium products. We should be careful to exploit the varieties that work and to use caution around planting warm region cultivars. It could be argued that we should just grow Gewurztraminer.

Hmmm. About 145 day growing season, tasty, fairly winter hardy.

Nahh. That would be taking the easy way out.

And now a word from 2008. Typical.
A late spring caused a delayed budbreak. Most vines survived a colder-than-average winter but there would be no fruit on about 20% of them. The vines that put out flowers put on lots so anticipated shortfalls appeared to be almost made-up. Good weather ensued. We had a nine week session of great summer weather and it appeared the vines were catching up. They were. But the actual grapes were not. We had no heat spikes. August saw a lot of hazy days with high cloud that reduced the degree days. Veraison was late. More than a week for some varieties. September saved us. We got the 20/20. But then things deteriorated rather rapidly. Pick dates were delayed. Not too much rain but not warm either.

I took a look at what was coming and decided to cut our losses and bring it all in by the last week of October. Best thing I decided all vintage.

Some decided to go after more 'hang flavours' and let it all hang out. November came in like an ice-filled fist and blew that idea.

2008 Tale of the Tape:
Whites should be uniformly good to excellent. Exceptional acids will have been reduced in cellar by blending or chemical means. Flavours may develop a little later in bottle.
Reds grown on good sites and with attention to detail will be exceptional if harvested before the killing frosts. Acids will be a little higher than the last few years but they are manageable. Know your producer, buy from those you trust.

Friday, June 05, 2009

2009 Wine Bloggers' Conference July 24 -26

Just a few weeks now until hundreds of enthusiastic wine types will converge on Santa Rosa, California for the second wine blogger conference.

This is a rare and excellent opportunity for any winery operation to see how it works and how blogging and social media can work for their operation.

As new media and social media begin to carve out their own turf in the world of information transfer (our world of ideas), wineries are beginning to make some interesting discoveries.

Like many businesses, the give and take between customer and producer in the wine world has always been present. Now with blogging and other forms of social networking, wineries and their fans can feel like they're one step closer to each other.

For some, it means they can skip the role a large media conglomerate plays. They don't have to worry about censure, interpretation or house policies. Bloggers are citizen winedrinkers who simply post their opinions about something they enjoy and, in some cases, feel very passionate about.

Wine bloggers come in many styles. Some work for wineries; helping to link the consumer directly with the producer. Some are pure reviewers; they drink the wines and post their scores and thoughts for anyone to read. Others deal with the business side whether that be growing grapes or devising clever sales campaigns.

So where do I fit in?

I've been blogging about my wine making life since about 2005. At times it's lacked focus. And it's always been haphazardly scheduled. I'd be surprised if I blog more than 3 times a month on average. Others are much more productive like this one. I think she's posted at least daily for the last half year! WTG, WannabeWino!

There are not a lot of wine maker bloggers. Some are ghosted by other writers and some wineries have other staff doing the company blogging. Until recently, I was independent. Now, of course, I blog to promote my own label Black Cloud . Despite this change, I'm still one of the laziest bloggers I know.

At the conference I hope to: find out if another platform will be better for my blogging, discuss ways to monetize the efforts, discuss collaboration projects with other bloggers, and try to determine if the knowledge I've acquired is worth anything. Or should I just leave it to the experts?

One thing I do know, it's time to engage! I urge wineries, wine marketers, wine writers and food people to attend or sent their representative. It's a great deal for the dollar, too!
Here's the link:
Wine Blogger's Conference

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reach Gallery Museum Event Needs Your Tastebuds

Winemaker’s Dinner in the Gallery

Part proceeds support children’s programming at The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford.

Saturday, May 23 marks the first fundraiser at Abbotsford’s new gallery-museum, The Reach.
On behalf of The Reach, Chef Michael and his culinary team at The Ramada Plaza & Conference Centre, winemaker Bradley Cooper of Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, and Whatcom Wine & Spirits bring you an evening of gourmet food paired with highly acclaimed B.C. wine, right in the centre of art and artefacts.

The evening starts with a stand-up reception that includes warm and cool appetizers and Township 7’s Seven Stars sparkling wine, made in the traditional method. The evening then moves through four more courses paired with viognier, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot, and finishes with the much sought-after (very few cases were produced) Black Cloud pinot noir paired with dessert.
Between each course, Chef Michael and winemaker Bradley Cooper will talk to guests about their respective picks for food and wine. Seats are limited to 48, so you know the evening will be intimate, with Chef and winemaker able to pay personal attention to guests.
Six courses and six wines in support of children’s programming at The Reach: $125 per person. Tickets go on sale May 9 at Whatcom Wine & Spirits. Call 604-870-1050 ext. 6170 to reserve yours.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Black Cloud at Broadway Wine May 16

We'll be pouring Black Cloud 2006 Pinot Noir at Broadway International Wine store on Saturday, May 16 from 4 - 7. There will probably be a hard-to-find Township 7 white as well.

If you're in the neighbourhood drop in for a taste and a talk.

View My Saved Places in a larger map

Friday, May 08, 2009

Black Cloud in more places

Black Cloud in more places means more Pinot Noir in more glasses

We're slowly adding to our list of retailers. Here's where you can get Black Cloud now:

Broadway Wine at McDonald and Broadway in Vancouver
Whatcom Wine & Spirits in Abbotsford
Village Taphouse in West Vancouver
Tumbleweeds just east of Kamloops
the Naramata Store in downtown Naramata
the LRS on Bowen Island.

Thanks for having some!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Talking WIne and Social Media in Kelowna

I've been invited to showcase my wines and co-host a general discussion on the BC wine scene, Web 2.0 and social wine media to a gathering at the Wine Museum on Thursday night (May 7. 2009)

I'll be leading the assembled through a selection of Township 7 wines I've made over the past few years and, of course, I'll sneak in my Black Cloud Pinot Noir as well.

During the tasting, Julianna Hayes and I will talk about what's new on the BC wine scene and where things are heading. We'll also discuss what we're doing with social media and let the crowd know about what we think works for wine people. We expect to have a little give-and-take and some questions to answer.

Interested? Call the wine museum directly for tickets 250-868-0441

Friday, April 03, 2009

HOW do I order my own Black Cloud?

Very easy.

To order Black Cloud 2006 Pinot Noir just contact us here

Your email will get the ball rolling.

You can also call me direct at 250-490-7314

The price is $25 per bottle. Plus .10 bottle deposit.

If you live in the following communities and order a case, I offer free door to door delivery on my schedule.
GVRD (excluding Bowen Island and Electoral Area "A")

On days when I'm in the communities above I will often Tweet (follow http://twitter.com/BlackCloudWine ) as I make my rounds
and I'll free deliver smaller quantities of Black Cloud Pinot direct to your door. Stay connected!

BlackCloud.ca is up

It's not going to win a bunch of awards for groovy websites but it's a starting point. We will be adding as we go and I have to thank the guys at VIN65 for their enthusiasm.


Anybody who drops in for a peek can send us an email and request to be added to our mailing list.

That's the best way to keep informed about:

  • new wines we have planned

  • new locations to buy our Pinot Noir

  • restaurants where you'll find us on the list

  • events featuring our wines.

  • progress with our winery plans
  • how to become an angel investor

My wife and partner has been up in Kamloops this week and has done a great job meeting new customers and setting up accounts. We'll be letting you know where soon.

We met a ton of great people in Vancouver over the wine fest last week. We hope to have Black Cloud Pinot at a number of new locations soon.

Here's a couple of events that have crossed my desk lately that I recommend:

First, of course, one that I'm in. I'll be up in Kelowna joining Julianna Hayes of Vine Living at the next WEST (Wine Education Series of Tastings) event. It'll be April 16 from 7 to 9 at the Wine Museum. I'll present a flight of Township 7 wines and few others (maybe some Black Cloud) and we'll have a discussion on the wines and a few other topics like - what's new on the BC wine scene and how is social media affecting how we access our wine? We'll be pouring wine and sampling food. These are fun and informative events. Tickets are a great value at only $20 for museum members and $25 for non-members. Call the museum directly to reserve 250.868.0441

Can't beat the Kiwis for great wines. Love this event. A region very similar to what we have here in BC.

New Zealand Wine Fair Vancouver
Thursday May 28 2009 2.30pm-5.30pm VCEC WEST Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre 999 Canada Place To register or for more information on the wines and wineries, visit: http://www.nzwine-events.ca/


Not everyone knows the skinny on this up and coming region. This is a great opportunity to piggyback this event on the Okanagan Spring Festival. Easy to hit this event and still be in the Okanagan for other events.

Spring Release Event

Taste the Similkameen Terroir

Similkameen Wineries Association

Saturday, May 9, 2009

1:00pm - 4:00pm




Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gearing Up For The Vancouver International Wine Festival

This is going to be a great week.
We're headed to Vancouver to attend the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, one of the biggest events of it's kind in North America. Thousands of winos will descend on the city to take in the offerings from scores of wineries. British Columbia is the feature region (for the first time) and Township 7 will have a table.
As Township's winemaker, I will be on hand for all of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I will be pouring at the trade and public tasting sessions. Be sure to come by, chat and grab a sample.
Although Black Cloud isn't officially entered, it will have an incognito presence. Just ask me when we meet.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Black Cloud making news.

The Black Cloud wine team is back from their too-short vacation in Mexico and ready to roll.
We've started to distribute our 2006 Pinot Noir and we're really pleased with the reviews it's been getting.

Karen over at Winebard had this to say...

"A lovely example of new world Pinot Noir"

Kelly at Full Bodied noted ...

"Seek this wine out, it will reward you"

Kathleen at Between the Vines came up with this great food pairing and said . . .

Each sip made the food taste better, and each mouthful of food brought out the brilliance of the wine.

If you are seeking our wine you can find it at
Broadway International Wine store on Broadway at McDonald. Vancouver
Whatcom Wine & Spirits in Abbotsford

We're in the process of adding to this list. If you have a favourite wine-centric store that you'd like us to consider let us know. We're looking for progressive retailing partners to carry the Black Cloud line as it grows.

You can always order directly from us here. The Black Cloud team will be in Vancouver and surrounding area on Wednesday, March 18 making deliveries and meeting new clients. We can deliver yours too. It's a free delivery day for our greater Vancouver customers.

$25.00 bottle

In other news . . .

  • Talking to growers about interesting white varieties available to create a nice white for vintage 2009.
  • Considering a rose-ay.
  • Mulling the idea of sparkling Black Cloud.
  • Planning our public events schedule for spring and summer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Black Cloud Pinot Noir is Ready!

It's been a great journey! And it's only just begun.

My wife and I took a situation that was really a kick in the backside and changed into an opportunity.

Back in August, when we lost a big consulting gig, we started thinking about how it sometimes seems like things are going great and then a black cloud moves in and rains on our parade. We talked long into the night about our dreams, where we came from, how far we've come over the years. We talked about our vision of owning our own winery and how that seemed to be just out of reach.

Then one of us remembered how every cloud has a silver lining. We decided then and there to make the situation work for us and not against us.

The wine I had been consulting on was excellent. I knew if I could get some we could use it to shoestring finance our dream. Long story short, my employer, Township 7 , agreed to help us establish the Black Cloud brand until we can spin it off into our own licensed winery operation.

We decided to adopt the Black Cloud name to constantly remind us that adversity makes us stronger and, even if things look bad sometimes, there's always a way to make things better.

In the vineyard, grape vines that have things too easy become insipid and unremarkable. The best fruit undergoes stress and trial.

We hope that our 2006 Pinot Noir exhibits all the character and complexity you'd expect from a hand-crafted, small lot wine. Made from vines that flourished while being tested by the elements.

The labels are on and we are ready to fill orders.

Simply contact us at:

$25 /bottle

Monday, February 09, 2009

Vineyard Winter Damage

As pruning ramps up and people get out in the field, it's becoming more and more apparent that the cold snap in December has created some significant winter damage to grape vines.

Especially in the south part of the Okanagan Valley, vineyard workers are describing some blown primary buds and other damage.

As this time I don't have access to statistics but I will be checking and updating as available.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wine, Social Media, Sex and me - explained.

I've avoided trying to explain or describe or adequately define what's going on with media, social media, this blog, my wine work, Black Cloud and me up until now because I wasn't quite comfortable with my abilities to tie it all together.

But thanks to an old joke that I've mostly forgotten, I think I can give it a try.

First, if you're reading this, you've got at least a passing acquaintance with social media. Mostly if not all web/internet based, it's all those things (platforms, applications) like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, weBlogs that allow people (messengers) to inform others (message receivers) about stuff. Any segment of social media worth its salt then allows robustly active conversation around those messages.

How does that differ from old media?

Television, radio and print (even standing in the park on a soapbox) are mostly about one-way message delivery. The messenger crafts the message and then unleashes it on a mass audience, more or less confident that it will deliver the concept to most receivers most of the time.

As receivers, we just lie there and take it. Interaction has been limited to talk radio phone-ins, letters to the editor and heckling in the park.

So in the old joke there's a woman and a man having sexual relations and after it's over (as far as he's concerned) the man asks "Was it good for you?" (market research).

She responds, "Blue."

He asks quizzically, "Blue?"

She replies, "Yes, blue. I think I'll paint the ceiling blue".

Despite being confident he was delivering the right message, the messenger had no idea what the receiver was thinking or if she was even receptive. As they like to point out in the socmed world - message delivery = fail.

In new media, there's plenty of two-way communication from the start. Sure, things can foul up.

And social media won't replace old media but it will form a complimentary path.

By now you're aware that for the most part this is about selling things. But it's more than that. It's about giving people options in their lives and giving them choices. Its about those choices being qualified and vetted by their peers and other like-minded folk before committing resources. More than just dollars, those resources include time and something I like to call place of mind.

With so much information out there, having a band of brothers (and sisters) out there is like having your own socio-economic support group. Here's another sad attempt at an analogy.

Woody Allen is a recognized genius in world of cinema. However, there are varying degrees of Woody Allen fans. Some despise him and are not fans at all. Some will watch the movies but are critical of his off-screen life. Others will eat the whole buffet.

Social media allows you to surround yourself with the Woody Allen fans that approximate your degree of involvement. It's like going to the theatre and everybody is already on board the Woody Allen train. Not that there isn't the thrust and parry of criticism, but there is a genuine level of involvement not present in a random crowd.

As I prepare to launch my new wine brand Black Cloud, I'm considering what media to use to spread the word. In my mind, most old (mass) media is scattershot. You put out an ad in the paper or on TV and cross your fingers that you hit something. With social media, I think I can connect with people who have a degree of interest in what I'm doing. Using the right channels, I can talk to people who have already identified themselves as wine people. There's a focus in social media I don't see in mass media.

At least to start with, I'll be using social media almost exclusively to promote Black Cloud wine. I hope to make the suggestion, have a conversation and sell a few bottles of wine directly to the fans and winos who inhabit this world.

With a little luck, I'll avoid getting the answer "blue" when I ask the question.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wine Bloggers' Conference - It's a GO!

Looks like I'm headed to California in late July.
I signed up and paid for the second-ever Wine Bloggers' Conference to be held in Napa and Sonoma counties this summer.
Last time they did this, a couple hundred wine nuts (more or less attached to the internet) showed up and traded ideas, got up to speed, tasted an enormous amount of wine and generally had the opportunity to understand each others' unique perspective.
Participants travelled from all over North America and the world. They were extremely well treated by conference organizers and sponsors.
I was not able to go. (insert pout here)
It was in late October. Around that time, we here in the Okanagan are buried scrotum-high in grapes. It behooved me to remain at my post.
Other people in more gentle climes on the production side of things made some noise and voila! - summer in California for this version.
I'm really looking forward to this. That's the essence of understatement. I will have the opportunity to show off my wines and indulge in the following recipe.
1/4 geek
1/4 webjourno
1/4 wine maker
1/4 Californiaphile
Top with sun, pool, hikes, bikes and good food.
I strongly encourage my readers and associated wine folks to consider attending. Attendance is capped at 250 and I understand the sign-up has been brisk.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Newest Black Cloud Wine label mock-up

As we continue to refine the Black Cloud wine label design we get closer to what we think will work.

Still not exactly what we will end up with but it's getting there. This cut-out is a bit kicked because we've been tossing it around and packing it from place to place.

The actual paper stock is a more glossy silver that will give some of the cloud detail more 'light'. The words 'Pinot Noir' will have more jump as well. The colour are close, but we still won't get the true representation until it start to roll off the press.

Since it's a Canadian label, we don't have to have the surgeon general's happy message. But we do have to adhere to regulations concerning English and French for certain key elements. Our final approval or checkpoint is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which is now looking it over. They make sure all the federal regs are being met.

Anne O'Grady at Magpye Productions is who we are working with to get this done.

Okanagan Wine Services - Finally!

A couple of entrepreneurs have stepped up and will soon fill a void in the Okanagan Valley - especially in the south end.

Okanagan Wine Services (OWS) will begin offering warehousing and host of other services to area wineries in an area that seems to be chronically short of dedicated wine-friendly capacity.

Larry Stranaghan and Jeff Keen dropped by my neck of the woods the other day to introduce themselves and let Township 7 and Black Cloud wines know what they have to offer. The plan is to get started immediately. While they will consider using an existing building, they are prepared to build from the ground-up to satisfy the needs of their customers. Penticton seems to be the prime location under consideration.

Among the many features local wineries will find attractive:
  • Climate controlled Storage: many wineries use off site storage but a lot of times you settle for less than ideal conditions to just get the stuff stored. OWS will be addressing the temperature, humidity and, hopefully, vibration issues.
  • Custom packaging: it's old news in other jurisdictions but not here. The plan is to offer wine club shipping services and custom pick and pack. For all intents and purposes, a wine industry fulfilment centre.
  • Inventory control through secure client access on their website. Shipped and received; barcoded and electronically recorded on your account.
  • 24 -7 access and operation.

The website is operational at this time but there's still some detail to come. Use the phone number or email address under 'Contact us' to get more information.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Black Cloud Wine Label Sneak Peek

A quick Bberry phone pic of one of the the mock-ups we've been playing with.

A lot has changed. Colours, paperstock, the vintage date is wrong, etc.

But it gives you a rough idea of the concepts we've been working to make this happen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Heading to Kamloops, Wine in Hand.

In early February, I'll be heading to Kamloops, B.C. to talk to Township 7 fans at a couple venues and to try and present the wines to some new customers as well.

The way the schedule is starting to align, it looks like my Black Cloud 2006 Pinot Noir will make it's debut on this trip as well.

So far the schedule looks like this:

Tuesday, February 3 - 7:00 pm
Gerry O's
2900 - 30th Street
Vernon, BC
(250) 542-3333

On my way to Kamloops, I'm stopping at this great store that sells our wine in Vernon. Once a month they put on these special tastings complete with food accompaniment. I suggest you call if you want to join me and taste a selection of Township 7 wines.

Wednesday, February 4 - 7:30 pm
Kamloops Winemakers

I think this is for members only but check with me if you're in the area and I'll try and sneak you in!

Thursday, February 5 - 3:30 to ???
Lansdowne Central Liquor Store
450 Lansdowne

I'll be at the store for a few hours, talking with wine drinkers and pouring a nice flight of Township7 wines. Drop in and meet!

Still working on: a trade tasting for Kamloops restaurants and license holders in the city and quick trip to Sun Peaks to talk to folks there. Will try to get a day in on the slopes Friday!