Tasting Note: 2009 Old Vines Chenin Blanc, Road 13 Vineyards, Okanagan Valley VQA

Road 13 Vineyards, at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley, has certainly won notice for the remarkable blends that Michael Bartier, the estate’s winemaker until last January, put together seamlessly from sometimes improbable combinations of varieties. Whether it’s the Stemwinder white (chardonnay, chardonnay musqué and sauvignon blanc) or the Rockpile red (60% syrah, 19% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 6% cabernet franc, 2% zinfandel and 1% each of viognier, grenache and mourvèdre), those blends were remarkably coherent and convergent, with the different components flowing together quite harmoniously.

When I visited the winery in June 2010, I even tasted a tank sample of a white blend of viognier, riesling and sauvignon blanc – say what?!!? – that came together smoothly and beautifully, despite the improbable character of the varietal combination. Bartier told me that the goal of this blending was “to make it more of a white wine” – in other words, to add dimension and balance through various components.

That’s likely why there is 6% riesling in the 2009 Home Vineyard Old Vines Chenin Blanc – to add a little acid to some very ripe chenin grapes, picked exceptionally early off the 29 year-old vines. I’m not sure anyone could tell it’s there if you didn’t know. After all, there is good acid and richness in many a chenin, wherever they may come from. The bottle I’d brought back home at the end of the trip, which I drank over two days, , showed some nice tropical notes, a general texture and flavor that reminded me of the pulp of a fresh orange, a little touch of lanolin/wet wool character that I often find in Loire chenin, as well as a full, rich texture that rounded it off nicely and gave the wine a deeper, longer finish.

To be quite frank, it wasn’t quite as good or well-integrated as the Huet Le Haut-Lieu Vouvray, also from 2009, that I had tonight. But that’s a pretty high standard to hold it up to. And also, you have to keep in mind that the Old Vines Chenin sells for 19,99$. Great value, for that price. (Road 13 also makes a very good sparkling chenin blanc, by the way, another nod to the Loire Valley.)

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the chenin and all the other blends and cuvées, now that winemaking duties at Road 13 have been taken over by Jean Martin Bouchard, who was previously at Hidden Bench, one of the most solid wineries in Niagara, where he made remarkably well-crafted cuvées from pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay, syrah, viognier, etc. Road 13 is in good hands with this very precise winemaker who demonstrates a crazy level of attention to detail and an ability to work successfully with a wide range of grapes.

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