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From Alsace to the Okanagan
Oct 15, 2019

If you're a fan of Alsatian wines (and why wouldn't you be?) you'll likely recognize the name Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.

The domaine, established in the 17th centurey, has been passed down from generation to generation, remaining in the Humbrecht family; in 1959 it merged with the Zind family (also winemakers) through marriage.

The result of that union, Olivier Humbrecht, wine maker and Master of Wine, has been instrumental in today's renewed interest in the picturesque French winemaking region.

He's also an advocate of bio-dynamic agriculture, which he began practicing in 1997. Since 2007 the wines of the domaine have been certified.

Humbrecht, who has achieved international acclaim for his Alsatian wines and cool-climate winemaking know-how was brought on as a consultant for the Oliver-based Phantom Creek Estates project.

While Humbrecht is not the only international consultant working in the Okanagan (Alberto Antonini from Italy, Pedro Parra from Chile and Alain Sutre from Bordeaux, France, for example) this is his first international gig.

Last week, during a visit to check the harvest, Humbrecht stopped in Vancouver for a day to pour two of his family's wines, alongside two from Phantom Creek.
He shared some insight into his philosophy, and what its like to make wine in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.

Phantom Creek's first wines were released earlier this year but these were the first wines I have tasted from the estate.

"I’m here to make a wine, pure Alsace in style, yes, but the wine here should taste different."

Humbrecht noted there are similarities in Alsace and the Okanagan Valley, "They both have continental influences, its pretty dry [here], even a bit more than Alsace. There are soil variations, but much less than Alsace."

The differences, he continued, are the climactic differences from the northern tip of the lengthy Lake Okanagan to the south, "It's like Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south to Chablis in the north Okanagan."

Where Phantom Creek's winery sits, just south of Oliver, along the warmer Black Sage bench, the soils are super fine and well draining, suitable for the reds they have planted on the 190 acres of estate land (about half of that is planted to vine).

Additionally, Phantom Creek recently purchased a large section of land in the Similkameen Valley, where Humbrecht noted the volcanic sediment soils.
In the spring of 2019 they planted 45-acres and in coming years will likely plant about 65 more—white and red varieties.

The goal is to control all the vineyards where Phantom Creek gets grapes, for more than one reason, "It’s extremely difficult to buy grapes here; you have to bargain and trade—especially if you want organic. It's harder here than in Alsace," Humbrecht shared.

To do so, Phantom Creek has had to expand it's vineyard sites to support its production, hence the Similkameen Valley property expansion.

"If you want to make good wines, you have to do it yourself," Humbrecht stated.

Humbrecht added that the vine stock and clonal selection available in Canada is troublesome, most comes from the US; we just don't have access to better quality European rootstock.
He's never seen so much leafroll virus anywhere (leafroll is a series of viruses that disrupt the flow of nutrients to shoots, leaves and fruit, and can only be defeated by replanting with clean, virus-free rootstock).

Additionally, while Humbrecht feels our climate here is good overall, grape growers must plan for bad times when managing vineyards, "Life can be tough and you have to know how to respond to rain and poor weather," he underlined but added, "But I think it brings more character to the wine; tough situations make people tougher."

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Roche Pinot Gris 2015 Roche vineyard has volcanic granitic soils, it's a cru vineyard, but this one is declassified, it comes east facing slopes.comes from the younger vines of the cru. The nose is immediatly smokier and richer iwith musk melon and honey. It's a drier style with impressive palate weight and exceptional length.

Phantom Creek Estates Pinot Gris 2017 comes from a vineyard closer to Okanagan Falls that has slightly similar soils as his Pinot Gris. Expect significant weight and concentration but with good balance. Notes of honey and yellow orchard fruits woven with star fruit. Excellent length and complexity.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling 2016 Peachy and honeyed, perfumed and nervy with intensity and a beautiful weight. It offers lemon curds with an umami savoury character and slighty salty finish.

Phantom Creek Estates Riesling 2017 doles out effusive aromas of sweet honey and peach woven with tealeaf and bergamot.
Weight and purity come together on the palate, along with flavours of chamomile tea and a rich citrusy undertone.

~Daenna Van Mulligen

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