It won’t be long before the first local wines of 2020 hit shelves


Weekend wine picks, a recipe match and more.

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It won’t be long before the first local wines of 2020 hit the B.C. market, led by Pinot Gris.

Most are picked, crushed, fermented and bottled and ready to drink by the time the weather begins to warm just as local salmon, spot prawn, and halibut seasons get underway.

That’s not to say things are not changing. In a cool climate, Pinot Gris can be more than ordinary if not magical at times. It is a place some producers are exploring, much to the delight of wine lovers.

Across B.C., Pinot Gris is closing in on its 45th birthday since the first vines went into the ground. Back then, George and Trudy Heiss of the Winfield, now Lake Country-based Gray Monk Estate, championed the cultivar, even naming their winery “Gray Monk” after the colloquial expression used for Pinot Gris in Austria and Hungary.

The first 50 Pinot Gris vines came from Alsace in 1976. That same summer, Dr. Helmut Becker, the director of grape breeding at Germany’s Geisenheim Institute, visited the Okanagan Valley and offered George Heiss a selection of vines from the famed Geisenheim research plots. The rest, as they say, is history.


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By suggesting that the vines be made available to all growers when the experiment ended, the Heiss family has left a legacy of grapes spread across the Okanagan Valley and most other wine-growing regions in British Columbia. Today, it vies with chardonnay as the most widely planted white grape in B.C. and trails only merlot overall in hectares planted. It is impressive, to say the least, for a grape that hasn’t received a lot of love from the media or the trade.

Internationally, Pinot Gris spans every style from bone dry to off-dry if not sweet, and often it is made to age. Alsace, France, Northern Italy, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand and Oregon all grow one of Rulander, Grauburgunder, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. Its early release makes it financially viable for wineries to grow and sell. Certainly, the latter speaks to its origins in British Columbia.

After suffering decades of simple, fruit salad-flavoured Pinot Gris, the good news is Pinot Gris style is evolving in B.C., among the better producers. The change is part of a larger B.C. movement that sees growers experimenting with different techniques, including oak and concrete and, most importantly, connecting with their land.

The key has been embracing the notion of true cool-climate wine that can come with a level of energy, excitement, acidity, minerality and mouthfeel few in the world can match.

Before you say, Hey, it’s Pinot Gris, we know. It may never be as complex as the greatest chardonnays or rieslings. Still, with a little respect and a lot of trial and error over the next generation, it will become an important wine style for British Columbia, and consumers are already on board.


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Now, what to look for this spring. Here’s a list of Pinot Gris that grabbed our attention in 2020. Some will still be available, while others will be launching their 2020 or 2021 vintage in the coming days.

Sorted by price: Harper’s Trail 2019 Pinot Gris Thadd Springs Vineyard ($18.99), Van Westen Vineyards 2018 Vino Grigio ($19.90), Spearhead 2019 Pinot Gris Golden Retreat Vineyard ($20), Mission Hill Reserve 2020 Pinot Gris ($21.99), Moraine 2019 Pinot Gris ($22), 50th Parallel Estate 2018 Pinot Gris ($22.50), Hillside Un-oaked 2019 ($23), LaStella Vivace 2019 Pinot Grigio ($23), Nichol Vineyard 2019 Pinot Gris ($24.25), Blue Mountain 2019 Pinot Gris ($25), Unsworth Vineyards 2019 Saison Vineyard Pinot Gris ($24.25), Haywire Switchback Organic Vineyard 2018 Pinot Gris ($30) and Phantom Creek Estates 2018 Pinot Gris ($33).

Weekend wine picks

Hillside Un-oaked Pinot Gris 2019, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

$22.00 I 89/100

UPC: 626990092797

Hillside and the Naramata Bench are intertwined, and given the newly minted Naramata Bench sub-Gi designation for the mid-Okanagan Valley bench, it is now official. 2019 is delicious, and like last year, it remains dry and fresh – an orchard in the glass you can enjoy with a wide range of foods from cheese to salumi to sushi and more. It has a tiny bit of colour that only adds to its allure. Brava winemaker Kathy Malone and the entire team at Hillside. Back up the truck.


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LaStella Vivace Pinot Grigio 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

$22.99 I 90/100

UPC: 808755017256

Vivace is not your grandmother’s Pinot Gris. Like its moniker, it is vivacious, following down the mineral, salty, citrus route. Taut and alive, it is also a fabulous food wine. Post ferment, it feeds on its lees for a few months to add a touch of cream to an otherwise crisp, lip-smacking gris that screams for seafood — first-class effort.

Blue Mountain Estate Cuvée Pinot Gris 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

$24.25 I 89/100

UPC: 626452201194

Thirty-three-year-old Pinot Gris vines from two French clones are at the heart of this wine. Over the years, the wine has taken on more texture and complexity via the fermentation route that begins with indigenous yeast and then a mix of vessels: foudre, stainless, older French barrels, and puncheons. The wooded wines undergo regular bâttonage or lees stirring, while the stainless portion sits tight on its lees. Eventually, they are blended the following spring. The result is rich pear and lime pith with a lift of creamy lees and spicy baked apple in the finish. There’s a lot to like here, and you can do it with a wide selection of menu items from chicken and pork to seafood and vegetarian plates.

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Gris Saison Vineyards 2019, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

$26.00 I 90/100

UPC: 626990320340

The Unsworth Saison Vineyard Pinot Gris is a window into Vancouver Island’s future as a premium producer of white wines. Primarily fermented in stainless steel, a small amount (10%) goes into neutral French oak to reduce the stark, mineral tones. Extended lee contact helps build texture, as does a full malolactic fermentation, but this wine is mostly electric. A stony mineral, quince, and pear affair, it has all the hallmarks of a serious ageable Gris. There’s a bit of dryness in the back end but that should resolve itself with time in the bottle. I love the bright green apple and pear opening, drizzled with citrus and sprinkled with dried herbs, mostly fennel. The finish is all mineral.


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Haywire Switchback Organic Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

$29.90 I 90/100

UPC: 00626990161783

The wine cognoscenti love to diss Pinot Gris, and often it’s with good reason, but not all gris is the same, as evidenced by this jewel of an effort by Okanagan Crush Pad. The home vineyard is certified organic fruit that, in a word, is alive. It is wild fermented and aged in concrete tanks for ten months, where it interacts with its gross lees, forming creamy textures. The colour is Alsace gold, and the intensity is too, but in the end, it is all Okanagan sagebrush and honey with a super fresh finish — a quality Gris that has the structure to be on the dinner table.

Recipe Match

Meat loaf is an ultimate comfort food. And this iteration from Fable Diner is no exception. Whether served on its own, or with a few complementary side dishes (ahem, may we recommend some greens), this meaty dish is sure to provide a mix of familiar flavours, with a little something new:

Fable Diner meat loaf

1 lb (454 g) lean ground beef

1 lb (454 g) lean ground pork

3/4 cup (180 mL) peeled shallots 

3/4 cup (180 mL) jumbo diced carrots

1/3 cup (80 mL) mushrooms 

2 tsp (10 mL) crush garlic

2 tsp (10 mL) kosher salt

1/4 cup (60 mL) barbecue sauce 

4 tsp (20 mL) Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) paprika 

1/4 tsp (1 mL) nutmeg


2 slices sourdough bread, diced

1/4 cup (60 mL) heavy cream 35%

2 eggs

Medium dice and sweat veg in large pot. Add spices, garlic, shallots and 1 teaspoon salt. After a minute add Worcestershire and barbecue sauces. Remove from heat and cool.


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Make panade by mixing bread, whip cream and eggs. Use blender or food processor to mix.

Use a large bowl to season the beef and pork with 1 teaspoon salt, add cooled veg mixture and panade mix. Mix vigorously until tacky. Line a bread pan (small loaf pan) with parchment and set oven to 120 C (249 F)

Cover with foil and bake for at least 1 hour and internal temp 74 C (165 F).

Serves four.

We love this rustic meat and vegetable dish best supported by a wine of a similar style.

Mission Hill Estate Series Cabernet Merlot 2017, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $21

Loof for spicy, cedary, cherry fruited red with a light dusting of tannin ready to take on the meatloaf.

El Esteco Don David Reserve Malbec 2018, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina $15.99

Rich black plum fruit, dried tomato and the freshness and minerality of Salta. Ready to drink and best with beef.


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