Monday, June 23, 2008

Starling Lane Winery

On the weekend while we were trying to kill more time waiting for this baby to arrive, we went out on the peninsula looking for local strawberries. The trip to find the strawberries was not really successful, the price the producers were asking was outrageous, about $4 a pint. This was bad enough last year, but this year the price seems utterly out of whack with reality. I have seen a lot of decent American strawberries this year and often for not much more than a dollar a pound. I will wait for the local ones.

What was interesting was the Starling Lane Winery. This is a hobby operation for three couples. The volume of wine they produce is very low, only 1000 cases a year. We were served Sherry Mussio. I asked her about the sort of volumes they cropped on their vines and I was astonished at how low their volumes were. They are cropping in the order of one tonne per acre - far below the four tonnes per acre in the Okanagan or the 'norm' on the island of 2.5 to 3 tonnes. Clearly they could be producing some high quality grapes, but the proof comes in the taste of the wine.

We had a chance to try several wines, three whites, one red and a blackberry port. The offered a nice Ortega and Pinot Gris. Even though I tend to not like the drier whites, I could see drinking either one. Then came the moment I dread at most wineries, especially the small scale ones, the offer of the red.

I have rarely found a BC red that can really compete with a mid range or bargain range Californian or Australian red. I did have a chance a few years back to try a BC red Harry McWaters offered me when I met with him at Sumac Ridge. It was very good, it was also $50 a bottle. Most times BC reds are thin and simple when they are drinkable, or they are simply utterly undrinkable.

John Vielvoye, a very good BC based viticulture expert, once told me that there is a very strong tendency in BC for growers to chose varieties that are on the margins in BC, to push what is possible. Only very low cropping and the best growers can make anything of them, and that is very rare.

It strikes me that most small scale wineries are a hobby of love run by people who really are not experts in growing grapes or in making wines - I could write pages about the problem of small scale winemakers who are in love with their dream and can not tell that they are making awful plonk.

So, the dreaded moment of the red wine came out. I already knew that these were amateur hobbiest who do this for a lifestyle dream and not for the money. I was dreading the Pinot Noir that was handed to me. I was hoping it would at least be a thin insipid drinkable concoction and not something that would make me think fondly of the old gala kegs of Calona. BC is home to many Pinot Noir butchers.

My first surprise was the bouquet, there was a true peppery scent with nice hints of spicy fruit. The taste gave me a full bodied classic Pinot Noir. This is an island red worth buying and drinking, though at $22 a bottle it is still a steep price.

Sherry explained to me that if the grapes they grow are not up to the standards they want, they will not make the wine. Those words are magic to my ears. There is some quality control going on and I have a confidence that Starling Lane is not going to make and release a wine they are not confident of. It also indicates that they know how to make wine and they know what a good wine tastes like.

We bought a bottle of the Ortega and a bottle of the Pinot Noir.
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