Critter label love: Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
by Geordie Clarke
Sometimes rules are meant to be broken, mantras cast to the wayside.
For the most part, I am a staunch enemy of so-called critter label wines, the sort that use a cute, cuddly critter as part of their branding. The number of sub-standard wines with an enigmatic animal on the label far outnumber those that are genuinely worth drinking, so I have made it a rule of life not to give them much attention.
But this is one of those times when that rule was not only broken, it wasn’t even acknowledged.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is regarded as one of British Columbia’s best, based in the semi-arid southern reaches of the Okanagan Valley, a region unlike the lush rainforests I came to know growing up on Vancouver Island.
The landscape here is as close as you can get to desert-like in this part of the world and, in fact, is a northern extension of the Sonoran Desert. There aren’t many trees in these parts; instead, there are grasslands, small shrubs and brush, plenty of rocks and an abundance of loose soil. The bright green orchards and vineyards are all a creation of human intervention.
So, without further ado, let’s get to the critter love. This is what you see when you turn off the main road and onto Burrowing Owl’s long driveway. The road is much steeper than this photo suggests. And those tress on the hills are a lot smaller than they seem. Like I said, trees are not abundant in these parts. But grapevines are, which is good for us.
In case there was any doubt, this is indeed Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, as the sign on the wall says. Complete with faux adobe winery-cum-cellar-door-cum-restaurant-cum-hotel.
It looks pretty good in the sun. But it also reminds me of wineries in California’s Santa Barbara County. And perhaps Sonoma. And maybe some estates in Napa…
It has a dazzling pool, though. And those vineyards you see in the background? Yup, those are Burrowing Owl’s. Well, except for the vines that Sandhill Estate bought from Burrowing Owl a while back. After several years of leasing the plots, Sandhill decided buying them outright might be a good idea. The result? Two wineries that share a terroir; perfect for us wine drinkers. Of course, Sandhill is easier to acquire, more of which later.
Obligatory wine barrel shot…
More vineyards belonging to Burrowing Owl. As you can see, they own a large piece of land, which is pretty ideal if you want to make a lot of money by making wine.
Not to be outdone, they had a pretty big tasting room with plenty of wines on show. See, this is one of their better wines, the 2020 Athene, which is a field blend of syrah and, um, something else:
More wine on show:
For a brief moment while I was writing this entry, I thought I was going to have to cut things short and not say much about how the wines tasted. This is because, in my infinite wisdom and due to my stunning organisational skills, I wrote my notes for Burrowing Owl’s wines on the tasting sheet they supply at the winery rather than write them in my notebook.
And then I threw said sheet into my recycling pile.
However, because I’m slow when it comes to taking out my recycling, I managed to repatriate my notes from the bin so I can present them to you here.
And here they are….oh…
Okay, so there aren’t going to be many notes on this occasion. But what I can say is that Burrowing Owl is probably most famous for its merlot, which unlike California does not illicit quite the same caustic response as Miles from Sideways.
But beyond merlot, Burrowing Owl does a good trade in syrah and cabernet franc. The 2010 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc nearly ripped the skin off my upper palate thanks to its 14.5 per cent alcohol level, but this is not to say I didn’t like it. It had some excellent acidity, red berry aromas and flavours, and just enough oak treatment to round things off. It has more body than a Loire/Saumur example, likely because the climate in Osoyoos is just that much warmer.
The other wine for which I have reasonable notes is the 2010 Burrowing Owl Athene, which my notes claim contains syrah and cabernet sauvignon in something of a field blend. It is peppery, rich with black fruits and has this warm, baked aroma and flavour that makes you think of warm climates like the Rhone Valley. It has a spicy, oaky nose, but nothing too overpowering. It also has plenty of acidity and rounded tannins that will allow it to age.
Sadly that is where my notes end.
So, in closing, not all critter labels are a bad thing. In this case, we have a superb producer dedicated to making quality wines. They aren’t the easiest to find because their distribution to retail stores is limited (most is sold direct from the vineyard or through restaurants and hotels), so if you can get your hands on some, don’t hesitate. But don’t be surprised if you almost never see this wine outside a restaurant wine list.
Then again, many of Sandhill’s wines are made from what was once the other half of Burrowing Owl’s vineyard land, but are much easier to find in retail shops. So you might consider just buying that instead.