Riesling from British Columbia and why I need to find $7.9-million

Hey brother, can you spare $7.9-million? If so, you could own your very own vineyard in a beautiful setting among British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.

That’s right, Saturna Island Family Estate Winery is up for sale – again – and the property could be yours if you can make the mortgage payments. It’s best if you’re into your cool climate and aromatic white wines, however, because I doubt you’ll b able to make anything good other than riesling, pinot gris and chardonnay. But that’s okay, because as it turns out, British Columbia is a good place to make riesling and other aromatic white wines. That is, if you aren’t among the masses who think they’re all sickly sweet German concoctions.

Depending on your upbringing, riesling is either the greatest white wine in the world or a sickly sweet concoction often associated brands like Black Tower and Blue Nun (even if they’re actually blends of several white grape varieties).

But put a decent glass of riesling in the hands of the uninitiated – whether it is sweet, semi-sweet or bone dry – and more often than not the reaction is positive in nature.

We associate riesling with Germany and Austria, where the cooler climates in these countries suit this grape well. But the rest of the world is catching up. Australia, New Zealand, New York’s Finger Lakes; each of these regions does a great job of it. Washington State has also proved to be an ideal climate for riesling and Chateau Ste Michelle, its most widely recognised vineyard, has grown to become the world’s largest single producer of the wine.

So if Washington State can do it, why not British Columbia? First things first, riesling is not a new grape for British Columbian wine producers. There are plenty of vineyards growing it and fermenting it, but it isn’t exactly the region’s signature white grape either. Perhaps it ought to be.

There are plenty of interesting producers in B.C. but I am going to pick out two that completely blew my socks off rather than prattle on about all the others.

First up, a dry riesling fermented with wild yeasts from Saturna Island Family Estate Winery.  Where is Saturna Island, you ask? Right here.

As islands go, Saturna is sparsely populated, having about 350 permanent residents. It is close to Victoria and Vancouver as the crow flies, but feels remote and rural given that it can only be accessed by sea or air.

But if you do end up buying this vineyard, don’t expect it to be a major tourist attraction. It takes a bit of time to get there by ferry, so only the truly determined customers are likely to schlep all that way.

BCwineSaturna Riesling Wild Ferment next to a Sumac Ridge Stellar’s Jay Brut

The 2011 Wild Ferment is crisp and dry with a moderate alcohol level of 12%. It is full of citrus flavours and offered pleasant drinking overall, and seemed to have a bit of a spritz to it. I’d say it could use with a bit more refinement, but it was worth the money (about $18) and is unique in being made with indigenous yeasts. Definitely one to watch.

Next up, Tantalus Vineyards, which also makes a pinot noir that I discussed in another post.

They make two standard rieslings at Tantalus, their ‘Riesling’ and their ‘Old Vines Riesling’. There is also an icewine variant, but I won’t get into that here.

The Tantalus Riesling 2012 is a blend of old and new vines, and is off-dry with medium acidity. It has a fruity, floral aroma, and is grassy with plenty of citrus on the palate. This is the cheaper of the two, at $23, and is well worth the price.

The Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2010 is a more mature, more rounded wine than its baby brother. The nose is full of gasoline/petrol aromas and it has plenty of citrus and lemon flavours. This is made in a dry style, but it is backed up with enough fruit to make it seem almost off-dry at times. This is definitely not a bone-dry, almost ‘stealy’ riesling. It has a lingering, fruity finish and is truly elegant. Cost? $30.

You can also find B.C. riesling at plenty of other vineyards, of course. Quails’ Gate, Nk’Mip, Cedar Creek, See Ya Later Ranch, Orofino, Snychromesh, and so on.

Now, how much would the mortgage repayments on $7.9-million be?

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