Le Vieux Pin, La Stella, Artakama: star wineries from Canada’s Okanagan

Severine Pinte is winemaker with two of the Okanagan’s most interesting wine projects, Le Vieux Pin and La Stella. Both under the same ownership, the former is more French/Rhône oriented, while the second is a Canadian Super Tuscan, making Italian-style wines in a winery with Tuscan Villa architecture. And now there’s a third in the portfolio: natural wine project Artakama.

Severine Pinte in front of La Stella

All are owned by the same couple from Vancouver, and share the same philosophy: vineyard first. Pinte and her team pay a lot of attention to the soils, climates and vines.

Severine, an agronomy engineer from France, arrived in Canada in 2010. Her training was in Montpellier. She’s been making the wines at Le Vieux Pin since 2010 and La Stella since 2012.

The grapes are sourced from six properties spread throughout the Okanagan, with those for Le Vieux Pin tending to be more northerly (cooler), and those for La Stella further south. All six vineyards are quite different. ‘For me it is a lot of work and it is not economic,’ says Severine, ‘but as a winemaker I have all their different tastes to play with, and the blending magic happens.’

La Stella

The Okanagan has quite a short growing season, with bud break in May and the first frosts at the end of October. ‘But in the last few years we’ve had bud break in April and then the first frost in the middle of November,’ she says. In May 2013 she lost a fair amount of crop to frost, so now she doesn’t prune short. As insurance she leaves lots of buds and then shoot thins. She weighs clusters at harvest, and her goal is to get 3 tons/acre.

She says that every year is different in the Okanagan. ‘I adapt myself to the year.’ Most years there is no need for acidification, but she has occasionally had to add acid.

Severine has a particular love for Syrah. ‘I think that in the south Okanagan, Syrah is a perfect match,’ she says. ‘It is a fun wine to make, and it’s a fun wine to play with in the Okanagan. We are also playing with fire because we have a short growing season, so we have to play with the yield and canopy management, and we have to pick at the right time. You can go into the vineyard one day and it is just sugar, and the next day the flavours are starting to show, and this is when you need to pick.’

A new addition is Artakama, which is a magnum-only line of natural wines which are really impressive.

La Stella

LaStella Moscato D’Osoyoos 2018, Okanagan Valley, Canada
One of the unique specialties of the Okanagan, inspired by Piemonte – the blend is Moscato Bianco a Petits Grains, Muscat Ottonel, and Orange Muscat. The vines are six to nine-years-old and grow on heavy clay/gravel soils in the Osoyoos Lake District, and vines 6-9 years old. Mid-sweet, and low on alcohol, this is an effervescent and lifted light-bodied wine, buoyant with gooseberries, pear blossom, elderflower, mandarine. 89/100 (07/19) (TR)

La Stella Fortissimo 2017 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.2% alcohol. 60% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 9% Sangiovese. Bright and expressive with herb and tar tinged blackcurrant and berry fruits. Has a slight sour cherry edge keeping things fresh, with nice savouries. This is a really delicious wine with a slight Italian twist from the Sangiovese, which even at just 9% makes its presence felt. Ripe but not overly so. Such a lovely wine. 93/100 (07/19) (JG)

This Tuscan-inspired red continues to be tweaked and tightened year over year. In 2017, the blend was 60% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Sangiovese, sourced from Osoyoos West and East Bench, the Golden Mile Bench, and Black Sage Bench. Utilizing large format Hungarian / Slavonian oak works to marry the parts seamlessly, evident even in this very youthful stage. It spends 15 months in puncheons (10% new) and neutral oak, before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Graphite, wild blueberry, plum and cherry rise through this year, buffered by ample, slightly sticky tannins and propped with natural acidity to a spiced violet, stony finish. Very much in youth and with angles to shed and tightness to give but the future is bright. It will be a worthy cellar addition. 90/100 (08/19) (TR)

La Stella Fortissimo 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.3% alcohol. 76% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Franc. This has delicious, ripe blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with a seductive sheen to it. Lush and ripe, but with some sour cherry and damson hints in the background. Very stylish and fine-grained with nice texture. 93/100 (07/19) (JG)

With a nod to the Super Tuscan tradition, this is a Merlot dominant blend (at 76%), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc, sourced from various southern Okanagan vineyards. Aging in French and Slavonian oak barrels, puncheons and botti, 10% of which were new, has well-knit this structural wine, merging the graphite, cassis, blackberry and tight grain leather together along a bigger palate. Though the fruit carries power, it isn’t overripe at all, rather riding the savoury side of southern Okanagan to a dried rosemary and sage finale. Drinking beautifully now, and will continue to do so in your cellar. 91/100 (08/18) (TR)

La Stella Espressivo 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A hommage to 1960s super Tuscan movement. 14.5% alcohol. 34.5 Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc, 18.5% Merlot and 16% Sangiovese. Opulent, sweet, aromatic nose of black cherries, tar, blackcurrant and spice. It’s concentrated, smooth and ripe on the palate with dense, supple, lush fruit. This is a ripe, rich wine with real intensity, but it’s perhaps a bit too ripe? Will have many fans. 92/100 (07/19) (JG)

Like its sibling, Fortissimo, the Espressivo is a Tuscan-inspired red blend, identified by its dominant Cabernet Sauvignon mix, (its sibling is Merlot-based), followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese, all sourced from the home vineyard on the Osoyoos west bench in the southern Okanagan. After 20 months in Slavonian and French oak barrels, puncheons, and botti the 2016 Espressivo expresses very ripe, soft, plump fruit, with plush plum, blackberry jam, thorns and mild baking spices. Impressive. 91/100 (08/19) (TR)

La Stella Espressivo 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.8% alcohol. 55% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Sangiovese. Refined, gravelly blackcurrant fruit here with a slight ashy, chalky edge. Very stylish and textured with sweet fruit but also a nice savoury dimension. The Cabernet Franc core is really lovely. Carries its alcohol so well: a stylish wine with potential for development. 94/100 (07/19) (JG)

La Stella Expressivo 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.8% alcohol. 55% Can Franc, 20% Cab Sauv, 20% Merlot, 5% Sangiovese. French and Slavonian oak. Ripe, warm, cedary, spicy and with hints of tea and herbs. Lovely sweet berry and cherry fruit. Has a bit of earth and spice with a sweet lift to the fruit. 92/100 (06/18) (JG)

This is the second vintage of this Tuscan-inspired wine, which in 2015 turned into 55 Cab Franc, 20 Cab Sauv, 20 Merlot, 5 Sangiovese, all 17 months in French and Slavonian oak barrel. Savoury olives, brambled thorns, espresso texturing wild blackberry, black cherry across a structured, very textural palate. Looking forward to watching this wine develop over the years to come, though hard not to drink it now. Well done. 92/100 (10/18) (TR)

LaStella Allegretto Merlot Pie Franco 2015, Okanagan Valley, Canada
This is a stunning single vineyard Merlot, that stands at the top of Canada’s Merlot fleet. Allegretto is one hundred percent merlot from Stagg’s Vineyard, a white silica sand site on Osoyoos’ east bench. The pie franco in the name signals that the vines are planted on their own rootstock (piè franco). Lovely crushed cassis, dusky plum, youthful and perfumed wild blackberry lead shining bright red and purple fruits, stony and bright. Fine pixellated texture, tight and energetic, fresh and finessed, which is not what is expected of Okanagan merlot (and that’s an hugely positive thing). Only 250 cases made in 2015. Find some. 93/100 (10/18) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2017, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Named for Sev’s daughter, this is a blend of Viognier (53 percent), Roussanne and Marsanne. The 2017 gave much more concentration to the juice due to the small yields of the vintage. This wine spent time in wood, stainless and concrete. Potent and energetic in youth, with viognier’s assertive apricot / orange punch popping through a lightly creamy / creamsicle palate. The lingers with fine texture and tangerine pith. 89/100 (10/18) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2016, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Named for winemaker Sevrine Pinte’s daughter, this is a blend of Viognier (50 percent), 32 Roussanne and the remainder Marsanne, sourced from North Oliver and Black Sage Bench. This spent six months in 58 percent French oak barrels and puncheons, with the balance in stainless steel (six percent of the wood was new). The oiliness of the Viognier is expressed with the sage brush of the area, on top of some lovely savoury lees. Medium bodied, this carries bright acacia, honeysuckle, orchard fresh apricot finishing with a lingering spice and impression of elegance. 89/100 (10/18) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Rich and textural with white peach and pear fruit. Nicely spiced with some richness but also balance 92/100 (05/19) (JG)

Le Vieux Pin Vaila Rosé 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Pinot Noir, 22 h on skins. Subtly creamy with nice bright, vivid red cherry fruit with a bit of strawberry. So lively. 90/100 (07/19) (JG)

This pale-hued rosé is Pinot Noir from Iverson and Eagle Bluff vineyards in the south Okanagan. Direct press into stainless for a short stint, this is finished bone dry for a food-friendly, smashable style. Salted strawberries, anise, young raspberries, wild raspberries, rhubarb stream along a dry palate to a snappy, bright finish. Food friendly. 89/100 (07/19) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2017 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.4% alcohol. Fruit from Golden Mile Bench, Black Sage Bench and north Oliver. This has 0.5% Viognier in the blend, which is fermented and aged in a mix of steel, concrete and large oak, and then after 9 months finishes off for 6 months in neutral barrels. This is a beautiful expression of cool-climate Syrah. There’s a lovely fine, nervy, green sappy edge to the floral red and black cherry fruit. Such freshness and purity on the palate, with green-tinged fresh cherry fruit with a bit of pepper and a smooth, sleek texture. Has real drinkability and purity. 93/100 (07/19) (JG)

Cuvée Violette is the youthful, pretty, perfumed, purple fruited and coquettish sister of the LVP Syrah family (which is growing every year it seems). This year, the southern Okanagan fruit was co-fermented with a wee splash of 0.5% Viognier. For the first time, new concrete tulip vats were added to the ageing vessels along with large oak botti and French oak barrique. Classic syrah: with minimal reduction upon opening, leading to roasted meats, crushed violets, dark soils, grilled plums, cracked peppercorns, housed by plump tannins to a very peppery finish buoyed with a grapefruit pith acidity. So well put together, and drinking beautifully now, especially with a slight chill — a BC classic. 90/100 (08/19) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
97.4% Syrah, 2.5% Viognier. 15% new oak. Lovely brightness here with a bit of pepper, spice, herbs and olives. Lovely freshness with fine herbal notes. Very expressive: a lovely wine. 93/100 (07/19) (JG)

Amply floral, as the name suggests, with perfumed violet, blackberry, potpourri, baked plum, and black peppery spicing. Cofermenting this mix of 11-16 year old Golden Mile Bench, Black Sage Bench, North Oliver fruit with 2.6 percent Viognier just ups the perfume power. The mouthfeel is plush and the tannins silky smooth, with just a sense of black peppery grip. This spent 14 months in French oak, 15 percent of which was new, and it was bottled unfined and lightly filtered. This year feels softer and rounder than the previous edition. 90/100 (08/19) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.7% alcohol. 17 months in French oak, 40% new. This is floral with black cherries, some pepper and a touch of blackcurrant and olive on the nose. There’s a lushness and sweetness to the palate which shows ripe blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, with a slight salinity and hints of iron and meat, as well as some white pepper. It’s very ripe, and sweetly fruited, but there’s some freshness, too. 93/100 (07/19) (JG)

This is the big brother to LVP’s floral Cuvée Violette. Tight and youthful, with more oak than the previous vintage which is poking through a bit at this young stage, but will surely be swallowed with a welcome rest in the cellar. This has the structure and potency, plus elegance and purity, to age effortlessly. Bracketed by firm walnut-laden sides, this has lovely brisk spicing, with more structure housing the black cherry, raspberry, graphite and leather fruit. Lovely showing. 92/100 (10/18) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2011 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Some meatiness here, with some pepper notes, and a hinty of clove. Has a savoury edhe to the fruit. Fine and meaty with good acid. 93/100 (05/19) (JG)

Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.6% alcohol. 56% new oak here, but the wine swallows it well. Lush, fresh, floral black cherry fruit with some olive tapenade and some peppery notes. Has ripness but also some muscle, as well as some oak. This should age really well. Impressive, although the oak sticks out a tiny bit. Superb, given a bit more time. 93/100 (06/18) (JG)

Said to be the more masculine of LVPs Syrah, Equinoxe is certainly a highly structural, savoury, powerful red, but one with an emphasis on grace. From the Black Sage Bench and Osoyoos East Bench, and from teenaged vines (9-14 years old). Salted, roasted walnuts, stony cassis, cured meats run long on the palate, firmly gripped with a dusting of black pepper clad tannins, but still allowing the natural flow of thorns, wild cassis, black cherry to flush through to the lingering finish. The rock salts linger on and on, encouraging another glass or pairing with fine lamb or pork. This wine is nonchalant about its impressiveness, making me like it all the more. Tightly knit, you can drink it now, with a decant or ample air time, but you will be rewarded all the more with a few years in cellar. 93/100 (01/18) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Retasted two years along, and this 2013 Equinoxe has really come along into its own with bottle age. Lovely savouriness, with blue fruit, wild lavender, sage brush, all very well knit together, and humming with both fine acidity and with fine texture. Drinking beautifully now and with time to go still. 93/100 (10/18) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2010 Okanagan Valley, Canada (magnum)
This was Severine Pinte’s first vintage, and it was a cold one. Fine, aromatic nose with black cherries, roast meat, some herbs and lovely balance. Has a savoury, peppery edge to the supple black fruits. Refined and spicy. 94/100 (05/19) (JG)

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Airfield 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.8% alcohol. This is from a cooler vineyard in Osoyoos with free-draining granitic-derived sandy soils. It spends 19 months in neutral French oak, 50 cases made. Structured and quite drying with some firm, grippy tannins sitting under the ripe, slightly baked black cherry and berry fruits. Nice savoury twist here, with some tomato and prune notes on the finish. There’s nice fruit here, particularly when it’s served cool. 91/100 (07/19) (JG)

In 2016, Le Vieux Pin released a series of small lot single vineyard syrahs, Airfield being one of them. Only 50 cases were made of this Osoyoos West Bench Syrah, sourced from loamy sand and granite, and aged for 19 months in used French barrique. There is a gentle expansion and ripeness on the red fruited palate, though it’s studded with structure via the granite and finely firm bracketing of sticky tannins. There’s a lovely texture running the length of this syrah to a warming, spiced finish. More deep dives into single terroirs, please. Enjoyed with a slight chill. 90/100 (08/19) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Dead Man Lake 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.2% alcohol. From a single vineyard at the entrance to the Golden Mile Bench that’s quite cool, with sandy loam soils/glacial sediments (volcanic-derived soils mixed with sedimentary outwash). 19 months in used French oak, 25 cases made. This is peppery and herby with lighter red cherry and berry fruits. Has tomato and herb notes, with some vivid fruit, and a savoury iodine character on the finish. Quite a distinctive wine, leaning more to structure and savoury detail than opulence, with more red fruits than black and a bit of reduction. A little drying on the finish, but not overly so. A real outlier with lots of interest. 93/100  (07/19) (JG)

In 2016, Le Vieux Pin released a series of small lot single vineyard Syrahs, Dead Man Lake being one of them. Sourced from a volcanic / sedimentary soiled vineyard on the entrance to the Golden Mile Bench, this rested 19 months in neutral French oak before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. After a wave of reduction (give this some airtime), dusky violets, plums, cherries ride the medium+ palate, seasoned with medicinal cherries, leather and peppery spicing. The texture is fine, and the aromatics purple and pretty; this reminds me of LVP’s Cuvée Violette. Drinking lovely now, especially with a slight chill, and will hold for a few years in the cellar. 91/100 (08/19) (TR)

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2014, Okanagan Valley, Canada
Le Vieux Pin’s wines appreciate with age. I’m not talking $$ (not interested), but about resolution. This wine is showing well now, four years along, and will continue to marry and knit with time in your cellar. Worn leather, bing cherry, violets, black raspberry is rasped with a grippy peppery tannin and propelled with a bright, easy acidity. For a relatively big wine, this carries its structural frame with light feet. The 2014 Retouche, a nod to Hermitaging Bordeaux blends with Syrah, merges 43 percent Cabernet Franc with 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Syrah and one percent Merlot from fruit sourced from the Golden Mile Bench, North Oliver and Osoyoos Lake District. The whole was aged 17 months in older French oak barrels. 92/100 (08/18) (TR)

Artakama

Artakama Viognier Roussanne 2018 Okanagan (magnum)
This is from Golden Mile Bench and it spends three months on skins. No sulfites added save 20 mg/l just before bottling. Beautifully aromatic with pear and peach notes, and some passionfruit. Lovely texture on the palate, with rich fruit but also freshness. Nicely structured. Such precision. 93/100 (05/19) (JG)

Artakama is a natural, magnum-only line from the good folks behind Le Vieux Pin and La Stella wineries. This 2018 Blanc is a blend of Viognier and Roussanne, with “nothing added, and nothing taken away”. Native fermented in stainless, this was then pressed into a 500L barrel for regular battonage before bottling the following spring. Etched with apricot, tangerine, lit with green apple acidity, scented with quince and orange blossom, and seasoned with a saline minerality, this is a snappy and bone dry, and a fantastic result. A shining light for natural wines in BC. 89/100 (06/19) (TR)

Artakama Pinot Noir 2017 Okanagan (magnum)
Golden Mile Bench. Some whole bunch, gentle pigeage and aged in neutral barrels. Pale and a bit cloudy. Textured and fresh with nice grainy structure. Has silkiness but also some grip. A lovely, pretty, smashable wine. 93/100 (05/19) (JG)

Artakama Pinot Noir 2018 Okanagan (magnum)
Picked a bit earlier than in 2017 and no whole bunch. Aromatic, bright wine with sweet red cherries and berries, and has a nice grippy structure. Expressive and fine with lovely weight. 93/100 (05/19) (JG)

Artakama is a natural wine line from the producers of Le Vieux Pin and La Stella. Only made in magnums, the genesis of this line is “nothing added, nothing removed. Wine of time and place.” This Pinot Noir was destemmed and into stainless for native ferment, after which it was racked into neutral barrel for a short stint. A small amount of sulphur was added at bottling. Crunchy and lean, with cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and thorns, this is held taught and lean with scratchy, fine tannins. Bracing acidity lifts the whole to an astringent finish. This is best chilled. This is a great face for natural in BC. 588 magnums made. 88/100 (06/19) (TR)

Artakama Syrah 2018 Okanagan (magnum)
Destemmed whole berry ferment. Fine and a bit meaty with some peppery detail. Nice freshness with a bit of grip. Compact and dense with a touch of reduction. 92/100 (05/19) (JG)

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