New releases from Okanagan Crush Pad – one of Canada’s most interesting wineries

Jamie Goode and Treve Ring taste the new wines from Haywire/Okanagan Crush Pad

Canada is an interesting place for wine these days. There are two main regions: Niagara in Ontario (not far from Toronto) and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, in striking distance of Vancouver. And in the Okanagan, there are a range of wineries: some seem to be trying to replicate successful wineries in other regions, but there are a few who are more experimental, and are happy to plough their own furrow. Chief among these is a winery that has changed winemaking in Canada: Okanagan Crush Pad. OCP is the parent operation and where the ambitious project began, while Haywire is their main wine label. Owners Chris Coletta and Steve Lennie are ambitious, smart, and show a great sensibility when it comes to the styles of wines they make. They capture the various parts of the Okanagan very well.

Initially, the winery was very much a crush pad, and home to numerous others groundling winemakers. It was the first of its kind, and inspirational. The Crush Pad has been slowly winding down production for other winemakers, while ramping up production for Haywire (all estate fruit) and other lines such as Free Form (all natural, fermented and aged in concrete / eggs, often experimental), and Narrative (with purchased fruit and with aim to be approachable and friendly in youth, with a price point to match). The wines, made by expat Kiwi winemaker Matt Dumayne and his team, are really lovely. The approach is quite a natural one, and there’s a lot of concrete in the cellar, as well as some terracotta. Oak is rare, but there is some stainless steel. In addition to their groundbreaking use of concrete eggs in Canada, they were instrumental in drawing international attention and experience to the Okanagan Valley, with Alberto Antonini, and Pedro Parra as consultants. These are my notes on some recent releases (JG), and they are presented side by side with those from Treve Ring (TR), who last visited the winery and vineyards in August 2020.

THE WINES

Haywire The Bub 2017 Okanagan, Canada
11.5% alcohol. 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, grown in Summerland and Oliver. Bottle fermented for 2 years on lees. This is pure and focused. There’s a pithy, slightly bitter edge to the citrus and apple fruit on the palate, but this adds interest. There are faint hints of creaminess but there’s a lovely fruit focus here, a touch of umami, and nice structure to the citrus fruit core. It balances its tendency to richness and fruit with this brilliant brisk, fresh lemon and orange character. It’s massively drinkable, but also has some seriousness. 91/100 (JG)

2017’s The Bub is a blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay, 70% of which come from Summerland’s Watkins Family Vineyard, and rest from Secrest, in Oliver. Primary fermentation was in a mix of stainless and concrete before bottling and secondary fermentation for 30 months prior to bottling, with zero dosage. This was disgorged in early summer 2020. Bright and tight with pear skin, citrus, wild herbs, this zips along the palate with vibrant acidity, finishing with a chalky minerality. Lovely balance, freshness, and finesse, once again claiming its space as one of BC’s top bubbles. (TR)

Free Form Blanc de Noir 2017, Okanagan Valley, Canada
12% alcohol. This is from the Garnet Valley Ranch vineyard that they planted a while back. It’s a lovely place. This is Pinot Noir, whole bunch pressed to concrete, then bottled for its secondary fermentation, and then disgorged with no dosage. This is really pure and fine, with subtle toast and fine spice, some compact apple and lemon fruit, a touch of cherry and some faint mint and herb notes. This has lovely acidity, and a fine, mineral, slightly chalky edge. Such a pretty wine with real purity and focus, and a touch of saltiness on the finish. It has a real sense of place. 93/100 (JG)

This new traditional method fizz comes from Okanagan Crush Pad’s pioneering Garnet Valley Ranch estate vineyard. These young organic pinot noir grapes were whole bunch pressed and native fermented in concrete, before heading to bottle in January 2018 where it rested on lees for 20 months. It was disgorged with zero dosage. The wine is as uncompromising as its naturalist approach, with negligible fruit save for some subtle pear skin and tight, racy green apple. More prevalent is the broken stones, ample earthy yeast, aged parmesan, and subtle note of herbal grasses skipping along the taut palate. Very severe style now upon release, but one that will build flesh with a little age. 90/100 (TR)

Free Form Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Okanagan, Canada
13% alcohol. This is Sauvignon from Summerland fermented on skins in stainless steel tanks and clay amphorae for 9 months. It’s slightly cloudy, and has lovely aromas of pear and apples, with some passionfruit and rose petal. The palate is textured with a hint of creaminess as well as lovely grainy lemon, apple and pear fruit. This is all about texture and balance, and a subtle trace of volatile acidity adds a spicy lift to the palate, but it’s very much under control. A very fine, expressive Sauvignon with lots of personality. 92/100 (JG)

This savvy comes from Summerland’s Waters & Banks Vineyard, and its granite / limestone slopes. This was native fermented in stainless and amphora, where it aged on skins for 9 months (whole bunch). After pressing, it rested for an additional 2 months prior to bottling unfiltered. This is not your typical sauvignon blanc, and that’s the exact point. The time on skins gives it a textural, grippy dimension, with apricot skin, bergamot, guava, white grapefruit peel ruling the tight, taut, herbal frame. The finish snaps with citrus and desert sage, lingering after the slender orange wine is long gone. Very well handled. 89/100 (TR)

Free Form White 2017, Okanagan, Canada
Revisiting this wine now two years after first glimpse, and it’s pouring a beauty slight golden hue. Super grippy, with a saline marine note, this streams apricot skin, grapefruit pith, green apple, bergamot, dried thyme and sage along a sleek, textured palate. Primarily Secrest pinot blanc, this is splashed with chardonnay and viognier, from two other vineyards in the Okanagan, all organically farmed. After destemming and a native ferment (pinot blanc in concrete, the others in neutral French oak), these remained on skins for 8 months before being pressed off and blended in a large concrete tank. It rested there for 6 weeks before bottling in Mid August 2018. Another proof positive how winemaker Matt Dumayne’s wines are built for aging. 90/100 (TR)

Free Form Riesling 2019, Okanagan, Canada
This organic riesling comes from Garnet Valley Ranch, the exciting higher altitude vineyard planted by OCP, and under the guidance of Pedro Parra and Alberto Antonini, and under the care of viticulturist extraordinaire Duncan Billing. This year it was native fermented in stainless, holding the sleek frame tight and energetic on the palate. Citrus, green apple, subtle lemon blossom and humming river stone minerality skip along the frame, leaving this humming on the dry palate. Zing! pH 2.54, TA 11. 89/100 (TR)

Free Form Vin Gris 2018, Okanagan, Canada
Pinot Noir, organically grown in Summerland. This is whole bunch pressed into concrete eggs and fermented with wild yeasts. This is really distinctive. There’s some colour here, and aromas of fresh citrus fruit (mainly mandarin and grapefruit pith) with touches of honey and tea leaf. This is a really rounded, textural wine with a tapering finish of lemons and herbs. There’s also a faint touch of dairy weaving into the flavour. A useful (gastronomic) and distinctive wine. 90/100 (JG)

This Vin Gris is 40 year old vines pinot noir from Summerland’s Heckmann Family Vineyard, managed by Summerhill. Whole bunch pressed, this was native fermented in concrete, where it underwent full MLF and rested for six months on lees before being bottled unfiltered with a wee amount of SO2. Super textural, very long in the mouth, finishing with quince and a caramelized and salted orange note on the finish. Super juicy, bright, textural and long, this is a gem. 90/100 (TR)

Free Form Rosé 2019, Okanagan, Canada
Like the 2018, this year’s Free Form Rosé is cabernet franc off Osoyoos’ Sekhon Family Vineyard, native fermented in concrete where it remained on lees for a few months. Pouring an attractive shining paler hue, this is a beautifully salted, savoury, bone-dry rosé, finely grippy from time in concrete, and teeming with fine grained spices, wild strawberry, raspberry, and dessert herb edginess. Food and solo-sipping friendly. 90/100 (TR)

Free Form Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Okanagan, Canada
12.5% alcohol. Organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon from sandy soils in Osoyoos in the south of the Okanagan. Destemmed, wild ferment, aged in concrete. This is very fresh with a hint of reduction and some green notes accompany supple, drinkable blackcurrant and cherry fruit. There’s a juiciness and drinkability to this wine, which needs a little more time to settle down, but which is already pretty smashable. 90/100 (JG)

From Osoyoos’ Sekhon Family Vineyard, this cab sauv was native fermented in stainless, and then basked pressed into concrete, where it remained for 11 months before bottling. Plump and soft black raspberry, wild blackberry, powdery stones ride a balsamic slicked wave of acidity to a snappy finish. Unlike most cab sauvs, this is lean and very tart, with nearly negligible tannins until the grippy finish. Take with a chill. 88/100 (TR)

Haywire Pinot Gris 2019 Okanagan, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Sourced from four vineyards and fermented and aged in a mix of concrete, stainless steel and foudres. This is an intriguing Pinot Gris. It’s quite rounded with some table grape and melon notes, but also some orange peel brightness as well as fine herbs and grapefruit. Lovely texture: there’s an ease on the mid-palate, but also some brightness. Has a delicate, tapering finish. Really pretty. 90/100 (JG)

Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Whole cluster pressed to concrete and left on lees. This is fine and delicate with some table grape, lemon and mandarin notes, as well as some fine green herbal hints. It’s dry but rounded and really textural, with a bit of mintiness on the finish. Is that sage bush? So distinctive, nuanced and delicious, with a lovely acid line. Lots of personality here. 92/100 (JG)

Planted 2006, from the Summerland home block. Alberto pushes for this organic pinot gris to just be called Switchback, because this singular, savoury PG is very much unlike any other. It is all about place. Lovely perfumed pear, subtle toasted stone, smoked nut, earthy fine lees, reflective of the silty, gravelly soils. So much concentration here, with ample texture and a distinct desert sage and mineral salt note. From 2018 onwards, this had the white label. As always, this wine improves with time in the bottle, and will reward in your cellar. 90/100 (TR)

Haywire Secrest Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. This is from Oliver in the south Okanagan, and as you’d expect from this producer, it’s wild ferment in concrete tanks. This is very fine and textural with some mealy hints under the fresh citrus and pineapple fruit. But it’s not just about fruit (which is pure, linear but also with some breadth): there’s such a nice mineral line to this wine which shows brightness and a bit of warmth. It has this nice stoniness. Understated and quite delicious, with lovely purity, finishing with some fine herbal notes. 92/100 (JG)

From Secrest Mountain Vineyard in Oliver, this was whole bunched pressed, fermented with native yeasts, and then aged in concrete eggs and nico bello. This year Matt used some of the hard press that went into neutral puncheons (8% overall), giving the wine an extra level of creaminess to the palate. In total, it spent approximately 10 months on lees prior to bottling. Green apple, crisp pear finishes with a tight, mineral, savoury spice that lingers on the palate. Super young, this needs time to integrate. Cellar-worthy. (TR)

Haywire Gamay Rosé 2019 Okanagan, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Whole-bunch pressed to concrete tanks for fermentation and aged on lees for six months. Pale pink in colour, this is pure, fruity, bright and also quite delicate. Cherry and redcurrant notes with some lemony brightness, and a lovely mineral core and finely spiced finish. This is really good: a foof-friendly dry rosé with lots of personality. 91/100 (JG)

Organically farmed gamay from higher altitude Secrest Mountain Vineyard was whole bunch pressed and native fermented to dryness in a mix of concrete (80%) and stainless (20%). The wine was then pressed to concrete where it rested on for six months prior to filtering and bottling. Always a highlight, this year’s is the choicest yet, with the limestone laced soils and light touch of winemaker Matt Dumayne resulting in a lifted, tight, mineral-laden rosé, positively humming with energy, driving wild strawberries, light rhubarb, pink grapefruit on a sleek, lightly lees lined, juicy palate. Subtle and savoury, finishing with a desert scrubby herb allure. (TR)

Haywire Pinot Noir 2018 Okanagan, Canada
12.5% alcohol. This is from a range of subregions in the Oakanagan, wild-fermented in concrete, and then aged in concrete, pressed after four weeks of maceration. Just a touch of reduction on the nose. Fresh, vivid and bright with some silkiness on the palate. A bright, fruit-driven Pinot showing elegance, some green hints, and a touch of seriousness as well as drinkability. There’s a real freshness to this wine. 91/100 (JG)

From Haywire’s higher altitude Secrest Mountain Vineyard, and its gravel / sandy / limestone laced soils, this organically farmed pinot noir, planted in 2000, was native fermented in concrete, and bottled unfined. Softer and friendly up front, this is laced with a fine tautness that holds in wild raspberry, dried sage, baked cherry, and lightly grippy, concrete-clad tannins, finishing with a distinct stony note. Easy to like, this will have wide appeal. 89/100 (TR)

Haywire Gamay 2018 Okanagan, Canada
12.5% alcohol. From the Secrest Mountain Vineyard in Oliver, in the south of the Okanagan. This is a mix of destemmed and whole cluster fruit, fermented naturally in concrete and then aged in concrete. It shows lovely aromatics of red cherries and strawberries, together with some fine herbal hints – the green integrates well. On the palate this is quite light, sappy and drinkable, with pure red fruits and some fine herbal hints. Very expressive and bright with nice clarity and poise, and some stony mineral undercurrents. Lovely stuff. 90/100 (JG)

Sourced from Secrest Mountain Vineyard in Oliver, this gamay was native fermented, partially whole cluster, with 4 weeks on skins before being aged for eight months in Nico Velo. Lovely crimson cherry spicing, with tight grippy sides, black plum, beautiful haunting peppery spicing, with an intrinsic herbal Okanagan scrub. #GoGamayGo. 89/100 (TR)

Narrative Cabernet Franc 2017 Okanagan, Canada
13% alcohol. From the Black Sage and Golden Mile Benches in Oliver, in the south of the region. Fermented and aged in Nico Velo concrete tanks. Organic. This has taut blackcurrant fruit with some green hints. It has a nice smoothness to the palate with a hint of gravel and chalk, and some olive tapenade notes. A great example of Cabernet Franc from the Okanagan, showing great freshness. [Aside, as with some varieties in the Okanagan, the pH is really high here at 3.97.] 92/100 (JG)

Earthy forest bark, ripe raspberry, baked cherry, dried roses and milk chocolate coat this downy-textured red, weighted by the southern Okanagan sun. From certified organic vineyards in Kaledon and Osoyoos, this was fermented and aged in concrete Nico Velo for 8 months. The concrete provides a welcome textural grip to the sides of this medium bodied franc, housed by supple tannins, and finishing with peppery spice. Chill slightly. 88/100 (TR)

Narrative Red 2018, Okanagan, BC
Narrative Red is a blend of cabernet franc, and merlot. Green edged, with franc’s herbal pinch coming through, the cherry, raspberry and cedar is imbued with a persistent smoked wood note. Tannins are ragged and slightly powdery, finishing with a swell of warmth. An Okanagan desert red ready for drinking now. 87/100 (TR)

Narrative Cabernet Franc Merlot 2017, Okanagan, BC
Narrative Red is a blend of cabernet franc, and merlot. Green edged, with franc’s herbal pinch coming through, the cherry, raspberry and cedar is imbued with a persistent smoked wood note. Tannins are ragged and slightly powdery, finishing with a swell of warmth. An Okanagan desert red ready for drinking now. 88/100 (TR)

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