La Dolce Vita: Creston wineries harvest medals

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Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery owner Bob Johnson leads a sampling in the barrel storage room.

In the greater scheme of things, Creston’s wine industry is still in its fledgling stages. But both Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard and Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery have taken giant steps in gaining credibility in the marketplace and the industry.

Skimmerhorn kicked off what has been a very successful season of sales—and an equally good one at its bistro, once summer finally arrived—with a terrific showing in New York State’s Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Four silver medals (2011 Pinot Gris, 2011 Kootenay Crush White, 2010 Pinot Rose and 2011 Ortega) and a bronze for the 2009 Pinot Noir arrived early this summer in a very welcome couriered package. We don’t see much in the way of the region’s wines out in the West, but New York and surrounding states have a very nice wine industry of their own.

Also exciting was news in recent weeks that Bailie-Grohman garnered 2012 Canadian Wine Awards medals for each of the six wines it entered. Silver medals now hang around the necks of the 2010 Chardonnay, 2010 Pinot Noir Estate and 2011 Blanc de Noires Rose while bronze medals adorn the 2011 Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris and 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve.

Baillie-Grohman also brought home four BC wine awards last month, winning silver medals for the 2010 Chardonnay and 2011 Pinot Gris and Blanc de Noires Rose. A bronze for the 2010 Pinot Noir Estate capped off a very nice month at the winery.

Give credit to the Kiwi wine-making pair of Mark Rattray and Dan Barker for moving the wineries along at such a brisk pace. Sadly, Rattray is not returning to the Creston Valley this fall, though for happy reasons. He got married last winter and, understandably, wants to remain close to his wife. He will, however, remain as a long-distance consultant to Skimmerhorn owner Al Hoag, who has been working at Rattray’s side for the past five years.

Last week, we visited Baillie-Grohman to attend a welcome back party for Barker. It was interesting to learn about the weather challenges New Zealand vineyards have faced this past year. After a banner year of increasing international awareness and sales for his Moana Park Winery in Hawkes Bay, Barker had to cut back on his marketing efforts when the 2012 harvest brought in about half the grapes a good year provides. Of course, low yield often equals high quality, so it’s not all negative news from Down Under.

Baillie-Grohman owner and marketing whiz Bob Johnson reports that 2012 sales have been outstanding, with three of the winery’s six wines sold out and the others in limited supply. He actually stopped working to expand markets in August, wanting to ensure that regular restaurant and wine store customers would have an adequate supply of Baillie-Grohman wines until the new releases are available.

There are no awards yet for the tiny production of Creston Valley’s newest winery, Wynnwood Estate, but co-owner Dave Basaraba has been very pleased with the response from people who have stopped in at the new tasting room north of Wynndel since it opened in the late summer. Look for only good things in the future from wine made from the fabulous vineyard overlooking Duck Lake.

There is much to celebrate in the local wine industry, not least the coming harvest. After a late start in a cold, wet spring and early summer, the last two months of warmth and sun have given crops a terrific boost. It won’t be a bumper crop, but quality looks to be excellent at this point. Cheers to those who will be bringing in the grape harvest in the next few weeks.