It seems hard to believe that Bob Johnson and Petra Flaa embarked on a dream to establish their Erickson winery only in 2006. A visit today reveals a lush, well-established vineyard and a large building containing a lovely tasting room, winery, barrel room and winemaker’s quarters. Toward the rear of the long, narrow property is a residence constructed two years ago, now home to the expat Calgarians.
I arrived for a chat with Johnson on a pleasant weekday afternoon and he suggested we enjoy a glass of Gewürztraminer on the pergola-covered patio that affords a perfect 360-degree view of the surrounding area.
The Gewürz, spicy, crisp, aromatic and very, very clean tasting, was the perfect match to our wide-ranging conversation, one that was interrupted several times by return visitors to Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery who wanted to say hi to the congenial owner.
In Johnson’s professional career he was a reservoir engineer for an oil company and he’s been winding down that part of his life for a few years now. He has returned to Calgary for several months each winter, leaving Petra and hired help to do all the pruning and gear up for spring. Despite pleas to stay on, he said he is now officially out of the oil biz, free to focus year-round on the winery and, even more importantly, the marketing of B-G wines.
Baillie-Grohman produced only 3,200 cases of wine in 2012, in a relatively light harvest, but Johnson expects that to jump to about 4,000 this year, still about 20 per cent short of his ultimate goal of 5,000 cases. In addition to grapes from the Baillie-Grohman vineyard, the winery contracts to buy grapes from a friend and neighbor across the road and has contracted Merlot and Cab Franc grapes from a Golden Mile grower this fall.
I asked Johnson to give me his impressions of the wines currently available on site and in private and Vintners Quality Alliance stores around the province (and in some Alberta locations).
2012 Gewürz: Has a little Kerner and Schoenberger included to create additional weight. “This is our best Gewürztraminer to date and I’m really happy with it.”
2012 Pinot Gris: “Another great Gris, this was 50 per cent barrel fermented.” Different yeasts were used in each of the three barrels, and the results in one “were amazing”, so that yeast will be used exclusively in the 2013 version. Johnson said the Gris will sell out this summer.
2011 Chardonnay: Spent a year in French oak. “In six months it will be phenomenal — it’s really coming on now.” Fewer than 200 cases were produced, a number that will increase by about 50 per cent this year.
2011 Pinot Noir: About to replace the nearly sold out 2010, this one “has a bit of a bite and in 2-3 months will be amazing.”
2012 Blanc de Noir: This very popular rosé wine, made with Pinot Noir, is a little darker than the previous vintage, thanks to an additional day of cold soaking on skins before fermentation, which also brings out a cranberry component that customers rave about. “It has our signature balance, a bit sweet at the start, but a dry finish.” Pairs with a huge range of food dishes.
2011 Merlot-Cab Sauvignon: Made from Similkameen Valley grapes, this blend is drinking nicely now and provides customers with another red to choose from.
One more tantalizing wine remains in racks in the barrel room. About 120 cases of 2010 sparkling wine continue their slow secondary fermentation as a tiny amount of yeast converts the remaining sugar.
“We should try some,” he suggested, heading toward the winery to put one in the freezer to chill it.
A few minutes later he popped the top off and pushed the cap of dead yeast cells down the neck to pour us each a glass. Not much fizz yet — that will come in the next step, when a yet-to-be-determined dosage is added in the final stage — but an amazing wine with strawberry notes is emerging.
Credit Johnson, Flaa and Kiwi winemaker Dan Barker for not rushing the process. It’s always been stored in low temperatures to keep the secondary fermentation slow.
“We could speed it up by moving it into the (warmer) winery, but we’re not really about speeding things up,” he said.
Tentatively to be called Tête de Cuvée, this 100 per cent Pinot Noir will be Creston Valley’s first commercial sparkling wine. I can hardly wait to ring in the New Year with a glass, proposing a toast of thanks to this visionary couple who are completely focused on producing premium wines, and succeeding admirably.
Lorne Eckersley is publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.