The Skimmerhorn winery in Erickson recently completed its 2011 harvest.

The Skimmerhorn winery in Erickson recently completed its 2011 harvest.

La Dolce Vita: Harvest pleases winemaker

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Last week I enjoyed lunch with Skimmerhorn Winery’s Mark Rattray, a Kiwi who has been spending our fall season here in Creston since the winery first opened. Although he sold his New Zealand winery a couple of years ago, he keeps his hand in as something of a “garagiste”, making several hundred cases of wine annually from purchased grapes.

Rattray’s decision to test his skills in the Creston Valley has worked out well for him and Skimmerhorn Winery. He has enjoyed the challenge of setting up the winery and overseeing winemaking operations, and owners Al and Marleen Hoag have benefited from having a highly skilled fellow help launch their business.

I was pleased to see the excitement in Rattray’s eyes when he talked about the 2011 harvest, and what he is already seeing in the early stages of the vintage. After an almost frighteningly cool spring and early summer, it was hard to be optimistic about what might come out of the vineyards, but a long stretch of lovely weather from late July onward resulted in grapes of excellent quality.

Interesting to me was Rattray’s observation that fully or overly ripened grapes can cause their only challenges, not least because the skins of red grapes add huge tannins and other phenols into the wine. Bottle aging takes care of that problem, with the effect softening over a period of months. But in 2010 and 2011, when Skimmerhorn grapes might not have ripened to reach high sugar levels, the result has been surprisingly complex flavours. Less than two months after harvest, Ratrray said the wines are showing remarkable flavor complexity, something I also experienced in juice tastings next door at Baillie-Grohman winery.

Along with Skimmerhorn Winery sales rep Brenda Silkie, who arranged the lunch, we spent a happy hour talking about wine and it gave me the chance to ponder about how important luck is when establishing a new business. Luck played a role in Rattray being offered the winemaker job here and he’s proven to be the ideal match for Skimmerhorn — he gets along well with the owners, he’s extremely knowledgeable and he’s a good teacher. The latter is especially important because each December he heads back to New Zealand and leaves the winery in Al Hoag’s now capable hands.

Silkie brought along a bottle of the soon to be released 2010 Skimmerhorn Pinot Rose. I’m a big fan of the rosé wines that Rattray has been making and this might be his best offering yet. With a wonderful fresh strawberry taste, it has a most pleasing citrus finish, with a lovely nose and mouth feel. I promised Silkie I would report back with a suitable food pairing and it didn’t take long to come up with an idea.

On Grey Cup day, just before kickoff, I mixed about a pound of crabmeat, a half cup of bread crumbs, an egg, chopped green onions, a bit of mayonnaise, some spices, Worcestershire sauce and added a dash of Sambal Olek to add a little heat. I mixed the ingredients and quickly formed 10 patties, which when went into the fridge to chill.

At half time I began frying the patties in butter and olive oil, then made an aioli with mayo, lemon juice, garlic, pepper, thyme and chopped artichoke hearts, something we always keep in the refrigerator.

I put some cakes onto our plates, added some small slices of nice dark bread, then spooned some of the sauce on top. The combination was a great match with the wine. The rosé’s strawberry flavours went nicely with the sweetness of the crab and mayo while the citrus notes were balanced with the lemon juice in the aioli. The only ingredient needed to make it a perfect little meal was a Grey Cup win for the Lions. Happily, they obliged.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.