April 7, 2017

On the vine: Vintner on a mission at Mission Hill Family Estates

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Darryl Brooker

Chief winemaker Darryl Brooker takes the long view over Mission Hill’s expanding portfolio

By John Schreiner

The Okanagan’s most powerful winemaker is Darryl Brooker, the chief winemaker at Mission Hill Family Estates since 2015 and, since early this year, the winery’s general manager as well. As such, he controls more than 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of the valley’s best vineyards and he runs a winemaking team making a portfolio of fine wines including the $125-a-bottle Oculus, B.C.’s original icon wine.
Brooker’s influence extends to Mission Hill’s sister premium wineries: CedarCreek Estate Winery, CheckMate Winery and the soon-to-open Martin’s Lane Winery. Those winemakers, while fully autonomous, leverage a collegial relationship with Brooker to choose grapes from Mission Hill vineyards and to trade expertise to make world-class wines. CheckMate’s Chardonnays sell between $85 and $125 a bottle while Martin Lane Pinot Noirs start at $75.
Born in Canberra in 1973, Brooker became interested in wine while serving in Australia’s submarine service. He got a winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University and a diploma in wine business from the University of Adelaide. After starting with Barossa’s Mountadam Vineyards, he spent four years at Villa Maria Estates Winery in New Zealand. In 2003 he moved to Ontario to design and launch Flat Rock Cellars. Beginning in 2005, he spent five years as chief winemaker at the reputed Trius Winery in Niagara.
CedarCreek recruited him to the Okanagan in 2010. Gordon Fitzpatrick, CedarCreek’s president at the time, said that Brooker’s “career ambitions fit perfectly with CedarCreek’s quest to craft the very best wines possible from the Okanagan Valley.”
When Mission Hill’s Anthony von Mandl bought CedarCreek in 2013, he discovered a timely asset in the ambitious Brooker. John Simes, Mission Hill’s chief winemaker since 1992, would retire in 2015. In seamless transition, Brooker (who has just become a Canadian citizen) and Simes overlapped for almost 18 months. “I am not going to make the wines exactly the same as John, but it has been a good way to get a handle on why he is doing things a certain way,” Brooker says.

Three to try

Winemakers are reporting that the 2016 vintage in British Columbia has produced superb wines. It is the fifth strong vintage in a row, ranking with the exceptional 2014. Wines from all those vintages were poured at the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival. Here are some examples in the market this spring.
Hillside Winery Unoaked Pinot Gris 2016 ($20)
Juicy and appealing, this wine has concentrated flavours of citrus and apple that coat the palate and linger on the finish. 92/100
Fort Berens Dry Riesling 2016 ($18)
Wines from this Lillooet vineyard continue to impress. This is a crisp, refreshing wine with aromas and flavours of lemon and lime around a backbone of good minerality. 91/100
Laughing Stock Perfect Hedge Syrah 2014 ($35)
This is a bold, swaggering red with aromas of vanilla and dark fruit. On the palate, meaty flavours of black cherry and plum mingle with toasty oak. Velvet tannins give great length to the wine. 93/100

Orange you glad?

The hottest trend in the wine world is so-called natural wine. These hands-off wines are made with little human intervention after being crushed into the fermenting tank. The wines ferment with wild yeast and no sulphur is added when the wine is bottled. Orange wine is a name for natural wine when white grapes are fermented and aged for months on the skins, with the orange colour coming from the skins. Example: Sperling Vineyards Amber Pinot Gris 2015 ($30), a complex dry wine so versatile you can pair it with a cigar.

 

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