Wine Culture Magazine

Increasingly, winegrowers are defining their unique terroir down to the very row

Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety is defining the vineyard’s terroir row by row, and discovering how it affects Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Chris Stenberg photo

Ask a scientist and they’ll most likely tell you there is no evidence that the type of soil a grape grows in can be tasted in the wine it makes. Ask a sommelier and they’ll talk about the notes of limestone and saline in wines grown on ancient sea beds, the minerality of those grown on volcanic soil or the muscular flavours of wines grown on clay.

But whether you can taste granite in your glass or not, wine growers know that soil plays a huge role in the flavour of wine. That’s why there has been a growing movement to create not just single-vineyard wines, but wines made from single blocks within those vineyards.

Here in B.C., there is the Lucy’s Block Rosé at Quails’ Gate as well as CedarCreek Estate Winery’s single block Platinum Riesling and Pinot Noir. But perhaps no wines demonstrate the way soil affects flavour as dramatically as the single-block wines from Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars.

“The family has been farming the vineyards here for 50 years,” says Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety. “That’s a lot of experience with the land. And the vines are getting to the age where it’s a lot more interesting to look at individual blocks.”

Around 2014 he got to thinking: “Are there certain expressions of land or nuances of land that would be exciting to explore?” He eventually identified three blocks of Pinot Noir in particular, each only 75 to 150 metres from the other, with vines of similar age (22 to 30 years), but wildly different soil, topography and flavour profiles.

Block 23 is a relatively flat area of sandy loam with a northern exposure combined with east-facing slopes that drench the vines, planted in 1994, with morning sun. It goes into the delicate and refined River Flow Pinot Noir.

Okanagan Falls, where Blue Mountain is located, was carved by glaciers, which have had an impact on the soil composition, too. Photo courtesy of Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars

Block 14 “has a bit more vigor than Block 23,” Mavety says. Its soil is rocky gravel and loamy sand, with a bit of clay. Its 30-year-old vines bask in the warmth of the westerly and southern exposure. It goes into the bold, firmly structured, even muscular Gravel Force.

Block 9, on the other hand, is known as the “untamed sibling,” and has the most varied topography, ranging from steep, wind-swept slopes to sunny flats of sandy loam, much of it with a southwestern exposure. That translates to the complex and savoury notes of the Wild Terrain Pinot Noir.

“The topography of the land will create some of the expressions, but most of it comes from the soil,” Mavety says.

Now he is excited to see what he can do with single blocks of 30-year-old Chardonnay vines, and plans to release the first two this summer. Block 32 is a gravelly alluvial fan that produces Chardonnay with citrus fruit notes and “a mineral drive through the wine.” Block 17, on the other hand, “is more delicate, more floral,” with notes of peaches and apricots.

Neither the Pinot Noir nor the Chardonnay has gone through much manipulation, allowing the terroir to dominate the flavour.

“It’s a very pure expression,” Mavety says. “The more you pull your hand back, the more the special characteristics of the block come through. It’s coming through a combination of the soil and topography of the land. It is fascinating to see the differences in the wines.”

Three sips, block by block

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Gravel Force – Block 14 Pinot Noir 2018
(Okanagan Falls, $54.90) Black cherry, earthy, bold, concentrated, muscular.

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars River Flow – Block 23 Pinot Noir 2018
(Okanagan Falls, $54.90) Sour cherry, hint of smoke, refined, elegant.

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Wild Terrain – Block 9 Pinot Noir 2018
(Okanagan Falls, $54.90) Raspberry, sage, spice, savoury, dynamic, complex.

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