A garage can make for a passionate first crush

At 650 metres above sea level, Forgotten Hill Wine Co. is the highest-elevation vineyard in the South Okanagan — a nod to a tract of land way up the hill on a forested, gravel road past Naramata.

Like most in this class of hidden vitners, special access (or merely being in the know) is needed to find a garagiste. These winemakers can be found at custom-crush facilities, snatching a small corner at another winery, or, as in the case of Cherry Bouton, in a garage.

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June 2018 Okanagan Life

Making fewer than 2,000 cases of wine— and many far fewer—these winemakers take their name from the 1990s French movement of upstarts in Bordeaux, who without pedigree or historic property garnered high scores and commanded premium prices for their wines.

Elegant in its pronunciation, garagiste (GAR-aH-Jeest) goes beyond the concept of a virtual winery. Garagistes bottle under their own label but most have no vineyard, choosing to work with an existing winery to crush and ferment purchased grapes (and in some cases, a wine that they will blend). These up-and-comers prefer to be known as artisans, a word that speaks to the hands-on quality of a small lot wine.

The group is diverse, with some wishing to remain small, dedicating their talents and time to a select blend or varietal and others honing their skills and testing the market before buying land and equipment or expanding acreage or production.

Cherry had no plans to become a vintner, but the passion for wine and the “nose” of her daughter Maya soon had the family planting Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir on a unique site of sand, gravel and granite a decade ago. Add in the talents of son-in-law Ben Gauthier, winemaker at Noble Ridge at Okanagan Falls, and you have the right mix for making award-winning wines.

The mystique continues with Black Market Wine Co. “It’s a hobby that has gone sideways,” says winemaker Rob Hammersley, a Calgary management accountant and fan of French wines. He bottled 100 cases of his first Meritage, The Syndicate Red in 2012. In 2017, the winery bottled 1,000 cases.

The relaxing of BC laws to allow wineries to custom crush for others without a licence was all Rob needed to enter the wine market. Working with Mark Simpson of the BC Wine Studio at Okanagan Falls, he set out to create a wine of unique character, just like those he and wife Michelle had fallen in love with, but could never find in Alberta (unless they smuggled them across the border).

Meyers Family Vineyards has also opened its doors to assist new winemakers, like Mireille Sauvé, whose sales will support wine education for women. “The best part of Les Dames Wines is – because it is such a good cause – I get to work with some amazing fruit,” she says.

Her rosé is modelled after the wines of Provence. “If you’re going to buy the best rosé in the world, you’re going to look to Provence because they have an amazing complexity to them and very delicate and elegant.”

While no Cinsault wine grapes are planted in the Okanagan, Mireille found a Pinot Blanc with “an intense streak of mineralogy” and “to give it that strawberry rhubarb kind of flavour, and of course the colour” sourced Pinot Noir from Stone Boat Vineyard.

Also look for Les Dames Red, a Merlot/Syrah blend and Les Dames White, a Pinot Blanc dominant blend with Riesling and Gewürztraminer.