From the time grapes are picked to the time the wine is bottled, each winemaker makes roughly 200 different decisions.
Each of these can have a small or profound effect on the finished wine. That means there are as many styles of wine as people who make the wines. The Okanagan Valley has a huge variety of wine styles to choose from because, as a young wine region, we aren’t bound by the same number of rules and regulations as some of the more established wine regions (particularly in Europe).
Every winery owner and winemaker has their own particular style, tastes, and ideas of what types of wine are best suited to this region.
If you were to give a tonne of the same Chardonnay grapes to five different winemakers, you would get five very different wines!
Like a Chef in the Kitchen
I’ve always said that winemakers are essentially part chef, part scientist. Let’s use the chef comparison for a moment. Giving five winemakers the same Chardonnay grapes is similar to giving a whole chicken to five different chefs. Again, you’d get five very different dinners.
The chef’s history will have a huge impact on the dish. Where they went to school, who they apprenticed under, where they’re from, and their own personal tastes are all factors to consider.
Chicken can be roasted, poached, grilled, smoked, broiled, braised or fried (just to name a few methods). Will it be cooked whole or segmented into pieces? Should it be stuffed or trussed? Maybe it will be brined, marinated, or dry rubbed with one of a million combinations of herbs, spices, and liquids.
Think about how differently a classically trained French chef would cook chicken versus someone from Argentina that cooks Asado style over a live fire or how a Jamaican street vendor slowly prepares Jerk chicken over smouldering Pimento wood.
Same bird, wildly different results!
There’s no right way to do it. There’s no one size fits all recipe. Every chef envisions the chicken in their own style. Just like preparing food, winemaking is a creative mix of cultural traditions, flavour combinations, and personal preferences.
The Art of Winemaking
Do you mind if I geek out about winemaking for a minute?
Imagine it’s a bright and sunny October day on the Naramata Bench. There’s a crisp breeze rustling the leaves from the trees. Everyone’s out in the vineyard harvesting perfectly ripe grapes after another season of hard work.
A bin of Chardonnay is brought to the crush pad, ready to become the 2016 vintage.
Will the Chardonnay be bone dry or with a hint sweet? Still or sparkling?
Should the grapes be pressed whole cluster or destemmed? How hard and how long should you press the grapes?
Chardonnay can be oaked or unoaked. If you choose to use oak, how much of the wine will go into barrel? 20%, 50%, all of it? Is it American or French oak? How much of the oak will be new? Will some juice go in first or second fill? Third or fourth? Will all the oak be neutral?
Should you ferment it in oak or just age the wine in barrel after the primary fermentation? How long will it spend in oak?
And oak is only one factor to consider.
What temperature should you ferment the juice? In what type of fermentation vessel? There’s oak, stainless steel, concrete, or clay.
Should the juice be exposed to any oxygen? Maybe none at all? Should it be left on lees? Should it be stirred? If so, how often?
Should the juice be cold stabilized? Fined or filtered? Will any solids be left behind to add nutrients to the ferment? Does the wine need to be adjusted for acid? Sweetness?
Do any enzymes or nutrients need to be added to help the ferment?
Okay, okay, stop!
It’s overwhelming. I think I’ll leave the choices up to the winemakers and stick to just drinking the wines.
Wine is a complicated beverage. There’s so many different styles of wine, even from a single grape variety. You can see why one winemaker’s wine can taste wildly different from a neighbouring winemaker’s down the street.
So Many Choices
Just like we wouldn’t want to eat the same chicken dish every day, it’s more fun to try a variety of wine styles, to see each winemaker’s unique expression of a grape or vineyard.
And just like you can get to know a region by dining out and tasting the local cuisine, you can learn about the Okanagan Valley by tasting several wines made from the same grape and experience each winemaker’s style.
Have you noticed any regional similarities? How about any big differences in styles? What’s your favourite style of Chardonnay?