Few vineyards are unable to inspire romance or poetic prose; still, some are immediately more captivating and special than others. One of those is Sunrock Vineyards, rooted on the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert in the South Okanagan’s Osoyoos.
“When you go into this vineyard, there’s this massive granite chunk of rock radiating heat like an oven; you know it’s a unique site,” asserts Master of Wine Rhys Pender, who today moderates a tasting lunch at Vancouver’s Burdock & Co. Assembled with him is Sunrock’s senior winemaker Dave Carson and director of viticulture Troy Osborne, who are in town to spread the news on this new-ish Jackson-Triggs satellite label and share their insight on what makes it so singular.
Fans of the Jackson-Triggs portfolio of wines will have seen Sunrock stamped as a special vineyard designation on some of the brand’s most premium bottles. But a couple of years ago, the winemaking and marketing teams made a shrewd decision. “The label changed: it became its own brand in 2017 because of the quality of the wine,” Carson explains. “We knew it should stand alone.” In a slow roll-out, the Sunrock Vineyards wines were severed from the Jackson-Triggs range and allocated their own classification.
Jackson-Triggs and its parent company Arterra Wines Canada (formerly Constellation Brands Canada) have been farming this piece of land since the late 1990s, after a lease with the Osoyoos Indian Band was signed. Among other vines, the team planted cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, shiraz, and later zinfandel—grapes that now create the wines of the revamped Sunrock brand.
What makes the 180-acre site (it is a contiguous vineyard made up of multiple plots) exceptional, besides its deep, free-draining, and silty-sandy soils, is the massive rock face called Sunrock that lords over it. The vineyard is south-facing and gently rolls down towards Lake Osoyoos, which means the vines receive optimal sunshine while the water provides a moderating effect, balancing the intense heat reflecting off the granite cliff. “This is one of the warmest vineyards in Canada,” Pender explains. “There are not many more areas where we can plant and ripen cabernet sauvignon.” In fact, due to that heat, the portfolio consists only of four wines, all full-bodied reds. “It’s a late-ripening site. There are very few of those [in B.C.], and they come at a premium price,” notes Osborne. “We’ve farmed it for 19 years. We know the site, but there is still a lot of room to improve—but we’re honing in on it.”
The collection includes a cabernet sauvignon that offers the classic varietal characters of cassis and graphite with a hint of mint; the tannins are dusty, but silky like cocoa. And vibrant purple fruits, violets, and smoky spices best describe a generous and seductive shiraz, while the meritage (an assemblage of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc) is a velvety compilation of mocha, cherries, and baking spices. Finally, the opulent Illumina (a blend of shiraz and zinfandel) has a sweet persona and plush weight; in the mouth, expressive berry fruit flavours are notable, and the finish is a slick wash of cinnamon and clove.
Wines of this quality deserve the recognition they are finally being given. Let the poetry run forth.
Discover what’s new in wine.