British Columbian wine has come a long way. Winemakers are all trying their best to carve out a niche and draw attention to what they are doing. Gaining that much craved recognition, though, is rare, and with over 200 wineries in B.C., it is not easy for a small producer to get noticed. In spite of the odds, and after being open for just five years, one small winery has been put on the map. Quinta Ferreira, the hands-on family winery on the Black Sage Bench near Oliver, has made what one magazine called Canada’s best red wine of 2012.
The winning wine, judged number one across Canada in Wine Access magazine’s 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, was the 2009 vintage syrah, part of the 90 per cent red portfolio of wines from Quinta Ferreira. If you hadn’t heard of the winery until now, it wouldn’t be a surprise. The Ferreiras go about their business with little fanfare and have been steadily improving quality every vintage. As the vines (planted in 1999) mature and the winemaker gains experience, the wines are developing a combination of intensity and harmony that is worthy of attention.
The entire Ferreira family is involved, up to their elbows, in wine. John Ferreira looks after the vineyard and operations while his wife, Maria, manages the winery and runs the tasting room. Their son Michael is the winemaker. Even the art on the walls of the tasting room is family, courtesy of Maria’s sister Carmen.
John and Maria were born in Portugal, and immigrated to Canada at a young age. They purchased the property in 1979 and operated it as an orchard until the flow of wine in their Portuguese blood proved too strong a call. The result was the conversion of the property to vines, starting in 1999. The 20 acres are now planted to merlot, chardonnay, syrah, viognier, malbec, zinfandel, and petit verdot.
The style of wine is what Michael Ferreira calls “true to the fruit,” meaning he doesn’t want to mess around with the quality of the grapes. Less oak influence is the key, with a focus on older, more neutral-flavoured barrels, a slight nod in style, perhaps, to his Old World Portuguese wine roots. Michael has also recently planted five acres of vines at his own property close to the family winery and has bravely included the likes of tempranillo, sangiovese, zinfandel, and carmenère. Having been told by many that these couldn’t ripen in the Okanagan, Michael had to give it a go. “I was told they can’t grow here, so I wanted to try for myself,” he says.
Naysayers may want to wait patiently and see what happens. Fifteen years ago, nobody thought the Okanagan could even make decent red wine, a myth long ago disproven. But Michael is excited about the quality of the first tempranillo harvest that is currently aging in barrel. The wines from these experimental plantings will be made under a joint venture with his two sisters, called Squeezed Wines.
With each wine made in quantities between just 25 and 800 cases, there is not a lot to go around. Three-quarters of sales take place at the on-site wine shop. It’s worth jumping in the car and making the picturesque drive to Oliver, or there is always the option to purchase online.
The Okanagan is now home to an ever-widening amount of varieties that have become famous elsewhere in the world’s wine regions, but were considered no-go zones in this multi-micro-climated valley. And ripening, if people are to be honest, is still an issue, climate-driven, for some red varieties. The thick-skinned, hearty varieties of the Ferreira’s native Portugal are not on the menu, but the family’s inclination to try new things, plant different fruit in places where a hunch may pay off, all make it an exciting winery to watch in the vintages ahead.
Meantime, wines like the Quinta Ferreira 2009 Syrah show there are many great wines still unknown in B.C.’s backyard, waiting to get the accolades they deserve and making it well worth our while to continue searching for more hidden treasures.