Located on one of the most arid and sunny sites in the Okanagan, Black Hills Estate Winery is abundant in many things – including quality wines. Spread across a 27-acre vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon are carefully grown and handled by the Black Hills team.
The microclimate on property, in addition to long hours of sunlight and cool nights, offers this west-facing orientation vineyard added value. The vineyard manager, Steve Carberry, works closely with winemaker Graham Pierce to ensure that the authenticity of Black Hills wines remains bona fide.
On October 5, I had the amazing opportunity to partake in a 14-year vertical tasting of Nota Bene – their trademark wine. Prior to the tasting, Glenn Fawcett, President of Black Hills Estate Winery (pictured above and at the top), took the lot of attendees into the vineyard to talk about terroir and how the Black Sage bench affects the grapes.
Black Hills sits on “scads of sand”, as Glenn put it, and “some parts are 28 feet deep”. He went on to narrate an anecdote where he assisted us in envisioning that our feet were planted on a former giant beach.
Black Hills Estate sits on the east side of the Black Sage bench – a valley near the town of Oliver, which one day in the distant past, would have been a massive lake. Bordeaux varieties do well in hot, sandy conditions, and it is no wonder why Black Hills chose those grapes for that very site.
Cleverly, Black Hills Estate Winery planted their vines so that they run perpendicular to frost. Glenn reiterated that sunlight exposure and vine positioning is very important on site.
This is of note, particularly if one is going to ripen the King of Grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon. It also doesn’t hurt to be in the “grape zone” of B.C.; jaws dropped when Glenn informed us that Black Hills sits in the most concentrated area of vines in the province.
East-west running vines not only help prevent the frost from settling, but it also allows for grapes to take on different acid and sugar levels depending on if the clusters are picked from the north or south side of the vine.
Glenn encouraged us to taste various berries from both sides of the same vine which was an illuminating experience. Attendees gasped at their revelations, and some stood quietly in wonderment at how nature runs its course.
As we headed back toward the crush pad, Glenn, with a palpable glow about him, proceeded to impart upon the group some clearly remarkable facts about Black Hills wines. Multiple clones of grape varieties live and thrive on their estate.
Each clone is carefully monitored during the growing season, pressed, picked, and fermented differently depending on the clone, and then blended with precision. It is no accident that Nota Bene has great aging potential, is so agreeable to Bordeaux style wine lovers, and is annually sought after.
Sampling each of the 14 years of Nota Bene was an unforgettable experience. Consistency, I realized, was key to authenticity in these wines. I was, and still am, in awe of how unique and akin these vintages were.
While wineries are always at the hand of Mother Nature, it was undoubtedly an engaging exercise to evaluate each wine, comparing and contrasting just how alluring Nota Bene was year to year. One thing is certain – consistently good acid and approachable tannin structure foster that very quality.
Later vintages, such as the 1999 and 2000, are drinking well now and show charming notes of mushroom, forest floor, dried fruits, and tobacco. While tannins have softened, these particular vintages are still holding their body and intensity well.
Leading into the mid-2000s, graceful notes of mocha, game, dark fruits, and spices predominate. Depending on the climatic history of the vintages, one may find black tea notes, leather, and earthiness. The closer one moves to 2011, the more enticing the fruit becomes. Bursts of fruit were carried by waves of vanilla bean and toasty oak.
Wine lovers and friends, if you ever get the opportunity to partake in such an experience, do it. I promise you that your love for wine will only strengthen, and that your respect for Mother Nature will only deepen.
Tasting 14 vintages of Nota Bene merely magnified my understanding of how a team of professional wine growers, makers, and lovers can all come together to be the intermediary and connector of earth to glass.
You’ll find detailed tasting notes on each vintage Black Hills Nota Bene here.
Valerie Stride is a passionate and approachable WSET Advanced Certified wine writer living in Vancouver, B.C. Her website “The Demystified Vine” seeks to elucidate the world of wine by remaining unpretentious.