Island Artisans – Jose’s Wine

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These are some special bottles. Only 144 of them made. Jose’s Tempranillo from Rocky Creek Winery on Vancouver Island.

British Columbia wines have come a long way over the past 30 years or so. After pulling the cork on sweet, fizzy fare such as Cold Duck and Baby Duck, BC wineries have been steadily improving and creating dozens of wines that have won awards both in North America and around the world. But you can only do so much with the climate Mother Nature gives you. Today on Island Artisans, I shared the story of a Vancouver Island winemaker who defied the odds and produced an unusual wine for this region, all in the memory of the man who planted the vines.

The tale starts with a man who decided to grow a certain variety of grape in the Cowichan Valley, a grape that most other growers would say you’re crazy to plant. It ends with another man who took these improbable grapes and made them into the first tempranillo wine in BC. Tempranillo is a wine variety very popular in Spain and gaining popularity in South America.

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The man who made the wine is Mark Holford of the Rocky Creek Winery. Unfortunately, the man who planted the vines, Jose Rodrigo, passed away from cancer before the first harvest of those grapes could be turned into wine. But his dream didn’t die. Jose’s widow, Sue Yates, kept the vineyard going, and met Mark Holford at a Cowichan Valley grape grower’s meeting. He was fascinated by her story of the tempranillo and said, ‘if you ever need someone to make wine from these grapes I’m your guy’. “A couple of years ago I got a call from Sue, who said that the grapes were ready and she would like me to have a go at making wine from them.”

These grapes, which can stand a cooler climate, still need a lot of heat to ripen to the stage where they will make a good wine. They were planted in 2004, and in the spring of 2009, Sue basically pitched some tenting over the vines to shelter them from any cold and rainy weather, and that worked. The grapes ripened later that summer. The grapes fermented, Mark applied the proper yeast and whatever other winemaking techniques he could call on, and he had to buy a special small French oak barrel to age the wine in…and cases of smaller bottles with the special closure they use at Rocky Creek. The small barrel was necessary because when all was said and done, there was only enough wine to fill a small barrel instead of a large one, and it all worked out to just 144 500-millilitre bottles. He could have cut some corners, used some cheaper methods, but he wanted to make the best possible wine that he could make with these grapes, to honour the man that had the belief and vision to plant them.

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Jose’s Tempranillo

I had to crack open the piggy bank for this one. Each 500-ml bottle of Jose’s Tempranillo costs $50, which makes it the most expensive bottle of red wine on Vancouver Island, but ten dollars from each bottle goes to the Canadian Cancer Society and knowing the amount of work that went into this wine Mark is probably just going to break even on it. If you buy a bottle and taste it right away, keep in mind that even though this wine has aged for 2 years, it really should be put in the cellar for at least a couple of more years and even more if you can….but I am sacrificed my bottle in the interests of good radio! I think Mark did a really good job on this wine, have it with some food so help you mellow the tannins a bit. More than half the bottles have been sold already, so get in touch with the winery if you’re interested in buying!

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