When first whisper of the rumour hit my ears, I said, “No way,” but the more I heard it the more it sounded plausible. British Columbia was ripping out Pinot Noir, an underperforming grape in the hot climate, and planting in its place the much more attractive Syrah. But as we all learned playing broken telephone back in grade school, the message can get a little garbled the farther it travels — and in a country as large as Canada, after travelling some 4,300 kilometres (Google’s estimate) from the Okanagan to Toronto, the message can change pretty drastically.
So instead of relying on word of mouth from those who think they read it or saw it on Facebook somewhere, I decided to go to the authority on BC wines, John Schreiner, and ask what he knows about this supposed pull-up.
“[The 2011] vineyard census found 948.71 acres of Pinot Noir in BC versus 546.5 acres of Syrah. I believe that Syrah has plateaued while growers deal with virus issues.” (The viruses are from unclean vines that were planted in the early 2000s, which need to be replaced.) Compared to the 2004 census, both varieties have increased to more than 340 acres.
“Pinot Noir and Syrah, however, are not interchangeable. The best terroir for Syrah — Oliver-Osoyoos vineyards — is too hot for Pinot Noir. The best terroir for Pinot Noir — Okanagan Falls, Naramata, Summerland, Kelowna and Vancouver Island — is unsuitable, generally speaking, for Syrah … However, temperatures and soil types dictate what is planted where. Syrah, for example, does well on Black Sage Road — the east side of the valley from Oliver south toward Osoyoos — where the soil is very sandy. Pinot Noir planted on this soil makes dilute wine unless cropped so low that it is not viable.”
When interviewed, Pinot Noir (paraphrasing Mark Twain) said, “The rumours of my death in British Columbia have been greatly exaggerated …” But since we’re already on the topic, let’s taste the grape that probably started the rumour, and find out why it wasn’t a far stretch to believe in its plausibility.
Thornhaven Estates Syrah 2010 ($24.90)
Raspberry, strawberry and white pepper follows with a nice, fine tannin grit on the tongue.
Dirty Laundry Kay-Syrah 2010 ($24.99)
Lovely raspberry aromas with a hint of chocolate; this follows onto the nose with a little spicy white pepper on the palate. Quite quaffable.
Moon Curser Syrah 2010 ($24.90)
First on the palate: jammy raspberry, plum, cherry and chocolate. Then taking hold are strawberry and more raspberry notes with a seam of white pepper, and then a delicious finish that lingers on forever.