During our first trip to Naramata, one of the waitress’s at the Misconduct Kitchen recommended that we visit the La Frenz Winery and taste their Pinot Noirs. So on the way back from lunch we stopped at the winery. I was surprised to find that the owners were also born in Australia and among the extensive wine portfolio was one of my favourite Aussie fortified wines – Muscat. This brought back fond memories of our trips to Rutherglen in Victoria to taste the Port Wines and other Liqueurs, known by the locals as “stickies”. Before we go to the wine tasting, here is the background on the Vineyards and the Wine Maker, Jeff Martin.
La Frenz operates 42 acres of vineyards in 4 locations:
Desperation Hill– Planted in 2008, Desperation Hill is the Pinot Noir designated vineyard named for the very steep slope from the top to the bottom. Five clones of Pinot Noir – 115, 667, 777, 828 and Pommard – were specifically selected by Jeff and imported from Dijon, France.
Rattlesnake Vineyard is the winery site at Randolph Draw and is also known as the home block vineyard. This vineyard was aptly named by Elise, Jeff & Niva’s youngest daughter, after the intruder that visits every summer.
Freedom 75 – The newest vineyard site was planted in the Spring of 2011 with Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat and Roussanne and is located directly across from Rattlesnake Vineyard.
Rockyfeller – Located south of Oliver, this was an old fruit orchard and as such, the use of bio-dynamic techniques continue to develop the great terroir potential the 11-acre vineyard. Planted in 2005 with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc the fruit from this vineyard produces dense inky reds with ripe tannins and highlighted varietal fruit characters. This has resulted in multiple award-winning wines.
The Wine Maker
Jeff Martin comes from the Riverina area of Australia and has been growing grapes and wine making since early childhood. He became involved in the wine industry when he was employed by renowned Australian producer McWilliams as a trainee winemaker at their half million case Beelbangera facility. During his fourteen-year career with McWilliams, he worked with many of their vineyards, from the “cool climate” hilltops area in New South Wales to the famous “terra rosa” of Coonawarra in South Australia. In 1989, Jeff became the chief red winemaker for the McWilliams group, with his wines winning major awards at Australian wine shows.
In 1989, after a working sabbatical in Napa California, a short trip to British Columbia opened a door that couldn’t be closed. Jeff and Niva returned in 1994 with their two young daughters for what was termed “a working holiday” and were captured by the sun-drenched beauty of the Okanagan Valley. Jeff found a place as one of the first university-trained winemakers in the valley. He spearheaded production for Quails’ Gate winery. He is very much a “hands on” winemaker, from bud burst in the vineyard to final blending and bottling.
The tasting room was crowded for late summer. Chris was our very knowledgeable wine pourer. A number of the 2015 white wines were already sold out – Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Alexandria and Viognier as was the 2014 Pinot Noir. We were able to try:
La Frenz Riesling 2015 – The wine was off-dry to compliment the natural acidity of the Riesling varietal, creating a supremely balanced wine. Flavours of green apple, key lime, and honeysuckle blossoms. A subtle note of minerality adds another layer of complexity.
La Frenz Chardonnay 2015- The free run juice and pressings are fermented separately in both quality French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. In addition, the pressed juice was left on lees for 6 months to increase the creaminess on the palate. A lovely nose of white peach, nectarine, melons, vanilla and honeyed oak.
La Frenz Malbec 2014 – The aromatic spectrum of ripe berries on the nose leads to a luscious mouthfeel brimming with black cherries, and plums. Subtle nuances of mocha, roasted herbs weave their way through the fruit-forward notes.
La Frenz Merlot 2014 is plush wine with a ripe fruit sweetness that gives way to a big, weighty mid-palate and a generous, lengthy finish. The wine is highly aromatic with enticing notes of ripe berries and plums laced with vanilla bean. On the palate, a velvety richness and elegant structure. Dense flavours are abundant particularly of ripe black cherries and dried fruit.
La Frenz Syrah 2014 is a deeply hued and full-bodied wine that was produced in a Northern Rhone style and reflects the excellent harvest that Fall. The addition of a small percentage of Viognier during fermentation is represented both in the vibrant colour and on the mid-palate with floral and fruit characteristics of violets, ripe blueberries and dark purple fruits. Only French oak was used (15% new) for a 20-month maturation and is noted in the structure and a creamy cashew-like characteristic. The finish is earthy and savoury characteristic of a well-ripened Syrah, bringing to mind rosemary and white pepper.
And finally, the Muscat Liqueur NV (2016 release), Double Gold Winner at the All Canadian Wine Championships 2016. Modelled after fortified muscats of the Rutherglen region in Australia but not as high a viscosity as the Southern gems! Aromas of dried apricots and steeped Earl Grey tea with a hint of vanilla. On the palate flavours of butterscotch, buttery dried fruit panettone, cinnamon and the nectar-like notes unique to the Muscat grape varietal.
The Liqueur Muscat is produced in a Solera system, meaning the average age of the blend progressively becomes older. The wine is aged in neutral oak barrels and is a blend of three Muscat varietals, the dominant one being the Schönberger grape.
You can visit the La Frenz web-site to order these wines or locate a local supplier.
Make sure you visit La Frenz the next time you are in Naramata.