Brothers Randy and Jessie of Desert Hills Estate Winery  © Desert Hills Estate Winery

Brothers Randy and Jessie of Desert Hills Estate Winery © Desert Hills Estate Winery

I’m a sucker for a “feel-good” kind of story. Like three brothers who move in the mid ’80s to British Columbia from India and start working the new family farm…

Not a big stretch, right? They had a farm back home, Dad gets a little property in the Okanagan just outside of Oliver, and now they’re growing fruit. But the three brothers look around – undoubtedly noticing the large sign as one enters town that proclaims Oliver as “The Wine Capital of Canada”. True? Not for me to say, but there are a lot of wineries there… so the brothers go to Dad and say “Dad, let’s grow grapes. We can sell them for more then apples or peaches!”

Dad thinks about this, decides to go out on a limb and trust his boys. Much expense later, the family is producing wine grapes and selling them to local wineries and making more money. Good right? But not good enough for the Toor brothers who now go back to Dear Old Dad and say “Hey Dad, the grapes are really good. I mean really good… let’s start making our own wine.”

Dad goes back out on the limb, the family goes into the wine-making business now. And guess what?

Oh damned. You weren’t supposed to actually guess it… yes! The wine was also good. I mean really good. Good enough that they have won the prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award for excellence in winemaking (TWICE) and the winner of Canada’s Best Red.

And they planted the first Syrah in the South Okanagan.

This means that they’ve got some major determination, but also the foresight to look ahead of the curve and anticipate what might be lying there. That’s a good story in my books, and more then a little inspiring. But the best part to selfish-me is that these wines are widely available [in Canada] and at very reasonable prices. And my proof? Right there in the glass my friends:

2012 Chardonnay (unoaked)
solid 90 points
320 cases produced

a bouquet that’s generous in floral and mineral tones, this wine is expressive of whence it comes from. The crisp, clean palate is rich in the same minerality and accentuated by flavors of wild summer flowers, white tea and young stonefruit (such as apricots and peaches) with a healthy dose of warm Golden Delicious apples thrown in for good measure. Well balanced, with good structure and decent length on the palate – this wine does as well on it’s own as it would with food. And what food?? As this is much more French in it’s approach then Californian, I would opt for a French classic like poulet aux quarantes l’ail (chicken roast with 40 garlic) or perhaps butter poached scallops with asparagus and hollandaise… there are enough acids to handle more robustly fatty meals

2011 Viognier, Sira’s vineyard
89+/90 points
1000 cases produced

once again, very French in it’s approach, this is an understated version of Viognier with tight acid and a bouquet quite eloquently speaking about apricot compote, white tea and crushed-slate minerals. The balance is good, and the structure is even better with the length on the palate being considerable at 15-20 seconds before fading. I would have gladly scored this 91+ points if the bouquet was as expressive as the palate, which is as delicious as it is professional… a perfect pairing with WestCoast cuisine, this is brilliant with brown-sugar barbequed salmon, buttered fiddleheads and steamed new potatoes. And a word of caution; ensure you serve this wine under 15c/59F – too warm and the acids become unbalanced and bitter

2012 Gewürztraminer
91+ points
575 cases produced

an icon from the Desert Hills line-up, this varietal shines on their terroir. Bold aromas of lychee, pink and white grapefruit, exotic flowers and guava erupt from the glass with a keenly edged full acid on the palate to keep it in focus. Generous mid-palate flavors that mimic the bouquet brilliantly, good balance and structure with a medium length palate that is fun on it’s own but can pair with some serious food. This is for your gourmet Thai/Vietnamese cuisine and will make you look like a superstar when paired with the flavors of Thai basil, ginger, galangal and curry~! Once again though, a caveat: don’t serve over 15c/59F or the acids will appear unbalanced

2012 Gamay (Noir)
91+ points

if Gewürztraminer would be their flagship white varietal, then Gamay Noir would most certainly be (in my humble opinion) Desert Hills flagship red. Made famous, or infamous, by the Beaujolais Nouveau craze of the late 80′s/early 90′s (and modern day Japan) – Gamay Noir is capable of greatness when produced on the appropriate soil and crafted by artisans. This is certainly on the same level as many top-producers in Fleurie or Moulin-a-Vent~! A wildly expressive nose with aromas of worn leather, warm earth, pencil shavings, lightly candied blackberries and black currants, and a last hint of savory herbs… the palate follows suit with moderate acid, fine silty tannin and a generous expression that has balance, structure and medium+ length.
Food pairing?? Try this with your simple food to allow the wine to shine: artisanal Tuesday-night pizza with spicy Capicolla, local chevre (goat’s cheese), sun-dried tomato, artichoke hearts and a drizzle of white truffle oil

2009 Cabernet Franc Eagle’s Nest Vineyard
88 points
302 cases produced

soft aromas of green pepper, warm earth and graphite-like pencil shavings greet the consumer while the palate delivers a modicum of tight red current acid overlayed by grippy young tannin. Whilst the balance is quite good, the structure is fair at best and the length on the palate is short to medium. This is an excellent candidate for Summer sangria and Winter mulled wine and, should you have some in your cellar, is best consumed sooner rather then later.

2008 “Mirage”
Cab-Sauv driven Bordeaux-styled blend(Left Bank)
91 points
980 cases produced

yes, Bordeaux styling can be found in the most northerly of wine-growing regions. It can even be eloquent, as exemplified by the “Mirage”; sonorous aromas of warm earth, old leather, graphite minerality, blackberry/blueberry/currant jam, wild herbs growing on the hillside all marry together quite seamlessly. The palate is driven by the bright red berry tones turning darker with the five years of aging, and held together by the clean and lean mineral edge. Very good balance and excellent structure, this palate holds well at medium+ or over 20 seconds developing on the tastebuds. Excellent now, hold in your cellar for several years

A wine of this structure merits food with equal thoughtfulness and consideration. Perhaps sous-vide beef tenderloin stuffed with Fraser Valley roast chestnuts and Qualicum blue cheese with a fresh rosemary jus, parsnip pave, candied eggplant crisps and charred radicchio salad…  intense flavors all, and all will draw strong notes from the wine

Randy and Jessie relaxing at the end of a hard day. © Desert Hills Estate Winery

Randy and Jessie relaxing at the end of a hard day. © Desert Hills Estate Winery

Three brothers who turn a modest family business into a family legacy in the space of a generation. A good story, but then there’s the icing on the cake… it turns out that the brothers have taken some of the profits from the winery and built a sports arena in their hometown in India. Not content with merely flashing money around to look good, or assuage their egos, these fine men make a point of returning home every year to catch-up with family and friends, and ensure the arena is being run properly.

Because they care, these Toor brothers. They care about their family, they care about quality, and they care about their community: the New World and the Old, merging into something better then either was on it’s own. And that’s a good story, a really good story and more then reason enough for me to seek out their wines on a habitual basis: the Gewürztraminer a perennial treat for my beautiful wife.

Ask yourself, what do you respect about the last winery you supported with your consumer dollars?

Many thanks to Renaissance Wine Merchants, representatives of Desert Hills, for the sample bottles.  www.renaissancewine.ca
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine
on Facebook @www.facebook.com/TheChefandTheGrape

About Author


Kristof Gillese: trained chef, certified wine steward, journalist and proud father. In these articles it is the human story that takes priority: to tell the tale of common people accomplishing uncommon goals. In the world of wine these tales are prolific. It has been Chef Kristofs privilege to have worked with luminaries such as Pierre-Henry Gagey of Maison Jadot, Nik Weis of St Urbans-Hof, Ray Signorello of Signorello Estates and Ezra Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; leaders in the industry. With almost 3 decades of experience working with the synergy between food and wine, Chef Kristof is proud to share the stories of these amazing stewards of the land. These articles are written with a profound reverence for the family aspect to winery culture as, to this writers understanding, nothing has ever had a more far-reaching effect than the love and devotion for a parent to a child. All great wineries are built by parents for their children and it is because of this that Chef Kristof writes.
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