article by Carole Beaton
Learning by drinking BC wine
At 60 Upper Bench Road in Penticton, BC you will spy a modern wood and metal building with a red door and … a chicken coop? This is the home of Roche Wines, the creation of Dylan and Pénélope Roche. When you visit the winery you will hear how the North Vancouver boy met the French girl in New Zealand, romanced and married in France, and moved to the Okanagan Valley with a young son and a future daughter. They bought a former Christmas tree farm and started a winery, opening their tasting room in 2017. This year, with COVID precautions in place, they have also placed tables and umbrellas outside to allow guests to be comfortably spaced apart.
Pénélope is the sixth generation of a wine-making family whose estate was in, literally, the city of Bordeaux, France. The ability to nurture the vines on site through to producing what is poured into the glass is just natural to her. Dylan’s experience may not be generationally deep, but his work in Burgundy, New Zealand and the Okanagan, as well as studying and teaching, has created a strong team resulting in some impressive wines. They continue to teach via their Roche Wines’ YouTube channel as well as Pénélope’s work at Okanagan College in viticulture and consulting.
From a virtual winery making just a small batch of Chardonnay, they are now producing about 4500 cases. Their home estate grapes include Schönburger, Zweigelt, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. They contractually manage and grow certified-organic Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and some Viognier from the Kozier Organic Vineyard, which is further north of the winery on the Naramata Bench, and the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes come from near Oliver.
Interesting to note that Roches have also undertaken various projects to grow their winery and the visitors’ experience. The first was with Pinot Noir in collaboration with Stag’s Hollow Winery. Winemakers Dylan Roche and Dwight Sick, formerly of Stag’s Hollow, were given grapes from two vineyards of two different terroirs – Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls - in 2015 and 2016, and tasked with producing wine. Simply, right? Yet the resulting the bottled wines taste quite different and comparing the products shows how both nature and the winemaker have such an effect on the end result.
The next idea was to offer “Barrel Futures”. In Bordeaux, châteaus host tastings of wine that has gone into the barrel, and brokers sell the futures to shippers who set the final price for the wine. These shippers, Négociants, then sell the wine to importers who sell to wholesalers or retailers. With each step, the price gets marked up. The Roches decided that they would offer futures for their benchmark wine, CHÂTEAU, directly to their Black Book wine club members, and then to the public, if there was any left! What fun to know “My” delicious future wine is maturing while enjoying the current offerings.
There are two series of wines at Roche; “Tradition” and “Texture”. The “Tradition” wines are in bottles with white labels, while the “Texture” bottles show close up images of the different grape leaves, or flowers, or even the terroir – the dirt from which grew the particular vines. However, it is what’s inside where the real differences appear.
True to the names, “Tradition” is Old World in style, with an Alsatian Pinot Gris, Burgundian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Bordeaux-style blends. The North American (New World) style “Texture” means that everything is in stainless steel, except for the Texture Pinot Noir that spends six months in neutral French oak.
Dylan and Pénélope are busy people, being so involved in their small winery, but they have very competent and knowledgeable staff in the tasting room. On a recent visit, we were lucky enough to have booked time with Executive Manager, Eliana Bray, who is a certified sommelier, chef, working on her WSET Level 4, and is passionate and enthusiastic about the wines she pours, happily sharing that insight.
With two of us, we managed to try most of the wines on offer and found several that definitely were to our individual tastes.
The Texture Arôme is surprising because of its use of the Schönburger grape. Aromatic (note the name?), and light, this is a wine that is very easy to enjoy on its own.
We tried the two Pinot Gris wines and they were indeed different from each other. The Texture is apple crisp and lime citrus while I found that the Tradition had a longer finish, with quite a fruit blend – apple/pear/lemon.
The Tradition Chardonnay is lovely. Again, lots of fruit flavours in the taste but the light oak added a richness to this wine that I liked.
Exclusive to the Black Book Wine Club is the Auxerrois Chardonnay. I am now a member of the club and this will be my go-to Chardonnay!
The 2019 Texture Gewürztraminer is a small lot wine and a new addition to the portfolio. Liked the nose on this wine, and the taste was of nectarine and pear.
The Texture Rosé is becoming a favourite for me. A blend of Zweigelt with a dash of Schönburger, this has a deep pink colour and surprised me with its crisp depth. That’s the best way for me to describe it as it has melon aspects, but there is just more to it, which means I needed another sip to decide!
The Tradition Pinot Noir was up next. Originally spending time in stainless steel tanks, this pinot is aged in light oak for 14 months. Smooth, tasty and a lovely finish. This was the 2016, and I wonder how long it will cellar? The grapes are from the Kozier Vineyard. It did win a Silver Medal from the Lieutenant Governor’s 2019 Awards.
Comparison with the Texture Pinot Noir was difficult as this is from 2018 and could also age. Definitely more fruit forward, there was still a long finish to this wine, and spice in the mouth. The grapes are from the estate vineyard.
A blend of 58% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon went into the 2017 nuances. I know that “juicy” is used to describe big wines and I can see why. Berries, definitely, but there are herbs in there too. I am a big fan of Cab Franc, so this one suited my palate, and the Merlot added a smoothness to the flavour.
Finally, we ended with the CHÂTEAU 2016. A blend of 41% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot, there are lots of flavours that you will find in this wine. We had a bit of a discussion about what we each could taste in this wine and never did agree. Delicious.
This was not the first stop with this friend, but her comment was “Why did we stop elsewhere? I could have done all my buying here!”
As we organized our purchases, we saw that there was honey on offer. To go along with the Roches’ belief in organic farming, there are hives on the property and their honey contributes to this “Naramata Blend”.
Oh, and remember the chickens? They will soon be at work in the “chicken tractor” moving through the vines and removing any unwanted bugs. There is definitely a French flavour to this family winery.
Try their wines. I know you will enjoy them.
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