Phil McGahan

He was born in Australia where he became a lawyer but soon turned to winemaking. Philip is a 2006 bachelor of applied science (wine science) from Charles Sturt University. He grew up in Queensland and worked in the Hunter Valley before joining Williams Selyem about 2010 before taking up the challenge at CheckMate Artisanal Winery.

Phil set out to make sophisticated Chardonnays by meticulously focusing on three family-owned and farmed estate vineyards, relentlessly studying and researching rows within them to define micro-blocks. These sites, natural yeasts and artisanal winemaking resulted in a collection of five remarkable Chardonnays with production ranging from just one oval cask to 17 barrels. He let nature take its course, with no fining or filtration to allow for the full potential of flavour expression.

Checkmate is owned by Anthony von Mandl owner of Mission Hills Winery. Who saw an opportunity to produce world class chardonnay. The region is the ecologically pristine Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, north of the 49th parallel and 105 miles long. Glacial fed lakes stretch along a narrow valley floor at an altitude of more than 1200 feet.

Phil uses grapes from three different vineyard sites, three different locations, each an expression of their soil and mesoclimate. Each is is vinified in the same manner to highlight the unique expression of terroir. The Chardonnay clusters arrive at the winery in small picking containers, where each bunch is inspected and hand sorted. The whole bunches are then taken directly to be gently pressed. Here a small battle occurs, as the naturally occurring strains of indigenous yeasts battle for supremacy during the fermenting process. These competing yeasts give the wines layers of texture and nuance. Malolactic fermentation gradually softens the wines during extended cellaring in oak. A prescribed regimen of bâtonnage, the periodic stirring of the lees in the barrel, serves to add texture and mouthfeel. The finished wine goes to bottle - unfined and unfiltered to maintain the most complete expression of Chardonnay and terroir.

The vineyards selected by Phil are the Heritage Vineyard in the Golden Mile Bench appellation is adjacent to the CheckMate winery. It has some of the oldest vines in BC. The Barn Vineyard on Black Sage Bench has blocks of Chardonnay planted in 1999.  And the Border Vista Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench, tucked against the American border, has a block of Dijon clone Chardonnay planted in 1997.

The finish products are expensive but very good.

John Schreiner wrote

CheckMate Fool’s Mate 2013 ($80). This is a 17-barrel blend from grapes grown in all of the three selected blocks. The complexity of the wine makes the case for the assemblage. The wine has aromas and flavours of brioche and melon, with a rich texture and a long finish. 95

Tony Aspler wrote

  • CheckMate Queen Taken Chardonnay 2013 (Heritage Vineyard, Golden Mile Bench – $125): straw colour; minerally, smoky, white peach nose; ripe apple and peach flavours, elegant, mouth-filling peach and lychee flavours with a spicy note. (93)

As for me they are out of my price range.

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