Listen to the podcast here:
This is the second part of my podcast interview with Chris Tolley of Moon Curser Vineyards. If you’ve listened to the first part of this interview then you know how effortlessly and clearly Chris explains winemaking, wine varieties and the beauty of his own wine region, the Okanagan Valley in BC, Canada. If you haven’t listened to that part yet then – what the heck! – go to our home page and find it under “Podcasts”. Or click here. It was released on April 4 and might just be our most popular podcast to date.
Awed By The Industry
In this 2nd part of the interview, Chris moves from talking about his winery and wine varieties to a more general overview of the Okanagan Valley. He gives us a perspective of what winemaking is all about in this special region. He talks about the different subregions and why the valley really is not a single region. And he talks about how he is awed and grateful to be working in an industry that is young, evolving and generates so much innovation. He sees the Okanagan as a special place where a winemaker/winegrower can keep discovering as the valley keeps discovering. The experimentation with the varieties and the blends that work best is ongoing and makes the wine scene here really exciting. And Chris also addresses something that is pretty distinctive about BC wines – the rich fruit character that tends to shine through our wines. He gives us a pretty clear insight into why the climate provides this feature to the wine.
We pick up this conversation where Chris is explaining the unique nature of the geography and climate around Osoyoos – the Sonoran desert north.
The Southern Part of the Okanagan with Chris Tolley of Moon Curser
BC is a cool climate region but, as Chris explains, there is a significant range in microclimates along the 200 km north-to-south length of the valley. At the southern-most end of the valley the Okanagan wine region becomes downright hot in the summer. Moon Curser is just a mile from the US border and, as you can see from the photos, this is a fascinating location. It’s a desert and it looks a lot like the setting for a western movie. As Chris says: “To give people an idea, the south end of the valley is an extension of the Sonoran Desert and is part of the geography that includes the Yakima Valley in Washington. We get 1500 growing degree days which is getting to be similar to the Rhône although the temperature profile is different.”
The Wine Varieties Tell Their Own Story at Moon Curser
Chris and Beata Tolley make some of the best wines in BC. And with some of the most fascinating varieties. Have a look at the Moon Curser website to see the range of varieties they use. Malbec, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Arneis, Touriga Nacional and more! Chris and Beata went to great lengths and took some risks to trial a range of different varieties on their land to see what worked. And they had some remarkable successes … and some things that didn’t quite work out like their effort to grow Corvina. Overall, their innovation has yielded very nice wines that have a personality unique to the southern Okanagan. For example he says that Dolcetto is well-suited to the Osoyoos area. “It grows well in sandy soil and it ripens well in our ripening period. And it produces a very nice wine which is the ultimate test after all.
Similarly, in a “cool climate region” you might not imagine that Rioja’s iconic grape, Tempranillo, would work particularly well. But interesting things can happen when you match a variety with a certain terroir. Chris describes the unique character traits this way “We get hot here but we don’t have a long hot season – it tapers off quickly at both ends. And so we get a very different Tempranillo than Rioja – varietally correct but distinct to the valley.”
Moon Curser’s Immediately Recognizable Brand Image
Chris and Beata have also established a very striking brand based on the local lore around the gold smuggling that was going on here 100 years ago. Another name for smugglers is “moon cursers”. And the graphics on the bottles is a memorable riff on both the smuggling motif and the local wildlife.