When you are standing on the crush pad at Laughing Stock winery on the Naramata Bench, you can see Glaciers. Or at least how glaciers have altered the landscape of the Okanagan Valley during the last ice age.
The Naramata Bench is located in the middle of the Okanagan Valley just north of Penticton on the east side of the Okanagan Lake. The small hamlet of Naramata was once a cottage town where Vancouver people would holiday.
While there are still small homesteads scattered up and down the bench, most of the land is now planted with grapes. Currently the Naramata Bench Wineries Association has 25 wineries.
Owners of Laughing stock David and Cynthia Enns were at one time financial advisors and the marketing of their wines is entirely based around the stock market. From the ticker tape that shows the closing numbers of the day grapes were harvested, to the Bay Street sign in the vineyard, their previous life is evident throughout the winery. The Enns were in Toronto recently, and I attended a tasting of their ten vintages of their flagship Laughing Stock Portfolio, a Bordeaux blend.
Their transition to wine making started in 2001 when David bought a ton of Cabernet grapes from Walla Walla, Washington and made some wine in his garage in White Rock. In 2002, he bought 2 tons of Syrah from Walla. The wine was for personal consumption and gifts to friends. But it was good and the Enns decided to take the plunge, change careers and buy a farm. Their friends thought that if they couldn’t make a go of it in the country that they would be a Laughing Stock. The name was born and in 2003 the farm was bought.
That year they crushed eight tons of grapes at a neighboring winery while theirs was being built. They produced only 500 cases in the heat soaked and fire ravaged 2003. In 2004 the volume increased, as did the progress of the winery build.
It was not until 2005 that they finally made wine in their own gravity fed winery. The addition of Malbec and Petit Verdot further assisted in their growth and complexity of the wines. 2005, 2006 and 2007 where grouped together in the flight and showed some striking similarities . All the wines where showing the right amount of age and by the time the 07 was tasted I was fully understanding David’s approach to winemaking.
The next flight 08, 09 and 2010 had a different feel to them. They all had fruit from a vineyard they purchased in Osoyoos. Osoyoos is a small town that is located right on the boarder of the United States. Much of the soils there are sandy and temperatures often reach in the 40s in the summer. It is classified as Canada’s only desert and it is not an uncommon sound to hear rattle snakes in the vineyards.
The vineyard the Enns purchased in 2007 is 22 acres and is just over a kilometer from the boarder on the east side of the Osoyoos Lake. This gives the vineyard many hours of sunlight during the day, often over 12 in the summer.
In this group of three wines, the one thing that very different was the amount of Cabernet in 2010. Portfolio is a Merlot dominated blend, but in 2010 David thought that it the Cabernet was so good he wanted to make it the star of the blend. With 42%, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit verdot, the wine was certainly a stand out in the flight. It was divisive at the table, at which sat a mix of wine writers and sommeliers. Some people liked it, while other thought it was a sidestep from what is normal.
Finally the last two wines where the most currently released, the 2011 and 2012. The addition of the Osoyoos fruit is welcomed and the trajection of the wines is exciting. The earlier wines of 05-07 showed great purity of fruit and, now that they are close to the decade mark, are drinking nicely. Once the later vintages age and are fully ready for drinking, there is no doubt that these wines will be among the best in the valley.
It is always nice to taste older, new world wines. Especially from a winery that is so undervalued and under represented in Ontario. It’s also a treat and steep learning curve sitting at the table with a winemaker and discussing some of their wines. When you get to taste 10 in a row it is truly a revealing look at one wine and its maker.
Laughing Stock’s second red wine, ‘Blind Trust’ is available in its 2012 vintage through the LCBO Vintages program. Click here to find a store stocking it near you.