“I can truly say I love my job,” he says. “Every year is different and we have to make decisions based on what Mother Nature throws at us. It’s great to be part of a team where the focus is to continually evolve and take us to the next level.” – Steve Carberry, Black Hills’ Winegrower
As the saying goes, great wines start in the vineyards. But it’s not just the farming practices that result in excellent grapes. Great vineyards start with planting superior clones on the right rootstocks to improve a variety’s development and resulting wine characteristics.
A bit of cloning 101: For a winemaker, the best way to preserve the characteristics of a grape variety is reproduction via cloning. A piece of what is called the “mother vine” is cut off and either planted directly into the soil, where it will sprout its own roots, or is grafted onto another vine. With only one “parent,” the genetic content of the new vine will be the same.
Black Hills Estate Winery grows the grapes for its award-winning reds on 41 acres on the Black Sage Road in Oliver with the first vines planted in 1996.
“The original owners did a very good job selecting the clones and rootstocks,” says the estate’s winegrower Steve Carberry. “The clones work very well here and the vigorous rootstocks like the temperature in the South Okanagan. Each clone and rootstock has been carefully selected for our growing conditions.”
The grapes for the winery’s famed Nota Bene, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, are grown in the Double Black and Sharp Rock vineyards. The grapes from each clone of the three varieties are picked at different times, handled separately and eventually blended. Steve says, “This way the complexity of the wine starts in the vineyard.”
For example, the Cabernet Sauvignon grown at Black Hills is from French clones 15, 169 and 191 on French rootstocks 3309C and Riparia Gloria and German rootstock S04. The Cabernet Franc is made up of French clones 331 and 214 on 3309C and S04 rootstock and the Merlot clones are 181 and 347 also on 3309C and S04 rootstock.
Steve says his job is then working with these cloned vines to get the best grapes possible by managing the vineyard sustainably, carefully controlling irrigation, managing the canopy by shoot thinning, tucking and pruning, dropping clusters and carefully monitoring for pests and only spot spraying if necessary and finally deciding when to harvest.
These careful vineyard practices are reflected in the cellar as well. Winemaker Graham Pierce and his team handle each of the clones separately and develop blends based on their individual character. When it comes to wines like Nota Bene, the complexity of flavour can be traced back to the vineyard and the careful clone selection.
It’s this meticulous attention to detail that has resulted in a loyal following for wines like Note Bene. To get a taste of this, visit Black Hills Wine Experience Centre on the Black Sage Road in Oliver where this ultra-premium wine can be tasted along with the rest of Black Hills’ portfolio.