When Desert Hills Estate winery reopens its tasting bar this spring, visitors will discover two new special releases: a 2015 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a Family Reserve Gamay.

Winemaker Anthony Buchanan explains how blocks from two of the Toor family’s estate vineyards were identified as having the potential to produce extremely high quality grapes.

“From the beginning through to harvest, we treated these particular blocks differently.”

The Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been 16 months in 100 per cent new French oak and Buchanan said, “It is absolutely beautiful.”

Gamay is the most popular of Desert Hills’ wines, which led the team to a second exciting project: a Family Reserve Gamay from the 2016 vintage. They blended grapes from two vineyards and barrelled the wine for 10 months in a combination of second and third fill French and American oak, which adds a bit of complexity and a bit of sweetness to the wine.

On everyone’s mind this year is the effect of the 2017 fires on last fall’s harvest. So far, the Desert Hills’ winemaker believes the 2017 vintage has been good across the board. They’ve had a balanced crop, even though it was down a bit from the previous year.

According to Buchanan, the fires had some positive effects on the grapes. Temperatures were more moderate as the smoke cooled down the valley sometimes five to 10 degrees. The grapes ripened more slowly and evenly. Obviously, there’s always the fear of smoke taint, but Buchanan says so far, he has not seen any volatile phenols associated with smoke taint.

“There are a number of techniques we can employ going through the fermentation process to help compensate.”

The winery, located in Oliver, reopens April 1 with several of its popular wines on offer at the tasting bar. If you’re interested in the Family Reserve Gamay and the Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, you should visit early, quantities are limited.