On a bleak mid-January day I had the great fortune and opportunity to meet with Luke Smith, former successful stock broker and now owner of Howling Bluff, a small boutique winery located on the Naramata Bench. Luke has made quite a reputation for himself in the Okanagan Valley for his high quality Pinot. The first Pinot Noir he made in 2006, won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence and the 2008 Pinot Noir, was judged the red wine of the year in the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards (the first Pinot ever to do so). There is no fluke to these achievements, Luke is very passionate about everything he does and especially when it comes to making the finest Pinot. When he first started on the Bench he grew the main Bordeaux varietals both red and white and some Pinot Noir. Almost 10 years later after he has listened, observed and tasted what his vineyards were telling him he decided to switch almost of his vineyard to just one, the “heartbreak” Pinot Noir varietal. Helping him take that risky first step was talented Winemaker/consultant Chris Carson. Chris, who currently works at Meyer Family Vineyards, compliments Luke’s philosophy perfectly having worked both in Burgundy in France and the Central Otago region of New Zealand, two of the benchmark growing areas for top class Pinot.
The first step for Luke involved drastically cutting the amount of fruit each vine produced. This ensured higher quality grapes with greater concentration but meant lowering annual production and this has fallen from 1500 cases down to just 500. This was indeed a bold move, but when you believe in a no compromise approach like Luke’s, it was a relatively easy decision to make. When it came to winemaking, the use of wild yeast, high temperature fermentation and gentle must handling have been an overwhelming success. The barrel regime revolves around 12 month ageing in new, first fill and second fill French oak, yet another costly outlay but essential if you are striving for the ultimate Pinot. Luke’s wines are very much “Old World in style” but made with all the “New World” technology and techniques currently available. Howling Bluff’s wines are available online, in VQA stores on the Lower Mainland and in speciality wine stores such as Legacy in Downtown Vancouver and select restaurants.
The wines are highly recommended and well worth seeking out. Summa Quies Pinot Noir 2010 Named after Luke’s vineyard, and coming from a Latin phrase that basically means “attaining peace”. The vineyard site was specifically chosen because of the deep clay soils, gently rolling slopes and excellent air drainage. The 2010 vintage has produced a wine that is well balanced with complex aromas of red fruits such strawberries and cherries with enticing spice and earthy notes. The palate is bold and vibrant with a mouthfilling yet silky texture. The finish is long and lingering. Just 300 cases made.
~ Mike Lee