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Burrowing Owl Winery Is Flying On Its Own



Last fall, when Burrowing Owl wound up its consulting agreement (amicably) with California winemaker Bill Dyer, Jim Wyse assured me that “we are going to keep Bill’s recipes.”

The winery has recently released some of the wines from Dyer’s last two vintages in the Okanagan, including a remarkable Pinot Noir and a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. It would be folly to mess with the Dyer style when the wines are snapped up so eagerly by consumers and restaurateurs lucky enough to be on the winery’s distribution list.

For example, when the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty blackberry/plum tasting red, was released in December, 400 cases were snapped up in four days of fevered Internet sales. The winery had to cap sales of the wine so there will be some to sell next year at its Okanagan tasting room.

Dyer, who had a distinguished career at Sterling Vineyards in the Napa Valley, had just hung out his shingle as a consultant when Burrowing Owl was getting started in 1997. Intrigued with making wine in the Okanagan, he signed a five-year contract to consult at Burrowing Owl. He was into his second five-year term when he and Wyse concluded that the winery’s cellar team, headed by Stephen Wyse, the owner’s son, was quite capable of continuing on its own. “We were well-coached,” Jim Wyse says.

The part of the job that Dyer found unappealing was traveling from Napa to the Okanagan six or eight times a year. It meant flying from Oakland to Spokane and then driving three and a half hours to the winery, with an interrogation at the border. On one occasion when Dyer was bringing a strange looking piece of winery equipment, he was grilled for an hour on suspicion of terrorism.

He certainly put a stamp on the Burrowing Owl wines, crafting elegant Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, and red wines that invariably as generous and rich in fruit. The credit, of course, also goes to the winery’s vineyard practices. The vines here are farmed at the low to moderate yields necessary for producing wine with so much flavour.

Jim Wyse planted Pinot Noir because Bill Dyer wanted to make it. Conventional wisdom has it that Black Sage Road, on the sun-drenched eastern slope of the southern Okanagan, is too hot for Pinot Noir. Another winery in fact has replaced Pinot Noir with varieties considered more suitable.

But Burrowing Owl clearly figures it has mastering growing Pinot Noir at its site. The winery is just completing the purchase of 25 acres of vineyard from neighbour Tinhorn Creek that includes 10 acres of Pinot Noir. Wyse intends to replant some to Cabernet Sauvignon but he is keeping enough Pinot Noir to double Burrowing Owl’s current five acres.

Burrowing Owl made only 598 cases of Pinot Noir in 2003, a somewhat reduced production due to what the winery called “vineyard adjustments.” When the new vineyard is added, the plan is to produce about 2,000 cases of Pinot Noir. The 2003 vintage – a big, dark wine with deep, spicy plum flavours and a strapping 14.8% alcohol – is sold out already, but should be available on restaurant wine lists during the next several months.

Dyer also put his stamp on Burrowing Owl’s Meritage. In contrast to many Okanagan Meritage reds, Dyer made blends led by Cabernet Franc, not Merlot. The winery’s 2002 Meritage, just released, is 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2003 Meritage, still in barrel, is more than 60% Cabernet Franc.

Measured by the 2002 Meritage, the Burrowing Owl style has the elegance of a fine Bordeaux with the ripeness of the south Okanagan, meaning the wine will cellar well but can also be enjoyed now.

Wyse says that Burrowing Owl may engage another consultant, someone based closer to the Okanagan, to benefit from an arms-length palate. But there is no rush: the 2004 vintage was trouble-free and the reds soon will be maturing in a barrel cellar being doubled to a capacity of 1,000 barrels. The winery made an equivalent of 24,000 cases of wine in 2004.

With the additional vineyard, Burrowing Owl will have about 135 producing acres. Wyse believes that will enable Burrowing Owl to top out with an annual production of 27,000 to 30,000 cases. Perhaps that will mean less of a mad scramble to get the wines when they are released.

John Schreiner is author of The Wineries of British Columbia


Notes courtesy www.gismondionwine.com

PINOT GRIS

90/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2003
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Spicy clover, honey, big mineral, green apple skin and floral aromas with a bit of lime rind. Rich, ripe and round in the mouth with juicy apple, smoky mineral, spicy honey, baked pear flavours and a dry, chalky, citrus finish. Very well made.
Tasted: 2004-08-06 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $20.00 (750 ml) Winery
CSPC: 510941;   UPC: 626990004448
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

88/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2002
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Light floral, earthy, mineral, marzipan, and citrus peel aromas. Dry, round, elegant styling with mineral, green apple, spicy, pear and grapefruit rind flavours. Crisp acidity but nicely balanced, will improve over the next year. Fine style and very representative of what the best B.C. pinot gris is all about.
Tasted: 2003-09-06 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $20.00 (750 ml) Winery
CSPC: 510941;   UPC: 626990004448
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

89/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 1999
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Pleasant green apple and butter notes on the nose with a lot less oak. Very dry and crisp at this point with a big mineral citrus lemon flavours. Quite departure in style from BOV’s initial release less California more Alsace. Leaner with less ripe fruit. Will be a standout in restaurants with food.
Tasted: 2000-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $19.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

92/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 1998
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Lovely clean ripe nose with flavours of mineral, honey and peach with some floral overtones. Quite a complex bouquet for a young wine. Big, ripe pinot gris style. Very pure with lovely oak integration, just a touch of vanilla and butter in the finish. Extremely stylish. In less than two years BOV has set a standard for pinot gris that could easily be interpreted as an international benchmark. Incredible value too when compared to Oregon and Alsace.
Tasted: 1999-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $17.95 (750 ml) Winery Only
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

89/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 1997
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
A great new edition to B.C.’s small family of pinot gris producers. The nose is open and packed with vanilla, honey and pears. Similar toasted honey pear smoky flavours and more vanilla and citrus. There’s a certain delicate nature to the wine that suggests B.C fruit but it is well balanced with a ripe round finish. This is treat to sip and real competition for the nearby Blue Mountain Reserve. Premiere release.
Tasted: 1998-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $17.95 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing
 
CHARDONNAY

89/100 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2002
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Open ripe, apple/lees nose with streaks of peach and some cool floral characters that remind us of Sonoma. Promising entry with mineral, apple and honey flavours on the palate and lime rind in the finish. Fine elegant styling and weight but it should improve further throughout the year. Well done.
Tasted: 2003-08-12 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $23.00 (750 ml) Winery
CSPC: 510933;   UPC: 626990004431
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

88/100 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2001
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia Creamy vanilla mineral floral overtones here in what is a very attractive nose. Elegant and round structure with vanilla buttered apples and mineral less character. Fine sophistication with just a touch of dryness in the finish. Well balanced.
Tasted: 2002-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $21.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

89/100 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2000
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Spicy, creamy lees, citrus and mineral aromas with a touch of sweaty oak toast. Dry, round and slightly oily, has good acidity and a slightly more austere styling. Green apple, spicy lees, vanilla and pear flavours with a citrus note in the finish. Elegant and balanced, needs a year more to fully round out the acidity and balance.
Tasted: 2001-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $25.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

88/100 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 1999
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
The 1999 chardonnay is a step back from the mammoth California style 1998 which led Dyer to experiment by barrel fermenting the entire lot in French oak and employing a full regime of lees stirring. Twenty percent of the wood was new; the rest a mix of two, three and four old barrels. The idea was to fatten up a thin vintage and give the wine more mouth feel. The nose is an enticing mix of smoky oak and pear. The body is leaner and more Chablis-like, which is probably why Dyer wanted to fatten up the wine. Good but oaky and will need some time to settle down. (1425 cases)
Tasted: 2000-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $21.90 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

90/100 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 1998
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Vanilla cantaloupe character. Lean stylish pear apple honey fruit aromas. Crisp fruit, which is a godsend in 1998, with a buttery, creamy, pear/apple finish. Very elegant with good acid. Coming along in bottle. Just a touch of dryness in the finish.
Tasted: 1999-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $19.90 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

90/100 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 1997
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Light straw. An intriguing combination of canned peach, citrus, vanilla and buttery aromas. We love the mid-palate roundness and richness and its balanced acidity. Look for refined vanilla, pear/citrus flavours encased in a delicate structure. Already among the best chardonnays we’ve tasted in B.C. and certainly the best 1997 chardonnay we’ve tasted to this point. A promising first vintage from California winemaker Bill Dyer. One wonders what he will do in 1998 with a made to measure winery in the heart of the vineyard and another year of experience in the Okanagan Valley. Certainly, this wine is more proof that an experienced winemaker can make a big difference.
Tasted: 1998-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $18.95 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

PINOT NOIR

87/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2002
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Smoky, spicy clove, black cherry jam, reduced barnyard aromas and a touch hot. Restrained and slightly dry with light tannins and fine balance. Ripe black cherry, smoky, spicy, licorice flavours with buttery vanilla bitter almond aftertaste. Slightly volatile but definitely pinot. Drink now or over the next year or so.
Tasted: 2004-07-11 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $24.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
CSPC: 556613;   UPC: 626990004486
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

86/100 Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2000
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Smoky bacon fat and pepper highlights with some vegetal notes in the background. Smoky earth flavours with a touch of dried cherry fruit, but not a great deal. It’s rich and round (alcoholic).
Tasted: 2001-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $20.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

SYRAH

91/100 Burrowing Owl Syrah 2002
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Rich gamey, black cherry jam and smoky tobacco notes streaked with rootsy, licorice and vanilla. Rich, round, warm and dry on entry with elegant but round, supple tannins. More spicy, black cherry jam, vanilla, meaty, licorice and cigar flavours with just the right amount of peppery, sausage and citrus peel flavours on the finish. Ripe and suave. Well worth laying away for a few years. Bravo.
Tasted: 2004-08-24 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $30.00 (750 ml) Sold Out
CSPC: 608828;   UPC: 626990004493
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

MERLOT

90/100 Burrowing Owl Merlot 2002
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Good dark cherry colour. Still a baby the ’02 merlot shows fine promise from its peppery, spicy, Christmas pudding and plum/iodine nose with black raspberry, earthy, tobacco leaf undercurrent to its ripe plum jam, cherry, chocolate, vanilla, peppery orange rind flavours. Rich round and quite concentrated with ripe, supple tannins. A bit fat and alcoholic for B.C. but it will have wide appeal. Should improve over the next two to four years. Dare we say St. Émilion...
Tasted: 2004-06-02 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $24.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
CSPC: 509855;   UPC: 626990004462
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

90/100 Burrowing Owl Merlot 2001
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Smoky tomato leaf, herbal, dill, tobacco aromas with some spicy cherry jam. Warm alcoholic rich round soft smoky chocolate flavours with impressive weight and styling. There's a touch more acidity than required but this is B.C. merlot and it's about as good as it gets.
Tasted: 2003-06-20 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $24.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
CSPC: 509855;   UPC: 626990004462
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

87/100 Burrowing Owl Merlot 2000
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Open smoky, compost and tobacco aromas with spicy prune and plum fruit. Good rich cassis fruit entry with creamy vanilla and cola/cherry flavours. There’s no shortage of dry Northern tannins in this elegant Okanagan red but they should fade with time.
Tasted: 2001-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $25.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

90/100 Burrowing Owl Merlot 1999
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Compost and barnyard aromas predominate with some prune and spice overtures. Much better texture here with good balance. Cherry cola, vanilla and spice mark the flavours. Lots of hard work has made what could have been an average wine much better in ’99.
Tasted: 2000-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $24.90 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

92/100 Burrowing Owl Merlot 1998
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
The ‘98 merlot was fermented in 10-ton stainless steel tanks and aged in a mix of new and old American and French wood for 11 to 12 months. Look for a ripe, vanilla, plum jam nose with delicious ripe cherry jam and chocolate flavours on the palate. Impressive and very much in the Washington State mold. (2800 cases).
Tasted: 1999-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $24.90 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

86/100 Burrowing Owl Merlot 1997
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
The first red we’ve seen from BOV opens with an earthy, minty black cherry nose. Quite intense flavour on the palate with lots of oak, spice and herbs. The tannins, which were noticeable in barrel samples, are slipping away but the wine is lean and somewhat dry. Very much in the Bordeaux style, which signals it needs time and food. It’s not unripe or too vegetative. Good one to buy and wait if only because it is the premiere vintage and likely to become a collector’s item. Not cheap.
Tasted: 1998-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $23.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

MERITAGE
 
90/100 Burrowing Owl Meritage 2001
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
The BOV Meritage is a 40/40/20 blend of cabernet franc/merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The colour is a deep cherry red. The nose: peppery, black olive, smoky, earthy, licorice with a streak of green bean, cassis and cherry. In the mouth the wine is rich and concentrated with a touch of acidity and heat. Cassis, black cherry, vanilla, orange peel and smoky resiny flavours all combine to seduce the palate as does a Christmas pudding, green olive and cassis aftertaste. This is well done considering the so-so vintage and it will improve over the next two to four years.
Tasted: 2004-06-02 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $34.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
CSPC: 509855;   UPC: 626990004462
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

CABERNET FRANC

89/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2001
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Spicy, smoky, cigar aromas with lots of black cherry and cranberry. Round and elegant structure with good concentration. Very spicy, black cherry, smoky cigar cranberry flavours. Quite rich and ripe but also tannic on the finish, needs three to five years. Impressive effort given the somewhat average quality of the harvest.
Tasted: 2003-06-13 by ST
Prices: BC $26.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
CSPC: 556621;   UPC: 626990004479
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

87/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2000
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Despite being harvested at a respectable 23 brix the nose is a mix of vegetal smoky notes with a touch of rubber boot, cranberry and black cherry. There's nice elegance and styling here with big smoky vanilla and cranberry fruit in the finish. Better than most other syrah but still too dry in the finish for our liking. 750 cases made and bottled March 2002.
Tasted: 2003-02-21 by AG
Prices: BC $25.00 (750 ml) Winery
CSPC: 556621;   UPC: 626990004479
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

91/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 1999
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Intense colour. Smoky, ripe blackberry aromas with cassis and herbal hints in the background. Rich round young red with some dry tannins but we like the structure and the warm blackberry cassis and spice in the flavour. Very impressive.
Tasted: 2001-04-06 by AG
Prices: BC $25.00 (750 ml) Winery
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

91/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 1998
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Intense colour. Smoky, ripe blackberry aromas with cassis and herbal hints in the background. Rich round young red with some dry tannins but we like the structure and the warm blackberry cassis and spice in the flavour. Very impressive.
Tasted: 1999-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $25.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

CABERNET SAUVIGNON

85/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
The nose is resiny with smoky, roasted tomato, pepper/jalapeno nose with some tobacco, barnyard notes. Meaty, dry and chunky on the palate with elegant but dry tannins. Very earthy, resiny, smoked jalapeno, leafy flavours with a warm, dry finish. There’s elevated acidity and noticeable oak in what is a somewhat herbaceous package. Not a great year.
Tasted: 2003-11-20 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $26.90 (750 ml) Winery Only
CSPC: 508200;   UPC: 626990004455
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

86/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Open meaty gamy spicy nose with smoke and green olives in the finish. Elegant on the palate with plenty of flavour and extract but it’s not particularly ripe and finish at least for the moment is dry and tannic. Needs time for sure but it won’t be the wine the ’98 and 99.
Tasted: 2002-11-12 by AG
Prices: BC $21.90 (750 ml)
CSPC: 508200;   UPC: 626990004455
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

86/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Green smoky earthy and roasted bell pepper aromas with low fruit character. Much more interesting in the mouth with smoky vanilla and sour cherry flavours dominating. More elegant that the nose would suggest. Will be fine with food but not for mid-day sipping.
Tasted: 2000-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $25.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

92/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
We love the cassis, spice and cinnamon nose here. The ‘98 cabernet sauvignon caught me by surprise simply because it is so ripe and balanced. This is a once in a decade cabernet because normally this variety struggles to ripen in B.C. Expect a plump ripe full flavoured red that is just beginning to show its stuff. One can only wonder how good a blended cabernet merlot might be form BOV. (2500 cases).
Tasted: 1999-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $24.90 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing

84/100 Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
We love the cassis, spice and cinnamon nose here but after that it tastes a lot like a ’97 B.C. red. The flavours are dry and peppery with a bit of a salty (Padthaway) leathery tang and too much acidity. Not up o the level of Burrowing Owl’s initial white wine releases.
Tasted: 1998-09-01 by AG-ST
Prices: BC $23.00 (750 ml)
Producer: Burrowing Owl Vineyards
Distributor: Burrowing Owl Vineyards; Grady Wine Marketing









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