Barclay Robinson took the helm at BC’s Road 13 as winemaker in the spring of 2020 after having spent nearly seven years at The Foreign Affair Winery in Niagara, Ontario.
Crossing the country was not the first time Robinson had done so in the name of wine. Before earning his oenology degree at Niagara’s Brock University, Robinson had studied and spent 10 years as a sommelier at various restaurants and hotels in Calgary, Alberta. This gave him an edge when it came to understanding varying styles of wine and how those styles can best interact with different foods.
Says Robinson: “I think my past experiences give me a very rounded and unique perspective as I make my wines. It’s almost like speaking different languages, where I can share winemaking techniques and technical practices, then also understand (and speak to) the challenges/opportunities for my wines with customers in the hospitality industry, for example. Every experience gives you tools and experiences that could be used to troubleshoot future challenges.”
Coming from Ontario’s varying environment from vintage to vintage – including having to deal with very cold and wet temperatures during the winter – Robinson is now working in the South Okanagan’s desert climate where air is typically hot and dry during the growing and harvest seasons.
In fact, this is a place where diurnal temperature range is very much a factor. The average temperature can vary by 10-15C from daytime high to nighttime low, giving vines all the heat needed to ripen the fruit and then “rest” overnight. Robinson especially loves these weather conditions because they are ideal for making rich, full-bodied reds like syrah, malbec and cabernet sauvignon especially, and the wines tend to have rich ripe flavours with concentrated tannin structure and balanced acidity.
Learn more about Barclay Robinson and his wines through our latest Q&A, followed with complete tasting notes of several wines I was afforded the opportunity to taste for review:
VineRoutes: What makes the Golden Mile Bench and Black Sage Bench so unique in terms of its terroir vs other sub appellations within the Okanagan, and even BC as a whole, or the world for that matter?
Barclay Robinson: The soils vary from the west side (Golden Mile Bench) to the east side of the Okanagan Valley (Black Sage Bench).
The Golden Mile Bench on the west side has sandy soils with lots of gravel and large rocks mixed in, this allows ample water drainage (which drives the roots of the vines deep into the ground) and also as the water evaporates it precipitates on the larger rocks in the soil and leaves calcium carbonate behind. This “limestone effect” in the soil together with the fact that the west side of the valley gets the evening mountain shadow first, gives Golden Mile Bench wines a beautiful balance between ripe fruit and acidity together with a rich mid-palate weight, and some spicy flavours in syrah.
The Black Sage Bench soil has much more sandy and silt and maintains the heat of the day longer because it takes longer for the mountain shadow to reach the east side of the valley near sunset. These conditions are ideal for rich, full-bodied reds.
VineRoutes: Regarding varieties like cabernet sauvignon, syrah and malbec, in your opinion, how do these varieties compare with or express differently than other regions that also grow these varieties well?
Barclay Robinson: I think that these varieties are well-suited for the South Okanagan because they get the heat they need to fully ripen while having enough cool overnight to maintain acidity. The soil gives these wines amazing mid-palate weight and richness as well, so the resulting wines have perfect balance. By having the acidity balance, the wines tend to have a very long and complex finish.
VineRoutes: Tell me about your sustainability initiatives and why it’s so important to you.
Barclay Robinson: As of the 2021 growing season, all of Road 13’s vineyards are certified organic (this is a three year process through EcoCert). We also have an extensive composting program that allows us to compost all of the discarded organic matter (pressed grape skins, stems, and lees) and use them in the vineyard the following season to enrich the soil structure. Farming all of our grapes organically gives the fruit more flavour while taking care of the soil that our vineyards are on.These sustainable practices give our vineyards more longevity, reduce waste and allow more water retention around the roots of the plant (which reduces required water) and which is all better for our environment.
VineRoutes: What drives you day in and day out? What’s the best part about being a winemaker?
Barclay Robinson: I love being a winemaker because the job is so varied. I am in the vineyards with my viticulture teams, in the cellar working on upcoming wines, doing lab analysis, tasting grapes/juice/wines and planning new wines, talking to customers and representing the winery at off-site events. It is the perfect blend of nature, science and artistry for me. I love that wine is a product that reflects the vintage and the hard work that is put into growing the grapes. Then we transform the fruit to wine, patiently age it, and create the final blends that are bottled. I love sharing my wines with friends, family, and our customers and seeing the enjoyment in their faces and know that all the hard work will be appreciated, shared and the wines bring people together.
VineRoutes: Here’s the hardest question of them all: Niagara vs BC. What wins in your opinion? Not just as a place to live and make wine at, but also the wines themselves!?
Barclay Robinson: LOL! Let’s just say that both regions are making amazing wines; but for big, full-bodied red wine, the South Okanagan is better suited to the style of wines I like to make.
Road 13 2019 ‘Chip off the Old Block’ Chenin Blanc
From arguably the oldest chenin blanc vines in all of North America (planted in 1968), this is a real treat of a wine. Ripe nectarine, peach, and orange blossom on the nose. There’s also a hint of mango and jasmine. On the palate, this wine is a ripe fruit basket filled with nectarines, peaches, mango, and passionfruit. Balanced acidity and an extended finish make this wine the ultimate refresher. ($23)
Road 13 2016 ‘Traditional Method’ Sparkling Chenin Blanc
How many people can honestly claim to have tried chenin blanc as a sparkling wine? This beautiful bottle of bubbles has a consistent mouse and a nose of citrus, biscuit and ripe apples. On the palate, this wine delivers flavours of pear, citrus zest, and granny smith apple, and finishes with a creamy and biscuity flavour. ($45)
Road 13 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
The majority of the fruit for this wine came from vineyards in the Similkameen Valley with some of the minor parts of the blend (less than 5 percent) coming from the Okanagan. All components of this wine were fermented and aged separately in 25 percent new French oak for 16 months before final blending. This wine is bold, full-bodied and bursting with black currant and spices on the nose. The palate shows off a deep concentration of blackberry and currant flavours. The balance of spice, oak, and acidity make this a big cab that should be decanted if enjoyed now vs. stashing away for a few years. ($31)
Road 13 2019 GSM
A blend of three traditional Rhône varietals: syrah, mourvedre, and grenache – all aged for 18 months in French oak and American oak barriques. There’s fresh ripe strawberry on the nose, with black cherry and accents of white pepper, plum and sandalwood. Deep flavours of ripe dark cherry, blackcurrant, pepper, BBQ spices, and subtle oak notes linger on the finish. A very rich and flavoured wine that begs for a salty protein pairing to provide a proper palate balance. ($37)
Road 13 2019 Seventy-Four K
Fruit for this blend is sourced from both the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys and is a great representation of the diverse selection of grape varieties grown in these regional vineyards. Merlot being the backbone of the blend gives approachability and more fruit-forward flavours, while the other varieties support and add complexity and structure. Individual components were separately harvested, fermented and aged in 20 percent new French oak before final blending. The wine’s structure is big and rich, with silky tannins and a round, lengthy finish. ($26)
Road 13 2019 Syrah Malbec
A blend of 52 percent syrah, 47 percent malbec and 1 percent viognier. This unique red blend captures the spice of syrah and marries the fruit and density found in malbec. The syrah for this blend was co-fermented with viognier to enhance the fruit and floral elements of the syrah. Each of the syrah and malbec wines were kept on skins for 21 days and then aged in French and American oak (20% new oak barrels) for 16 months prior to final blending. Full-bodied, this is a wine with power and complexity. It has flavours of dark cherry, licorice, white pepper, blueberry pie, dark chocolate, and slight oak on the lengthy finish. ($35)
Road 13 2019 5th Element Red
This is a merlot dominant Bordeaux blend with syrah added to the mix. The grapes for this wine were sourced from the winery’s top producing vineyards, with the finished product then selected from the best of the barrels in the cellar. Aged 18 months in French and American oak barrels (35% new oak barrels), this wine is all about elegant power and balance. Ripened flavours of black cherry, currants, blackberry and dark plum all meld together with smoothened tannins that lend to a lengthy, complex finish. ($55)
Road 13 2019 Jackpot Malbec
Now this is a very intriguing wine that comes across bold, elegant and balanced. Sourced from Road 13’s dry East Osoyoos vineyard, this wine was kept on skins for 28 days to extract all the gentle fruit flavours and aromas together with the firm tannins for extended aging potential, while retaining its balance in the final wine. Malbec from this part of Canada produces intense aromas of blueberry pie, cherry licorice and subtle rich toasted oak on the nose. The palate flavours are rich with raspberry, dark chocolate, cherry, blueberry and accented floral notes. If you like big wines, this won’t let you down. ($70)