British Columbia’s only winery exclusively dedicated to bubbles and one of a very few in Canada, Bella Sparkling Wines focuses on single vineyard expressions of classic Champagne grape Chardonnay and Gamay Noir, an underdog BC grape that won’t be for long. Bella is special too as the exceptional sparkling wines are made using traditional and ancestral methods.
Newsflash: Making wine, as everyone in the Okanagan Valley knows, is hard work. It’s dependent on the weather and growing conditions that change from year-to-year. It’s about hard physical, unglamorous, labour. It’s about finicky science with art, research, education, knowledge and risk thrown in. Making sparkling wine? Double, triple, quadruple the work. Making traditional and ancestral (natural) sparkling and the work goes off the scale.
Found a niche
“I love what I do,” says Bella wine maker/owner Jay Drysdale. “It’s hard to get a true sense of the fruit with so much makeup,” says Jay. “I love to see what the ground gives us with nothing added to hide the flavours or strip the colours.
“It may be hard but we have also found a niche.” After a thoughtful pause, Jay says, “I don’t know how to put this properly but it is amazing to share my science experiments, work at making the wine better and better and share my passion with others.”
Mission accomplished. Bella, now five years in, is selling out of all they produce and is garnering a loyal and effervescent following.
Riddle me this?
How many times does Jay touch a bottle to do a process such as hand riddling and hand discorging before it’s sold? “About 85 times,” says Jay. “All we do has become the norm and we don’t really think about it anymore but the 2,000 cases we produce is a lot to do by hand.”
Jay says Bella is about using traditional techniques that are a dying art. Jay likens what he does to the pushback in what’s happening with our food. “Our grandparents used real butter in their food. Our generation went to using margarine and all the stuff that’s put into that. Now we are seeing why our grandparents’ generation were healthier and enjoyed better tasting food.”
Of Bella’s 2,000 cases, 500 of them are natural wine made with ancestral methods. When wine was first made 8,000 years ago, it was not made using packets of yeast, vitamins, enzymes, reverse osmosis, cryoextraction, powdered tannins…among other additives and processed used in winemaking worldwide. Wines were made from crushed grapes that fermented into wine. Full stop.
Traditional and ancestral methods
Jay explains that his wines made with the traditional method involve a first ferment in a tank. The clear wine on top is then racked or siphoned off the murky lees and sometimes aged in oak barrels during or after this clarification and racking. The second step involves bottling with the addition of yeast and sugar for the second ferment. This is where the riddling comes in. Jay grabs each bottle, giving it a small shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, every day over a period of one to four weeks. The shaking and the twist dislodges particles that have clung to the glass and prevents sediments from caking in one spot. (A Gyropalette is on Jay’s wish list…a computer-automated machine that would reduce his workload enormously.) The final step is discouraging where a small amount of wine is released along with the sediment plug.
Natural wine has only one ferment involved and no added yeast, sugar or sulphur.
We compared Bella’s first vintage of Orchard House Gamay with a glass of their traditional Champagne-style sparkling, B2 (Buddhas Blend), 100 per cent Chardonnay from two vineyards, one in Oliver and one in Kamloops to blend two levels of acidity. (Editor’s note – I love my job.) The traditional style was lovely. To quote Dom Perignon, “I am drinking the stars!” Fresh, dry, citrus notes.
Bella’s Orchard House Gamay, with grapes from a small holding on the Naramata Bench was more flavourful with sherry, apricot and peach notes and it was a lovely pale pink. Made with traditional methods, the sparkling wonderfulness was made with Gamay Noir that remained on the lees for a year in a tank. The lees act as a natural preservative and as long as it stays smelling clean no sulphur is required. As Jay says, each sip tasted a little differently. (Editor’s note – for better or worse re the writing quality – I’m sipping a glass as I write this. Worth a typo or two…)
The lucky students at my Naramata-Blend valentine baking class will be among the first to sample Orchard House Gamay, this special sparkling of only 40 cases that will be released for Valentine’s. There are a few tickets left if you want to learn to bake fancy French pastries with Chef Amanda Perez of The White Apron Co.
Champagne love story
For their first date Jay took Wendy Rose and his dog (Bella) truffle hunting just outside of Portland, Oregon. They had a lot in common including a shared rich culinary background. Jay was a retired chef, currently working in the wine industry and Wendy grew up in a household where her mom was a chef and her dad’s only hobby was wine. Long story short, the couple has been celebrating ever since. Wendy and Jay founded Bella in 2011 on a four-acre Naramata homestead that incorporates vineyard, pigs, chickens, bees, organic gardens and heritage fruit.