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Wild Goose Vineyard
Wild Goose Vineyard in Naramata.
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Vineyards at Wild Goose.
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Harvest 2010VINTAGE 2010 %u2013 Fresh smiling faces spell success for last year%u2019s harvest. In the middle stands Wild Goose%u2019s four-legged crush pad worker Quira, to the left Andrea Peplinksi. Above her is Frank Forward, then Nik Kruger and Alex Kruger, president Adolf Kruger, far right winemaker Hagen Kruger, and kneeling front Roland Kruger.
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Sampling Rieslings with winemaker Hagen Kruger at Wild Goose Vineyards is a sensory hands-on, on-the-palate lesson in both wine tasting and winemaking.
It is a snowy Tuesday at the multi-award winning Okanagan Falls winery, and Hagen Kruger is showing me the differences between four whites.
“It may sound simple, but our philosophy is to keep as much of the fruit and the terroir in the wine as possible,” says Hagen with a huge smile.
Wild Goose whites, including the Rieslings, are praised for their exceptionally fragrant aromatics. The first, made from their Seacrest Vineyard grapes, has a sharp, almost lemony aroma, and a crisp, clean flavour that lingers on the palate.
“You can really taste the difference amongst the wines by the type of soil in their home vineyard,” says Hagen. “Seacrest Riesling grapes are grown in a sandy loam.”
We then try the Wild Goose brand Riesling, which Hagen says is from grapes nurtured in a soil with more clay and gravel. Its bouquet is more fruit-forward than the Seacrest, and the flavour has a little bit more of a mouth feel.
Stony Slope Riesling, from grapes grown in a soil that sounds like its name, has an aroma tinged with a very distinct mineralization. God’s Mountain Riesling is derived from vines grown on a clay bench with westerly exposure, has a rich, gooseberry-tinged bouquet.
So, these are just the Wild Goose Rieslings. There are also Gewürtztraminers, Pinot Blancs, Pinot Gris and Autumn Gold, the signature blend of the above grapes. Wild Goose is well-known for its whites.
There are, however, also five reds, comprising about 20% of its wines right now— two Merlots, a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Black Brandt – a Port-style dessert wine made with Marechal Foch.
“The reds are really coming up in quality. We’ve been working our red program quite diligently over the last few years,” says Roland, Hagen’s brother and general manager of the winery. “Some wine writers have recently said they were really excellent and worth checking out.”
Wild Goose Vineyards is a modest winery compared to some of its grander Okanagan Valley siblings with endless acreages and architecturally-stunning buildings. And yet, it is stellar among its winery companions for two reasons—its consistent and outstanding awards record and its senior status as one of B.C.’s first farm gate wineries, getting its license in 1990 following Lang Vineyards.
Hagen says wine is in the blood. His father Adolf “Fritz” Kruger, practically invented the idea of the farm gate winery.
A semi-retired electrical engineer and serious amateur winemaker in Vancouver, Fritz and his wife Susie first came up with the idea of starting a winery when they visited a grape-growing friend in Kaleden in the Okanagan. Fritz had been a serious amateur winemaker while living in Vancouver.
“Dad thought grape growing would be an intriguing venture to get into,” says Roland.
Fritz started looking around the Okanagan for properties and found a 10-acre plot in Okanagan Falls (which has since grown to 27-acres). In 1984 he approached his sons, both in their 20s and living in Calgary, and asked if they wanted to become partners. The result was a true family business – and only the 18th winery to be licensed in B.C.
Wild Goose’s first five years were spent growing grapes for other wineries. When Fritz started planting European Riesling and Gewürtztraminer grapes, he participated in a revolution since most of the varieties in the Okanagan were French hybrids. It wasn’t very long before the government would pay growers to tear them out and replace them with classic European varieties.
In 1989, Fritz got together with two other Okanagan vineyard people—Vera Klokocka, original owner of Hillside Cellars, and Gunther Lang of Lang Vineyards. At the time, both were also selling grapes to the larger wineries, but not yet in the wine business.
The three pioneered the winery farm gate concept in B.C., changing the industry dramatically. Not only did wineries become a thriving business, but the quality of wines produced in the province soared.
“They thought: why can’t we do the same thing as in Europe,” says Roland, “and sell a limited amount of wine straight from the winery?”
The trio then lobbied the provincial government with the idea. Bill Vander Zalm, then premier, understood the farm gate concept, grasped it, and legislation came through in 1990. The B.C. Wine Act was created, and the B.C. Wine Institute formed, with Fitz Kruger joining the board that implemented the VQA program.
At the time, farm gate wineries had to have at least three acres of vines, produce a minimum of 1000 gallons, and use 75% or more of their own grapes.
Wild Goose’s first vintage year was 1989 with Johannesburg Reisling, Gewürtztraminer, and Marechal Foch.
“We still have three or four of those bottles tucked away,” says Roland.
Hagen started making wine full time in 1998. “I had worked with my dad in the winery. He really taught me the basics. I also worked with winemaking consultant Christine Leroux who had trained in Bordeaux. She worked for two vintages with us.”
The family sold their product in the original wine shop, beneath the family home. There is now a new building with an expanded tasting room and shop, but they are still modest compared to those of other wineries.
Today annual output at Wild Goose has grown to 8-10,000 cases a year—a far cry from the original 500 cases.
“We will remain with great service, moderately-priced wines,” says Roland. “People don’t remember the architecture — they remember the quality of the wine and the people who sold them the wine. We’ve been doing this for three generations and just keep doing what we do.”
The Alchemist – Turning Grapes into Gold
Hagen’s vintner techniques boil down to two vital ingredients – combining traditional methods with modern day technology – starting with the vineyard.
“We prune to leave a modest number of buds to grow and then adjust crop size as the plant and seasons progress. We use fertigation so we can give the vines proper nutrition. We use drip irrigation in all vineyards,” says Hagen.
Although not organic, Wild Goose uses integrated pest management, and as much hand management as possible like removing leaves to “open the canopy, open the fruit”, Hagen says. Intervention takes place only when necessary to control any problems like diseases and insects that may arise.
In the making of the wine, Hagen tries to extract as much of the aromatics as possible. The grapes are crushed straight into the tank press, where they are left to sit with their skins for up to 24 hours. The juice is then pressed out and enzymes are added.
This technique, combined with distinctive terroir and selection of premium fruit, is what makes Wild Goose wines so unique.
Finally, mix in the mysterious talent of the individual winemaker that can never be precisely pinpointed.
“There are things that go on that distinguish Hagen from others,” says Roland about his brother. “He certainly has a unique touch that finishes off the wines and raises them to a very high standard.”