Robert Wattie from Fairview Wines in Chichester 

Portuguese white and Canadian red!

This was a meeting with a difference when members of the West Surrey Wine Society tasted wines form just 2 estates in very different parts of the world – Quinta de Covella from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal which presenter Robert Wattie from Fairview Wines in Chichester described as ‘unloved’ and the Burrowing Owl Estate in British Columbia (Robert’s home area) which he called the ‘unknown’. The unusually high number of members present – for August – were rewarded with a breezy, informal and informative presentation by Robert who was visiting the Society for the first time (and it will certainly not be his last). 

Robert had chosen 4 white wines from Quinta de Covella to illustrate the new modern style of Vinho Verde wines and they were a far cry from the rather acidic often rough wines that many people associated with it in the past. Though the region has strict rules on permitted grape varieties more often than not growers did not know what varieties they had so many of the wines were basically what is known as ‘field blends’. Covella has invested in modern vineyard practices and wine making techniques which has enabled them to produce a range of very attractive aromatic white wines. The wines are based on the indigenous varieties, Avesso and Arinto, separately and in blends with Chardonnay. The most popular wine was the Elysse – clean and very aromatic due it being 100% Avesso. The blends brought out more body and peach flavours and the Reserva Branco. a 3 way blend of Avesso, Chardonnay and Arinto was seriously complex and classy. 

Robert explained the importance of temperature control during fermentation - winemakers can influence the character of wines by using different temperatures, counteract the affects of a bad year and achieve consistency year to year for the same wine. 

This was first time the Society had tasted Canadian wines and they were not disappointed with the 4 big, fruity reds from the Burrowing Owl Estate in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia which is very close to the US border and is classified as desert. Most of the vineyards border Lake Okanagan and have replaced fruit orchards which the area was long famous for. The Burrowing Owl is a rare, threatened species only found locally – a very small bird that makes its nest in the ground. The wines were all single varietals Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Syrah – blends are not popular in North America explained Robert. The owls may be small but the wines were not – dense colours and full bodied. Though some of the members clearly preferred lighter European style wines most of them enjoyed the full rich flavours especially the spicy Syrah and even the markedly non-typical Pinot Noir which was far more New Zealand than Burgundy in style. However they did not enjoy the prices which averaged £28/bottle though Robert explained that wine is very expensive in Canada due to high taxes and the pricing is similar in Canada.