When Blasted Church Vineyards first burst onto the Canadian wine scene in 2002, the BC winery instantly turned heads with the colourful and irreverent labels that adorned its bottles. From the “OMG” Sparkling Wine to the “Unorthodox” Chardonnay, it was clear from the start that the winery was willing to poke a little fun at themselves. Their wine on the other hand, is no laughing matter.
Blasted Church didn’t just conceive its name from a shrewd marketing idea, they are paying homage to the true story of a local treasure. The 120-year-old wooden church was successfully moved thanks to a controlled blast that helped loosen its foundation to make it transportable.
Except for the steeple, the plan worked, and it’s this clever resourcefulness which they celebrate today in the name.
We met with winemaker Evan Saunders at the winery on a warm September afternoon, a couple of weeks before harvest was expected to begin.
The winery itself sits on a beautiful plateau in Okanagan Falls overlooking Skaha Lake.
The small log house tasting room and deck is perfectly situated to take full advantage of the unobstructed views of lake and the estate vines that seem to slope right into it.
Evan provides a first impression that is quintessentially Canadian. Born in the heart of the Prairies, he is instantly likeable—kind, self-deprecating and quick to find the humour in everything.
He lights up with a palpable energy when he reveals he’s recently become a father, despite the extreme sleep deprivation as a result! His journey into wine began while at the University of Victoria where he was working on a degree in microbiology with the ultimate plan of becoming a doctor. It was while at University he started drinking wine and first entertained the idea of changing his career path. Ironically, one of his regular go-to whites was Blasted Church’s Hatfield’s Fuse, which initially caught his eye at the wine shop because of its label.
After graduating from UVic, Evan moved to Ontario to attend Brock University to pursue a certificate in Grape and Wine Technology, Viticulture and Enology. After completion, he returned to BC and worked as a Cellar Hand for a few years at Osoyoos Larose, a winery focused entirely on Bordeaux varieties. He complemented that experience with a harvest in California’s Sonoma Valley at Kosta Browne, a winery working exclusively with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
2020 marks Evan’s 7th harvest at Blasted Church. He worked his way up from Cellar Hand to Assistant Winemaker in short order and took over as head Winemaker in 2017. “The first day or two of harvest you just want to throw up because you’re so stressed. You feel like you’ve forgotten everything and ask yourself ‘how am I in charge of all of this?’. Then once you have the first pick over and done with, the smells and the sounds and everybody around, you think ok, I remember why I love doing this.”
Their fruit is sourced from their estate along with contracted fruit from growers in Oliver and Osoyoos. Their estate vineyards are some of the oldest in the Okanagan Valley, originally planted in the early 1970s by the previous landowner Dan Prpich. The fruit is all handpicked largely for quality control but even the most sophisticated mechanical harvesters would find the slopes and angles of the estate vineyards tricky to maneuver.
As we tag along with Evan while he inspects the vineyards, he tells us about the challenges of working in a region with a short growing season and a lot of vintage variability.
“We really rely on September and October where we typically sit in the sweet spot of daytime highs in the high 20s (Celsius) for ripening and cool nights so the acid will hold. I like fresher wines that show a bright acidity but still highlight the fruit. 2019 was challenging because around September 9th the weather changed significantly and became unseasonably cool and damp.”
But 2020 is looking very good as a result of a warm and dry September and the spirit within the winery was very positive in anticipation of the upcoming harvest. “My favourite thing about harvest is as soon as I hit the Cabernet Sauvignon vines. They have a really open leaf and the canopy’s always quite thin and the clusters are super loose…it just feels good. I don’t know what it is about being with the Cab Sauv, I guess it’s not called the King of Grapes for no reason.”
Blasted Church produces approximately 26,000 cases annually featuring more than 20 different wines and almost as many grape varieties.
Their “Storytelling Series” is made up of their estate wines and the “Revered Series” is their reserve label. In 2018, the winery unveiled a revamp of their iconic labels inspired by Renaissance era masterpieces and described as ‘figures from classical paintings are plucked from their holy surroundings into modern-day scenarios’. Still irreverent, but this time celebrating the new and innovative direction of winemaking under Evan’s guidance.
A few years ago, Evan started experimenting with small lot wines featuring lesser known varieties not widely associated with the Okanagan Valley such as Teroldego, Lagrein, Nebbiolo, and Trebbiano.
And while the scientist in Evan enjoys the experimenting side of winemaking, his pragmatic side keeps him from taking unnecessary risk. He doesn’t just pick varieties he’s interested in, he works with varieties he believes have potential given the terroir.
The biggest challenge with growing more obscure varieties is the inevitable question of whether they will sell. Evan tells us it’s definitely easier now to sell more obscure wines particularly within the Vancouver sommelier community. “They’re excited by it and they’re the ones willing to take a chance on it. The wines certainly aren’t for everybody and there are parts of the population that hate it and that’s fine. In fact, I love that because if everyone liked it, we aren’t pushing hard enough and it’s such a small allocation of cases it’s not too risky.”
Evan’s experimentation isn’t just limited to the fruit. He’s producing wines made in clay amphorae, clay eggs, and even bottles his “Sacrosanct” Cabernet Franc in clay. The handmade terracotta bottle isn’t just aesthetically beautiful, it’s the first of its kind to be used in Canada, something Evan is clearly excited about. More importantly, the clay bottle sourced from Italy isn’t a just a marketing tactic, the wine inside is a standout within the tasting lineup (see tasting notes below).
Blasted Church has seen quite an evolution with respect to its marketing and its winemaking. And while the labels help communicate the winery’s belief that the enjoyment of wine should always be a pleasurable experience without pretention, the winemaking is a serious testament to their intention of making quality wines.
Judging by the direction Evan is taking the winery, their faithful following will continue to worship with, dare we say it…religious abandon. Amen to that.
2018 Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
This the traditional blend for a Bordeaux white wine. The Sauvignon Blanc provides grapefruit and zesty acidity. The Semillon provides texture and melon or tropical notes. This wine nicely achieves that purpose to create balance and additional interest from the grassy notes nicely counter-balanced by hints of honey.
Very Good+ ($24 at the winery)
2018 Blasted Church Viognier
Vibrant aromas of apricots and other orchard fruits with hints of floral notes. On the palate there is medium body and flavours of melon with orange notes creating additional complexity.
Very Good+ ($22 at the winery)
2017 Blasted Church Merlot
Likely to be everyone’s friend at a party, this Merlot shows black cherry, plum and hints of cookie dough. The tannins are fine and long and give definition to the wine. Hints of mocha appear on the finish.
Very Good/Excellent ($27 at the winery)
2017 Blasted Church Malbec
Red cherry fruit dominates the nose and the flavour profile. There is nice texture but the wine is still youthfully tannic. A year or two in the cellar will no doubt bring greater integration. Or give it an hour+ in the decanter.
2017 Blasted Church Cabernet Sauvignon
10% Petit Verdot is added to the blend, no doubt contributing to the dark colour. Lots of dark fruit informs both the nose and the palate: blackberry, black currant and black cherry fruit notes pick up added complexity from hints of dried herbs and spices. The tannins are long and fine.
Very Good/Excellent ($32 at the winery)
2017 Blasted Church Nectar of the Gods
This is part of the wineries “Revered Series” which are their top-of-the-line wines. The Nectar of the Gods is appropriately named as it is a huge, viscous wine that is both high impact and fun to drink. Hedonists will be impressed! There are some nice spice notes on the long finish.
Very Good/Excellent ($55 at the winery)
2017 Blasted Church Sacrosanct
This was the wine that blew us away. 100% Cabernet Franc, this was like something from a garagiste in St. Emillion. This wine aims for power over finesse and achieves it in a big way. Rich, full body, with a solid tannic backbone that gives structure but no bitterness. This is a sexy wine that wants to be noticed and is willing to put on a show. We noticed many “ultra-premium” wines are now being made in the Okanagan, priced anywhere from $60 to $120 per 750 ml bottle.
378 Parsons Road
Okanagan Falls, BC
Canada V0H 1R5
Tel: (250) 497-1125
Wine Shop open 11am-5pm Daily