By Gail Johnson
If Tuscany is known for its Sangiovese grapes and Northern California is renowned for Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s another, albeit lesser known, variety that could be crowned “the grape of the Fraser Valley”. It’s called Siegerrebe, and it’s ideally suited to the region’s cool climate.
Vancouver’s Fraser Valley is just an hour from downtown, with vineyards and tasting rooms the invite both local and international wine enthusiasts.
Meaning “victory vine” in German (and pronounced “see-gah-REH-bay”), the red-skinned grape, a crossing of Gewürztraminer with Madeleine Angevine, is used to make white wine.
Its origins go back to 1929 Rheinhessen, a wine-making region in Germany. Most of the viticulturists who were pioneering grape-growing in northern Europe in the early part of the 20th century determined what would grow in cooler, wetter climates on wet clay, explains Patrick Murphy, winemaker at Langley’s Vista D’Oro Farms and Winery.
Murphy went on to study at California’s UC Davis, where he learned about Siegerrebe from an instructor who was familiar with the terroir of the Fraser Valley and the grape’s potential there.
Claude Violet, who founded Chaberton Estate Winery in 1975 with his wife after operating a winery in France, did extensive research into growing this type of grape at the pair’s Langley property. Now under new ownership and one of the largest estate wineries in B.C., Chaberton makes a VQA Siegerrebe, the 2018 vintage being off-dry with the sweetness of honeycomb.
Murphy is currently in the process of amassing all of the existing information about Siegerrebe in the Fraser Valley to share with BC Grape Growers’ Association and the BC Wine Grape Council in hopes of boosting its profile. At Vista D’Oro, he says the wine sells out every year very quickly.
“It’s a beautiful flavour,” Murphy says. “It grows exceptionally well in wet, clay conditions, and you get that nice floral bouquet.
“When I planted the vineyard, I didn’t want to be just another satellite Okanagan winery,” he says. “I didn’t want to rely on Okanagan grapes. I planted this varietal to be self-sustaining.”
Siegerrebe was the first grape that the family behind Mt. Lehman’s Singletree Winery ever planted in 2010. Debbie Etsell—who founded the 12-acre vineyard with her husband, Garnet, and whose son, Andrew, is the winemaker—describes “Sigge”, as it’s affectionately known at Singletree, as a versatile grape.
When the Singletree team picks the grapes earlier in the season, Andrew makes a refreshing frizzante-style wine; left on the vines a little longer, the grapes make for a wine that more closely resembles Gewürztraminer.
“You can always pick which sweetness level you want and use it for different formats,” Etsell says. “It’s a fabulous grape that does so well in the Fraser Valley. This grape loves the cold climate: the warm days and cool nights.
“You can always get a beautiful wine from it, and you can blend it as well,” Debbie says. “It’s an easy-drinking wine.”
Depending on the weather and what kind of wine Singletree is producing, the grapes are harvested anywhere from early August to the beginning of September. Like all B.C. grapes, the Siegerrebe at Singletree is picked by hand.
Etsell also describes the wine as aromatic with a beautiful perfume. “It goes really well with spicy foods,” she says. “It doesn’t change the taste of the food but enhances it. It’s an easy sipper.”