Brent Rowland: hedonistic winemaking

"My wines have to give pleasure. I cannot guarantee that everyone will like the wines, but I can guarantee they are an honest, pure representation of the region and vintage."

-Brent Rowland, Winemaker, Averill Creek

Photo: Contributed

Inevitably, I'm overcome with giddy excitement when I discover relatively unknown wine regions. While Vancouver Island wouldn't necessarily fall in that category, historically, their reputation has left much to be desired.

Upon making the choice to feature only Vancouver Island wineries at my last wine conference, Sensory Symposium, I was met with mixed reviews: "Island wine is meh", a common response I encountered from many industry colleagues.

It wasn't until I reached out to Mike Rathjen, of Rathjen Cellars, (who had come recommended by Jay Drysdale of Bella Wines) who graciously connected me to his network of minimal intervention winemakers that I came across Brent Rowland, of Averill Creek in Duncan, BC.

Serendipity is always at work. Leading up to the symposium, Ryan Corrigan, winemaker at Rosewood Estates Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, had mentioned he and Brent were often confused for the same person: both formerly worked at famed Jordan winery Pearl Morissette, and both make wine with a low intervention approach. Having garnered much respect for Ryan and the work he does, even before I had the chance to meet Brent, I knew he would be a kindred spirit.

Meeting Brent was akin to reuniting with an old friend. Humility effortlessly emanated. He comes alive, given the opportunity to wax on about his ethos and chemistry of his process (don't get him going on malolactic fermentation). Disdain for esoteric attitudes in the natural wine community is palpable. It's the reason he makes the types of wines he does: consumable and pleasurable are always the goal.

Neighbour and friend, Mike Nierychlo of Emandare Vineyard put it best, when we were bonding over our love of Brent's 2018 house Pinot recently: "Here's how I describe my favourite wines: put it in a room full of wine nerds, and we'll forget to drink it because we're blown away by the complexities. Put it in a room full of everyone else, and it'll disappear because it's so damn chuggable. Wine needs to be delicious, otherwise what's the point? That's why I love Brent's wines."

Photo: Contributed

LM: At the sensory symposium, you mentioned something along the lines of

being "clean, but not sterile" while discussing hygiene and the

importance of it in your winery. Can you elaborate?

BR: I meant that I am clean and organized for sure but I do not feel the

need to sterilize everything and be too pedantic about it. I don't

inoculate any wines, so I like the idea of there being a milieu of

wild yeast in the winery and vineyard that carry out fermentation.

Besides, I feel that it is unnecessary, winemakers tend to use being

overly sterile as a safety blanket. It's like dry ice, it doesn't do

much for the quality of the wine but it sure makes them feel good. :-)

LM: You refer to the island as a "haven for growing grapes" - why is that?

BR: For me, phenolic ripeness is crucial in making wines of quality. I like

to consider myself more of a phenolic farmer than a winemaker. There

is a distinction between cool climate wine regions that I don't feel

get enough acknowledgement. That is the difference between cool

climate "latitude" and cool climate "altitude". Vancouver Island is

well and truly an example of cool climate "latitude". This is

important because even though we are very warm in the summers, we get

cool temps and long daylight hours in the fall. So our acids don't drop out and our sugars

don't spike. We can just sit and wait for phenolic ripeness. When the

phenolics in the skins and seeds are ripe, we pick. The results are

wines with precision, poise, restraint and amazing freshness that

still have full flavor development. These are the wines I want to drink so they are also the wines I want to make.

LM: Malolactic fermentation is sometimes feared by people and often

stopped to avoid certain characteristics - you said you rely on it due

to the bracing acidity the island terroir produces - why is that? What

are other beneficial factors of malo?

BR: I am extremely tactile, so structure and texture is a fundamental

consideration in my winemaking process. To me it is not about

quantifiable acid, it is about the texture of that acid. How is it

presented, how does it feel in the mouth? Malolactic fermentation

converts a hard, crunchy, malic acid into a softer, rounder lactic

acid. The reason most producers are concerned about MLF is because it

can produce diacetyl. This makes the wines heavy and buttery. But

again, another benefit of being in a cool climate is that we do not

get any diacetyl produced during MLF, even when we go 100% malo.

I used to wonder why you can have a Chablis with 100% MLF and no

diacetyl but then have a California Chard with 20% MLF and it is a

butter bomb. So when I was in university I did a lot of research on why this

is. When Oenococcus oeni(the bacteria that completes MLF) has enough

Malic acid present it will preferentially consume that and not produce

diacetyl. When it runs out of Malic and it is forced to consume Citric

acid that is when it produces diacetyl. In cool climates(like Chablis

and Van Isle) you have a high Malic to Citric ratio so the Oeno. Oeni

happily consume the Malic and do not produce any diacetyl. But the

warmer the climate gets the less Malic and the more Citric acid you

get. When you force MLF in these warm regions the Oeno. Oeni must

consume Citric when it runs out of Malic and that is when diacetyl is

produced in the wine. In my experience, if the wine wants to go through

MLF, meaning you don't have to inoculate and it happens naturally,

then there is a high enough Malic to Citric ratio to not produce any


Another benefit is that if my wines did not go through MLF they would

risk re-fermenting in the bottle so I would have to filter them, and I

do not want to filter any of my wines.

Photo: Contributed

LM: Who is killing it in the Canadian wine industry right now?

BR: I really like what Rathjen, Emandare and Scout are doing. All their

wines have integrity, a solid identity, and are well made but still

have a consumability to them and give lots of pleasure.

LM: You've completed 19 vintages worldwide - are there any that stand out

to you in particular? If so, why is that the case?

BR: My two vintages at Escarpment and my five vintages at By Farr

definitely stand out for me. Not necessarily because of the wines but

because of the approach to their winemaking. They both have worked

extensively in Burgundy, but do not just take the recipe and copy it.

They take the Burgundian winemaking ethos and adapt it to their

specific region. They didn't just give me answers, they gave me

problem solving skills. I learned how to use my instincts and make

intelligent responses to the environment I am in, instead of blindly

following the status quo. I believe this is the only way to truly make

wines that express where they are from.

LM: How do you think Canada can be taken more seriously on the global

stage - what needs to change and what are we doing that is working in

your opinion?

BR: Canada is an infant in the global context of wine. If you look any

emerging wine region, the first thing they do is emulate, ie here is

our Burgundian Chardonnay, our Bordeaux Blend or our Alsatian

Riesling. Which is fine, those wines are great. But if we want to take

Canadian wines to the next level we need to be a little more

ostentatious and really try to figure out what wines from here taste

like. Be a little more courageous and take a little more risk so we

can really define our identity.

LM: You describe your style as wine made naturally, but not natural wine

(even though I would consider it as such) - can you go into detail as

to why?

BR: I don't want to pigeonhole myself. I definitely make ethical wines

with little to no intervention but the definition of "natural" wine is

still pretty vague. I am making wines this way not as a marketing

strategy or to be part of the "natural wine scene", I am making wines

this way because I believe it just results in a better wine at the end

of the day. I just want to be honest, give full disclosure and

let whoever is buying it decide where it falls based on their

definition of "natural" wine.

Photo: Contributed

LM: What are your wine industry pet peeves?

BR: Sanctimonious winemakers, producers and sommeliers. I love the camaraderie

and inclusion in the wine industry. At the end of the day, it is just

juice that makes us feel good. We need to get as much pleasure out of it

as possible. No need to be elitist about it.

LM: How would you describe your farming philosophy?

BR: I think permaculture would be the best adjective for what we are doing

in the vineyard. It is the same ethos as in the cellar. When it comes

to inputs we do as little as we can. If we do have to add something

then it is as little as we can as late as possible.

LM: What's next for Averill Creek?

BR: It is very exciting times at Averill Creek. We have a whole new team

that is full of passion and energy. We have just done a complete

re-brand and the wines are being released this spring.

Photo: Contributed

LM: Tell me your death row wines.

BR: Well if I am on death row then no time to get clever, I gotta go with

the classics that come with some personal nostalgia:

1995 Heriot Enchanteleurs

2001 Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet "les Referts"

2006 Roumier Musigny

1999 Armand Rousseau Chambertin

Thank you Brent! You can find out more about Averill Creek here, or follow them on Instagram @averillcreek.


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