What the Hell Is Going on at Blasted Church?

The famously cheerful operation has developed an awesome side hustle as the Okanagan's geekiest winery... and it's awesome.

When the history of the Okanagan wine industry is written, between the discussions on the importance of Oculus and the frenzy of Nota Bene, I hope there’s a chapter on Hatfield’s Fuse. The prototypical white blend from Blasted Church surely ranks among the most influential wines to ever come out of this country. For starters, it embraced a playful, consumer-friendly graphic design that had been woefully missing from our wine industry.

It also hit upon a blend of grapes, always floral, always with just a touch of residual sweetness that made it a winner with drinkers of all stripes—it out-Conundrumed Conundrum. (I’m convinced that BC wine drinkers fascination with Viognier stems from their early exposure to the grape as a key part of the Hatfield’s blend, but I’m not holding that against them…much). And finally, the wine was always well-priced—an antidote to your Albertan relatives constantly whinging about how expensive BC wine is. And I’m happy to report the wine is an even better deal now—it’s still under $20.

But, nostalgia aside, I’ll confess it’s been a while since I’ve spent much time with their line-up. I had a vague idea that they had been bought up by some wine multi-national (wrong, as it turns out, they were bought by Vancouver businessman Sean Morrison) and hadn’t tasted their wine in a few vintages. But at last year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, I came across that rare unicorn—a Nebbiolo made somewhere other than its native Piedmont. The grape responsible for the twin powerhouses of Barolo and Barbaresco famously rejects being grown outside of Northwestern Italy, so to see it anywhere is interesting. And then I looked at the label closer—and it was from BC. And still closer and it was Blasted Church. WTF.

So I went down the rabbit hole a bit and learned that Blasted Church, while outwardly still the producers of fun, (really) well-priced wines like The Dam Flood and very solid $21 Chardonnay, has a secret hidden life as the purveyor of perhaps the nerdiest collection of obscure grape varieties in the Okanagan. Not just the crazy risk of Nebbiolo (we’ll return to that later), but some frankly insane varieties: the Northern Italian puzzle that is Lagrein, and it’s high altitude friend Teroldego—grapes that are rare to find even in their Italian form over here. And then Refosco, another Northern Italian grape that—I’m being vulnerable here—I had to look up.

Almost the entirety of their Small Blessings range has something…weird…about it. Their mostly traditional sparkling is called OMFG (you’re going to have Google that one, boomer) and is topped with a bottle cap. They have a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), a stalwart in Australia but relatively unknown here due to the general absence of Mourvedre (and to a lesser extent, Grenache). Theirs is technically a Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache blend or an MSG, which is also kooky. Their Sauvignon Blanc is an extended skin contact version giving it an orange hue and cool kid cred.

And to be honest, even if the wines were meh, I’d still be impressed with the mad experiments winemaker Evan Saunders is cooking up. But I tasted a few of them and was really impressed. The aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc was a nice gentle entry into the occasionally challenging world a tart orange wine. It spends 45 days on its skin in clay eggs and emerges a much more textural beast than your traditional Kim Crawford blast of fruit. But it’s the Nebbiolo that really grabbed me. At $40, it’s priced such that a fan of Barolo and Barbaresco can justify taking a flyer on it. And unlike many of the Australian and Baja California growers who try to grow the difficult grape, Saunders isn’t trying to make it modern and more approachable. In that way it’s the most like real Barolo, which frequently only offers its dividends to the patient. There’s a definite dark grip to the wine, with very present tannins and that slight tar tinge on the palate that gives way to some subtle pitch black fruits. It’s a really cool wine—and at just 25 cases, a super-unicorn—one a lover of Piedmont should take for a spin.