Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Blasted Church proves taking risks pays off in the wine industry

Hello Prince Albert! Every great wine brand has a story to tell; whether that’s the history of the vineyard, the struggles and triumphs of the winemakers or the awards and accolades a winery racks up. This week we’re taking a look at a winery with a bit of everything: a background full of interesting characters, the ups and downs of starting a unique wine business and great-tasting wines. It’s time to dive into one of BC’s and Canada’s highest-rated wine companies, Blasted Church!

The roots of Blasted Church started when Evelyn and Chris Campbell took a trip to Napa, California to see the sights and taste some wines. As many people do, Evelyn and Chris fell in love with the excitement, artistry and romance of the world of wine. With a dream of one day opening a vineyard, the pair returned to Vancouver and began researching possible areas in the Okanagan Valley for a winery.

After many starts and stops and potential vineyard purchases falling through at the last minute, they finally purchased a vineyard near Okanagan Falls (OK Falls). There was a ton of work to accomplish including updating equipment, increasing staff, tending the fields and vines, cultivating new varietals and searching for an identity for the brand.

As luck would have it, the town of OK Falls had a storied past with one very specific incident providing inspiration: the story of the blasted church. Around 1929, OK Falls had a growing population and a congregation without a church. Looking to rectify the situation, the townspeople decided to move a church from an old, abandoned mining town. After several failed attempts at prying the boards and realizing the nails could not be pulled without warping the wood, an engineer named Harley Hatfield came up with a solution. He attached four sticks of dynamite to the rafters of the church which had the desired effect of blowing out the walls and loosening the nails. Unfortunately, the steeple was destroyed in the process; however, Hatfield’s plan worked and despite some blackened and charred boards, the church was successfully moved and a new steeple added to the top. Hatfield’s name is immortalized in the Hatfield’s Fuse blended white wine.

You would think that such a fantastic story would make an amazing tie-in for marketing but not everyone was excited or enthusiastic about the name Blasted Church for the winery. In fact, 90% of the people that the owners talked to disapproved of the imagery on the labels (lowkey and tongue-in-cheek) and also the name. Almost everyone from industry veterans to everyday townsfolk were leery of the name and brand image. The owners decided to take a different approach to their wine: they wanted it be fun and easy. In other words, while they took the quality and planning of the wine very seriously, Evelyn and Chris wanted wine that appealed to everyone and most of all, they wanted to take the snobbery out of wine.

Undeterred by the naysayers, the proprietors moved on with their idiosyncratic vision for their winery and once the wines started to be made and tasted, the awards started pouring in. Astonishingly, Blasted Church succeeded without much advertising initially. Instead of paying for large ad campaigns in magazines or radio, success came in the form of word of mouth and exciting events at and around the winery. Soon, the wines of Blasted Church were being recognized for their quality and quirky background.

Blasted Church celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2022 and with that milestone came many accolades including being the 2nd highest ranked winery in BC and also the 3rd highest ranked winery in Canada. Along with the prestige of being ranked so highly, WineAlign has bestowed several medals of quality to Blasted Church including two platinum medals for their 2019 Big Bang Theory wine and the 2019 Cabernet Franc. Overall, the winery came out with 24 medals for various vintages: 2 platinum, 6 gold, 5 silver and 11 bronze.  

The labels have evolved over the years along with the quality of the wine and this can be seen from the gorgeous label designs known as the Renaissance series which was released in 2018 (featured in this week’s column). This series depicts classical-style artwork and rich, lush colors with a contemporary twist. You’ll have to take a look to see what I mean (like the archangel Michael at the carwash). You know a label is beautiful when you want to look at it over and over again, just like a fine work of art.

Other changes in the winery have occurred as well, including the majority sale of the business to proprietor Sean Morrison in 2020. Their current winemaker Evan Saunders has been with Blasted Church since 2014 and works alongside viticulturist John Bayley who helped envision and create the Unorthodox Chardonnay (aka Chardonnay Musque).

The stand-out wines from Blasted Church are their highly-rated Merlot and Pinot Gris but everything I’ve tasted has been delicious. If you happen to see their Gewurztraminer on the shelf, you should grab it since it’s hard to find these days and I’ve heard the Sauvignon Blanc is also quite lovely.

Blasted Church proves that shaking up the industry, creating a vision and sticking to your guns (or should I say dynamite caps) is one of the best ways to create something unique and trend-breaking. Here are my wine picks of the week!           

Blasted Church Cabernet Merlot 2018: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry red, deep ruby color. Aromas of ripe blackberry jump from the glass with blueberry, dark cherry, tobacco, toast, pepper spice, dark chocolate, tomato leaf and herbal notes of oregano. There is plenty of dark fruit on the palate with a quick follow-up of black pepper spice, licorice, blackberries, black cherry, tomato vines, herbs, cured tobacco, cedar, white pepper, cigar box and medium-plus body. Tannins are medium-plus but smooth and earthy. The finish is medium-plus in length with earthy, spicy dark fruits and candied dark raspberries. Pair this earthy red with spiced pork sausage, beef dip with rosemary and garlic jus or sauteed mushrooms. Can age a few more years but it is drinking well now. Very good! $35, 14% ABV

Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse 2020: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Off-dry white, medium lemon color. The nose opens with luscious stone-fruits like peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears and apples. Wet rock, riverbed, honeysuckle and jasmine flower flutter in the background with medium-minus intensity. To the taste, this BC white is smooth and fruity with ripe peach, nectarine, green apples and pears with a touch of floral bitterness. Floral spice and stone-fruit combine on the medium-length finish. Overall, the wine is medium-minus in intensity and leaves a mellow impression on the tastebuds mixed with those ripe fruits. It is delightful to sip on and has a soft texture due to the mild acidity. I can definitely see myself sipping on this in the sun on the deck with the scent of BBQ in the background. Pair with grilled/roasted chicken or cured meats like cervelat salami. Easy drinking and fun! Disappears way too quickly! Very Good! $25, 12.9% ABV

Blasted Church Unorthodox Chardonnay 2019: (VQA Okanagan Valley, Skaha Bench, BC). Dry to off-dry white, medium lemon color. The bouquet of this unconventional Chard is crisp and clean with medium-plus intense scents of pineapple, lychee fruit, orange zest, peaches, pears and a hint of mineral. Warm-climate fruit greets the tongue from the first sip with ripe pineapple, yellow pear, sweet apple and orange blossom/floral undertones. Some stony mineral similar to chalky soil appears near the end of the mid-palate blending in with a creamy flavor of soft cheese. Medium body with medium-plus intensity. Acidity sits slightly above medium allowing the fruit and mineral notes to stand out. The lovely flavor of apple and orange blossom adds some layers and mellow floral spice alongside gentle mineral bitterness on the medium-length finish. This wine is crisp and refreshing, perfect for sharing with friends while visiting by the fireplace/firepit. With warm weather coming, consider trying this high-quality Chard! Very good! $27, 12.9% ABV 

Blasted Church Merlot 2018: (VQA Okanagan Valley, Skaha Bench, BC). Dry red, deep ruby color with garnet at edges. The nose opens with medium-intense aromas of plums, currants, sweet black licorice, mocha, mustard seed, earthy soil, tar, saline sea breeze and hints of animal notes (goat cheese, barnyard). The intensity amps up a bit on the palate with grape skins/fruit, plums, dark chocolate, mocha, coffee, meaty beef gravy (savory), red currants and fine-grained high tannins. Acidity is medium with soft pepper spice and black licorice leading into the long finish. Retro-haling the wine (breathing out through the nose) brings further flavors of charred beef-ends, Oreo wafers, mocha, tomato vine and a twist of herbs. Developing flavors of tar and mellow goat cheese blend beautifully with a vinous quality. Medium-plus body with excellent concentration and full, long flavors on the mid-palate before the finish kicks in. Flavorful, complex and constantly evolving as the wine breathes. One of the best Merlots I have tasted and a great pick for food pairings. Consider corned beef (pastrami) served with freshly prepared mustard and pickled onions on the side as a food pairing or try dark chocolate or bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Outstanding! $60, 14% ABV    

Cheers and thanks for reading!