Moon Curser Vineyards is one of the most highly regarded wineries in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, both for its impressive wines and its number of “firsts.” At least half the wineries on our fall tour lauded Moon Curser for being the first winery to grow Tannat in the valley, the only one to plant Arneis and Touriga Nacional, and the only winery in Canada to blend all six permitted Bordeaux grapes in its Border Vines wine. Its flagship Syrah-Tannat blend, Dead of Night, is also one of a kind (and our favorite). Named after moonlight-evading gold rush smugglers, Moon Curser has a unique story to share. Read on for details.
Moon Curser Story
Mooncurser is in Osoyoos, a border town with rich soil and lots of sunshine. Because of its location, the area is also known for gold-smuggling by miners during the 1800s gold rush. As the story goes, these smugglers tried to avoid customs agents and duties with nightly border crossings. And they cursed the moonlight when it foiled their plans. This story inspired owners Chris and Beata Tolley to change the winery name to Moon Curser from its 2006 launch name, Twisted Tree.
Chris says Moon Curser is a name that also captures the renegade spirit of their winemaking, as well as many colorful stories of the region.
The gold rush smugglers theme is prevalent throughout the winery. The back of bottle labels state, “Damn you moon for lighting my run tonight. This gold is mine and no border agent is going to tax me.”
And when WineAlign National Awards of Canada ranked Moon Curser as #1 Best Performing Small Winery in Canada in 2019, the winery responded, tongue-in-cheek and keeping with the theme, “All this attention is making us nervous.”
Meanwhile, an amusing pamphlet wishes visitors good luck in finding the winery, which is “rumored to be located on the East Bench, a two-minute drive from downtown Osoyoos. Yes, you can come visit, but be discreet. Don’t make a fuss, or draw too much attention to the joint. There’s not enough wine to go around.”
“Some think that this wine shop is a front for other nefarious activities. Could be. Why not just go along with it nonetheless? No one will know any different….”
Further, Chris and Beata are “Smugglers in Chief;” their staff, “your entire Moon Curser Smuggling Team.”
Curious to know more about the name? Their website offers a playlist with clues.
Moon Curser Wines
Likewise, the smugglers theme continues into their wine descriptions: “Highly prized by both the good guys and those of questionable repute, Moon Curser wines are treasured across Canada’s dimly lit dining establishments.”
Most importantly, Moon Curser focuses on premium wines from old-world grapes not previously planted in the Okanagan, such as Arneis, Dolcetto, Tannat and Touriga Nacional. These varieties thrive in the distinctive terroir of the Osoyoos East Bench. Other wineries applaud Chris, also the executive winemaker, for being the first to grow Tannat, and the only one to plant Touriga Nacional. In addition, Moon Curser is the only winery in Canada to blend all six permitted Bordeaux grapes (in its Border Vines wine). And their flagship Syrah-Tannat blend, Dead of Night, is also one of a kind.
Chris, along with winemaker Christian Scagnetti, also produces Rhône varieties. However, you will not find Okanagan’s popular Pinot Gris, Chardonnay or Gewürztraminer here.
During our visit, our friendly and enthusiastic host, Stephanie, poured us two whites and five reds from their unique lineup.
Arneis 2021 ($27 CAD) means “little rascal” in Piemontese, fitting since it is a white grape from the Piedmont region of northern Italy. What a pretty, crisp white, full of floral notes, apples, melons and citrus, with bright acidity. Rousanne Marsanne 2021 ($28 CAD) pairs well with a Thanksgiving feast. It’s a classic Rhône combination of Roussanne (82%) and Marsanne (18%). Aromas and flavors of spices, apples, peaches, citrus and subtle toasty oak entice.
Syrah 2020 ($30 CAD) displays classic B.C. Syrah notes of spices, dark fruits and floral notes, and quickly became one of the pillars of the winery’s portfolio. On the nose, we found violets, dark fruit, savory meats, dark chocolate and black pepper. On the palate, we tasted blackberries, plums and cherries. Meanwhile, Border Vines 2020 ($30 CAD) blends six Bordeaux grapes, but is Cab-based, with layers of textured, lovely flavors and complexity.
Petit Verdot 2020 ($35 CAD) is a new fall release that will complement your Thanksgiving table. A combination of elegance and power, this dense red is full-bodied, with aromas of black fruit, figs, baking spices, cocoa and graphite, mirrored on the palate. It’s drinkable now with decanting, but better put aside for 5-10 years in the cellar.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($44 CAD) is another Thanksgiving wine, described as “complex, big, and takes no prisoners.” Aromas of raspberries and figs lead into flavors of blueberries, baking spices, pomegranates and a hint of mint. This Cab is approachable now, but you will see rewards if you have patience to cellar it until 2029-2031.
Dead of Night 2020 ($44 CAD) is Moon Curser’s flagship 50-50 blend of Syrah and Tannat, and the wine we took home. Bold, rich, luscious and age-worthy, the Syrah softens the Tannat. The 2020 vintage comprises 11 co-fermented barrels of the five top-performing barrels of 2020 Syrah and Tannat. Scents of dark fruits, vanilla and dark chocolate make way for flavors of blackberries, plums, cocoa and espresso. Stephanie told us we can drink it now, without aging or food, or cellar through 2032. It’s that good, and we loved it.
In conclusion, we recommend stopping by Moon Curser on any trip to B.C. wine country. The theme is fun, the wines are both fantastic and different from other wineries we visited, and the hospitality is welcoming.
Thank you Crystal Coverdale, Moon Curser general manager, and Wine BC for helping us organize our tasting. And thanks, Stephanie, for being such a great host.
Credit for most of the photos in this article goes to our friend Chuck Kinzer, a professional photographer.
Margot and Dave