Friday, 31 May 2013

stumbling distance...

Driving across the southern reaches of the Okanagan is much more tiring than you may think (but with all those wineries, it is definitely worth the effort!). As a result, I needed some time to spend in my temporary backyard of Penticton. The majority of the Okanagan sub-regions are within an hour's drive of this city of 50,000, but there are also important wineries (and vineyards) within walking distance of downtown too. In an excuse to strengthen my injured leg, an uphill hike to the handful of wineries along Upper Bench Road.

These wineries have the fortune of being located on the fringes of town, making them accessible to anyone willing to walk up the steep road. There is a bit of country road involved, but it's not so bad as traffic is light and you are passing alongside vineyards and orchards. A walk in the country within the city is a nice balance indeed. 

If walking isn't your thing, then how about cycling? Penticton is home to Canada's largest Ironman competition each summer, so the helmets and spandex of those in training can be found throughout the city's streets and Starbucks. As a result, a bike lane runs on each side of Upper Bench Road, and the Kettle Valley Trail is another off-road option for the hiking and mountain biking crowd. A nice outdoor option to get around the below wineries of Penticton.

Poplar Grove ( - Last year, Poplar Grove moved from its Naramata Bench location to its new, modern winery on the edges of Penticton. As one of the first wineries you visit, Poplar Grove is prepared to welcome droves of visitors with stunning views and an excellent restaurant, The Vanilla Pod. The wines of Poplar Grove are of consistent high quality; Chardonnay in particular has a delicate balance of subtle oak flavours and their Legacy is among the top Meritage wines of the region.

Monster Vineyards ( - Around the corner from Poplar Grove (and even closer to town), Monster Vineyards started off as a "second label" of Poplar Grove before moving out on its own. As a result, the Ogo Pogo motifed Monster excels at offering easy-drinking wine styles at a reasonable price. The cherry-flavoured rose and the aromatic White Knuckle white blend both have a touch of residual sugar that make them perfect patio sipping wines.

Township 7 ( - As with the Black Sage's Church & State, Township 7 has vineyards and tasting rooms in both the Lower Mainland (Langley) and here in the Okanagan. However, the vast majority of their wines are made from Okanagan fruit, so their Penticton tasting room is worth the visit. The Syrah has just the right amount of white pepper, and the Gewurztraminer is typical for its type; a perfect choice for a sushi lunch on their patio (you can bring your own picnic!)

Misconduct ( - I'm happy to report that among the many wineries of my trip, Misconduct is among those that have seen the most improvement over the years. The quality now lives up to the attractive, Roaring Twenties-esque packaging. This is particularly true of their Suspect Series labels. White and Red blends are made each year, but the base of the blend changes according to which grapes had the best vintage. Current releases are Chenin Blanc-Viognier (Chenin being a rarity in the Okanagan), and Syrah-Malbec. A new restaurant also smells really good (but didn't have time to eat).

Upper Bench ( - the furthest walk down the road, Upper Bench reflects the growing trend of matching good wines with artisanal cheeses. With wines of average quality and price, I would venture to say that cheesemaking takes the priority here. Nevertheless, the Zweigelt offers a bit more body and dark fruit character than others in the region, and who can go wrong with a cheese plate and bottle of wine on the patio? 

Five wineries is a relatively small effort for a day of tasting, but each provide enough of a nosh for a wine crawl along Upper Bench; and it is just a quick taxi ride home!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

sun, sand, and sagebrush...

Hot on the heels of my geological exploration of the Golden Mile, my next round of Okanagan winery visits brought me all the way to the other side of the road: the Black Sage Bench. As with the Golden Mile, the Black Sage Bench is a 10km-ish stretch of land in the South Okanagan in and around the town of Oliver. As such, temperatures here are among the hottest in Canada, easily surpassing 30C in summer (40C+ is not uncommon either). There are no lakes to moderate temperatures in this part of the Okanagan, so "diurnal flux" (the difference between daytime highs and nighttime lows) is important to both ripen grapes and to cool them off. As a result, this is the heartland of growing those full-bodied, strong tannin reds that require so much heat to ripen.

However, the soils and aspect of the Black Sage are very different from the neighbouring Golden Mile, even if a mere kilometre or two separate these brothers-from-another-mother wine sub-regions. Where the gravel fans "rock" the Golden Mile, sandy dunes are the dominant feature of the Black Sage. The afore-mentioned "diurnal flux" is enhanced by the sandy soil; heat is reflected even more intensely during the day, but cools off rapidly at night. As for aspect, the Black Sage faces west, which means it absorbs more daytime-and-into-the-evening heat than do the vineyards on the Golden Mile. The result: the Black Sage Bench is the premium spot for ripening classics like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as well as the Bordeaux/Meritage supporters Malbec and Petit Verdot.

The vineyards of the Black Sage therefore play an important role in feeding the full-bodied red blends of wineries a bit further north, such as Summerland and Naramata discussed earlier. These wineries may own vineyards up north, but some will own land or contract with growers located further south to secure a steady supply of rich red grapes. Nevertheless, there are a handful of great estates located along the main artery of the Black Sage Bench, the aptly named Black Sage Road.

Black Sage Vineyards at Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl ( - arguably one of the Okanagan's most iconic wineries, Burrowing Owl is at the very southern end of the Black Sage. A slow and steady release of their wines have created an image of scarcity, so it is always a treat to have your hands on a bottle of the Owl. Syrah, Merlot, and Meritage are excellent whites, but oddly enough for this far south it is their Pinot Gris that is most coveted. Visiting on World Chardonnay Day, however, revealed that when treated right not just at the Owl but anywhere in the Okanagan, Chardonnay can age to silky wonders in BC.

Desert Hills ( - Aptly named given its location on sandy hills in a certifiable desert, Desert Hills excels with its multi-award winning Syrah and Meritage reds. These are full-bodied, rich, and spicy reds that will defy anyone who thinks BC cannot do warm-climate viticulture. The whites, however, do not live up to the same standard. On the other hand, the Gamay is a unique expression for the grape of Beaujolais with its rich flavour and texture.

Black Hills ( - A great example of how success can be achieved with a focussed portfolio. Only 6 wines are produced, each of which are to of benchmark quality for BC (and, pun intended, Black Sage benchmark quality). Nota Bene is their iconic Meritage that is released after within 2 years of harvest, yet still capable of longer-term aging. Most unique is their Carmenere; the only single-varietal Carmenere (that I'm aware of) outside Chile. Not as chocolate-minty as the Chileans, but still very good. Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, and the Sem-Sauv Alibi round out the portfolio, each made to excellent quality.

Church & State ( - Along with Naramata's Township 7, Church & State is one of the few wineries to have vineyards and cellar doors both in the Okanagan and in the Lower Mainland. In the case of Church & State, their Okanagan winery is located at Coyote Bowl on the Black Sage. This location lends it's name to a series of structured, ageable reds (the Cabernet Sauvignon is among the best in BC) as well as a very Burundian Chardonnay. The Church Mouse series is also a great value.
So many choices on the Black Sage!
Stoneboat ( -  A boutique producer, Stoneboat excels at small production of a limited portfolio of wines.
The slightly off-dry Pinot Gris is excellent as is their Pinot Noir, but two unique wines really stand out. First, there is the meaty and savoury Pinotage, which has not a hint of the barnyard-gaminess of the South African classics. Second, there is the dessert wine Verglas; an ice wine that has also seen noble rot, a rare occurrence in the wine world and only produced in select years. Amazing as the icewines are in BC, Verglas stands out at the top for me.

Le Vieux Pin ( - Sister winery to Osoyoos' La Stella, Le Vieux Pin concentrates on Rhone varietals; the Syrah in particular is very good. Merlot is also made here, but it is their Vaila Rose that stands out amongst its Okanagan peers; bone dry, pale coloured, and delicate flavours of dried strawberries, pink grapefruit, and rosemary are a great reflection of any Rhone rose.

Quinta Ferreira ( - Quinta Ferreira is the perfect reflection of how the Okanagan wine industry has developed. The Ferreira family had orchards on their land for 20 years before converting to vines in the late 90s. These grapes once supplied bigger wineries before the Ferreira's moved out onto their own label. A lovely family, look for their Viognier, Rose, and Merlot to best reflect their labour of love.

River Stone ( - As with Covert Farms being just outside of the Golden Mile, so too is River Stone just on the outskirts of the heart of the Black Sage Bench. Just north of Oliver, the 9.5 acres of River Stone benefit from the west-facing slopes, but the soil is a little less sandy than on the Bench itself. A new winery, they are off to a good start with their Cabernet programme (both Franc and Sauv), as well as their Meritage "Cornerstone." The Malbec Rose is also freshly unique.

And yes, the Black Sage Bench is named so because of the type of sagebrush that grows in the area. As a result, the red wines of this region tend to have a hint of savoury notes akin to the garrigue of Southern France (if but much more restrained). Sun, sand, and sagebrush; you can't go wrong with that combination!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

what rocks in the golden mile...

I treated my inner wine nerd to a book as dry as any Chablis: Okanagan Geology South, Geological Highlights of the South Okanagan. The title itself is thrilling to you I'm sure, and I know you are all going to rush out and get a copy of your own (it includes "roadside geological maps"!), but it does speak to a very important aspect of the wine industry: how geological structures result in various soil compositions which, in turn, impact vineyards and the grapes they grow.

According to the OGS:GHSO, the South Okanagan can be split into 3 general geological structures, two of which are the most important in terms of viticulture: South Okanagan Lake Region (Peachland through to Okanagan Falls) where glaciers once covered the land leaving behind glacial lake sediment; and the Okanagan River Region (Okanagan Falls to Osoyoos), which is dominated by sand and gravel deposits from millennia of flowing rivers (a.k.a. fluvial and alluvial soils) from the melting glaciers. Armed with my handy-dandy geologically grandy OGS:GHSO, I explored the gravel and sandy Golden Mile sub-region.

Gravel Fans Rockin' it at Tinhorn Creek

The Golden Mile is about a 6-mile stretch of wineries running from the town of Oliver south to the northern shores of Lake Osoyoos. Specifically, it is the land on the western side of the valley as opposed to the Black Sage which occupies the eastern flank. Even more specifically, as pointed out by my trusted OGS:GHSO, the terroir of the Golden Mile is based on "gravel fans." Though the authors of my book may be fans of gravel themselves, this term refers to "an accumulation of gravel sediments where fast flowing mountain rivers meet flatter land." The impact of these fans on viticulture is fast draining soils that are high above the water table (grapes don't like too much moisture), and the ability to trap warmth through the day. Facing east,  this means the Golden Mile is not as exposed to the intense afternoon sun a much as the eastern, and this trapped warmth enables slower development of flavours.

Despite my developing interest in all things geological, I still remain a fan of wines, so here is a list of the Golden Mile wineries I visited:

Tinhorn Creek ( - With the soils pictured above, Tinhorn Creek has long been one of my favourite wineries. Most of their wines are from their estate on the Golden Mile (the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris in particular are excellent), but some reds for their Oldfield Series (the Syrah is my fav) are sourced from across the way on the Black Sage. The Cabernet Franc in particular has limited production for its big following, but definitely check out the saignee-method Rose; one of the best in BC.

Hester Creek ( - Yes, there is a creek called Hester (as with Tinhorn); after all, the gravel fans are the result of these river systems big and small.  Their Character series white and reds are great value, easy drinking wines, and definitely check out the unique old-vine Trebbiano; the only Trebbiano in BC. Reserve series Cab-Franc and Merlot are also very good with smokey tones perfect for sausuages and ham. Dinner Choice: Pan-seared chicken in pear-cider reduction paired with the Hester Creek Pinot Gris (great pear notes make it a perfect "pair").

More Golden Mile Terroir:
Hester Creek from Gehringer Bros.

Gehringer Brothers ( - Having owned vineyards for more than 30 years, Gehringer is a quiet little winery that offers excellent value, especially with their white programme. Rieslings from dry to medium-dry are there to satisfy your palate (be it dry to sweet), the Desert Sun a perfect patio sipper, and do try their Schonberger-blend; only a few wineries have Schonberger plantings, all of which come from the originals smuggled into the province by Gehringer several decades ago.

Inniskillin - ( - Arguably on of Canada's most famous wine brands, Inniskillin has production in both Ontario and BC. While the Niagara-based winery is a Mecca for visitors, the Okanagan sibling is surprisingly discreet. Although located in the Golden Mile, wines are sourced from throughout the Valley. Friendly staff and humble atmosphere still make it worth a visit.

Road 13 ( - The winery-formerly-known-as-Golden Mile Cellars, the name change to Road 13 is indicative of BC's move toward protecting sub-regional appellations, akin to how the words Chablis, Champagne, or Port can only apply to specific areas. Nevertheless, Road 13 is a pioneer in understanding the unique terroir of the Golden Mile Bench, as summaries in their slogan "it's all about the dirt." (I suppose "the gravel" is more appropriate...). A range of solid wines are produced here, most popular of which is the Honest John's blends. However, a visit to Road 13 must include a purchase or two of their excellent Chenin Blanc; not a common varietal in BC, let alone the even more rare sparkling Chenin.

Covert Farms ( - When Dunham split from Froese, Dunham & Froese changed its name to Covert Farms. Located north of Oliver, Covert Farms is not technically not part of the 6-mile Golden Mile, but the east-facing gravel fans provide similar structure as the wineries mentioned above. A huge property that grows for many large BC producers, their organic and bio-dynamic plots are used for the Covert Farm labels. A new addition worth mentioning is their completely gluten-free kitchen; a perfect choice for a picnic lunch and glass of wine.

Thanks to my Okanagan Geology South text, I  was able to literally dig below the surface of the Golden Mile to understand its unique terroir and, in turn, its wines. Now that the Golden Mile has been addressed, the next step is to try the other side of the Valley, the Black Sage Bench.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

filling your boots in osoyoos...

When you take your WSET certification courses (naturally, with!), you learn that the latitude threshold for viticulture is between 30- and 50-degrees north or south of the equator. This is where the sun's rays are at their optimum for grape growing, and average temperatures are, like a proverbial bowl of porridge, not too hot, not too cold, but juuuust right.  As a country that by and large fits outside this latitudinal limit, it is not too much a surprise that in my travels most people are intrigued to find out wine is made in Canada. Granted the Great Lake-tempered wine regions of Ontario (Niagara, Prince Edward County) fit within the band, here in BC we are at the very fringe of grape growing; a fringe that begins its end in Osoyoos.

A small town of about 5,000, Osoyoos swells in both tourists and temperatures when summer hits. The namesake lake provides a cool dip and moderating temperatures - even if these temperatures often exceed 40C. Not the weather you'd expect for Canada, but Osoyoos defines how full-bodied reds can ripen successfully this side of the 49th parallel (and quite literally).

While the northern reaches of the Okanagan explored thus far are generally suited for whites and cool-climate reds, the soaring temperatures of the south are well suited to reds that require heat to ripen effectively. A winery may be based in the Naramata or Summerland, but quite often their reds are sourced from growers in the south. Despite the large plantings in the Osoyoos area, there are only four wineries in the area:

La Stella ( - Delightfully French in her demeanour, winemaker Severine Pinte crafts beautiful wines in an Italian style at the lakeside La Stella. The elegant Vivace Pinot Grigio shows that this grape is more than just patio sipping, the intriguing Fortissimo has a splash of BC-rare Sangiovese, and the Maestoso Merlot is among the best Merlots in Canada.

Nk'Mip ( - As North America's first entirely First Nations-owned winery, a visit to Nk'mip is a must while in Osoyoos. The wines are consistent, but Nk'Mip is an resort unto itself with a hotel, golf course, and information centre. Well worth a visit if just to experience it.

Moon Curser ( - It's hard to choose best among equals, but the wines of the-winery-formerly-known-as-Twisted Tree are among my favourite in BC. Locally sourced in Osoyoos, the whites are Rhone reminiscent and the Syrah is (sorry everyone else) my favourite in the province. Also unique for someone just back from Uruguay is the Tannat-based "Dark of the Night." Plus, the view from the hillside winery of Osoyoos is amazing. Dinner Choice: paired this Tannat-Merlot blend with a good old fashioned spaghetti and meatballs. Sufficient acidity in the wine balanced the homemade sauce, while the tannins were perfect for the hand-rolled balls like-a mamma.

Young & Wyse ( - I may sound like a French region yet again declaring another vintage of the century, but Young & Wyse is also a favourite BC producer. Considered a "black sheep of the family," Stephen Wyse set out with partner Michelle Young to create rich, full-bodied wines; the Merlot and Cab-Sauv are great, and check out their rare-to-BC Zinfandel; much less jammy and a little lighter in body than the heady stuff from California. Another fun fact? Young & Wyse is arguably BC's southernmost winery: the border is just down the street.

Which brings me to the real reason for my trip down to Osoyoos: yes, the wineries and their great and wines are worth the trip, but so is the attraction of cheap gas and groceries in Oroville. Interesting to note is that as important as the Osoyoos region is to the BC wine industry, very little goes on just across the line. In my opinion then, fill the tank with gas but when filling up on groceries, be sure to leave plenty of trunk space for filling up with the wines of our Deep South.

Monday, 13 May 2013

of vines big and small in the naramata...

Day 3 of my travels around the Okanagan took me to the Naramata end of the aptly named Naramata Bench. Arguably one of the most scenic stretches of vineyards in the world, the Naramata Bench sits atop hundred-metre high cliffs on the eastern shore of Lake Okanagan (immediately opposite the previously discusses Summerland sub-region). As with other sub-regions in the North Okanagan, whites are the norm here, but the prolonged exposure to long summer afternoon sunshine enables ripening of warmer climate reds such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and of course, the ubiquitous Merlot. Furthermore, the Naramata is home to some of BCs oldest vineyard plantings, some of which feature vines that, like me, are approaching their 40th year much sooner than one would expect.

With this tradition in viticulture, the Naramata boasts a rich concentration of boutique wineries. More than 30 wineries line a the often crowded 15km, two-laned road from the outskirts of Penticton. Couple this with 109 different growers and you end up with one of the smallest acreage ratios in the province (approx. 4 acres/vineyard).  As a result, the Naramata is home to what is arguably the strongest movement towards sub-regional terroir; the French term that encompasses all the elements that define a sense of place. If the fruit fits, wear it on the label.

On an interesting side note, today's Naramata visit ended up being all about the various methods used to position grape vines. In other words, much of the conversation could be scripted for a Sideways sequel. While traveling with a relative wine novice, here I am asking the car to pull over so I could take photos of the Smart-Dyson VSP, complimenting a vineyard manager on the move from the Geneva Double Curtain to a more reasonable Scott-Henry system, or just look at the beautiful Lyre. (FYI: these are actual names for managing vines and not scored moves at a World Cup of Figure Skating). Each of these systems are referred to as "Big Vines"; a way of controlling volume in fertile soils while still maximizing yields without sacrificing quality grapes.

As with the previous two days, four hours is just enough time to get to 6 wineries. Limiting the day to the wineries around the end-of-the-road village of Naramata itself, here are my results:

Therapy Vineyards ( - I'm sure they've heard it before, but everyone could do with a bit of Therapy now and then. A common story among wineries in the Okanagan, Therapy grew from supplying someone else's wines to creating their own. New this year is their sparkling programme, called "Fizzio-therapy;" a trend toward bubbles that seems to be shared among other Okanagan producers. A rare treat was their 2007 Chardonnay; a chance to see that time can do wonders to both the soul and to wine. (And check out their Smart-Dyson Cabernet Vines!)

Kettle Valley ( - A Naramata classic, Kettle Valley is now the oldest family-operated winery in the region (and one of the few remaining Double Geneva Curtain Syrah vines too). For more than 20 years, Bob and Colleen Ferguson have produced wines of consistent quality that reflect the terroir of the Naramata; the pink-hued Pinot Gris and rare Malbec are just such features. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with selecting grapes from the South Okanagan; Kettle Valley is working towards creating a label that identifies which wines are 100% Naramata and those sourced from elsewhere.

Nichol ( - Not the Nichol of years gone by, Ross Hackworth and Matt Sherlock have worked to revive this truly unique winery. If the grapes don't come from their 5.5 acre property, then chances are they are grown no further than a few hundred metres away. Pink-hued Pinot Gris is found here too, but also look for the Northern Rhone-esque Syrah and Chinon-ois Cabernet Franc; both excellent reds that are 100% Naramata (and, for the record, grown on Lyre or Smart Dyson vines).  Well and truly the best example of terroir as it relates to the Naramata.

Lang Vineyards ( - Another Naramata staple, the Lang family is still involved in the winemaking and cellar door aspects of the business. Successful whites lean toward the aromatic side, but the highlight of the reds are the multi-decade old Marechal Foch vines. 2011 is young and a little on the thin side, so look for the 2010 and 2009 for fuller-bodied, more classic expressions of this unique grape. Also pairs well with chocolate (but not sure of its trellising system).

Lake Okanagan from Lake Breeze
Lake Breeze ( - Many wineries in the Okanagan boast great views (and rightfully so), but I would have to put Lake Breeze at the top of the list. Vineyards slope down to the edge of the bluffs, offering panoramic views of grapes, lakes, and mountains (of varying trellising techniques). The Pinot Blanc is iconic, and the traditional method Zephyr is a hard-to-find treat. I should also note that at Lake Breeze we experienced the impact of micro-climate; a heavy downpour rolled in and out so quickly that (quite literally) a friend had to race to the washroom in the rain and came out to bright sunshine.

Marichel ( - Adjacent to Lake Breeze, the views from Marichel are also stunning, but both wines and tasting room are significantly more low-key. Owners Elisabeth and Richard produce a small selection of Viognier and Syrah, all of which is farmed from their 15-acre lot. Here where the land levels off is the true "Bench;" the granite schist of the higher slopes yield to sandier/limestone soils and, much like Nichol, Marichel is adamant about using only local grapes (in this case, all estate grown) for a true Naramata expression.

Another day done and brain full of many ways to trellis a vine. A return to the Bench is in the works, but the next destination is to Osoyoos in the "deep south" of the Okanagan.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

wine flows in okanagan falls...

Day Two of exploring the wineries of the Okanagan Valley brought me to the sub-region of Okanagan Falls. (It's more of a "rough current" than an actual "falls" by the town, but that's another story). A few errands at a friend's cabin served as the perfect cover; we're in the area, so why not make the most of our gas? (Which, by the way, shot up 10-cents a litre yesterday just an hour or so after filling the tank; summer means sunshine and tourist price-gauging, I suppose).

The Okanagan Falls Winery Association (OFWA - has done a great job of late promoting the wineries of the sub-region, dubbed "the Heart of Wine Country." Situated where the string of lakes that moderate the North Okanagan end, giving way to the hot desert climate of the South Okanagan, OK Falls is indeed at the very centre where wine styles bridge these two distinct BC regions. Where glaciers up to 3km thick once sat, varied soils and slopes now hold more than 100 acres of prime vineyard land at the southern tip of Lake Skaha.

As with Summerland, most of the wineries of OK Falls are concentrated within a few kilometres of the small lakeside town on what was once referred to as Corkscrew Drive. Slightly further afield, wineries along the eastern shore of Lake Skaha and in the sleepy summer town of Kaleden are also a part of the Okanagan Falls sub-region.  With about a dozen wineries in the area, a few hours between early morning errands and picking up kids from school is not enough to fully take in what is available here. Nonetheless, 9 wineries is still a fair go I think, and below are my findings for the day:

Kraze Legz ( - an intriguing find in Kaleden, I would have to say this was my pleasant surprise of the day. Owners Jerry and Sue look after all details from vine to wine on their 9-acre property. Production is small, but the quality and potential is there with their Pinot Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. That, and I have to admit I'm a bit of a sucker for clever marketing that revolves around a prohibition-era theme.

See Ya Later Ranch ( - The winery formerly known as Hawthorne formerly known as La Compte has long been a favourite of visitors to Okanagan Falls. High in the hills above the town, the wines here are fresh and fruity, but today their brut stood out as something special.

Blue Mountain Vineyards in Okanagan Falls
Blue Mountain ( - Blue Mountain has the fortune of having for years a cult reputation...and the wines to back up this reputation. While I may not have taken note of their exact acreage (40-ish?), it is sufficient enough to ensure that their wines are 100% Estate fruit; a sign of control from vine to wine. Their Brut is among the best traditional methods in Canada, their Pinot Blanc a benchmark of how this grape can be BCs signature on the world scene, and the newest addition is their Sauvignon Blanc; a more restrained style than in New Zealand, and better than most attempts in the Okanagan. Best thing is that Blue Mountain is now open for visitors!

Noble Ridge ( - A fantastic find for the wine geek in you, the first thing that impressed me was the Geneva Double Curtain and modified Scott-Henry trellising systems when you drive up to the property. (These may sound like figure-skating moves, but are indeed ways of growing grapes, and are not common in the Okanagan). That aside, the Burgundian-styled wines are fantastic, and the hospitality also top-drawer; Tamsin is just weeks away from her WSET Diploma, and David could easily ace any exam.

Stag's Hollow ( - Without wanting to offend the others on the list, Stag's Hollow has long been one of my favourite BC wineries. Owners Larry and Linda work in perfect tandem with winemaker Dwight to create wines that are both commercially successful and unique in their own rights. Today's visit was highlighted with a look at the brand new bottling of the 2010 Tempranillo (a first for the Okanagan) as well as a tank sample of the 2011 Syrah. Long standing favourites of Syrah, Syrah Rose, and Heritage Block were also sampled to great success.

Wild Goose ( - Yet another fan favourite, Wild Goose last year expanded their tasting facilities to accommodate their ever-growing acclaim. The Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Autumn Gold were as great as always, but you shouldn't miss out on the Mystic River Pinot Blanc either; a benchmark standard for Okanagan Pinot Blancs. It is also worth noting that we have Wild Goose to thank for spearheading the OFWA, an effort that is finally seeing fruition.

Tangled Vines ( - Scores well with friendly service, but if you can't say anything nice about the wines, you shouldn't say anything at all. (Sampling a 2009 rose at the winery? Seriously?)

Meyer Family Vineyard ( - Specialists in Burgundians (with a touch of Gewurz for good luck), going in to Meyer I had high expectations....which were exceeded. Unique among samplings, each wine was paired with an unexpected food item. No cheese and crackers here; try Gingersnaps with Gewurztraminer (my highlight!), Oaked Chardonnay with Blueberries (turns out I'm not the only one to dream this up), and Pinot Noir with dark chocolate? Each a pleasant surprise and well worth the visit.

Blasted Church ( - A classic example of the successes that can come when solid winemaking meets innovative marketing. Blasted Church is an icon of BC branding with clever puns on religious themes. For example, their Chardonnay isn't just a Chardonnay; it's an Unorthodox Chardonnay (which, indeed, includes an aromatic Chardonnay Musque crossing). Another favourite is the red blend Big Bang Theory; they have the rights since it was a label before the show. And with so many winery email addresses of info@, you can't help but wonder what is afoot at a winery where you are

With family fun and bikers expected to descend on OK Falls this weekend for an annual festival, the remaining wineries of the area will have to wait until next week.  In the meantime, a glass of the Stag's Hollow GVM (Grenache-Viognier-Marsanne) with stuffed green peppers will tide me over until the next adventure.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

nachos and ehrenfelser in the land of summer...

A simple but flavourful dinner is sometimes best paired with a simple but flavourful wine. In today's case, I just finished homemade nachos with a glass (ok, maybe two) of Ehrenfelser. Nachos are a good way to clear the fridge of a variety of leftovers (chicken, beef, sour cream, tomatoes, cilantro... anything goes so long as it is oven-baked and over corn chips), but Ehrenfelser is a nice treat to the palate. A crossing of German grapes Riesling and Silvaner, Ehrenfelser is a unique grape that does better here in BC than in its homeland. It may not reach the heights of ageworthy Rieslings, but the youthful stonefruit characters, crisp acidity, and light body are just right for when summer sunshine strikes the patio.

For tonight's meal, I went with the Greata Ranch Ehrenfelser. A good expression of the grape in its own right, my choice stems primarily from a day spent visiting the wineries of Summerland, BC. Blessed with the opportunity to spend a month in the heart of BC wine country, this is the first of a series of blogs about visits to the extraordinary sub-regions that make up the Okanagan Valley.

With temperatures exceeding 30C under cloudless skies, the wineries of Summerland seemed the most appropriate place to start this journey of exploration. Perched on the western shores of Lake Okanagan, Summerland is a quaint town ideally located on the main road from Penticton to Kelowna. For this reason, the Bottleneck Drive Wine Route ( is a new initiative to attract visitors to concentrate their sips and spits to one local area rather than spreading out along the 100km stretch that is the Okanagan Valley.

Despite the focus on just one sub-region, you'd be surprised how much time can be spent visiting a limited area such as Summerland. What was intended to be a 90 minute whip-around the wineries for quick tastes ended up a 4-hour journey into the tasting rooms and cellars of 6 local wineries; just half of what Summerland has to offer. My apologies for those I did not get a chance to see, but a summary of today's tastings include:

Greata Ranch ( - At the northern end of the Bottleneck Drive, Greata Ranch is affiliated with Kelowna's Cedar Creek. Sourcing grapes from their own vineyards as well as contracted growers further south, Greata Ranch performs better with their aromatic whites and Pinot Noir; after all, their Ehrenfelser proved perfect for tonight's dinner. When not shellacking barrels and tidying the tasting room for the upcoming season, Judy is also a delight to guide you through their wines.

Sumac Ridge ( - A staple of the Okanagan for several decades, Sumac Ridge has long been an favourite on everyone's to-sip list. For me, however, it is their world-class sparkling programme that is worth checking out: the Traditional Method Stellar's Jay leads the way in BC bubbles, but the sparkling Gewurztraminer is truly unique.

Okanagan Crush Pad ( - Revolutionary by BC standards, the OCP is a custom crush facility with several different brands. Lead by the magical hands of Michael Bartier, such labels as Haywire, B.S are made in limited amounts and are well-worth a visit to this state-of-the-art facility.

Dirty Laundry ( - Hard to go wrong with a winery that bases its marketing on the legend of a turn-of-the-century brothel, including cleverly disguised naked women on the labels (there are 8 per label - see if you can pick them out!). Clad in all things feathery and lingerie, a visit to Dirty Laundry is a must when in Summerland; the trio of Gewurztraminer (Threadbare, Woo-woo, and Madam) are among the best in Canada, and their Hush Rose an annual treat with their dirty little secret grape we never hear about.

Thornhaven ( - Owners Jack and Jan Fraser have done an excellent job at creating not only award-winning wines but also a cosy tasting facility set high above Lake Okanagan; most important of which was to keep tasting room staple Danny as part of their purchase in 2006. The Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer have just enough residual sugar to tempt the palate, but look for the rare Pinot Meunier as a red complement to slightly spicy Asian cuisine.

8th Generation ( - With most producers in their first generation of wine production, 8th Generation refers to 7 generations of German winemaking before the eighth, Bernd Schales, moved to BC. There's no surprise that their Riesling programme is excellent, but look for more unique expressions of Pinot Meunier (a.k.a. Schwartzburgunder) in rose, red, and sparkling forms. Here, the friendly atmosphere is all about the wine; merchandise such as t-shirts, corkscrews, and quirky wine-themed paraphanelia are at a bare minimum.

In total, 30 wines at 6 wineries in 4 hours, all within 15km of my temporary home in Penticton. As far as wines are concerned, Summerland showed itself to be the perfect launching pad for a summer full of great wine.