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.

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