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!

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