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 (www.tinhorn.com) - 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 (www.hestercreek.com) - 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 (www.gehringerwines.ca) - 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 - (www.inniskillin.com) - 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 (www.road13vineyards.com) - 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 (www.covertfarms.ca) - 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.

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