Thursday, 13 June 2013

home stretch on the naramata stretch...

Winding down my month-long stay in Penticton, there are still several wineries on the winding road on the Naramata Bench that I had yet to explore. One day was spent up at the north-end around the village of Naramata itself (of vines big and small in naramata...) and another day on the Penticton-side of the Bench (stumbling distance...), but in these two days covered a dozen Naramata wineries; less than half of the 30 wineries on this 15km scenic stretch of road.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, 30 wineries plus 109 growers equals one intense concentration of boutique wineries. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Okanagan, the Naramata bench benefits from long summer afternoons of warm sunshine with the lake acting as an air conditioner to keep temperatures moderate. The same sun exposure keeps the vineyards relatively warm in the winter months as well, and the gentle slopes ensure that frost drains toward the lower altitudes, thus minimising frost damage. Silt, clay, and glacial rock deposits (called moraine) form the soil base of the Bench, and these each have an impact on viticulture. Relatively fertile silt means canopy management is essential for grape-growers, thus we see several vineyards planted with big vine canopy management (Geneva Double Curtains, Lyres, Scott Henry...). Clay, on the other and, has high water retention, which is helpful for an area that is starting to see issues arise with water rights as it expands. (140-square kilometres of water source, according my Okanagan Geology South, is pushed to its peak). Lastly, moraine soils are the connection to the first winery of the day:

Moraine Estate ( - As above, this new addition to the Naramata is named for the soils of the area, and as a result has a fun geological theme to the small tasting room. Production is small but sourced entirely from their estate; the Chardonnay is subtly oaky, the Red Mountain Malbec/CabFranc shows that Malbec can do well in cooler climates, and the Cliffhanger series are good red and white blends that change according to the vintage.

Black Widow ( - A common theme of the Bench, small plots are farmed to low tonnage to ensure quality fruit and concentrated flavours. The result is small releases of a limited but quality-minded portfolio; look for the easy sipping Gewurztraminer or Schonberger and for the reds, the single-estate grown Hourglass (Merlot/CabSauv) speaks to the quality of Naramata terroir.

Howling Bluff ( - Established in 2006, Howling Bluff is a family-run estate that sources its fruit from its own small plot of vineyards. Improving each year as the vines mature, their Sauvignon Blanc is among the better examples in the Okanagan, and their award-winning Sin Cera Meritage-blend is another great expression of reds grown in the Naramata.

Clean Slate ( - A unique destination in that Clean Slate combines the winemaking from Naramata-based Nichol and the cheese-making skills of Poplar Grove. Just two wines so far, a white and red blend, but solid winemaking will bring success to this small producer.

Hillside ( - One of the staples of the Naramata, Hillside has undergone renovations in recent years to update both the tasting room and the wines themselves. The Muscat Ottonel remains a standout among their aromatic whites, the Gewurztraminer a perfect choice for those wanting a little sweet (but not too much!), and their Gamay shows the potential of this varietal in BC.

D'Angelo ( - With decades of experience in Ontario's Lake Erie North Shore wine region, Sal D'Angelo set up shop in the Naramata with 27 acres of property. Dedication to quality wine production means only the best 8 acres are planted with vines. A unique icewine programme that includes Tempranillo, the Merlot-based Sette Coppa blend is the closest Pomerol-styled wine I've come across in the province.

Ruby Blues ( - What happens when the chickens leave the coup? They set up shop across the street and re-create a quality wine programme. Like others on the bench, the aromatic whites are the most popular; the White Stiletto being the most popular by far.

Red Rooster ( - As with Hillside, Red Rooster is a long-time favourite of the Naramata, but changes in the past few years mean the wines are not what they used to be. Nevertheless, Red Rooster remains an important attraction on the Bench and their wines will hopefully return to their previous heights.

La Frenz ( - When it comes to boutique BC wineries, La Frenz is arguably among the best. Recently awarded "Best Small Winery" at a prestigious California tasting, including 6 Gold medals and 4 Best in Class. Most grapes are sourced from 2 high-quality Naramata vineyards and one from the Golden Mile, but all of these are farmed using organic and bio-dynamic practices.  The wines are excellent across the board, but the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc really stood out as something exceptional.

Long-story short, saving this stretch of the Naramata to the end provided me with more insight into the dynamics of BC viticulture...and with high expectations of how the wines would compete not just domestically but around the world. Overall, I would venture to say that, generally speaking, the wines of the Naramata are a style to be appreciated as they are.

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