So far in our trip, we had spent a day exploring the town of Penticton and touring wineries along the Black Sage Bench (see: Traversing the Okanagan Valley: Black Sage Bench).
The next region we were off to explore was the Naramata Bench. It’s a 14 km stretch of land set in amongst rolling hills and overlooking the Okanagan Lake and sits on top of sandy cliffs that run along the lake shore.
Like the Black Sage Bench, the Naramata Bench also enjoys long daylight hours and warm weather during the summer with daytime temperatures reaching 40° C at times. This area also benefits from long frost free autumns as a result of its close proximity to the Okanagan Lake and it’s sloping hills. Common varietals in this area are Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Viognier, and Pinot Blanc.
It’s located just east of Penticton and it’s quite a visitor friendly region to visit. A short 5 min drive out of town puts you on the Naramata Bench road and literally puts you into the region. As you drive along the road simply keep an eye out for the wine route signs pointing out where each winery can be located.
On this day we had decided that our first stop was going to be Hillside Winery & Bistro.
I first came across Hillside wines almost by accident. While shopping at a small local wine shop one day I came across their wines which happened to be on sale. The shop didn’t have the wine I was looking for so I decided to take a chance on this “new” wine.
Turned out that I’m glad I took that chance as Hillside quickly became one of our regular BC wines. So we were quite excited to have the opportunity to visit the winery.
One of the interesting points I found out about the winery is that its unique design allows it to ferment and age their wine in smaller batches. This allows them to maintain the characteristics and quality of the grapes from each vineyard throughout production.
For our tasting, we had the opportunity to run through the full gauntlet of wines they offer. We started off with the Pinot Gris, then Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and finished off with their Muscat Ottonel. All the whites showed very well but the Gewürztraminer especially stood out. Well structured with great acidity and notes of green apple, lemon peel, and pineapple.
Moving into the reds we tried their Syrah, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir and the Mosaic (a Bordeaux-style blend). As was the case with the whites, all the reds showed well but I was really taken with the Cab Franc and the Gamay Noir. The Gamay Noir, in particular, showed very well. Hints of pepper, tobacco, blackberry, and raspberry, coupled with a nice tannic mouthfeel and surprising acidity.
After a quick lunch at the Bistro, we were off to our next stop Kettle Valley Winery.
It will come as no surprise that the winery is in fact named after the Kettle Valley Railway which operated in Naramata in the first half of the 1900’s. The railway was well known for a dedication to excellence and the winery strives to follow that tradition hence the name.
Looking at the history of the winery it was interesting to note that it one of the first three wineries to open in the region. In that time Kettle Valley has stayed true to its roots, staying a small produce with more focus on quality instead of quantity.
A couple of years back I was able to pick up a couple bottles of their 2006 Pinot Noir, which were amazing, so I was quite interested to see what their current release was like. I tried the 2014 Pinot Noir, which had some very nice fruit flavours to it, notes of raspberry and cherry, but not a lot of structure. The body felt a little loose, definitely showing it’s young age. I think in about 5 years it will be a very good bottle of wine, once it’s had some time to tighten up and develop.
I picked up a bottle of the Pinot Noir, so I’ll let you know about in about 5 years time I’ll let you know if I’m right. As we finished up at Kettle Valley, we were on to our next destination..Joie Farm.
Joie Farm wasn’t on our radar at first, I reluctantly admit I didn’t know much about the winery. My wife, however, is a French immersion teacher and has a keen interest in anything French. So as soon as we saw the sign for the winery my wife immediately wanted to stop. It also helped that at that exact time someone was attaching a red bicycle to the sign which also caught our attention.
It’s funny how sometimes in life, spur of the moment decisions just work out. Joie Farm turned out to be one of our favourite stops of our entire trip. The winery has a very welcoming family feeling to it. Walking up to the tasting room you’ll notice scores of people sitting on blankets on the grass enjoying a glass of wine and a picnic lunch. We grabbed a couple of warm pretzels and made our way to the bar.
A large stone pizza over caught our attention, and we very impressed to see you could buy thin crust pizzas or warm pretzels. We grabbed a couple of warm pretzels and made our way to the bar.
Our tasting was somewhat of a quick one, the winery was sold out of several of their releases. We did manage to secure a tasting of the 2014 PTG, 2015 Pinot Blanc, 2013 Riesling, and the 2014 Gamay Noir.
The 2015 Pinot Blanc was absolutely amazing, with a superb acidity that made it quite refreshing & bold notes of grapefruit and green apple. This was delicate enough to be a wine enjoyed on the patio but at the same time strong enough to stand up to food. I also found the 2014 PTG to be quite exceptional, with a nice medium body and tannin structure. Interestingly enough I found it to have notes of Raspberry both on the nose and in its flavour. Both wines were outstanding.
Once our tasting was complete and we had eaten our warm pretzel, it was time to head over to Lake Breeze.
Lake Breeze was a winery that was recommended to me when I was researching where in the valley to visit.
Like so many wineries in the region, the first thing you notice when pulling up to the winery is the view. The winery overlooks Okanagan lake and standing on the terrace all you can see is the lake below as far as the eye can see.
Once you tear yourself away from the amazing view, it’s time to head into the absolutely gorgeous tasting room and try some wine. We tasted a fairly standard lineup, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Blanc, a Merlot, a Pinot Noir, and a Rose. In addition, we also tasted a 2015 Ehrenfelser, which was I’m not familiar with. It was very distinct, with strong notes of summer fruit like peach, nectarine, and apricot. A nice acidity to it, quite refreshing, but I think it could probably do with a couple of years of aging.
Also noteworthy was the 2013 Meritage, with big strong notes of ripe red fruit and a very nice tannic structure. It had a very nice mouthfeel to it, silky and smooth but bold enough that it would pair well with a rich savoury meal.
We were starting to run out steam by this point but we only had one more stop, Bench 1775 winery.
Earlier in the year my wife and I took in the annual Winefest event in town. One of the wines we tried that day was their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc. We were so impressed we made a note that it should be one of the wineries we visited during our trip.
When we first walked into the tasting room I was a little nervous, there were two large parties in the tasting room at the time and I wasn’t entirely sure we would be able to find room. Thankfully, one of the parties was just leaving and we found some space at the bar.
Their white wine really stood out for me . The 2015 Semillon, in particular, was quite nice, with excellent citrus notes and a slight earthy tone to it. I imagined this being a wine that would pair extremely well with spicy food, the citrus cutting through the heat in the dish. I also quite liked the 2015 Viognier, which had a real nice fruit intensity to it along with nicely balanced acidity. This wine I could picture with Asian food, especially sushi.
By this point, we were just ready to call it a day and started to head home. However, we wound up making one more unexpected stop.
Funny story about Red Rooster is that we had it confused with Township 7 Vineyards, which we had visited in the spring of 2013. Since we “thought” we had already visited the winery we had no plans to stop. Driving by the wineries we soon realized our mistake, one quick U-turn later we were making one more stop.
Two things you’ll notice right away about the winery is the artwork scattered around the premise, and the large wooden doors leading into the tasting room. As we found out later the doors are made from wood reclaimed from the original Naramata train dock.
For this tasting I was all about the red wine, starting with the 2014 Pinot Noir, and then moving on to the 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir. Both were excellent, though I thought the Reserve had a slightly better-structured body, a bit more depth to it.
Turns out today was my lucky day, our server was impressed with my description of the reserve Pinot Noir and let me try their 2013 Golden Egg. A blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, & Grenache, this was something else. Rich notes of green pepper, black pepper, tobacco, dark chocolate, and black currant. Not a wine to drink on its own, but something that would pair very well with food.
End of the Day!
With Red Rooster under our belt, we were officially done for the day and it was time to head home and put our feet up.
All in all we really enjoyed spending the day touring along the Bench. All the wineries are easy to get to and the people are super friendly and approachable. One thing I found is that it’s an area that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Each winery we visited we really felt that the message that was portrayed was to sit back, relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and enjoy.
The wines of the region also reflect this outlook, easy drinking and unpretentious. They are wines that would hold up to being cellared but can also be enjoyed right away. I look forward to enjoying what we brought home with us.