The 15th Annual East Kootenay Wine Festival.

I have a love/hate relationship with food and wine festivals.

On the one hand, they are an opportunity to try out different foods and wines that maybe you wouldn’t have an opportunity to try. If you’ve always been curious about eating an oyster (delicious by the way) but are too scared to order them in a restaurant, trying them at a wine festival is your perfect chance!

However, there’s also a dark side to these events. Inevitably, there’s always individuals who indulge a little too much and can easily ruin the evening for other guests. Broken glasses, spilled drinks, and bad manners are not uncommon at these events.

In the end, I like to think that the good outweighs the bad, and for me, these are a great way to get out there and try new wines and enjoy old favorites. So earlier in the year when some friends invited us to join them at the 15th Annual East Kootenay Wine festival at the Fairmont Hot Springs, we jumped at the chance to go.

The festival kicked off on Friday, November 5, with a 5-course dinner and accompanying wine pairings.

menu

While each dish was excellent and very creatively plated, the standout dish of the meal was easily the Wild Mushroom Cappuccino appetizer, paired with the 2014 Autumn Gold from Wild Goose Vineyards. The plating for this dish was brilliant, they played off the name and served it in a coffee cup, complete with saucer just as you would expect with a cappuccino.

What really jumped out at me was the texture of the dish, instead of drowning the mushroom pieces in a broth, this was a meaty, chewy dish. The mushrooms were finely diced in a light sauce with notes of sherry, thyme, and pepper.  The accompanying Rosemary biscotti was ridiculous, soft and crumbly with a savory rosemary flavor.

The Autumn Gold from Wild Goose was an excellent pairing, with a subtle sweetness and a refreshing acidity, that cut through the richness of the dish quite well.

The next event on Saturday afternoon was a sit down tasting seminar featuring 3 whites and 3 reds from Hillside Winery, See Ya Later Ranch, and Robin Ridge.

The first wine on the menu was a 2014 Chardonnay from Robin Ridge winery in the Similkameen valley. A somewhat young wine with really good acidity and stone fruit, but needs some aging to reach its full potential. Up next was a 2015 Unleashed Pinot Gris from See Ya later Ranch, a fuller bodied Pinot Gris with good tropical fruit flavors. Last up among the whites was a 2015 Un-Oaked Pinot Gris from Hillside Winery. Super fruity and light with some pretty big peach flavors.

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Moving into the reds, our first wine was a 2015 See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir. Nice and easy drinking with strawberry and cherry notes with just a hint of tobacco on the nose. Our second red was a 2014 Gamay Noir from Robin Ridge. Some fairly serious pepper notes on the nose along with coffee & dark chocolate on the palate. Last but not least was a 2013 Merlot from Hillside Winery. A little more tannic than expected for a Merlot, but good acid accompanied with blueberry notes.

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After the tasting, we just had enough time for a quick dip in the hot springs before the start of the festival.

As part of the VIP package we signed up for, we got early entry into the festival, meaning we were among the first 50 or so persons allowed into the tasting rooms. The festival was spread out among 5 different rooms throughout the resort in order to accommodate the nearly 60 BC wineries in attendance.

Our plan that night was to hit up the dozen or so “must visit” wineries on our list and then make our way around to some of the new wineries we had yet had a chance to experience.

The event filled up quickly and within an hour it was getting difficult to get around, there were throngs of people at every turn. We did manage to visit all but one of our must visit entries. Sadly we weren’t able to make it to the Summerhill Pyramid winery booth.

We ran into a situation that can be quite common in these festivals, the “Gabber”. In this case, there was a group of about 6 people that insisted on trying every wine on the table and speaking at length with the person pouring about each one. We patiently waited for about 10 min to try and sample the wines before moving on.

Just before the festival started we were debating about whether to have something to eat before heading into the event and ultimately decided not too. Turned out that was the right decision, the appetizers for the event were amazing and by the end of the night, we were stuffed. We had our fill of mini fish & chips, prawn tempura, mini beef wellingtons, and copious amounts of fantastic cheese.

However, what impressed me the most about the food was the oyster bar. They had a chef shucking fresh Atlantic coast oysters and they were delicious. I even managed to persuade one of my festival companions to try one for the first time. He said he liked it but I don’t imagine he’ll be eating another one anytime soon.

At the end of the evening, I got a chance to sit back and go over our night. We did manage to revisit several of our old favorites such Burrowing Owl, Stags Hollow, Laughing Stock, Blue Mountain Vineyards, & Tinhorn Creek. I also got a chance to try some wineries for the first time like Volcanic Hills, Hester Creek, The Hatch, & Maverick winery.

Personally, my favorite wine of the evening was the 2014 Nota Benne from BlackHills Estate Winery. I voted for it as my pick as the top red wine of the festival and was very pleased to see it announced the next day as the 2016 People’s Choice Award winner in the Red Wine category.

All in all, I have to say that I quite enjoyed this festival, I thought it was for the most part well organized, and I quite liked the seminar piece on Saturday afternoon. All things considered, I would attend this festival again.

What about you, what are your thoughts on Food & Wine Festivals? Are they your type of scene or do you prefer something a little more quiet and relaxed?

Cheers,

LB

Traversing the Okanagan Valley: The Beginning

In 2011 my wife and I decided to take a trip out to Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, specifically the city of Kelowna. As part of that trip, we went on a wine tour. It was the first time I had ever been to a winery and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Right away I was hooked, I was immediately interested in the whole process. From growing the grapes to harvesting them to turning them into wine.

We came back out to Kelowna again in 2012 and 2013, both time with the intent on visiting as many wineries as we could. We took a break from the area in 2014 & 2015 but decided to return to the Okanagan again this July.

Instead of visiting Kelowna this time, we decided to head a little further south to Penticton and Oliver. We had a great trip, visited a number of amazing wineries, drank some fantastic wine, and conversed with a lot of passionate and knowledgeable individuals.

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Which way to the wine?

The Okanagan Valley

The valley itself is one of 5 provincially recognized wine producing regions in British Columbia, with the others being: The Similkameen Valley, Vancouver Island, The Gulf Islands, and Fraser Valley. There are several other emerging regions that are starting to develop a name for themselves, but these are the five predominant regions at this time.

It begins around Kelowna and stretches for over 250 km south towards Osoyoos and the US border. The valley accounts for almost 80% of the total wine production within BC and includes over 170 wineries with over 8,000 total acres of vines.

The valley is divided into a number of local regions and as you travel south through the valley you’ll run into these regions along the way. It’s these small regions within the Okanagan Valley that make it such an interesting wine and winery destination.

The sub-regions are:

  • Lake Country/Kelowna
  • Peachland/Summerland
  • Penticton/Naramata
  • Okanagan Falls
  • Golden Mile Bench
  • Osoyoos

Each region is blessed with its own unique micro-climates and soil conditions. Some areas benefit from cool breezes that blow in from nearby lakes, which help to offset the summer heat. Others receive the benefit of excellent irritation, the result of vineyards planted on hillsides.

soil
Soil type examples at Le Vieux Pin winery.

The different benefits that come from the different climates and growing conditions have reflected the diversity of the different wines being produced within these regions. I’ll use Pinot Noir for an example, you’ll find examples of Pinot Noir being produced from each of these regions. But, what you’ll also find is that the Pinot Noir is different from each region. Not different in a bad way, but simply different based on the growing conditions.

You may find a Pinot Noir produced in the Summerland region to be light bodied with quite fruit forward. While in Oliver you may find the Pinot Noir to have a heavier body with spicier notes and less fruit forward. Then if you were to try a Pinot Noir from Naramata you might find it is somewhere in the middle.

 

Our Trip

The Okanagan valley has a tremendous amount to offer. There’re several lakes for boating, swimming, and water sports. Beaches for family outings or to sit and relax on. Fruit farms and orchards dot the highway throughout. It offers great hiking and biking trails, as well as numerous campgrounds. The valley also boasts a number of music festivals throughout the summer.

For me however, it was all about the wine. This was my chance to visit some of the wineries I had been hearing about for some time now.

Yet, I’ve only just broken the surface of what the valley has to offer in terms of wine and wineries. Of the over 170 wineries in operation, I’ve only visited roughly 20% of them. I’ve still got some work to do.

Since we spent a lot of time in the past in and around Kelowna, we only focused on the Penticton/Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, and the Black Sage Bench/Osoyoos areas.

In total, we spend about 3 & 1/2 days exploring these three areas and it wasn’t even close to being enough. It was extremely difficult deciding on which wineries to visit and where to go. I relied heavily on recommendations from folks on Twitter and from articles I found on online.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll go into more detail about the regions we visited and what they have to offer.

Cheers,

LB