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.

rr_chardsyr_pghillside_pg

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.

syr_pnrr_gamayhillside_mer

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: Naramata Bench

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.

Hillside Winery & Bistro

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.

Kettle Valley Winery

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 Winery

Joie Farm Winery

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.

Food & Wine

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 Vineyards 

Lake Breeze Vineyards

 

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.

Bench 1775 Winery

Bench 1775

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.

Red Rooster Winery

Red Rooster Winery

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.

Golden Egg Wine @ Red Rooster

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.

Cheers,

LB