Traversing the Okanagan Valley: Okanagan Falls

So far on our trip, we had toured the Black Sage and Naramata Bench, and now we were off to the Okanagan Falls region.

Okanagan Falls, or OK Falls as it’s also locally known, is a small community approximately 20 km south of Penticton that sits on the southern tip of Skaha lake. Highway 97 runs right through the middle of the town so unless you know about them or see the signs pointing them out; it’s entirely possible to miss the wineries that call the region home.

Similar to the other regions in the valley, this area also experiences long hot summer days with cool evenings. One difference is a somewhat higher elevation than the other regions. As a result, cool climate varietals such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer tend to do very well in the area.

Our first stop of the day was a winery that came highly recommended to me for its Rieslings, Synchromesh Wines.

Synchromesh Wines

Synchromesh Wines

 

When a winery receives 3 separate recommendations you pay attention. As was the case for Synchromesh Wines, I got 3 recommendations from separate individuals, telling me that this was winery worth visiting.

Turns out, our visit almost didn’t happen. Winery visits at that time were by appointment only and I had every attention of making one, however, it had slipped my mind. So when I casually mentioned visiting the winery on twitter, the winemaker responded with a reminder that visits were by appointment only. Luckily, I was able to make my appointment and get our tasting in.

I felt almost like a VIP during our tasting, it was just me, my wife and Alan from Synchromesh. I took it as a good sign that they were sold out of several of their wines the day we visited, but still managed to taste the 2015 ‘Drier’ Riesling, the 2015 Riesling, and the 2014 ‘Cachola Family Farms’ Cabernet Franc.

I was absolutely blown away by their Rieslings. Both of them had great acidity that made the wines refreshing and vibrant. The 2015 ‘Drier’ riesling had notes of green apple and lemon zest, and just a hint of peach on the tongue. The 2015 riesling also brought green apple notes and a hint of mango. That little hint of mango brough just a little more sweetness to it.

I can’t say enough of these wines; they were just simply crazy good. But now it was time for some lunch, so we were off to the Smoke & Oak Bistro at Wild Goose Vineyards for some BBQ.

Wild Goose Vineyards

WildGoose Vineyards

I was aware of Wild Goose Vineyards by name only, up to this point I had never had the chance to try their wines. The day before someone had mentioned that if we liked BBQ, we really should check out the Smoke & Oak Bistro at the winery.

We thought a BBQ lunch sounded like a great idea so here we were. Being about 10 minutes early for our reservation gave us a chance to sample some wines at the tasting bar.

It was quick tasting but a couple of real interesting wines, the 2013 Red Horizon Meritage, 2015 Autumn Gold, and the 2015 God’s Mountain Riesling.

The Meritage had an almost smoky texture to it, not a lot of fruit flavor, but plenty of earthiness to it. The Autumn Gold is a blend and I personally found it to be on the sweet side, but with lots of tropical fruit flavors.

The God’s Mountain Riesling was my favourite of the three wines. It had a very nice crispness to it with excellent notes of green apple, papaya, and lemon zest coupled with refreshing acidity.

Lunch at the Bistro was amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling through the area. Sitting outside on the patio allowed us to enjoy our lunch while gazing out among the vines. Be warned; bring an appetite, as the portions are not for the faint of heart.

The view from the patio
The view from our table at The Smoke & Oak bistro!

We packed ourselves and our leftovers into the car and headed off to Noble Ridge Vineyards, our next stop.

Noble Ridge Vineyards

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery

Pulling up to Noble Ridge, you quickly get an idea on how they chose their name. The tasting room sits on top of a ridge that looks down into a long reaching valley and ultimately Vaseux Lake. The view is breathtaking, and you can’t help but picture yourself with a glass of wine watching as the sun sets behind the hills in the background.

On the day of our visit, the winery was having an event featuring local artists. Strolling through the terrace at the back of the winery, we got a chance to mingle and chat with various artists as they worked on their  projects.

We started our tasting with their 2011 “The One” sparkling wine, which I found quite good. It had a nice acidic balance with a citrusy flavour and a freshly baked bread aroma.

The highlights of the tasting were the 2013 Estate Meritage and the 2015 Mingle. The Meritage is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. A richly dark burgundy color leads into a luscious mouth feel with firm but not overpowering tannins. On the nose a really earthy aroma of tobacco and cedar with black cherry and coffee flavours. Definitely, a wine to be enjoyed with food.

The 2015 Mingle is a blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Noir. This was very interesting wine, with a very strong aroma of honey and citrus on the nose. Given the strong honey aroma, I was expecting the wine to be sweet, but instead, I found it to be quite earthy. In terms of flavour, apple and peach were quite easy to distinguish but given the Pinot Noir addition, there was just a slight hint of strawberry in the background.

We finished up our tasting and headed off to our next stop, Liquidity Wine.

Liquidity Wines Ltd. 

Liquidity Wines

We pulled up to the tasting room and Liquidity and immediately were in awe of the building housing their tasting room and bistro. It had this great modern look to it, clean sharp lines, with wood beams and a concrete retaining wall.

One of the features of Liquidity is its relationship with art. The first evidence of this is a large sphere made out of old growth wood reclaimed from trees that fell during a storm years earlier. Scattered throughout the tasting and the bistro were several stunning works of art from local artists.

My favourite piece was an abstract one that from a distance looked like random streaks of paint, however upon closer examination turned out to be to be strips of old comics glued onto a canvas.

We found a spot at the bar and started our tasting. We started with the 2015 Riesling, moved into the 2015 Viognier and then the 2015 Rose. All of which were excellent, very lively with good acidity and fruit flavours.

From the whites we moved onto the reds, starting with the 2015 Pinot Noir Estate. A very clean and elegant body with just a slight hint of tannins. Aromas of raspberry and cedar coupled with cherry and vanilla flavours.

From there I moved to the 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve. It also showed a very elegant, smooth body with a slightly more tannic presence and more weight to it. The aroma of chocolate and cherry were very pronounced, with an undertone of earthiness. The chocolate and cherry note also carried over to the flavours, along with a just a slight hint of smokiness.

Then I was given the opportunity to try their 2014 Equity Pinot Noir, which is a small batch wine made with grapes from their premium blocks.

This was a very full-bodied Pinot Noir, with upfront aromas of black tea and violets, and just a faint aroma of strawberry in the background. Much more noticeable tannins provided a real depth and a silky feel to the wine. A real whirlwind of flavours, including vanilla, black cherry, black liquorice, cinnamon.

The young lady working the tasting counter said it reminded her of Black Forrest cake, and as soon as she said it, I realized that was the best description of this wine.

End of the Day!

I realize it sounds funny but we were done. I’m not complaining but it was hot out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there was no breeze whatsoever. We had a couple other wineries we were thinking of visiting, but we decided to scrap it and go find a pool.

That being said I really enjoyed our time touring through Okanagan Falls. It was very relaxing, with a nice easy pace to it. The wines in this area were just excellent and I can’t say enough about the service.

I was very impressed with the time and attention that Alan at Liquidity Wines gave to us. He took pride in describing their farming methods and even took us to visit with the Pygmy goats he was raising.

Pygmy Goast at Synchromesh Winery

While this region doesn’t quite receive the same recognition as Naramata or Oliver,I find OK Falls wine just as good as the wineries in the other 2 other regions.

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