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: 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.

wineroute
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