Traversing the Okanagan Valley: Tinhorn Creek & Covert Farms

The last 4 weeks feel like they have been a complete whirlwind and I’m only now catching my breath. I should have had this post done weeks ago but I’m only now sitting down to finish it. The last day of our absolutely fantastic trip to the Okanagan Valley.

The last day!

We had come to that bittersweet point of our trip, the last day. Up to this point, we’d had a great time exploring the Black Sage Bench, the Naramata Bench, and Okanagan Falls.

But now it was the last day and we had one more region left to explore the Golden Mile. Interestingly enough even though the areas we had been visiting on this trip are referred to as wine regions, none of them are officially recognized as such.

The Black Sage bench, the Naramata bench, Okanagan Falls, and even Kelowna are considered sub-regions, but officially they are grouped together as part of the Okanagan Valley. There is only one officially recognized sub-region within the valley, and that is the Golden Mile.

In 2015 this sub-region that runs between Oliver south towards Osoyoos, was officially awarded designation as a sub-Geographical Indication. This means that the soil conditions and climate of wineries located in this area are considered to be unique from other grape growing areas in the area.

What this also means is that wineries located within this sub-GI can highlight this on their labeling. While wineries not located on the Golden Mile, have to list their geographical location as the Okanagan Valley.

I say we had plans to explore the Golden Mile but the truth is that we only had plans to visit one winery on the mile, that being Tinhorn Creek. But, before that we had one stop to make and that was Covert Farms.

Covert Farms Family Estate

Covert Farms Family Estate

We came across Covert Farms when we were looking at things to do in and around Oliver. What caught our attention was the farm tour they offered, and the opportunity to be driven around in a 1952 Mercury 1 ton truck. They took you around the farm, gave you a chance to get up close and personal with their livestock, took you out among their 64 acres of vines, gave you the chance to pick some fruit, and the kicker was a personalized wine tasting & charcuterie plate at the end. How could we resist?

red-truck

Our tour host was the farms resident chef, Cambell Kearns, whose passion for and knowledge of the farm was clearly evident. We started our tour by heading over to see the farm’s livestock. Normally, you have the opportunity to feed the cows. However, for our tour the farm had just welcomed a couple of new calves, and unfortunately the female cows were somewhat overprotective of strangers in the paddock.

From there we piled into the 1952 Mercury pickup and headed out to the vineyard. The farm has 64 acres of vines planted, and half of that is farmed out to Jackson Triggs. The other half is used to make their own estate wines. They produce a number of red blends, a rose, a sparkling Zinfandel, a white blend, a Pinot Blanc, a Roussanne & Viognier blend, and a Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc blend.

 

Covert Farms prides itself on its organic farming and that carries over to its grapes. Walking out among the vines, we got the chance to see and understand how the farm deals with insects and weeds.

Once we finished up out among the vines, we headed over to the orchard. As part of the tour we got the chance to pick either blueberry’s, strawberry’s or peaches. I jumped at the chance to pick fresh peaches right from the tree. It didn’t take long to fill our small buckets, and we may or may not have eaten a couple of peaches while doing so.

Peaches

We wrapped up our tour by sitting down to a carefully handcrafted charcuterie board and a tasting of the farm’s wines. I was quite impressed with all of the wines we got to try, but the two standouts were the 2014 Rose & the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc & Semillion blend.

Chef's Charcuterie

The 2014 Rose was incredibly fruit forward with strong notes of strawberry and raspberry and a wonderfully refreshing acidity. This would be a wine easily enjoyed on its own but versatile enough to easily pair with food. The other standout was the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc & Semillion blend. Also showing a refreshing acidity, but with freshly cut grass, lemon, & papaya aromas and green apple and sage flavors. Surprisingly, I found this to have a more complex structured body then the rose. They both had good acidity, but the Sauvignon Blanc & Semillion blend was slightly more dense than the rose and was best suited paired with food.

From there we had one last place to visit before we called this trip complete. We left Covert Farms and headed down the road towards Tinhorn Creek.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Tinhorn Creek

Tinhorn Creek holds a special place in the hearts of me and my wife. When I met my wife, she wasn’t much of a wine drinker, and it was a bottle of Tinhorn Creek’s Pinot Gris that got her interested in wine.

For that reason, Tinhorn Creek was one winery that was a definite visit on our list. Our plan of action was to do a tasting first, then stroll around the winery and check out the amphitheater, and then head over to the restaurant for dinner.

In what we considered an excellent omen, we were offered a sample of their recent 2015 Oldfield 2 Bench white. An excellent creamy and refreshing blend offering notes of vanilla, peach, and pear.

We made our way into the tasting room and settled in at the bar. We started out with the 2015 Pinot Gris, moved on to the 2015 Gewurztraminer, and finished up the whites with the 2014 Chardonnay. I was equally impressed with all three wines, each one tasted very well, with excellent balance, acidity, and fruit flavors.

The first red we tasted was the 2014 Merlot, which had a really striking fruity complexity to it, but I couldn’t help feel as thought it was tasting young. I wondered if it could use some time in the bottle to provide some aging. The 2914 Cab Franc, on the other hand, was perfect.

Showing an inky purple in the glass, with intense aromas of dark chocolate, lavender, thyme, and tobacco. On the tongue initial flavors of blackberry and raspberry, with a slight hint of black cherry. As we chatted with the server, I noticed that after that initial hit of fruit flavors, I started to pick up a more earthy flavor as well, that of green and black pepper. I was absolutely enthralled with this wine and I can’t wait to see what it’s like after a couple of years in the cellar.

Next up was a stroll outside along the back side of the winery to check out the amphitheater where the winery plays host to concerts throughout the summer. Sitting on the stone steps overlooking the valley, it was easy to see why this would be a popular place to come check out live music.

 

We still had a couple of minutes before our dinner reservation so we poked our heads into what the cellar room. What a sight, rack after rack of wine barrels stacked 8 height high. The first thought that came to my mind was the whoever the forklift driver was, had better have a steady hand. The other thing I noticed in the cellar room was that classic music was being played, almost as it to serenade the barrels of wine.

Wine barrels

This was a fitting end to our day, a table on the balcony overlooking the valley with the winery in the background. Looking over the wine list I felt like a kid in a candy store. One of the features of the wine list is the ability to order library wines and boy were there some impressive listings. Given that I had already gone slightly over my wine buying budget, I decided that library wines would have to wait for another day.

I really have to compliment the restaurant’s designer, with very sleek lines and the way the floor is set there really is not a bad seat in the entire place.

As we were seated at our table for dinner we realized that this was somewhat of a bittersweet moment for us. We were about to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary at a winery that holds a special place for us. That was the exciting part, the sad part was the realization that this was the end of our trip. Next morning we would be packing up and heading home.

Final Thoughts

It was quite on the road that night as we head back to where we were staying, which was nice because it gave me chance to reflect on this trip.

We had managed to visit quite a few wineries over the last several days and got to taste a lot of great wine. This trip has also given me a better perspective on just how big the Okanagan Valley wine region is. While we did get to visit a lot of wineries, the truth is we barely scratched the surface. This area just keeps on getting better and better which is great news for the Canadian wine scene. Even better is that it’s not the only one either, there are a number of up and coming areas which only can mean bigger and better things for Canadian Wine.

All in all, I have to say that this was a trip will remember for a long time coming.

Cheers,

LB

 

 

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

Traversing the Okanagan Valley: Oliver (Black Sage Bench)

We spent the first day of our trip exploring Penticton, hanging out the beach, doing a little shopping, eating a little ice cream. It was a great way to unwind after a long drive, get settled, and prepare for our first day of wine touring.

In my previous post (Traversing the Okanagan Valley: The Beginning), I talked about the various sub-regions within the valley that you can go and visit. On our first day of wine touring we decided to head down towards Oliver, and visit what’s know as The Black Sage Bench.

This wine route runs along the east side of the valley and begins just south of Oliver. With its eastern location, grapes in this region benefit from the early morning sun and deep sandy soil tends to be common.

During the summer months, the valley experiences hot daytime temperatures but cool evenings allowing grapes to reach their optimal ripeness. Given these types of conditions, visitors can expect to see such common varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Syrah.

For our first stop, we headed down towards the southern tip of the Bench to check out Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.

Burrowing Owl Winery along the Black Sage Bench

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery sits southeast of the town of Oliver near the northern edge of Osoyoos Lake. The winery sits on top of a southwest facing plateau and as such visitors are able to gaze down on the row upon rows of vines that stretch as far as the eye can see.

what a view

The winery took its name after Jim and Midge Wyse, the proprietors learned about the efforts of the Government to re-establish the Burrowing Owl after it was declared extinct in British Columbia.

We did a full tasting at the winery starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, which exhibited great aromas of fresh cut grass and peach. From there we moved into tasting the reds, starting with the 2013 Pinot Noir. Excellent aroma of raspberry on the nose coupled with fragrant strawberry, however, I feel like the wine could use a couple of years of aging to help strengthen the body.

We also got to taste the 2013 Merlot, the 2013 Cabernet Franc, and as somewhat of a treat the 2012 Meritage. Each of these wines showed great, excellent structure, taste profiles and aromas. Out of those three, I thought the Cabernet Franc really stood out, with a distance freshness and a crisp clean palate.

Black Hills Estate Winery

Black Hills Estate Winery

Next up in our tasting journey was Black Hills Estate Winery. In May, I had the opportunity to attend a winemaker’s tasting of Black Hills Estate wines at Vine Styles, a local wine store. I was so impressed with the wines we tasted that day that I marked this winery as a definite stop on our tour.

On this day we were partaking in their Portfolio tasting, a relaxed in-depth sampling of 3 whites and 3 red. For the whites, we were treated to their Viognier, Chardonnay, and Alias, while the red tasting was Syrah, 2014 Cellar Hand, and their flagship wine, the 2014 Nota Benne. Of the whites, the Viognier and the Alias were clear standouts. Both wines show great acidity, are crisp and clean without being overly sweet. The Alias was a real treat to taste as it’s normally only available to its club members.

In terms of the Reds, their Syrah is very well done, with excellent black pepper and herbal notes such as Thyme and Basil. However, the star of the show is the Nota Benne, Black Hills Estate flagship wine. It’s a diverse blend of 4 different Cabernet Sauvignon clones, 2 different Cabernet Franc clones, and 4 different Merlot clones. It’s produced by processing and aging each clone separately. After they are barrel aged, the clones are then blended together to give the wine a diverse taste and structure.

Blackhills Estate Tasting
Enjoying the portfolio tasting at Black Hills Estate winery.

The Nota Benne is incredibly complex but very well structured. The body has a medium weight to it but the tannin levels are very smooth making it an easy drinking wine. Ripe fruit qualities such as blackberry and plum, with notes of black pepper and green bell pepper.  It’s definitely a wine best served with food.

Platinum Bench Winery

After our tasting’s it was time for something to eat. While at Burrowing Owl, it was recommended to us to check out Platinum Bench winery’s fresh baked artisan bread.

As soon as you walk in the front door two things happen. One is you are instantly greeted by Wally, the winery greeter. Wally is a one of a kind greeter, with four legs, a wet nose and excitedly wagging tail.

The second thing that happens is you become aware of the delicious aroma of fresh baked bread. In addition to their award-winning wines, Platinum Bench has recently expanded to included artisan bread baked right on site by winery co-owner Fiona Duncan.

We grabbed a couple loaves of bread, an Asiago Cheese, a Gorgonzola & Fig, and some salami and took a seat out the deck outside. Both loaves were amazing, served warm, the crust was had a slightly chewy and crispy texture, while the inside was so soft and light. The view from the deck was breathtaking and I could have stayed there all day.

Stoneboat Vineyards

Stoneboat Vineyards

Stoneboat was recommended to me because of its focus on the Pinot grapes. Being the big fan of Pinot Noir that I am, this was a winery that I simply had to check out.

The winery is named after a “stone boat”, a flat sled that was originally used to carry stones. The name Stone Boat was chosen as a tribute to the individuals who originally worked to clear the vineyard of rocks in order to plant the vines.

The soil on all three of the vineyards that make up Stoneboat all tend to be quite rocky and calcareous, similar to the soil found in Burgundy, France, another well know Pinot region. The rocks found in the vineyard are put to good use, piled underneath of the vines they absorb the heat of the sun during the day and radiate that heat towards the vines during the cooler evenings.

We started our tasting with the Rose Brut, which was stunning. Bright, crisp, not overly sweet with a beautiful cherry aroma. We tasted a couple of the whites available, but what I really was excited for was the Pinot Noir. They were pouring their 2013 Pinot Noir, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

This was a very well structured wine, not your typical light styled body, it had actually had some weight to it. It has a slight acidity to it which I wasn’t expecting but found quite refreshing. A definite earthy aroma along with fresh flowers and cherry and intense flavours of strawberry and raspberry.

Stoneboat Pinot Noir

It was interesting to note that I was reading reviews online of Stoneboat’s Pinot Noir and a number of reviewers noted a mushroom or truffle flavour in the wine. I didn’t note that in the flavour of the wine but definitely found earthy notes in the aroma. I can’t wait to try this wine again in several years to see how the flavour profile has evolved.

 

Le Vieux Pin

Le Vieux Pin

Our last stop of the day was at Le Vieux Pin, sort of a newcomer to the region. The wineries name, translated as the “The Old Pine”, is derived from a single pine tree that sits out amongst the vines. It’s really quite a site to see, this single solitary pine tree seemingly rising up out of the vines.

Le Vieux Pin itself is a sister winery to La Stella, which is located further south in the valley down towards Osoyoos. At Le Vieux Pin, their focus is using traditional French winemaking traditions to produce wines that are in their words…”elegant and focused, with great intensity of fruit”.

For our tasting, we started off with the 2015 ‘Ava’, a blend of Viognier, Marsanne, & Roussane. A real nice acidic wine, with big fruit flavors such as peaches, nectarines, and melon rind. However, there was a lingering note of honey that provided just twinge of sweetness that seemed out of place. Up next was the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, with notes of pineapple, kiwi, and tropical flowers. Very well structured, a balanced body with very little sweetness but great acidity gave this a real crispness and tartness to the wine.

From there we moved on to the Syrah. Unfortunately, my notetaking took a bit of a hit at this point and the only notes I had for this part of the tasting was for the 2009 Syrah. Which after tasting the wine I wasn’t all the upset about.

Le Vieux Pin Wines

This was deeply elegant, a smooth almost silky body, with just a slight tannic bite to it. One the nose ripe red fruit aromas coupled with savoury herbs, and bell pepper. On the tongue, there was a real bite of black pepper, but also black cherry, blueberry, and just a slight hint of minerality to it. This was a wine you could drink now but would only get better if you were to cellar for other 5-6 years.

End of the Day!

By this point we just about ready to call it a day. We had been to 4 wineries and tasted quite a bit of wine in that time. I had a cooler full of purchases I was eager to get home and put away, so we packed it in and headed back to Penticton.

In terms of exploring the Black Sage Bench and Oliver, we only scratched the surface. Given the number of wineries in the area, you could easily spend 3-4 days just visiting winery after winery.

The one common thing I took away from our tasting is that this area likes it big bold reds and high-intensity whites. When you read about the area and it talks about the Bourdeaux blends you really see what’s referring to.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining, we tasted some absolutely fantastic wine, met some great people and took home some lasting memories.

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

 

 

 

 

Review: Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2008 Zweigelt

Sitting around the kitchen table one night after dinner, my wife and I got to talking about entertaining and we realized it had been quite awhile since we’d had a get together at our place. We only half seriously started to think about what kind of event we could have.

At the same time my wife was looking at the calendar when she mentioned that Canada day was going to fall on a Friday this year. We thought that was perfect, what better way to celebrate Canada day and kick of the weekend then with a BBQ. Plans were quickly made and a little while later the invite went out.

The morning of the BBQ, I was getting things ready and I started to think about what to drink. We had gotten some beer, but what really was on my mind was wine. I had an idea, I wanted to do an all Canadian lineup in honor of Canada day. I pulled 2 whites, a Gewürztraminer from Red Rooster winery and a Pinot Gris from Dirty Laundry winery. For our red selection I choose a Cabernet Franc from Vineland Estates, a Solstice Pinot Noir from Arrowleaf Winery, and lastly a Zweigelt from Summerhill Pyramid winery.

Summer Lineup

Soon the BBQ was in full swing and it became very clear that I had made some very good selections in the wines I had chosen. The Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir were opened first as part of the appetizer portion of the evening and they were both very well received. The Solstice Pinot Noir from Arrowleaf showed incredibly well. Next up to go along with the main course was the Gewürztraminer and the Cab Franc. Again both very well received, with the Cab Franc from Vineland getting a number of compliments from Guests.

As the BBQ started to wind down we opened the Zweigelt from Summerhill Pyramid winery and that became sort of our late evening sit back, relax, and enjoy the evening wine. I’ll be honest I was a little nervous this was a 2008 vintage, and I had purchased it on a trip to the winery in 2012, so this was a wine that I had been cellaring for several years. As soon as we opened it though any fears I had quickly evaporated, the wine was in great shape and showing very well.

A little bit about Summerhill Pyramid Winery

The story of the winery is quite impressive in its own right. Stephen Cipes, the proprietor of the winery first came to the Okanagan Valley in 1986. His first reaction was that it would be a perfect spot to produce  sparkling wine. Since that day the Cipes family had built Summerhill Pyramid winery into a fully biodynamic winery, even receiving Demeter Biodynamic certification in 2012.

We visited Summerhill Pyramid winery in 2012 as part of road trip vacation, my wife and I had embarked on that year. There was two reasons why we choose to stop at Summerhill, one was their reputation for quality wine and organic farming, and two was their use of a pyramid for cellaring their wines. I had read several articles about their pyramid and wanted to check it out for myself. Unfortunately, we missed the pyramid tour on the day we went but were still very impressed with the winery and their wines.

On the day we visited there was several of their wines that stood out. Their Cipes Rose certainly spoke to their dedication to sparkling wines, and the Zweigelt was unlike anything I had tasted up to that point.

So I thought our Canada day BBQ was the perfect time to open up that 2008 Zweigelt that I had been hanging on to.

Summerhill Pyramid 2008 Zweigelt

Bottle

As I mentioned earlier the wine still showed very well, the body was well structured with a slightly cream texture. Very easy drinking style with medium low tannins, low alcohol level, and a refreshing acidity level.

The wine’s color was still quite vibrant, a rich burgundy, but the rim appeared to be quite a bit lighter. Which led me to wonder if the color was starting to lighten up given the age of the wine.

Glass

On the nose strong floral notes, such as lavender and violet. Also showing on the nose was a slight hint of cedar and tobacco. A real intense ripe red fruit comes through in the flavor of the wine. Some hints of raspberry and red plum.

Summerhill produces wine on their own terms based on their own philosophy. They believe in an organic and biodynamic philosophy. They put the same care into the production of their wine that they do into the land itself. That care shows in the quality of their wine and the 2008 Zweigelt is an example of that. It’s one I will definitely keep an eye out for in the future.

Cheers,

LB.

 

Arrowleaf – 2013 Pinot Noir

Sitting in the office one day and I get a text message from a friend of mine. He and the wife are out in Kelowna for the fall wine festival and he’s raving about the Pinot Noir from Arrowleaf winery. Says that I will absolutely love it and asks if I want him to pick up a bottle for me. Being the Pinot Noir fan that I am it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, of course I wanted a bottle.

That was the first time I had their Pinot Noir and I was instantly hooked. It can be hard to find in stores here in Calgary so I’m always happy whenever I can get my hands on a couple of bottles.

AL_006

Arrowleaf Cellars is located on Okanagan Lake just north of Kelowna in British Columbia and consists of four separate vineyards.  It’s a family run winery, owned and operated by Joe and Margrit Zuppiger and their son Manuel. They proudly opened their doors for business in the spring of 2003.

They offer a blended line of wine called First Crush, but it’s their Arrowleaf and their Solstice line that really stand out. The Arrowleaf line is their varietal wine and includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, and others. Their Solstice wines are made from the best grapes from a vintage and if they are not of a high enough quality they won’t make a Solstice vintage that year.

This time around I pulled a 2013 Pinot Noir from the cellar and it still doesn’t disappoint.AL_002 It has a well structured body with low tannins and a medium low acidity. I found it light enough to enjoy on its own but that it and stood up to food very well. On this night I paired it with a tossed salad and a chicken quesadilla. I noted a light ruby colour that was semi transparent.

Right away I noticed aromas of black cherry, raspberry and cedar. There was just a very slight floral hint on the nose but I wasn’t able to determine any particular aroma.

On the palate I found flavours of blackberry, tobacco, and just a slight note of liquorice. The first glass that I poured was nicely chilled (18º C) but as the wine warmed up the flavours started to mute slightly. This is definitely a wine best served with a slight chill to it.

I’m quite fond of this wine, for me it’s a very good Pinot Noir and is one I come back to again and again. I have a bottle of their Solstice Pinot Noir in the cellar and I’ve been saving that for the right time. I’m quite anxious to open that up and compare it to their Arrowleaf Pinot Noir.

Cheers,

LB

Notes: 

  • Winery: Arrowleaf Cellars
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Grape: Pinot Noir
  • Region: Okanagan Lake
  • Country: Canada
  • Nose: Black Cherry, Raspberry, Cedar, Floral hints
  • Taste: Blackberry, Tobacco, Liquorice
  • Purchased: Winery
  • Price: $18.00