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: 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.

 

Attending Winefest 2016

After a hiatus from food and wine festivals the wife and I decided that it was time to get back on the horse so to speak. So we decided to check out this years’ Winefest presented by Sobey’s Liquor & Safeway Wine & Spirits. 

Tasting note book for 2016 winefest
Winefest 2016 Tasting Notes

This years’ event featured over 70 different participating wineries and it was great to see a strong representation of Canadian wineries. In fact Canadian wineries topped the participation list with 16 different wineries in attendance this year. The US was well represented along with the usual suspects; Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, France, Spain and Chile. Some of the more interesting participants included Portugal, South Africa, Holland, Moldova, and Peru.

With such a large list of participating wineries it would near impossible to visit them all so I took the advice of local wine writer Tom Firth (@cowtownwine) and made a plan. I highlighted which wineries I absolutely wanted to visit and which ones I wanted to try and get to.

For me one of the selling features of Winefest was the fact that your ticket was all inclusive. You didn’t have to purchase any tokens once inside the venue. If was great to know that once inside I could stick to my plan and not worry about purchasing additional tokens.

This may sound weird but I have to congratulate the organizers for the way they laid out the venue. There was a very wide walk way that separated the rows of booths. What I liked about this was it allowed for us to approach a booth, chat with the presenter, get our sample and then move out of the way. We would retreat back to the middle of the walkway where there was a number of tables. It gave us a chance to stop, try out the sample and then make any notes we wanted in our tasting book. Not once did we feel cramped or packed in.

There were a number of outstanding wines that we tried that night but for me the most memorable was clearly Ex Nihilo Vineyards (@exnihilowines) from Kelowna BC. Got a chance to try their 2013 Riesling first. It was refreshingly crisp and clean, with great acidity and not too sweet with notes of green apple and kiwi.

Up next was their 2014 Pinot Noir, probably my favourite grape. Again very clean, medium body with great colour. On the nose hints of cherry with just a slight hint of floral notes. On the palate a very silky texture with notes of ripe black fruit and just a hint of pepper.

All in all it was great event, got to try some absolutely fantastic wines and equally good food like chocolate ganache cups and  sweet pea risotto. I was very impressed with the diverse selection of wineries that were in attendance and will definitely think about attending again next year.

Cheers to a festival well done!

LB