Monday 24 September 2012

BCWAS Bus Tour 2012: Okanagan Falls

After a good night’s sleep I was ready for Day Two the next morning: five wineries and a highly anticipated lunch were ahead of us, so we wasted little time getting back on the road. Upon arrival at the picturesque vineyards and stately tasting room of Blue Mountain Vineyards we were greeted by Sales & Marketing Manager Christie Mavety, who welcomed us with glasses of Brut Sparkling to awaken our palettes. Christie shared the spectacularly good news that the winery will soon be releasing some vintage sparkling wines, including a 2005 Brut, and a 2006 Blanc de Blanc: keep your eyes peeled for these gems this fall! As we sampled nearly the entire Blue Mountain portfolio we learned about the high-density planting strategy being used to intentionally stress the vines and make them root deeply. Such a bold move is risky however, just like the nerve-wracking experiments with wild yeast also being conducted at this adventurous winery. Fortunately I wasn’t nervous in the least purchasing Stripe Label Pinot Gris (2011) and Pinot Noir (2009), plus a bottle of juicy Gamay Noir (2011) earmarked for Christmas dinner.

Blue Mountain Vineyards

A scenic walk down the long driveway of our next destination off McLean Creek Road – Meyer Family Vineyards – ended at one of the most comfortable and enjoyable tasting experiences of the entire tour when we sat down around the patio outside the tasting room. Proprietor JAK Meyer and his wife Janice Stevens were on hand to pour glasses of 2011 Gewurztraminer, an elegant, Alsatian-styled wine to beat the heat as the sun began to burn the early morning clouds away. The great value entry-level “Okanagan Valley” Chardonnay ($22) and Pinot Noir ($25) elicited praise from the crowd as Janice weaved in and out passing out treats to complement each wine, such as blueberry jujubes. We finished with samples of the superbly balanced 2010 Tribute Chardonnay, and the delicious 2010 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir. JAK shared the good news that he is starting an annual wine club for fans of his small lot production, while we once again lined up out the door to open our wallets and cellars to more great wine. Having acquired almost the entire portfolio already over the course of the past year, I elected on a couple bottles of Gewurztraminer to bolster my selection of aromatic whites at home.

Meyer Vineyards

Within just a few minutes bus ride we found ourselves at Wild Goose Vineyards and their neighbours Stag’s Hollow for the next couple of hours. Passing through Wild Goose’s spacious new tasting room we were seated on the deck overlooking the Stoney Slope Vineyard by Proprietor Roland Kruger for our highly anticipated lunch by Joy Road Catering. Considering the Society had enjoyed a wildly successful lunch at Orofino during last year’s Bus Tour, it was obvious another meal to benefit from Joy Road’s passionately local culinary talent was necessary.

Wild Goose Stoney Slope Vineyard

After rearranging the tables to keep us out of the now blazing sunshine we settled down to a glass of Wild Goose’s gorgeous honeyed 2011 Riesling (winner of Best of Varietal at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival). Homemade artisan breads with farmhouse butter kept our hunger at bay while plates of charcuterie and ripe peaches – picked that very morning – were distributed. Soon enough our glasses were refilled with Wild Goose’s 2009 Merlot and our plates graced with Upper Bench blue cheese gnocchi, roasted eggplant, beet greens, and braised lamb shoulder for the omnivores. For dessert Roland had a treat in store as he poured Wild Goose’s “Black Brant” fortified Marechal Foch to pair with platters of caramels and truffles.

Wild Goose Lunch Preparations

After lunch we split into two groups to tour Wild Goose and visit Stag’s Hollow in turn. Roland was clearly proud to show us the new building and the potential it holds. He pointed out where the winery was hoping to host weddings overlooking the vineyard, and showed off the extensive tank and barrel rooms below ground. With white wines firmly mastered the winery is starting to work their red wine production hard, with a major focus on a barrel program that will help push Wild Goose’s reputation that much higher. Returning to the tasting room we worked our way through a long list of crisp, floral whites and increasingly well-crafted reds before crowding the register to continue filling the boxes secured in the bus outside. Having enjoyed the Riesling so much at lunch I knew I needed some to go, and added a bottle of Black Brant as well for good measure.

At Stag’s Hollow, a tasting of new releases was accompanied by discussion of the winery’s commitment to sustainability. The winery buildings have been heated and cooled for a long time using geothermal technology. Avoiding the use of herbicides and pesticides whenever possible ensures the vineyards are “not pretty, but very alive” in the words of Proprietor Larry Gerelus. Wines on offer included the very unique “GVM”, a unique white blend of Grenache, Viognier, and Marsanne. Next up, the 2011 “Simply Noir” red blend showed plenty of bright fruit as only the Pinot Noir (9%) was oaked, while the Gamay (60%) and Merlot (31%) components remained in stainless steel throughout production.

Stag's Hollow Tasting Room

Stag’s Hollow Winemaker Dwight Sick was particularly eager to show off his new 2010 Cabernet Franc. Dwight told us the acidity profile of the 2010 is even better balanced than his Best of Class 2009 vintage, so the 215 cases produced likely won’t last long! Still, that seems like plenty compared to the limited production “Cachet” series of ultra-small lot wines the winery launched last year. A mouth-filling glass of “Cachet No. 01” left us eager for more of this full-bodied blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, and Syrah. Considering only 1500 bottles were produced (and the 450 bottles of Grenache-Syrah Cachet No. 02 having sold out long ago) it’s astounding that any remain for sale. Fortunately I picked up my bottles of both Cachet’s long ago, but I made sure to get the new Cabernet Franc, Renaissance Pinot Noir, and Renaissance Sauvignon Blanc while I was in the tasting room.

By mid-afternoon it was time to depart for our last winery visit of the trip. We scooted around the corner to Noble Ridge Vineyards and a warm welcome from Manager Tamsin Finnigan. Under clear blue skies we drank in the spectacular view of Vaseux Lake and McIntyre Bluff in the background, while sipping the 2011 “Mingle” white blend. It wasn’t long before tour guide Dave took us on into the vineyards to visit tasting stations amongst the vines: we sampled Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir and then enjoyed the superb value 2009 Meritage (only $20). Back indoors we even had the chance to sample the 2009 “King’s Ransom” super-premium Cabernet-Merlot, built to age in the cellar while the highly approachable Meritage fills your glasses in the short term.

Noble Ridge View

After filling the last available slots in our boxes with plenty of well-priced Noble Ridge wine we headed back to Walnut Beach Resort for the last time and began unloading quite a lot of wine! More than a few members had to depart in short order for points known and unknown, but those who stayed around for dinner that night shared more bottles of wine both new and old, and even witnessed a surprisingly clean indoor champagne sabering lesson from our President. Fortunately I was able to stay an additional night in Osoyoos and didn’t need to spend the evening making the long, dark drive back to Vancouver. Nevertheless, after a long and exciting weekend I had to conserve my strength for a tour of the Similkameen on the way home the next day, so I soon turned in for the night. As a first-time attendee on the bus tour I had a fantastic time overall, and am already looking forward to next year!

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