The Wine Blogger’s Conference in Penticton concluded last Saturday night, but instead of heading home to Vancouver on Sunday we decided a more relaxing agenda was in order. I had been wanting to visit the luxurious villa suites at Hester Creek for some time, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for my wife and I to refresh and reconnect after the busy days apart during the Conference. A night in the southern Okanagan could be followed by a more leisurely drive home on Monday, with the fringe benefit of course that we could visit a few more wineries at a slower pace. So after a hearty breakfast we packed up the car, made sure to visit our friend Jeanette’s delightful little art gallery in downtown Penticton, and struck out for another day in sunny wine country.
By early afternoon we arrived in Okanagan Falls and stopped for a light lunch of ice cream cones at Tickleberry’s. Fun Fact: you can have ice cream for lunch when you’re on vacation. Soon we passed by McIntyre Bluff, marking our entry into the south Okanagan, and swung off the highway to route through the Black Sage Bench and the many excellent wineries there. Immediately upon us at the head of Tucelnuit Drive was Jackson-Triggs’ massive production facility, and we took the opportunity to visit the JT tasting room for the first time. I’d already picked up a couple bottles of Jackson-Triggs reds at the Penticton VQA Store, but appreciated the opportunity to taste both the 2010 Sunrock Shiraz and Grand Reserve Cabernet-Shiraz-Viognier in person to confirm my selection. Our next stop was at Quinta Ferreira in Oliver. I sought out the winery’s Best of Class Cabernet Franc and Malbec, and added a couple more bottles to the multi-case collection in the trunk. Quinta Ferreira’s picturesque vineyards also offered me the opportunity to capture a photograph looking back north.
Travelling further south along Black Sage Road we faced the difficult choice of where to stop, having to skip over a number of intriguing and excellent wineries for the sake of time. It doesn’t hurt to leave something for next time as well! We couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the gorgeous tasting room of Church & State; at the very least I needed to continue my vertical of the winery’s icon red blend “Quintessential”. We always enjoy the sleek architecture and stunning views at Church & State, and the staff’s thorough professionalism never disappoints. Down the street the superb customer service of Black Hills was the next to impress us, in particular due to Jeff Stewart having joined the team after showing us a great time last year at LaStella. Jeff walked us through a leisurely and thought-provoking tasting of the entire Black Hills portfolio outside by the “water feature” (i.e., after-hours pool), including the marvellous, complex 2011 Carménère. Back on the road, and approaching the northern end of Osoyoos Lake, we needed to visit Burrowing Owl for their newly released 2010 Meritage and Syrah, both of which are sure to sell out promptly.
Winery visits complete for the day, and needing some time to reorganize the many boxes of bottles joining us, we looked forward to what would surely be a soothing evening at Hester Creek. Even our optimistic hopes were easily surpassed after driving up the exclusive path through the vineyards to be greeted by friendly Villa Manager Melissa McLaughlin and shown to our immaculate room. A complimentary bottle of the winery’s Character White helped us relax even further as we unpacked the car and admired the expansive views as the sun slowly set behind us. With no more driving necessary until the next day it was nice to enjoy a generous glass of wine after a few days of responsible tour tasting.
The reason we could park the car for the night was because of our dinner reservations at Hester Creek’s Terrafina Restaurant, a very short walk down the hill past the Tasting Room. In fact, Terrafina occupies the space originally devoted to the tasting room, before the new winery and guest centre were built in 2009. We made sure to leave for dinner early enough to first visit the (new) tasting room, where we methodically sampled all the wines available, with the advantage being that we were the only guests right before closing. The always fascinating Trebbiano made an impression with orange blossom focus, along with the toasty 2011 Merlot and the spicy new Cabernet Franc Rosé. The Rosé is a winery exclusive release, of which a couple bottles were sure to find their way home with us.
At Terrafina we settled into a comfortable vineyard view table indoors, although a number of very nice patio tables beckon guests as well. Just as predicted based on past experiences, dinner was superb, particularly the wild-harvested morel mushroom appetizer on special that day. A crisp salad, delicious vegetable pavé, and a crab & corn pizza from the restaurant’s wood-fired oven rounded out the meal to our considerable pleasure. We walked back to our Villa room with glee – given how rare that opportunity arises – and enjoyed a very relaxing night’s sleep on the massive king-sized bed in air-conditioned comfort. Sunrise breakfast on our private terrace the next morning continued to impress, and it was easy to muse about spending more time at the Villa in the future while we packed up to depart. Still, it was shaping up to be a spectacular day in the Okanagan, and we had a number of wineries to visit before we headed home via the Similkameen Valley, and more of our favourite venues.
After a stop at the Hester Creek wine shop to stock up on some favourites, we proceeded down the road a couple of minutes to Road 13, always a must-visit winery given so many great memories there. Road 13 has also come into the habit lately of releasing a bevy of small lot wines, so there’s almost always something new or up-and-coming when we visit. Recent releases include the Jackpot Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne and the very hard to find Old Vines Chenin Blanc, plus a Jackpot Reserve version of the same. The stocking up continued, plus we got to watch the upcoming 2010 Sparkling Chenin Blanc being labelled and prepared for release within weeks. We even got the chance to say hello to recently-married Joe Luckhurst (son of owners Pam & Mick), who shared with us a sample of ridiculously-ripe Similkameen Merlot destined for a particularly great wine in the years to come. I’ll be waiting to see what comes out of it in the end, with my fingers crossed for just a little bit of vintage Port!
Further down the road towards Osoyoos we zipped in to LaStella, with our focus being olive oil in fact: LaStella’s importation of fine Sicilian organic olive oil is almost more exciting than their incredible wines! The olive oil is available only at the winery, and we have learned never to leave the Okanagan without acquiring some, not only for ourselves but as a great gift for others. Of course, adding some fresh Moscato D’Osoyoos and LaStella’s gorgeous Merlot to the mix also made plenty of sense. The growing collection of bottles was joined by a few more from Moon Curser before we left town as well, where we got the chance to snag plenty of new release reds, including their first varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Even better was the chance to obtain what is likely Canada’s first varietal Touriga Nacional, of which only a meagre 60 cases were produced!
Finally it came time to head west back towards home, and fortunately that route took us directly through the picturesque Similkameen Valley and the many wineries we enjoy visiting there. At our first stop, Forbidden Fruit, we enjoyed lunch takeout we’d picked up in Osoyoos, while sitting by the Similkameen river and watching a family of deer cavorting on the opposite bank. Up the road at Seven Stones we stopped to offer thanks for a wonderful dinner during the Conference excursion, and to pick up a bottle of Syrah for good measure. Next was our umpteenth visit to Orofino, where we ensured John & Virginia Weber’s venue remained our “most-visited” winery of all time. Despite my upcoming mixed case of wine via the new Orofino Collector’s Club, we needed one more bottle of delicious Moscato Frizzante for good measure.
Although many more great Similkameen wineries exist our final stop before hitting the road was at Herder, to catch up and buy what may be some of the final vintages there. Sadly, the entire Herder property is for sale, and although the vineyards should remain productive the Herder label may not be around for much longer. Thus, a magnum of Pinot Noir (among other special bottles) found its way into the car – which would soon make a friend back in Vancouver very happy. All told, we finished the trip in possession of about eight cases of wine – and a great many memories as well – which should keep me quite busy sorting, cataloguing, and writing about in the weeks to come. The scary thing is we’re headed back to wine country in only a couple of weeks for a tour with my mother; good thing there are plenty of potential adventures remaining, and even a few bottles of wine if I’m lucky!