Thursday 26 September 2013

Destination Painted Rock

Renowned Skaha Lake winery Painted Rock recently opened the doors of their brand new Tasting Lounge facility, and I had the honour of attending the Grand Opening party last weekend.

An Unmistakeable Entrance

Proprietor John Skinner has been gleefully showing off renderings and constructions photographs for many months. With the big day finally upon us he was rightfully proud to reveal the result of years of patience: a formal tasting room having taken a back seat to vineyard and winery development for the past several years, since the property was acquired in 2004.

John speaks with Tony & Kasey (AM650)

Although a comprehensive production building was eventually constructed to facilitate the creation of Painted Rock’s rapidly respected portfolio of wines, visitors to the property were treated to a comically small “temporary tasting room” for years. Originally a break room for vineyard staff, this little shack (clean and newly built, but the size of a bedroom), became a placeholder for things to come. After all, it was the spectacular wines inside that made Painted Rock the highly respected representative of the “New Okanagan” it is today.

Newly Bottled 2011 Reds

It soon became a point of pride to have visited the Painted Rock shack, and I suspect that many visitors will always have a soft spot for that little room. Fans will be glad to know the shack survives, and has been returned to its original purpose elsewhere in the vineyard. This despite my tongue-in-cheek suggestion to John that the new tasting room be built around the shack, to preserve it like a museum exhibit.

Gleaming in the Sun

With the Painted Rock brand well-established and the vineyards producing just as planned, a proper tasting room was finally commissioned from Penticton architect Robert Mackenzie. The desire for outdoor event spaces overlooking the vineyards and the Lake necessitated heaps of fill in order to raise the site elevation and maximize sightlines. Construction began this spring, and proceeded successfully throughout the summer (with plenty of online updates provided by John), until full completion and landscaping in late August.

Vineyards and Event Plazas

The Tasting Lounge had already hosted a soft open in the recent past, as the venue for John’s brother’s wedding, during which the value of a sturdy tent had been noted given the fast-changing weather in the region. Fortunately the wedding avoided calamity when rain-showers approached just as the ceremony wrapped up, but John was taking no chances this time: a slick, very on-theme tent shelter was on hand for the Grand Opening, complete with glittering chandeliers!

A Well-Adorned Tent

The tent briefly enjoyed its intended use during a rainstorm that rolled over the region just as the party began, causing organizers some brief consternation. Afterwards however, it was only needed to provide respite from the blazing sun that blessed the winery for the remainder of the afternoon. The shelter did little to detract from the beauty of the new Lounge, but seeing the sleek facility just as the architect intended is even more impressive. I myself had visited the winery only days before, and so captured a bevy of photographs of the new facility unaccompanied by its skeletal companion.

Mint Condition

My previous visit was in the early morning, before the Lounge opened; this event was my first chance to explore inside the completed building. The clean ambient lighting and gleaming white surfaces provoke a heavenly atmosphere, accessorized smartly by well-organized wine bottles and John’s four Lieutenant Governor’s Awards. Massive glass doors slide smoothly into the walls, opening up the entire room to the outdoors, where the pure white concrete floors continue up to lush green grass. Hints of wood ground the building in the natural world, complemented by landscaped rock gardens and native plants.

Sparkling Clean Inner Workings

Outside, the multi-level grass plaza seems designed with weddings in mind, and I’m sure many couples will soon be seeking to celebrate their nuptials amongst such idyllic surroundings. Having a look behind the building one can see extensive accommodations for vehicle parking as well, alluding to an expected prosperous future as the premier South Penticton destination. One can’t help but imagine a restaurant or boutique hotel might not be far behind. If so I’ll gladly join the waiting list for accommodations!

The Sun Shines on Painted Rock!

Thursday 19 September 2013

BCWAS Bus Tour 2013: Summerland

Our Saturday night dinner at Local Lounge with Tom & Tari Di Bello and Robert Van Westen concluded with BC Wine Appreciation Society members locking in their wine orders and bidding adieu to our talented guests. Many guests turned in for the evening after dinner, grateful for Sunday’s later 9am muster call. Our first appointment that day was just minutes away at Sumac Ridge Winery. Winery Experience Manager Kristina was on hand to welcome us to one of BC’s oldest estate wineries, where we enjoyed our morning bubbly outside under the clearing skies.

Netted vines ready for harvest at Sumac Ridge

For those who hadn’t already enjoyed sparkling wine with breakfast there was the quintessential 2008 Steller’s Jay, the non-vintage “Tribute” Blanc de Blancs, and the 2005 “Pinnacle” Reserve Sparkling, the most complex and elegant of the three. While we moved on to the Black Sage Vineyard 2010 Merlot, Kristina suggested we keep our eyes peeled for an upcoming sparkling Shiraz, and even a varietal Zinfandel. With the Sumac Ridge tasting room just around the corner many members took the opportunity to stock up on sparkling, and we even captured a group photo back outside, with newly refreshed glasses of Pinnacle in hand.

Steller's Jay magnums and other treats at Sumac Ridge

Magnums of Steller’s Jay and other treats safely ensconced in the bus we headed back through Summerland to 8th Generation Vineyards, on the south side of town. Winery Proprietors Bernd & Stefanie Schales were awaiting us in their beautifully decorated picnic area, with a slew of wines and mouth-watering baked goods from True Grain Bread. Each wine was paired with one of the many breads, pastries, and cookies from this highly successful, local organic bakery.

Beautiful decorations welcome us to 8th Generation

We enjoyed wines such as the 2012 Classic Riesling with ancient grain Emmer bread, the 2012 Integrity Frizzante with a classic French croissant, and 2011 Pinot Noir with gingerbread cookies. The chance to try the powerful 2011 Riesling “Selection” saw almost the entire remaining stock at the winery sold out during our visit! The enthusiastic crowd also descended upon the remaining Cheddar Twists, French Baguettes, Sourdough, and Chocolate Croissants brought along from True Grain, with a great many compliments to the baking team.

Enjoying the sun and shade at 8th Generation

Having just filled up on breads we headed off to our lunch visit post-haste, where nearby Okanagan Crush Pad was hosting BCWAS favourite Joy Road Catering, and a festival style wine and food visit. OCP’s house brands Haywire and Bartier-Scholefield were being poured in earnest along with many gems from clients Perseus, Sage Hills, Bartier Brothers, and Harper’s Trail. After an introduction by Owner Christine Coletta, Chief Winemaker Michael Bartier brought us into the Switchback vineyard to describe his grape-growing and winemaking philosophies, while Joy Road’s servers circulated with trays of canapés.

Winemaker Michael Bartier speaks to OCP guests

Upon returning to the winery we found ourselves practically swimming in exquisite food and wine choices, including Heirloom Tomato Galette, Merguez Sausage & Homemade Pita, Grilled Striploin & Caponata, Wild Salmon Sliders, and Melon Carpaccio with Prosciutto. With dozens of wines on hand there was an ideal pairing for everything, which many members gladly explored!

Impressive wines from OCP's in-house brands

To conclude our winery tours we spent the remainder of the afternoon after departing OCP enjoying the lively atmosphere and great company at Sonoran Winery. Proprietors Adrian and Sarah Smits provided for a seated tasting of their extensive portfolio, which focuses strongly on aromatic whites, including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Oraniensteiner, and Ehrenfelser. That being said, sampling 2007 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec was also quite a treat, while several platters of baked brie with Cabernet-caramelized onions were passed around. The fun was amplified by the live music and bouts of karaoke that emerged, led with gusto by Sarah and our very own bus driver, plus courageous BCWAS members!

A bevy of awards for Sonoran Estate

Our unexpected party at Sonoran led to a delay in returning to the Resort for dinner, but Local Lounge graciously accommodated our revised schedule. We certainly didn’t want anything getting in the way of our dinner with Harry McWatters! Harry had brought wines from his McWatters Collection and TIME Estate Winery portfolios, to pair with a four-course family style dinner led masterfully yet again by Chef Lee.

Local Lounge: Seared Scallops with Foie Gras Mousse, Truffled Apple Emulsion, Poached Apple, and Smoked Hazelnut Crumble

With the new TIME 2011 Chardonnay guests enjoyed Fraser Valley Rabbit Terrine while Harry discussed the great advances in BC wine culture over the years. Seared Scallops followed, with TIME’s smooth, tropical 2012 White Meritage. The entrée course included heaping trays of Roasted Ling Cod, as well as Grilled Beef Tenderloin, served with McWatters Collection 2011 Chardonnay and TIME 2011 Red Meritage.

Local Lounge: Roasted Ling Cod with Sauteed Kale, Honey-Glazed Charred Octopus, and Fester's Red Pepper Bisque

An inventive and delicious dessert course included the McWatters Collection 2009 Red Meritage both in our glasses and in the chocolate cake served with poached blackberries and caramel espresso ice cream. Over and above the fantastic food and wine, listening to Harry’s decades of insights on the BC wine trade was a treat; his passion and integrity have helped build an entire industry, and he has no plans of slowing down!

Local Lounge: Warm Meritage Chocolate Cake with Poached Blackberries, and Caramel Espresso Ice Cream

Concluding our bus tour at the same superb venue in which it began seemed particularly apt; enjoying local food and wine is what the tour is all about. Celebrating BC’s best with a great group of passionate people left me energized and excited to do it all again next year!

Tuesday 17 September 2013

BCWAS Bus Tour 2013: Naramata Bench

After a comprehensive tour through the Oliver-Osoyoos region last year, the BC Wine Appreciation Society bus tour swung north in 2013 to visit Summerland and the Naramata Bench. The Executive team had arranged luxurious accommodations at Summerland Waterfront Resort, where most of us met up Friday before the tour started in earnest the next morning. The well-appointed resort directly on the water is also the site of Local Lounge & Grill, where we were set to dine throughout the weekend. The highly-respected restaurant is operated by Christa-Lee McWatters and her husband Cameron Bond, in partnership with Christa-Lee’s father, Harry McWatters. The convenience of dining directly at the resort allowed guests more flexibility, and saved money on transportation as well!

Okanagan Lake view from Summerland Waterfront Resort

For BCWAS members arriving Friday evening, Local was set up to welcome us with a festival style wine tasting, alongside a tapas dinner from talented new Executive Chef Lee Humphries. Several members wineries from the “Bottleneck Drive” association in Summerland were present pouring for the excited guests, with everything from crisp sparkling wines to rich fortifieds and icewines. Naturally, everything was available to order as well, with the wineries generously offering to deliver orders to the hotel’s front desk the next day. Given the many excellent wines being poured I certainly hope they received plenty of new customers.

As good as the great many wines were, the seemingly endless array of food easily grabbed our attention as well: platters of cheese and charcuterie were accompanied by a bevy of bite sized hors d’oeuvres on skewers, planted in a bed of living greenery. The quail eggs, prawns, seared tuna, and tomato & bocconcini morsels kept guests salivating while Chef Lee cooked up mini meatballs and squash tortellini at a hot food station. A table of desserts didn’t go missed either, with pies, brownies, éclairs, and chocolate mousses offering a feast for the senses late into the evening.

Upper Bench's newly renovated patio is very accommodating

Despite a hearty party to get us started, everyone dutifully reported outside the resort on Saturday morning at 8:15 for our departure to visit the Naramata Bench wineries, helped along by plenty of coffee, and/or sparkling wine in a number of cases! A short ways down the road in Penticton Upper Bench Winery & Creamery was ready to receive more than three dozen bright-eyed wine (and cheese) fans. Proprietors Gavin Miller (the winemaker) and Shana Miller (the cheesemaker) welcomed us to their newly renovated patio, where we all enjoyed a seated wine and cheese tasting.

A selection of elegant wines from Upper Bench

Elegant Chardonnay and crisp Riesling were paired with Shana’s “Gold” and “French Gold” cheeses to start, while industry veteran Gavin discussed his all-natural viticultural approach. A hearty new 2011 Pinot Noir was accompanied by the garlicky “Italian Gold” cheese, and the fruit forward Merlot and old world inspired Cabernet Sauvignon brought out the “Moody Cow” and “King Cole” blue cheeses. The impressive selection of wines and cheeses set Society members upon the tasting room in droves, stocking up on their favourites in both domains. It didn’t take long for the previously-burgeoning cheese fridge in the shop to look quite forlorn and lonely once we practically emptied it in our enthusiasm for Shana’s wares!

The cheese counter at Upper Bench, before BCWAS shoppers

With the Naramata Bench wineries so close together it wasn’t long before we reached our next destination, mere minutes away at Poplar Grove’s production facility, down the road from their iconic Tasting Room. There, Founder Ian Sutherland was on hand to greet us and provide a guided tour of the new winery, about to enter its second year of production. The extremely spacious building is home to dozens of massive steel tanks and a huge barrel room that should serve Poplar Grove and second-label Monster Vineyards well for many years.

Inside the spacious Poplar Grove winery building

After a quick hop up the road to the beautiful tasting room and event facility Ian was happy to share and discuss several wine samples, including a smooth and balanced Chardonnay, plus a rare and luscious Viognier found only at the winery. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 CSM red blend soon brought on plenty of grins with their ripe dark fruit, and the nicely maturing 2006 Legacy provided for a delectable treat.

Vanilla Pod: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Fresh Burrata

With Poplar Grove having been joined by the Vanilla Pod Restaurant from Summerland just last year, we were able to smoothly transition directly into lunch, served outside amongst the stunning views overlooking Penticton and the lake. Executive Chef Bruno Terroso had prepared a spectacular three-course meal, beginning with an extremely flavourful heirloom tomato salad with fresh Burrata.

Vanilla Pod: Wild Soho Salmon with Roasted Potatoes and Local Vegetables

Summerland potatoes and squash were next, served with either Hanger Steak or Wild Soho Salmon, similarly mouth-wateringly fresh and honestly prepared. Finally, the flourless chocolate torte for dessert was so rich and delicious that members were pooling their leftovers in take-away containers, so as not to leave even a single bite behind!

Vanilla Pod: Flourless Chocolate Torte with Berry Coulis

With memories of such a fantastic lunch still in our minds (and bellies) it was almost hard to concentrate during our afternoon visit to Township 7. Winemaker Bradley Cooper met us outside the winery where a series of tables had been set up for a custom blending session. After pouring the 2010 Reserve 7 Meritage, Brad challenged us to form small groups and create our own unique blend out of six single vineyard samples from the 2012 vintage.

Township 7 Winemaker Bradley Cooper presents the blending challenge

With a full suite of flasks and beakers on hand, we masterfully crafted three Merlots, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Malbec/Petit Verdot field blend into several brand new wines, under the watchful eye, nose, and palate of Brad. Many gleeful amateur winemakers soon received Brad’s approving acknowledgement of their blends, which he recorded for future research and consideration during his own blending sessions for the 2012 Reserve 7.

BCWAS members try their hands making the ideal red blend

Our final winery visit of the day took us up the road to Red Rooster, where the winery was hosting a fundraising picnic afternoon for the Penticton Fire Department. Outdoor games, a petting zoo, and actual firefighters demonstrating their life-saving equipment were all on display. With the winery grounds crowded with families and wine fans, we journeyed upstairs to a private room for a guided wine tasting with hospitality associate Dale.

Malbec vineyard rows at Red Rooster

Several wines from Red Rooster’s portfolio gave us a crash course in the techniques and skill of Winemaker Karen Gillis. We were lucky to sample from small lot, Reserve wines such as the Lieutenant Governor’s Award-winning 2012 Viognier, the rare 2011 Pinot Noir, and the newly released 2011 Malbec. The winery’s generosity continued as Dale provided samples of the light, refreshing 2012 Riesling Icewine, and the restrained, age-worthy 2010 “Golden Egg”, Karen’s venue for experimenting with Mourvedre and Grenache.

THE Red Rooster himself!

Back at the Resort, we enjoyed some time off to collect ourselves and squirrel away our purchases of wine and cheese from the day. The evening’s dinner at Local saw us honoured with the company of two well-known local winemakers: Tom Di Bello and his wife Tari joined Robert Van Westen in introducing several wines from their individual and joint ventures. Tom’s small “Di Bello Wines” project has yielded exceptional Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, and Syrah thus far, but is temporarily on hold as he ramps up work as the new head winemaker at Burrowing Owl. The busy harvest season didn’t stop Tom and Tari from bringing their 2010 & 2011 Chardonnay and Merlot wines, plus the 2010 Syrah, all ready to be paired with Chef Lee’s delicious food.

Local Lounge: Arugula, Saffron Poached Pear Salad with Happy Days Goat Cheese

The first course of Poached Pear Salad with Goat’s Cheese paired nicely with both Chardonnays, each of which possess bright, food-friendly acidity. The second course of Bison Tartar was enjoyed with the 2011 “VD” Pinot Noir, a very successful collaboration between Tom and Rob, and of which fewer than 100 cases were produced. Rob revealed his initial anxiety at producing a Pinot Noir, given the passion with which fans of the variety can both celebrate excellence and condemn perceived failure. Fortunately Tom convinced him to take the chance, and they have continued to collaborate on subsequent vintages. A third course of Duck Confit Ravioli served to celebrate both vintages of Di Bello Merlot, and juicy Syrah synched up with Roasted Black Pepper Venison next.

Local Lounge: Qualicum Brie Pannacotta with Rosewater Honey Gel and Candied Ginger Sable Crumble

A highlight of the entire meal for many was the dessert course of Qualicum Brie Pannacotta with the exquisite 2012 Van Westen “Vicicle” Viognier icewine. The honeyed peach and apricot flavours of the wine meshed superbly with the added rosewater honey gel and candied ginger sable crumble atop the Pannacotta. It was altogether the perfect conclusion to a fantastic day!