Sunday 27 July 2014

Family Wine Tour 2014 – Day III Afternoon

There are a growing number of wineries at which one can enjoy an excellent meal in the southern Okanagan, we even could have stayed at Road 13 after our morning visit to enjoy some cheese and charcuterie trays in the Executive Lounge. However, we couldn’t pass up a chance to visit Hester Creek and say hello to our friend Sarah Lefebvre, the winery’s Communications Manager. In addition to the large winery itself, Hester Creek is the home of a delightful Italian bistro, Terrafina Restaurant, at which I’ve enjoyed many meals in the past, thanks in large part to their authentic stone pizza oven.

Hester Creek's Terrafina Restaurant

After lugging in most of our wine from the car, to keep it safe from the blazing sun, we shared in fresh salads and crispy, thin-crust pizza – both Margherita and my favourite, Potato & Truffle. I couldn’t resist the Pan Seared Scallops either, with pea shoots and a bacon vinaigrette over quinoa. The restaurant was even more than capable of producing a tasty gluten free pizza crust for my sister. Before walking up to the Tasting Room we stored our wine in the restaurant’s own cellar, very graciously opened up to us for safekeeping of our precious cargo.

In the expansive Hester Creek Tasting Room and Gift Shop we spent some time admiring the array of gift items for sale, and selecting a few for friends back home. Sarah ushered us into a nearby barrel room for a generous private tasting and discussion, beginning with the winery’s exclusive Trebbiano. The 2013 vintage of this wine, unique in Canada, continues to induce smiles with a clean floral, citrus nose and a creamy texture resulting from some residual sugar, well balanced with natural acidity. The 2013 Cabernet Franc Rosé (another relative rarity) is similarly off-dry, and we enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb flavours and earthy undertones.

Sarah holds court in the Hester Creek Barrel Room

Despite the summer heat outside we delved into a serious of increasingly full-bodied red wines, including the toasty chorizo and plum profile of 2012 Cabernet Merlot, and the somewhat darker, richer, stewed strawberry 2012 Character Red, a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Reserve reds include the 2011 Cabernet Franc, starting to integrate the generous oak treatment and show off a pleasingly fruity nose, with leather and smoked sausage character to follow. Earlier this summer the winery won another Lieutenant Governor’s Award for their 2011 Reserve Merlot, and we relished trying the successor 2012 vintage: the rich palate showed toasty sausage notes and ripe fruit, with candied blueberries on the finish. The winery’s top red is “The Judge”, a full-bodied, small lot red blend first released from the 2007 vintage. A rare sample of the youthful, recently released 2011 showed sawdust, dark fruit, and a range of savoury elements, from toasted almonds to garden vegetables and black pepper. A long, relatively smooth finish surprised me given the tannins I was expecting. As with many of BC’s top red blends, I keep a running vertical of The Judge, and having recently acquired the 2011, I’ll be opening my bottle of 2007 soon – I look forward to my first real investigation of how it ages.

A reminder of the Okanagan's past

Hester Creek produces a superb-value Late Harvest Pinot Blanc, which capped off our tasting to great effect. Tropical blossoms and fresh pineapple aromas, alongside orchard fruit flavours of pear and apricot renewed and refreshed our palates before we parted ways with many thanks to Sarah. Our departure from the Okanagan Valley was imminent, with one final stop just up the road at Tinhorn Creek. There I picked up my latest allocation from Tinhorn’s “Crush Club”, saving some money on shipping and giving me a chance to say hello to Club Coordinator Terry Meyer-Stone. I had been scheduled to receive three bottles each of 2010 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir and 2011 Oldfield Series Syrah, but with a daunting amount of red wine in my cellar already, I had elected on two of each, plus a couple 2013 Oldfield Series Rosé. Sandra Oldfield’s crisp and dry Cabernet Franc Rosé is always a versatile wine that sells with rapidity exclusively on location. I expect good things from the reds as well, coming from a long line of finely tuned productions, bottle-aged to ensure approachability upon release. Only 150 cases of 2011 Syrah were produced, and given the allotments and early opportunities for Crush Club members, very little will remain upon public release on October first!

Corcelettes "Oracle" Zweigelt Rose

We crested the mountains and entered the long Similkameen valley to the east of the Okanagan by mid-afternoon, slightly behind schedule, but with sufficient time for one final winery visit. On our way to Osoyoos two days earlier we had attempted to call on Clos du Soleil, just down the road from our lunch venue at the Grist Mill. However, as it turned out, this superb winery is closed specifically on Tuesdays, leaving us no choice but to return later in the week. Having enjoyed the wines of Clos du Soleil with a particularly growing fondness recently, I wasn’t one to pass up a chance to finally visit the winery in person. We were greeted with enthusiasm by Tasting Room Manager Jesce Walker, and Operations Manager Charlie Baessler, who provided for a double-dip bonus with samples from his family’s nearby Corcelettes Winery.

With Jesce waiting patiently, Clos du Soleil in hand, Charlie introduced us to one of the Similkameen Valley’s newest wineries, and four wines he produced as Winemaker for Corcelettes. A rare Zweigelt Rose called “Oracle” led the way: a very short five-hour soak on the skins of this Austrian variety has yielded dry, delicate strawberry rhubarb flavours. The 2013 “Trivium” blend of Chasselas (50%), Gewürztraminer (36%) and Pinot Gris (14%) showed off a fresh, creamy palate of lip-smacking lemon curd. Single varietal 2013 Gewurztraminer presented itself equally creamy due to 13.5% alcohol, but a well-managed 6.5 grams/L of sugar has ensured bright floral and stonefruit character. Charlie’s lone red so far (while preparing a 2013 varietal Syrah for release) is the 2012 “Menhir”, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, named after the imposing stone depicted on the winery’s labels. Fruit forward, but still possessing dusty, grippy tannins and leathery aromas, the Menhir was first produced from the 2011 vintage (and released last year alongside 2012 Trivium). I think doubling their wines from two to four in the first year (and approaching sold out status for many) should please the Baessler family, and I look forward to visiting in the future and seeing another devoted Similkameen winery take shape!

Jesce & Charlie amongst the vineyard rows at Clos du Soleil

With plenty of driving in my future I passed on sampling most of the Clos du Soleil portfolio, having recently enjoyed significant familiarity via both a comprehensive tasting with the BC Wine Appreciation Society, and a sumptuous winemaker’s dinner the very next evening! However, I encouraged my family to dive in, particularly when it came to the vibrant 2013 Fumé Blanc, delightfully aromatic 2013 (Cabernet Sauvignon) Rosé, and the surprisingly approachable new 2012 Célestiale red blend. I did not, however, decline the brand new 2012 Grower’s Series Merlot, from which a mere 125 cases of limited single vineyard wine were just released. Reviewing my notes I am exasperated with my frugality in bringing home a solitary bottle, for the rich fruit jam flavours made quite an impression, following through with equally delicious notes of mocha and caramel. At least my single bottle was kept company on the way home with a very exciting full-sized “Saturn” – the rich, late harvest Sauvignon Blanc normally distributed in 375ml bottles. This honeyed nectar is a very special and highly desirable indulgence, and consumer demand necessitated larger bottles given how quickly the half-sized vessels empty. The 750ml bottles are exclusive to the winery’s tasting room, with so few produced precise figures weren’t even available – needless to say there is one fewer going forward!

Clos du Soleil rarities

We arrived home with a mere four-plus cases of wine among us all, actually a record low for me, but with a burgeoning cellar at home I’m having to minimize new additions. Although I took advantage of the trip to acquire some special rarities, the biggest benefit was the chance to show my family the beautiful region and wonderful wineries with which I’m so enamoured. The generous hospitality we received and the spectacular wines, and passionate people behind them, made it obvious why I keep coming back – this will be another trip yielding many delightful memories.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Family Wine Tour 2014 – Day III Morning

Two nights in wine country isn’t very much time at all, especially when you spend the better part of a day getting there, and back, from Vancouver. Fortunately one can usually visit at least part of wine country while getting to another part – just as we did on the way to Osoyoos via the Similkameen Valley. With the long summer days upon us, it’s realistic to stay in the Okanagan until the early afternoon and still be at the coast by sunset, so I tried to pack as much as possible/comfortable into our final outing!

A helpful reminder at Road 13

Our first stop after checking out of Watermark Resort was Road 13 Vineyards, where we received a stern warning that we were in fact, on a rural farm, crystal stemware notwithstanding. The sign warning visitors that rattlesnakes are currently migrating gave my family members a start, but it was a helpful reminder that wineries are farms, where the natural worlds abounds (if done right). Inside the snake-free tasting room, the charming Laura Luckhurst – Director of First Impressions – ushered us into the serene Executive Lounge for a sit-down tasting. In between pouring a full slate of the winery’s reserve Jackpot tier of wines, Laura regaled us with stories from the winery while multitasking with aplomb.

A nearly endless series of wines started with Road 13’s venerable Sparkling Chenin Blanc (2010), followed by the 2012 Jackpot Chenin Blanc – the first and last Jackpot tier Chenin, as the winery seeks to trim their portfolio. Good thing the regular Old Vines Chenin is also superb, although the Jackpot’s toasty nose and underlying sweet fruit, with a Creamsicle finish made quite an impression. Jackpot Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne from 2012 refreshed us with a floral nose and clean palate, but the fuller body showed many thought-provoking layers. Jackpot Chardonnay, maturing nicely since harvest in 2011, provided mouth-watering minerality after a clean apple blossom nose, with appetizing hints of buttered popcorn.

Vineyard views from Road 13 Executive Lounge

Road 13 produces a dizzying number of red wines and blends, a number which they are also hoping to slim down if Winemaker J-M Bouchard can restrain himself – challenging considering the many spectacular small lot treasures he produces. Laura poured us the 2012 Pinot Noir as we transitioned into reds, with very good red cherry and earth undertones, plus perfectly balanced acidity from a textbook vintage. The 2012 Honest John’s Red – from the winery’s entry-level tier – really impressed us with highly aromatic expression of plums and leather, followed by a juicy, smooth, strawberries on toast palate – superb value for $20.

Without further ado Laura moved us to the blockbuster 2012 Merlot next, a fruit-bomb that nearly ended up as Port when the fermentation stopped at 18%. Only 374 cases were produced, from Similkameen Valley grapes harvested at a massive 29 Brix. Some fancy footwork was called for to reduce that alcohol and deal with the remaining residual sugar, leaving us with 14.9% and 5.3 grams/L of sugar in a ripe and voluptuous wine I’m excited to cellar. The newly-released 2012 Syrah Mourvedre made an elegant impression next, with a profile of dried fruit, floral hints, and peppered perfume – a bottle from one of the 161 cases came home with me as well. We relished the opportunity next to sample from the 2010 Fifth Element, beautifully rich on the nose without even swirling the glass. A paltry 248 cases were produced of this icon wine (and only a handful remain), despite previous vintages seeing more than 2,000 cases. The dark, intense flavours segued into a very big, bright, long finish.

A collection of gems from the South Okanagan

Although I already own the 2010 Fifth Element I’m looking forward to picking up the 2011 when it is released in the coming weeks, and I did pick up some other reds for the cellar, including 2011 Merlot Syrah (400 cases) and 2012 Syrah Malbec (362 cases). Those reds were on top of several bottles of 2010 Sparkling Chenin, still surprisingly available while the 2011 bides its time in the sparkling caves. The next Sparkling release should take place very soon however, and I’m pleased to know I’ll be passing by the winery again in only a few weeks time to stock up! With a final taste of stimulating Late Harvest Chenin Blanc we bid adieu to lovely Laura and the Lounge, already loaded for bear after just one winery!

A tasty lunch nearby beckoned but I first took advantage of my surroundings to stop alongside the highway at nearby Cassini Cellars. With a car full of hungry companions I only had time to run in and make some quick purchases, having to decline to taste even a single wine, despite Adrian Cassini himself behind the bar. I was there to stock my cellar with a couple of Adrian’s recently released 2011 reds: Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and Collector’s Series Nobilus Merlot. Only 122 cases were produced of the single vineyard Cabernet, the first varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Cassini, and it was named Best of Category at the 2014 All Canadian Wine Championships. The Nobilus Merlot was last produced in 2008, a wine also named Best of Category, at the 2010 ACWC, and one which prompted John Schreiner to suggest Cassini was emerging as “one of the Okanagan’s best producers of serious Merlot.” Despite a tight schedule, I couldn’t pass by without collecting a couple more bottles to bring home with me!

Family Wine Tour 2014 – Day II Afternoon

Only slightly behind schedule after spending the morning at Painted Rock we zipped up the coast of Skaha Lake into Okanagan Falls. We were eager to meet our lunch reservations at Liquidity, one of the oldest “newest” wineries in the neighbourhood. Although the winery was only completed in late 2012 and the talked-about Bistro opened just this spring, the vineyards have been yielding fruit for more than three decades – original plantings stretch back to 1976. Proprietor Ian MacDonald is an enthusiastic art lover, and has decorated the grounds and sleek, modern tasting room with remarkable works of sculpture and beautiful paintings. We admired the surroundings before seeking out our friend Kim at the tasting bar, she having already sampled some of the wares.

Impressive artwork abounds at Liquidity

We were fairly confident the wine would still be there after lunch and headed directly to the attached Bistro after collecting Kim. Despite the nearly debilitating heat we couldn’t refuse a seat on the patio – albeit a well-shaded one – in order to admire the stunning views. Looking south one observes waves of rolling hills and vineyards until McIntyre Bluff emerges in the distance: in slightly cooler weather this could be one of the valley’s most impressive scenic dining venues. Scenery aside the service and food were impeccable, particularly for such a youthful operation – everything operated so smoothly one would have thought this was their tenth season!

Looking south from the Liquidity Bistro patio

We began with a bottle of the winery’s sold out Bubbly, a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay (70%) and Pinot Noir (30%). The 71 cases produced sold out quickly, so we took advantage of the only venue left from which it can obtained. The soft, generous mousse was particularly refreshing, with a dry finish that kept matters crisp. My order of Potted Wild Pink Salmon arrived as an artistic summer spread, with spectacular flavours to match. Cold Smoked Duck Prosciutto Flatbread followed and synchronized excellently with the winery’s 2012 Pinot Noir, showing caramelized sugar and silky chocolate-covered cherries. We concluded our meal by sharing in Kim’s luxuriously rich Goats Milk Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème, from which tiny “Strawberry Bubbles” continued to titillate our palates.

Liquidity Bistro Potted Wild Pink Salmon

More than content we finally made our way to the Tasting Bar to sample the range of wines on offer. Winemaker Matt Holmes spent several years crafting the respected wines of Tantalus before moving to Liquidity, where he’s been able to work with a somewhat broader range of varieties. At present only Pinot Noir is available in the red domain, but we were informed that a 2012 Merlot will soon be released, along with a Reserve 2012 Pinot Noir, although only 55 cases! Several whites include the 2013 Riesling, a zingy explosion of citrus flavours with only 5 grams/liter of residual sugar. The trend towards dryness extends to the serious, spicy 2013 Pinot Gris, from vines approaching two decades in age. A luscious 2013 Viognier presented tropical and stone fruit aromas leading into a rich, creamy texture with a long, vibrant finish. The 2013 “White Blend” (Chardonnay, Viogner, Pinot Gris) has a straightforward name and creamy, lemon curd flavours benefitting from a bit more sugar (7.5 g/L) and four months in neutral French oak. Lastly, the 2012 Chardonnay spent 11 months on the lees in oak, providing for a more noticeable barrel expression along with tangy flavours of lime and green apple.

Liquidy Bistro Chocolate Pot de Creme

Headed back towards Osoyoos we managed to visit a few more favourites, but we definitely had to make some hard choices – it always hurts to drive past a winery without stopping! With the west side of the valley on the docket for the following day I elected on some Black Sage Bench gems, stopping first at Stoneboat Vineyards south of Oliver. Inside the quaint Tasting Room we eagerly sampled the beautifully bottled new Faux Pas Rosé Brut, with a creamy strawberry mousse and a pleasingly dry finish. The Brut is produced from pure Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Faux Pas Rosé is a blend of Pinot and Pinotage, in which we tasted similarly dry, mineral-driven strawberry rhubarb flavours. The two reds are used to great effect at Stoneboat, as we found when tasting the 2011 varietal Pinot Noir, with earthy, spicy fruit and notes of forest floor. The partner 2011 Pinotage was actually fruitier, brighter, and more perfumed, yielding an unexpected preference for a grape I tend to overlook. The grand finale of 2011 “Verglass” ensured a bottle of this rare dessert wine came home with us: Botrytis-affected, Oraniensteiner & Pinot Blanc Icewine is a mouthful, but simply can’t be missed. The mouth-watering flavours of honey, apricots, citrus, and caramelized peach jam were highly memorable.

Welcoming gardens at Stoneboat Vineyards

Down the road at Church & State I was eager to visit the winery’s beautiful “Coyote Bowl” Tasting Room. The outside temperatures were so overwhelmingly high that the attractive outdoor tasting bar was closed, but we enjoyed excellent service indoors after admiring expansive views of the Golden Mile Bench. My established favouritism meant that I already own nearly every wine available, including the exciting varietal Malbec, and the Petit Verdot Malbec blend, but I was focused on trying out the 2010 Coyote Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon. During a visit last year I had neglected the Sauvignon in favour of the (admittedly superb) Cabernet Franc, so I was excited to see it open for sampling this time around. The rich, juicy palate of ripe, dark cherry flavours was quite appealing, bereft of any feared green pepper character, and I didn’t leave without a bottle on this visit. We also made sure to bring home some 2011 Coyote Bowl Syrah, a charming blend of bright fruit and savoury spices, already maturing into another sumptuous expression of some of BC’s best Syrah.

The aptly named Coyote Bowl behind Church & State's Tasting Room

As we approached Osoyoos and thoughts of cooling swims I received the okay for one more stop, pulling into LaStella at day’s end. With the snug tasting room to ourselves we took the opportunity to visit the open-air bell tower and gaze longingly upon the surrounding vineyards slopping down to Osoyoos Lake. Back downstairs we enjoyed the hospitality we’ve relished in the past, including an unhurried exploration of the winery’s entire portfolio via perfectly suited Riedel stemware, refreshed for each wine! Fresh apple flavours from the 2013 “Leggiero” Un-oaked Chardonnay led into pears and clean, crisp peaches in the 2013 “Vivace” Pinot Grigio. The 2013 LaStellina Rosé showed a smooth, off-dry palate with a long-lasting cranberry, strawberry finish from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc – 12% alcohol makes it an excellent summer sipper.

Lush vineyard views from the LaStella Bell Tower

I have a particular fondness for LaStella’s red wines, which center on some spectacular Merlot. I acquired all the newly released 2011 reds for my cellar earlier this spring, but that didn’t stop me from sampling them given the opportunity. We tasted ripe tannins, toasty blueberries, leather, and hint of olives in the “Fortissimo”, the winery’s blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese. The “Allegretto” Merlot continued the impressive trend, with generous chocolate aromas and a dusty, spicy dark fruit and mocha palate. With only 125 cases available the wine is virtually sold out already, leaving only the $100 “Maestoso” flagship Merlot, itself quite limited in availability (despite nearly 350 cases produced). We were very fortunate to enjoy a sample of this epic wine, so heady and complex I could scarcely ponder the multiple layers and endless finish. It certainly has the potential to age well (as I hope my own bottle does), but manageable tannins make for a surprisingly immediate approachability.

We finished our big day with some nice soft and sweet Moscato D’Osoyoos, LaStella’s lightly effervescent aperitif. Equally suitable for the beginning or end of a meal, morning, noon, or night, the Moscato cleansed our palates with spring blossoms and citrus flavours. I was glad to have concluded a busy day of wine touring with such a relaxing and yet invigorating experience overall.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Family Wine Tour 2014 – Day II Morning

Our first morning in Osoyoos saw us immediately leaving town! Although I certainly planned on returning to the South Okanagan later in the day the plan was to start further north and work our way back. After being fortunate enough to attend the grand opening of Painted Rock’s new tasting room last fall I was eager to bring my family to John Skinner’s spectacular venue for the first time. Lunch at the new Liquidity Bistro would follow, where we were to be joined by our friend Kim, an Okanagan marketing guru. I was looking forward to a great day of old friends and new wines!

A new water feature at Burrowing Owl adds another touch of elegance

On our way north to Skaha Lake we took the scenic route along Black Sage Road, allowing for a quick stop at Burrowing Owl to check a few bottles off my shopping list. Having acquired a number of this well known winery’s 2011 reds earlier this year – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah – I was on the hunt for some of the tasting room exclusives available only in person. I was quite pleased to lock in the 2011 “Athene” Syrah-Cabernet, and the first release 2011 Malbec (which hit sold out status mere days later). For good measure I added the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, only the third vintage of this relatively new wine from a small (10-acre) Keremeos vineyard. I was surprised to see 2012 Pinot Noir (it not yet being mentioned on the winery web site), and felt that a bottle for the cellar couldn’t hurt. Now and then I like to experience the intense, fuller-bodied style of Pinot Noir coming out of the Black Sage Bench (e.g., Tinhorn Creek’s Oldfield Series Pinot Noir). Lastly, I was sure to grab a stubby bottle of “Coruja”, the winery’s Solera-style fortified Syrah – the current release was bottled in 2013, thus likely encompassing vintages from 2008 to 2012.

There's no mistaking one's location at Painted Rock

Having left Osoyoos just before 10am, we managed to arrive at Painted Rock just south of Penticton soon after opening at 11 – in time to be the first customers (not including a couple of energetic cyclists). I listened with pleasure as my companions admired the gleaming tasting lounge and stunning views across the vineyard to the lake below. With Proprietor John Skinner having had to step out for the day we were in the competent hands of Tasting Room Manager Tyson Archer. Tyson and his new assistant Jordan were happy to provide several samples and chat about business in the relaxed but very professional style I’ve come to enjoy at Painted Rock.

The new 2013 Chardonnay continues John’s focus on perfection with his sole white: three labour-intensive micro-harvests have yielded a blended wine that maximizes the vines’ potential. On the palate fresh, clean green apple and starfruit make it a superb summer white I’m happy to open any day. If that weren’t enough, further refreshment came in the form of Painted Rock’s very first Rosé, cheekily labelled with the unofficial (but deserving) “Skaha Bench” Sub-Appellation. The well balanced, dry wine is a Saignée-style blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, from which 400 cases were produced to yield an orange-tinged delight with a delicate watermelon profile.

Painted Rock 2013 "Skaha Bench" Rose

Moving on to the red wines I felt lucky to be tasting from some of the last bottles of the 2011 vintage. Tyson astoundingly reported that despite a recent spring release he was already running quite low on wine, and was being forced to move on to the 2012 vintage ahead of schedule. Both Merlot and Syrah are nearly gone, and the 2012 Red Icon was already installed in the tasting room’s Enomatic dispenser. The remaining 2011 Merlot won’t last long, with perfumed aromas of violet and lavender leading into chocolate-covered blueberries and plum on the palate. The same goes for the 2011 Syrah, showing bigger tannins on a delightfully spicy palate of bright blackberry and hints of leather.

The new 2012 Red Icon is Painted Rock’s first foray away from Cabernet Sauvignon entirely (with the fringe benefit of yielding more for their popular varietal wine): after numerous blending trials at home and abroad they ended up with 31% Malbec, 28% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot. The rich aromas made a strong first impression, and countless layers on the earthy palate included red licorice, baking spices, and toasty oak. More phenolic ripeness in 2012, a 21-day extraction (versus 10 days in 2011) and very ripe 14.9% alcohol make me excited to cellar a few bottles of this gem!

Never decline a barrel tasting at Painted Rock!

We concluded with a generous barrel tasting that included several 2013 samples, most of which seemed ready to bottle after just half their scheduled time (18 months) in barrel!  Four precious barrels of exquisite reserve Cabernet Franc (from a 31-day extraction) should see a special release next year, if any remains after enthusiastic taste testing by the winery team. As Painted Rock’s vineyards mature, winemaking techniques become even more refined, and customer base further solidifies, John must be excited for the opportunities available to produce exclusives like Rosé and Reserve bottlings. We left with several bottles of Rosé, Chardonnay, and Syrah for my already burgeoning cellar, and yet I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Saturday 19 July 2014

Family Wine Tour 2014 – Day I

This month marked the first time my mother, sister, and I have been in the same place in four years. Because the three of us live along an arc nearly 7,600 km long (nearly one third the circumference of the Earth), we rarely find the opportunity to get together. With both my mother and sister visiting Vancouver we jumped on the opportunity to visit BC wine country together for the first time. I was able to book two nights mid-week in a beautiful beachfront villa at Watermark Resort, providing just enough time to swing by some favourite wineries in the South Okanagan. Of course, a longer stay would have been preferred – to explore some of this year’s newest wineries – but wine touring can get very expensive, very quickly!

Similkameen produce enriches the Grist Mill's relaxing Tea Room

One of the best parts about visiting the South Okanagan is that you get to visit the Similkameen Valley on the way there and back! I’m a huge fan of both the natural beauty of Canada’s “Organic Fruit Capital” and of the delicious products that come out of it, grapes in particular. Setting off from Vancouver in the morning meant we arrived in the Similkameen just after noon, for a planned first stop at the Grist Mill & Gardens in Keremeos. Exciting news recently revealed that talented Chef Natasha Schooten has joined the Mill’s Tea Room after a successful tenure at Hester Creek’s popular Terrafina Restaurant. Talking with Chef Natasha during our visit I learned she has longed for a more authentic, local experience, making the Grist Mill a perfect fit: the gardens onsite provide many of the ingredients for the Tea Room, and the Mill itself provides a range of flour for baked goods. Sitting outside and soaking in the heat we enjoyed dishes like Zero-Mile Salad, Crustless Quiche, and my own Ploughman’s Lunch with cured meats and BC cheeses. After a tour of Western Canada’s only working, original flour mill, we even left with jars of Pickled Garlic Scapes, and local Similkameen Honey.

Virginia Weber stays on theme in the Tasting Room

Full of Similkameen food we set off after lunch to seek out some Similkameen wine to keep it company. We happily trundled along to nearby Cawston, home of Orofino Vineyards, ticking off yet another enjoyable visit to one of my favourite wineries. Proprietor Virginia Weber was stylishly tending bar in the Tasting Room, where we enjoyed the newly released 2013 Moscato Frizzante, released just in time for me to restock after recently finishing my last bottle of 2012. I made sure to leave with a few bottles of the superb 2013 Celentano Vineyard Gamay as well, a flavourful expression of fresh berry basket that will sell out quickly this summer. The 120 cases produced will vanish even faster given the recent revelation that the wine was awarded a prized Platinum Medal at the WineAlign 2014 National Wine Awards. Only three other BC red wines – all Syrah – achieved Platinum status, making this exciting accomplishment particularly noteworthy.

Orofino & Seven Stones Rarities

A very pleasant surprise joining the Moscato and Gamay came in the form of 2013 Late Harvest Riesling. The bountiful 2013 harvest let the Webers leave some fruit hanging in the nearby Hendsbee Vineyard, where it was eventually harvested to yield a wine with 54 grams/L of residual sugar (versus a mere 4 grams in the racy table wine). Stone fruit flavours with a tropical bent and clean, fresh acidity have made for something like a mellow icewine, with an attractive golden raisin finish. Were I not a member of Orofino’s “Collector’s Club” I would have departed with many more bottles of reds like 2011 Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Beleza red blend, or the new 2012 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir. Fortunately I have already received or will soon receive each of those wines, thus keeping my budget for this particular trip under control.

There's no mistaking where you are in Seven Stones' Tasting Room

As we left Cawston and travelled further south and east along Highway 3 we pulled into Seven Stones, where Proprietor George Hanson produces a range of excellent wines, focusing on rich reds. While Tasting Room Manager Angelique set up the stemware, the three ladies with me sought out some of the local artisan jewellery on display throughout the wine shop. We soon had the chance to sample the new 2013 Pinot Rosé, showing a pale salmon colour after a thirty-hour soak. Despite George producing a varietal Pinot Noir, he doesn’t bleed off any must for the Rosé – it is in fact a dedicated wine. The light colour led into a delicate nose and palate, where sweet grapefruit flavours impressed us.

A bevy of other wines followed, beginning with the 2010 Chardonnay, retaining a lot of delicious fruit in addition to some popcorn character. The nearly sold out 2009 Pinot Noir – recent champion at the Similkameen BBQ King Competition – showed off strawberry aromas and a spicy dark fruit palate with hints of nutmeg. The 2011 Cabernet Franc provided bright raspberry fruit and a long, lip-smacking finish, while the 2009 Meritage exhibited rich stewed fruit, brown sugar, and hints of olives in a full-bodied blend of primarily Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. With George’s varietal Cabernets (Franc & Sauvignon), Merlot, and Meritage already awaiting me at home I was more focused on the bottle of 2011 “The Legend” I spotted in the corner – one of only four remaining I was soon told! This small lot reserve Meritage comes from a mere handful of barrels, and I’ve only managed to acquire one previous vintage (2010). I’m hopeful that adding the 2011 marks the beginning of a vertical collection, but with just 100 cases produced each vintage I’ll need to pay close attention to George’s newsletters for each subsequent release.

Lush vistas show off the magnificent Similkameen Valley

In Osoyoos we had just enough time before check-in to stop at Moon Curser, where several new wines awaited, continuing Chris & Beata Tolley’s tradition of ambitious experimentation. While the Tolleys weren’t available, we were graciously hosted by Chris’ father Monty in the Tasting Room as we sniffed and sipped. Chris recently planted the ancient Italian variety Arneis amongst some experimental Nebbiolo as a sacrificial grape to attract birds. He ended up with 141 cases of dry, crisp, pear-flavoured wine and I was pleased to snag some to share back in Vancouver. The Roussanne-heavy 2013 “Afraid of the Dark” Rhone blend gathered fans amongst our party with flavours of candied pineapple, apricot, and citrus – the rich fruit presents a sweeter finish than likely exists. Next, a Saignée-style 2013 Syrah Rosé made itself known with strawberry cotton candy, sour cherry, rhubarb, and spice on the dry finish.

Moon Curser produces a great many red wines, often in small quantities. We tried out some of the remaining 2011 wines, as the 2012 vintage release approaches in the fall, including a classic earthy cherry Pinot Noir, smooth berry Merlot, spiced meat Syrah, and the fresh, easy-drinking Border Vines blend. The 2011 “Dead of Night” is a newer release, an even split between Syrah and Tannat that conjured up blueberries on toast, with vanilla notes and mouth-filling textures. From 2012 we were excited to sample a very rare Carménère (only the second one in Canada after that of nearby Black Hills) and the newest vintage of Tempranillo. The young Carménère – Best of Varietal (Red Single Varieties Other) winner at this spring’s Okanagan Wine Festival – surprised me with soft, plush textures, plus notes of burnt sugar and red licorice. The Tempranillo was an immediate favourite, putting us directly in the mindset of fresh fruit pie: vanilla, toasty cherries, and a creamy texture garnered notable praise. All told we left with everything from Arneis to Tannat – probably the most unique collection of high quality wines coming out of any Tasting Room in Canada.

Cooling down in Osoyoos Lake

We checked into the Watermark Resort with plenty of daylight hours remaining, giving time for some refreshing dips in the nearby lake. I enjoyed a cool beer after several hours of driving and responsible wine tasting while we planned a relaxing tapas-style dinner in our suite. I made sure to let everyone know my desired departure time in the morning before we turned in, as I needed to ensure sufficient time to show off more superb BC wineries!