Since Jay Drysdale opened his tiny Bella bubbly house to the public in 2014 I’ve longed to visit the winery he opened with wife Wendy on the northern Naramata Bench. It’s taken me three years to get there, past myriad vinicultural distractions on the route from Penticton, but I couldn’t be more pleased to finally make it. The northern Naramata tasting room is a working one, with far more space devoted to riddling racks than people. Despite the relatively remote location, the venue was hopping on the recent long weekend, with visitors choosing from amongst dozens of unique, vintage stems and coupes for tasting the lively list of wines before they sell out mid-summer.
Jay & Wendy’s mantra of “Celebrate Today” was on point as Jay opened what seemed like countless bottles, so many that I honestly lost track of some! To keep at least some focus only Chardonnay and Gamay are used for a growing series of micro-lot (e.g., 50 cases) wines made all Brut Natural with no dosage. From the traditional method “Vineyard Series” of 2016 three Gamay from West Kelowna and a pair of Naramata vineyards offered plenty of crunchy red berries and stone fruit, while Chardonnay showed varietal character from Keremeos and Kamloops. Ancestrale method wines in the 2016 “Natural Series” encompass the first estate fruit in a blend of Chardonnay & Gamay, plus a lime and spiced apple iteration of the Keremeos Chardonnay, and two more Gamay, including a re-visit to the Westbank vineyard source. A major treat was also on offer as the single Reserve Series was opened to reveal a luxurious 2013 Chardonnay from Oliver’s Secrest Vineyard, full of classical Champagne character after 42 months on the lees.
Collectible: 2016 Chardonnay - Eastside (Ancestrale). In this case Eastside refers to the Southern Okanagan, and the grapes come from Michael Bartier’s Black Sage Bench vineyard (on the east side of the valley) outside Oliver. One of several ancestrales making inroads at Bella, the wine undergoes a single fermentation that concludes in bottle (instead of the typical tank-based primary and a more controlled secondary in bottle). The technique is riskier and makes for some natural cloudiness, but the results can be stunning, as Jay reports: “You will never taste a more intensely flavored sparkling wine than an ancestrale.” The nose of tropical and citrus fruits leads into a buttered popcorn palate that made this one an immediate purchase, and at only 9.1% alcohol one really can celebrate today, or any day - at least while the 50 cases produced remain available!