Penticton’s Poplar Grove Winery hosts a generous party for their many loyal Wine Club members each September, and for the first time since joining said Club I was in the Okanagan and available to attend this year. By design, the expansive Munson Mountain tasting room and grounds are a near-perfect event space, and so the facility closed early this Saturday to welcome hundreds of devotees and their guests. In past years, the “Member Appreciation Event” has taken the form of a barbecue, but with the Vanilla Pod restaurant now firmly established, an even more diverse spread has become the norm. Although the winery kept expectations in check with a caveat they would only be providing “small bites,” I’m glad I brought my appetite!
Upon arrival – dodging the many complimentary shuttle buses bringing in guests from Naramata to Summerland – we were treated to a glass of welcome bubbly. The winery’s inaugural Extra Brut 2014 was no doubt made with this party in mind, and members have had the chance to enjoy the crisp Blanc de Blanc since this spring. Knowing the Chardonnay was hand-picked by Proprietor Tony Holler from his personal home vineyard engenders a certain gratitude when he hands you a glass! Later in the evening, Tony revealed that the highly enjoyable sparkler will remain a member-exclusive wine for the foreseeable future, another one of several Club wines that serve to entice new members.
A brief cold-spell in the central Okanagan prevented some of the sun-kissed photographs taken in previous years, but organizers were prepared for rain or shine conditions with tents should the worst come to pass. Fortunately, the occasionally-overcast skies stayed in check, and the tasting room itself provided a dash of warmth once a chill set in outdoors. The grounds included a triplet of food and wine stations in the lower picnic area, along with heartier fare on the restaurant patio, and well-refreshed snacks indoors. Although I kept a laser-like focus on the wine, an expansive non-alcoholic bar was highly visible and reflected well on our responsible hosts.
Combined with coordinated wine pairings from across the portfolio, the many food stations dished out delicacies and hometown favourites. With a glass of Brut in hand one was invited to enjoy Pulled Pork Sliders alongside Vegetarian Chili while talented local musician Nikita Afonso serenaded the reception area. On the grass below long lines formed for Prawns and Tomato Cucumber Salad with the striking new 2016 Chardonnay – bursting with fresh peaches & cream and mandarin orange aromas. Maple Glazed Salmon matched the 2016 Rosé, a complex, lip-smacking Blanc de Noirs of Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, unexpectedly still available for sale on-site! The intensely-flavoured 2014 Syrah was superb with Grilled Fennel Sausage and Sweet Corn Hash; the rich new release is boosted by 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and was fermented with a small proportion of Viognier skins for added aromatics.
In the tasting room itself a half dozen wines were available from the fully staffed “pods”, where sales seemed brisk as well. Opportunity to compare the 2016 Pinot Gris and single-vineyard Munson Mountain bottling of the same (another Club exclusive), showed off the home vineyard’s minerality with ease. The vivacious upcoming “Collectif” 2016 was also being showcased, a follow-up to last year’s delicious new white blend that brought together Riesling, Chardonnay, and Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne. Newly released 2014 Merlot and 2014 Cabernet Franc provided plenty on which to chew as well, with bright and juicy heirloom tomato flatbread emerging at a furious pace from the hard-working kitchen. For extra-hearty fare the patio was home to Beef Brisket, Baked Beans, and Cornbread, showcased by the much-loved 2013 CSM red blend, and the golden-hued, thought-provoking 2014 MRV white.
Should the seemingly-endless array of food and drink somehow prove unsatisfying the on-site barrel hall was home to Winemaker Stefan Arnason and a pair of open barrels (plus a cloud of fanatic fruit-flies). The barrel thieves were dispending mouth-filling 2016 Syrah and fresh, juicy 2016 Munson Cabernet Franc (surprisingly approachable) to those looking for a glimpse into the future. Platters of Apple Sauce Cake and Chili-spiced Brownies offered a sweet treat on the room’s impressive long-table, just to cover all the culinary bases. After three hours of festivities there could not have been a hungry belly or thirsty palate left in the house; I certainly left merrily mellow. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, Poplar Grove has continued to provide added value for their Wine Club members – I’m happy to oblige!