Jun 142013
 

My first visit to Okanagan Valley wine country was a surprise in many ways. For starters, I had no idea it was as big and spread out as it is. It essentially spans a distance of roughly 110 miles from north to south. That’s basically about the same distance as San Jose to Calistoga in California or Baltimore to Philadelphia for you east coasters. Needless to say, we couldn’t see all of it. Also, while not technically official, the area has seven distinct growing regions:  Kelowna-North Okanagan, Kelowna-Mount Boucherie, Summerland-Peachland, Penticton-Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver/Golden Mile and Black Sage/Osoyoos. The last two sit on two prominent benches (long, relatively narrow strips of relatively level or gently inclined land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it). The wineries from these two benches have formed Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association.

Oliver Osoyoos Vineyards

A view across the valley in the Oliver area.

What makes these areas unique, other than the aforementioned benchland, is that they are the furthest south of the Okanagan appellations, and therefore the warmest. Their Uncork the Sun (#uncorkthesun) marketing campaign illustrates that quite pointedly. In addition, it sits at the most northern tip of the Great Basin Desert, so is reasonably dry. All of these conditions make the area ideal for growing wine grapes, especially red ones. In addition, the area is steeped in history and tradition, with First Nation peoples residing here for thousands of years. In fact, today the region is home to North America’s first native owned and operated winery – Nk’Mip Cellars.

Road 13

Road 13 showing two definitely distinct architectural styles.

Several wineries from the Oliver Osoyoos area hosted the attendees of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. We began our visit at Road 13 Vineyards, where several other wineries were also present to pour their wines. The winery itself won the “most unique architecture” award in my book. It was bizarre blend of Disneyland-kitsch and modern grace. The first in the form of crenelated walls and drawbridge, the second with a sleek building with contemporary lines and plenty of windows. I was told that the castle-like portion was a legacy of the previous owner, so I could look past it. The views from the winery, however, were stunning.

I tried several wines at Road 13, but the three that stood out were the following:

Road 13 2009 Home Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc – Originally names Golden Mile Cellars, Road 13 is located on… wait for it… Road 13 in Oliver, BC. It’s owned by Pam and Mick Luckhurst. Mick is a rough-and-tumble sort. A man of few words, he apparently let’s his wine’s speak for themselves. This one in particular was quite amazing in it’s freshness and complexity. I could have drunk it all day. Bonus: it’s sealed with a crown cap, which lends it a few points of coolness in my book. http://road13vineyards.com

Maverick Estate Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – I met winemaker Bertus Albertyn as he was pouring his Sauvignon Blanc for us bloggers. A South African by birth (awesome accent, by the way), he moved to BC in 2009, He’s made wine in South Africa, France, California, and Italy. I could tell. His SB was everything an SB should be. It was graceful and elegant, with nicely floral aromatics. Everything was in harmony. Definitely a highlight wine for me. https://secure2.shadowfax.bc.ca/maverick/scms.asp

Hidden Chapel Winery 2012 Blushing Bride Rose – The winery was named after a “fairy-like, made-to-scale miniature chapel” in the back of the winery property that was built by the former owner’s son-in-law. The winery was started by Lanny Kinrade and Deborah Wilde, and appears to be a family affair. The wine was fruity, off-dry, and under $20, which means that it would be a crowd pleaser. http://www.hiddenchapelwinery.com

tinhorn creek

Bloggers were greeted with more wine at Tinhorn Creek.

While we enjoyed our time here, it was off to Tinhorn Creek (which was supposed to be a surprise, but someone let the cat out of the bag) for dinner, and of course, more wine.

Tinhorn Creek was started by Kenn Oldfield and Bob Shaunessy in 1993, and is still run today by Kenn and his wife Sandra. They have two vineyards, one on the Golden Mile where the winery is, and one on Black Sage Bench called Diamondback Vineyard (one guess why they named it that). In addition to the winery, there is a restaurant called Miradoro on the property (where we ate dinner that night). It seems that there are several wineries who also have restaurants. a la Europa style. Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest served us a chilled cucumber gazpacho, mixed paella, and hot chocolate with churros. All in all, a very good meal.

The wines poured at the dinner included the following:

  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Rose
  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (standout)
  • Covert Family Estate Rose and Amicita
  • Rustico Farm & Cellars Zinfandel (standout)
  • Castoro de Oro Viognier
  • Church & State Viognier
  • Platinum Bench Gamay (standout)
  • River Stone Pinot Gris

I’ll be honest, by this time, it was all starting to become a blur and the day wasn’t over by a long shot. What I can say, without reservation, is that Sandra and Kenn Oldfield are some of the best people and hosts I’ve ever met. Granted, Kenn had to watch the shop most of the time, while Sandra was off playing nanny to a bunch of bloggers, but it was a definite highlight of the weekend. Oh yea, and her wines aren’t bad either. I pretty much liked everything they poured.

Spirit Ridge

View from the rooftop at Spirit Ridge.

We ended the evening with a lovely rooftop reception at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa. It’s a joint venture between Bellstar Hotels & Resorts and the Osoyoos Indian Band. It’s also the home of Nk’Mip Cellars, mentioned above, which is a joint venture between the same band and Constellation Brands. You could really see the desert here and the views from the rooftop were stunning. We enjoyed more wines from the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association while we kicked back and enjoyed the scenery and the company of our compadres.

All in all, the wines of Oliver Osoyoos delivered hard on quality. While I didn’t get to try all the wines from the area, the wines I did try were either totally solid or rocked my world (have I used that expression already?). Now, if I could only figure out how to get them in the States…

Jun 112013
 

I returned this week from a visit to Penticton, British Columbia, which was the location of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. Penticton is at the heart of the Okanagan Valley Wine country. As noted in an earlier post, I’d never been to this particular area and knew very little about it. But, wow, what an amazing place.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Tinhorn Creek

Having grown up outside of Detroit, I’ve had a lot of, um, exposure to Canada and Canadians. Since the drinking age in Canada is 19, Windsor was calling my name long before I could legally imbibe in this silly country. In addition, I’ve recently discovered that the Canadian influence over the dialect of my home town is more profound than I knew, eh. It’s also probably why I like gravy on my fries (which I recently discovered, when you add cheese curds is a traditional dish called a poutine). And the people are the loveliest, most polite, and friendliest bunch you will ever meet.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Penticton Lakeside ResortTo be frank, however, I had rather low expectations before the conference. I don’t know, I’d only tried Okanagan Valley wine a few times since the stuff is so damn hard to come by in the States (more on that in a later post). What I had previously sampled was okay, but nothing special. And not knowing anything about the region, I figured it was some backwater that happened to have some vineyards. Boy, was I wrong.

The sheer beauty of the place was enough to make me stand up and take notice. Nestled against a series of very deep, and very blue lakes, Okanagan Valley wine country is the stuff of which postcards are made. The vineyards rest on benches, terraces, and steep slopes at the foot of the mountains that surround the valley. Crystal clear air and water abound. We stayed at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which was easily the prettiest place that has ever held a Wine Bloggers Conference. In fact, Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve been.

Okanagan Valley Wine: First Nation DancerThe history and culture of the Okanagan Valley is quite rich. The valley is the traditional home to the Okanagan First Nations people, an interior Salish people who lived in an area that ranged from the head of Okanagan Lake down into Washington. Various bands still call the area home. They appear to live well together with the non-native Canadians, and there seems to be a mutual respect that has developed. First Nation land includes not only casinos, but vineyards as well.

The winemakers somehow capture this beauty and culture  in their wines. They a stunningly clean and fresh, with just a touch of desert terroir minerality. Regardless of the variety (or varietal), the wines have a pureness that is both compelling and comforting. All but a few of the wines I tried from the area were either solid or rocked my world. There wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.

There is so much to cover, that it isn’t possible for me to cover everything in one post. I’ll be breaking it up into multiple posts for readability and suspense. Stay tuned for more from Okanagan Valley.

May 282013
 
Kelowna Vineyards

Photo Credit: Kelowna.com

Well, as a matter of fact, Penticton is in Canada. More specifically, it basks on the shores of Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley, which is in the province of British Columbia about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Vancouver. Okay, well, that’s all clear now. I’ll be there next week attending the Wine Bloggers Conference and exploring the wines of BC.

Indeed, they make wine in Canada. For the most part, the country is too far north and too cold to grow wine grapes. There are, however, pockets such as Okanagan Valley where special climatic conditions make it possible for viticulture. While there are over 60 different varieties grown there, the best wines tend to be made from grapes that thrive in cooler conditions. Notably, this includes Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

My exposure to the wines of Canada are limited. I’ve read for years that the wines from this region are impressive and have a lot of potential, but haven’t had much opportunity to try them for myself. I have a particular fondness for good dessert wines, and have had several notable Ice Wines from both Ontario and BC. I’ve tried a few Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs as well, but not to any great extent. That’s about it.

I am, therefore, looking forward to the opportunity of exploring the region, learning its history, and tasting its wines.