I spent the better part of last week up in the Okanagan – chatting with growers, walking the vineyards, and, naturally, a whole lot of tasting. Harvest is my favourite time to be in wine country. There’s something in the air, the soil, and the faces of the winemakers. Autumn abundance. Especially welcome after a cool and wet spring and summer – a stark reminder that cool-climate BC is on the fringe of wine producing regions. Off to a slow start, the 2010 harvest started off two weeks later than in 2009. But the last couple of weeks of hot days and no precipitation have been hugely beneficial for ripening grapes. Many grape growers reacted wisely months ago, with crop thinning and fruit drop early in the year. Although the majority of BC wineries started picking after September 24, some hadn’t even started to bring in fruit until October, giving 2010 the distinction of one of the latest harvests on record. A few more weeks of hot, dry, weather would be ideal – especially for ripening bigger reds – though the reality is that we’re now in mid-October and frosts are imminent. So while the remaining grapes and resultant wines might be fantastic (especially whites), expect to see fewer bottles on shelves from this vintage.
Ten days every October – ending on Thanksgiving weekend – runs the annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. This is the only festival in North America to happen at the heart of harvest, with over 165 events scheduled to celebrate the grape and the people that tend them. I did my best to Drink up as many events as I could.
Treve’s Fall Wine Fest Harvest Highlights
Quails’ Gate Winery chef Roger Sleiman’s four course harvest celebration menu wrote like a love letter to some of his favorite local producers (Suncatcher Farms, Second Wind Farms, Little Creek Gardens, North Okanagan Meats, Poplar Grove Cheese…) Loved the Sezmu Beef Short rib Ravioli – these Okanagan cows are fed red wine. Lucky Bessie!
Watermark Wine Bar’s Chef Natasha Schooten’s meatloaf – so tender, with Pemberton meadows ground sirloin, addictive pomme frites and silky sweet cippolini onions. Comfort food exemplified.
After picking Chardonnay in Noble Ridge’s Okanagan Falls vineyards (my inexperienced crew picked “tens and tens of grapes per hour”), a mass of harvesters were treated to an amazing long-table harvest lunch in the barrel room, catered by top tier Bogner’s of Penticton. The charcuterie spread was insane.
My first ever heirloom lemon cucumber, from organic Covert Farms. These bright yellow baseball sized orbs have a great delicate flavour and crunchy texture, with a thin, non-bitter skin. I’m not a big fan of cucumbers, but if they were all this cute, I’d be on board.
Sometimes after numerous days of wine tasting and feasting all I want, really, really want, is a beer. The Kettle Valley Station Pub answered my call, and one-upped me by enticing me to order one of their thin crust, wood fired artisan pizzas (and I wasn’t even hungry!). If I wasn’t in a beer frame of mind, I would have paid much more attention to the Enomatic wine system and vintage list, but man, did that cold Naramata Nut Brown Ale hit the spot. Conveniently located at the Penticton Ramada, which is, in turn, conveniently located near the Penticton airport and my 6am flight home the following morning.
Sipping (spitting not required):
I tasted dozens and dozens of wines during wine fest, and the standouts (in no particular order) were:
Orofino Riesling 2009
Orofino Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
8th Generation Prosecco Chardonnay 2009
8th Generation Classic Riesling 2009
Cassini Cellars Chardonnay 2007
Desert Hills Estate Winery Gamay 2009
La Frenz Merlot 2008
La Stella Maestoso Merlot 2007
Pentage Rose 2009
Stag’s Hollow Winery Heritage Block 2007
Stoneboat Pinotage 2008
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2008
Twisted Tree Winery Marsanne Roussanne 2009
Twisted Tree Winery Syrah 2008
Inniskillin Dark Horse Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2007
Lake Breeze Pinot Blanc 2009
See Ya Later Ranch Brut
*2010 BC Wine Award Winners: Website
Gene Covert – Oliver’s Covert Farms Organics is an agritourism wonder. Nestled at the foot of McIntyre Bluff on 600 stunning acres, with a family-friendly u-pick and country market – this is also home to Dunham & Froese Winery. Third generation farmer and owner/operator Gene trucked us around his farm, letting us pick sweet strawberries (October!), explaining his biodynamic practices, and sampling us on the freshest, most taste-rich vegetables and fruits I’ve had in a long time, and my liver welcomed the change. Gene was modest, friendly, generous and intelligent – it was a treat.
Andrea McFadden – as my friend Jen insightfully noted “I can’t picture her being anything else in this world than the Lavender Lady”. Wanting to create a family business from this inherited property overlooking Okanagan Lake, Andrea and her husband David came up with the idea to plant lavender. From intensive research, to the first plantings in 1994, to years of trial and error, to 60 different types of the fragrant plant now and the full range of Andrea’s handcrafted products available – Okanagan Lavender is an operation of passion. 2010 saw a large expansion and the completion of a brand new building to house the gift shop, patio, drying room and production kitchens – all overlooking the landscaped farm and lake beyond. Very peaceful place – and it’s not just the aroma.
Chef Michael Lyon – I was not expecting this larger than life, talented and travelled, Food Network TV Chef to come and greet us for lunch at his El Dorado Lakeside Restaurant on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon. His “French forward with a Rocky Mountain twist” cuisine has been honed since he started working in kitchens at 14. From Toronto to Vegas to Moscow to France to Banff (I’m missing like a dozen stops en route) to Kelowna, this two time Gold Medal Plates Calgary Gold Medalist has co-starred in the Thirsty Traveler “Rye On The Rocks” and is the star in Food Network’s “CheF@OFF”. A very personable and engaging talent.
Bob the Elder – An unexpected but welcomed break in winefesting came courtesy of Bob, an Osoyoos elder and my guide for a tour of the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. Ever watchful for rattlers, Bob led us through the desert paths on a physical and mental journey, with insights into his culture, and anecdotes into his life. I learned quite a lot, and renewed my respect for the Osoyoos Indian Band and their incredible accomplishments.
Watermark – I opened the door to my room after a full day of wine touring and my jaw dropped. Two heavenly comfy beds, 2 bathrooms, fireplace, full kitchen complete with high end appliances, TV’s, plush robes, private patio… Oh yeah, and the view right onto the shores of Osoyoos Lake. That’s not even exploring the full resort facilities (spa, restaurant, outdoor pool…) at this new Osoyoos property. Mental note – one night is not long enough to stay at Watermark. Must return.
Hotel Eldorado – this Kelowna mainstay (since 1926!) has appeal that is widespread, heartfelt and multigenerational. Lakefront, quirky and comfortable in a countess-meets-cowboy kind of way, with a marina and hopping patio/restaurant/lounge. I loved the vintage feel, modern amenities, and great Kelowna location. And that lake view – awesome.
Regional branding abounds, with clusters of wineries in one area coming up with a catchy name for marketing and memory purposes. In addition to The Golden Mile (just south of Oliver) and Naramata Bench (east of Okanagan Lake), I drove past Bottleneck Drive (in Summerland) and Corkscrew Drive (Okanagan Falls).
New (to me) wineries.
I didn’t get a chance to visit, or even taste all of these wineries, but here are some new names on my radar. Note the locations – certainly a proliferation outside of the ‘norm’ locales.
Baccata Ridge (Grindrod)
Beaumont Family Estate Winery (Kelowna)
Cassini Cellars (Oliver)
Chandra Estate Winery (Oliver)
Cerelia Vineyards (Cawston)
Columbia Gardens Vineyard (Trail)
Edge of the Earth Vineyards (Armstrong)
First Estate Cellars (Peachland)
Granite Creek Estate Winery (Tappen)
Hollywood & Wine (Summerland)
Kraze Legz Vineyard (Kaleden)
Marichel Vineyard (Naramata)
Noble Ridge Vineyards (Okanagan Falls)
Okanagan Villa Estate Winery (Kelowna)
Orchard Hill Estate Winery (Oliver)
Parallel 49 Vineyards (Oliver)
Robin Ridge Winery (Keremeos)
Skimmerhorn Winery (Creston)
Tangled Vines Winery (Okanagan Falls)
Turtle Mountain Vineyards (Vernon)
Willow Hill Wines (Oliver)
Working Horse Winery (Peachland)
Zero Balance Vineyards (Penticton)
Update: Winter Okanagan Wine Festival – January 14-22,
BC “Sommelier of the Year” Makes His Own
For Poplar Grove Cheese – A Clean Slate
Canadian Oyster Wine Pairing Winners Announced
Grape Escape: Parksville Uncorked 2013
Love, Chocolate & BC Wine
Whistler’s Cornucopia Weekend
Wine Chain: Jay Martiniuk at Stoneboat Vineyards
2nd annual Rosé Revolution Tasting & Global Tweet
What to DRINK With That: Sooke Harvest Feasts