Dear Wine Friends,
I’ve been so swamped with work that all of those things that make me happy (ie. writing my blog) have been put on the wayside. However, some of the adventures that have been filling up my schedule have been fruitful, as I am now in the process of creating some wonderful write-ups. Recently, I attended two vertical tastings in the Okanagan: a 14 year Black Hills Nota Bene vertical, and a double 6 year Clos du Soleil vertical for their Capella and Signature. These experiences were fantastic, and I will be blogging about them soon. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I have a guest blog appearance from Martin Knowles of Martin Knowles Photo/Media. He was up in the Okanagan with me during the vertical tastings weekend, and spent some time tasting with his friend. Enjoy the discoveries and experiences that he found, and if you ever need any architectural photos taken for whatever reason, make sure to contact Martin through the above link.
Have a Winederful Day!
One of the great things about wine touring is being able to visit a bunch of wineries in a small geographic area. While it’s always good to visit wineries just to see what goes into your favourite bottles, there’s also a lot to be said for explicitly choosing wineries you’ve never heard of. Back in 2006, a couple of friends and I toured the areas north and south of Penticton using the “Have you heard of this winery? Nope? Let’s stop and try ’em out!” method. Nothing like a quick squeal of tires, the clanking of bottles in the trunk, and the dust of a gravel road to whet your palate for new wine tasting adventures!
It’s not often that you get to do this in an entire area, but we had a good opportunity last weekend. While Valerie was partaking in a vertical tasting at Clos du Soleil, “us boys” decided to spend a few hours exploring the Similkameen Valley. For those of you about to pull up Google Maps, let me make this easier: the Similkameen is the mostly arid and rugged riverine area between Princeton and Osoyoos. The towns of Keremeos (aka Fruit Stand Capital of Canada) and Cawston are known for their abundant fruit harvests. For those of us from Vancouver and bound for Osoyoos and other points in the southern Okanagan, it’s easy to ignore because after a three hour twisty drive up Highway 3, usually all you want to do is stop, pick up some fruit, fill up your gas tank, and get yourself back on the road. That would be a mistake, though: the wineries there make the Similkameen area worth a serious visit (apart from being a good pit stop!)
The Similkameen Wine Association, as with many similar trade bodies, has a map and passport package good for a free case of wine or something if you fill it. You can get this package at any member winery; given that the Similkameen is a bit off the beaten path, grabbing a copy (or clip n’ save this to your mobile device: http://ttpsoftware.com/swaWP/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Similkameen-Wine-Country.jpg) is a good idea. Known largely for fruit growing, the Similkameen Valley is perched between a set of imposing cliffs and the Similkameen River, and the valley runs NW-SE, which means that the upper bench gets a lot of heat on long summer days. The lower bench closer to the river stays cooler, so many Similkameen wineries harvest both from their estates and from several vineyards located in various areas along the bench.
Our first stop, starting on the upper bench, was Clos du Soleil. Operating out of a charmingly repurposed barn (but with upcoming building plans), Clos du Soleil produces several excellent Bordeaux-style blends, a couple of single-varietals in their Growers’ Series, plus a Sauternes-style dessert wine, called Saturn, that’s worth buying a bottle of if you can get it. They’re also one of the only producers in Canada of Fume Blanc, an oaked Sauvignon Blanc. Owing to their upper bench location, Clos du Soleil grows most of their grapes on their estate, which was recently certified organic.
Right next to Clos du Soleil (but not on the map) is Herder. Their tasting room has a commanding view over the valley and is a great place to try out their excellent Merlot as well as a Merlot-driven Meritage blend.
A quick U-turn down Middle Bench Rd gets you to Robin Ridge. Owner Tim Cottrill was both working the tasting room and loading up the start of the October harvest when we were there; nothing screams “authentic and unpretentious” than wine geeking with someone with wineskin-blackened fingers having to run back to the crush pad every 20 minutes to make sure things are still going the way they should be. They’re justifiably proud of the careful craft that goes into producing their wines, from the double-curtain trellis of their wines to being willing to experiment with uncommon varietals. Their Gamay is one of only a few produced by BC, and features a wonderful mix of spice and red berry notes with an intense finish. The 2011 Pinot Noir was reaching its peak, featuring an intriguing mix of strawberry and cherry with just a hint of vegetal goodness.
Moving further up the bench, we visited Orofino. Their strawbale-wall constructed winery (the only one in Canada) provides a huge amount of insulation from desert heat, as well as keeping temperatures constant for aging. This warmed my architectural photographer’s heart, as it’s great to see green building concepts being put to good use to produce really great wines. Orofino has a number of distinct vineyards around the valley; unfortunately they were out of all but one of their single-vineyard Rieslings. The big standout at Orofino was their Moscato Frizzante. Rather than producing a local version of Moscato d’Asti, the Frizzante is marvellously off-sweet but floral-forward bubbly that would make a fine opening to any good party!
Just south of Orofino is Crowsnest, owned by a German couple that also runs an on-site restaurant and B&B. While their wines weren’t entirely to my taste, their central location and restaurant would make them a good option for a long stop (or a place to spend the night) in the Similkameen.
Down the street from Crowsnest is Eau Vivre. I’ve always been a fan of unoaked Chardonnays, but it’s good to see some wineries putting a bit of oak on their Chardonnays without the overly heavy “buttered toast” aroma and mouthfeel from excessive malolactic fermentation that was (and, in some places, still is) common particularly in California-style Chardonnays. Eau Vivre’s Chard is a nice balance of classically fruit-forward Chardonnay with just enough creamy, oaky backbone. They also make a Red blend called “Buddhafull”, powered by Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Malbec, which is tasting well at the moment.
A ten-minute drive east gets you to Seven Stones, which recently completed construction on their Cave, which due to it being in use for a vertical tasting, we unfortunately weren’t able to visit. Their Row 128 Merlot is aged in French and American oak, and if you’re a fan of slightly oaky Merlot, this is a definite winner (and would probably be even more of one if left in your wine fridge and popped open this time next year).
The last stop on the way out of Cawston before the highway to Osoyoos isForbidden Fruit, which as its name suggests, specializes in fruit wines. I’m sorely tempted to fill a water bottle with Pearsuasion and violate local liquor laws in order to enjoy it outdoors with fish and chips from Pajo’s or Go Fish here in Vancouver (but disclaim all responsibility if you do and get caught!). In addition to fruit wines, they’re also producing a number of grape wines, including Sauvidal, a Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal. Yes, Vidal–the one that makes a lot of ice wine and the only hybrid varietal to be allowed in VQA.
What you really want to do at Forbidden Fruit is get something for dessert after a day of tasting, and for that one of their fortified Mistelle nectar wines will be just the ticket. I took off with a bottle of Plumiscuous, only because I couldn’t make a decision between their three Mistelle offerings and it happened to be knocked down to $20/bottle in the tasting room. Caught, their apricot mistelle, embodies everything you love about Okanagan summer fruit.