July 16, 2013

South Okanagan - 5 days of bliss

Following the Thompson River
To be perfectly accurate, the five days of bliss included a couple of travel days from and to Vancouver, but the scenery en route is so stunning that I've included those days in the bliss category.
On day 1, Gerald and I took the fabulous Highway 3 from Vancouver to Osoyoos, stopping in Princeton for coffee and a brief reunion with a colleague and friend I hadn't seen for over a decade! We power talked, assured each other that we hadn't changed a bit, and continued in opposite directions. It rained a good part of the way so we didn't stop to take photos, but the Crows Nest Highway is truly magnificent with majestic views, twisty roads, mountain passes, provincial parks, and many miles with no cell coverage or gas stations.
Day 2 started with a visit to Nk'Mip (Inkameep) Cellars, right in Osoyoos. Nk'Mip is North America's first Aboriginal winery, and a huge success story since the first harvest in 2002, consistently producing many award winning wines. The winery itself is a stunning building, where visitors can taste a wide range from the Winemakers Series and the higher end Qwam Qwmt Series - loosely translated to 'achieving excellence'.
Randy Picton is the very capable Chief winemaker, and Justin Hall, Assistant Winemaker and a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band, dreams of becoming a Chief Winemaker some day. According to Moss at the winery, if that happens in the near future, he will be the first First Nations Chief winemaker in the world. Pretty cool!
Once you get past the coffee and toothpaste flavours, there's nothing to beat a morning tasting, and this one was splendid. Ably led by Moss, a knowledgeable taster, who works in the tasting room in the summer and teaches high school during term, we tasted some very impressive wines.
Most of the wines in the Winemakers series are under $20 at the winery and are tasty and good value. I particularly liked the bone dry 2011 Riesling.

The Qwam Qwmt series, priced between $25 and $35, included a well balanced 2010 Chardonnay, big on aromas and flavours; a lovely 2010 Pinot Noir, a Silver medalist in the Decanter World Wine Awards, and a bottle of which is awaiting consumption before we leave BC; a 2009 Merlot; and heavily awarded 2008 Syrah and Meritage. The 2009 icon wine Mer'r'iym (Marriage), $50, is a Bordeaux blend and a Gold medal winner at the Canadian Wine Awards. A visit to Nk'Mip should be on every trip through the South Okanagan.

Next up was a fabulous tasting at Burrowing Owl, the subject of my previous post, followed by a great lunch at the Mica Restaurant at Spirit Ridge.
After lunch we popped into Church and State, with its fabulously designed tasting room, Road 13 and Inniskillin

Of the various wines I tried at Church and State, I was most impressed by the 2010 Coyote Bowl Merlot. Sadly, I was unable to try the 2009 Syrah, which, according to the winery, was named best red wine in Canada 2013, by Jancis Robinson. My understanding is that she was sent 50 of Canada's best wines from four provinces, presumably also including whites and ice wines, so the sampling would only reflect a fraction of the many wonderful reds in the Okanagan Valley. But that's always the issue with wine awards and accolades. There's no competition or evaluation anywhere in the world that rates everything. It's entirely dependent on what is sent for review.

The winery at Inniskillin is much smaller than the Niagara version, but there is still a wide range of wines on offer at every price point.

On Day 3, we headed to Penticton, twisting and winding our way through the valley and driving past too many great wineries. Three days in the Okanagan Valley doesn't quite cut it! Still, we soldiered on. The first stop was at Hester Creek Estate Winery.

Like so many wineries in the Okanagan, this is a beautiful facility, with a lovely tasting room, shop and restaurant. I particularly liked the 2012 Pinot Gris, the Selected Barrels Merlot and the Character Red, a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and Petit Verdot, all under $20. I didn't call ahead to set up any kind of special tasting, so couldn't persuade our tasting host to crack open a bottle of The Judge, their icon wine at $45. I call this the Chilean syndrome, but it's probably just sour grapes on my part. Production levels of The Judge are small, they sell out every year, so they really don't need to open it for every Tom, Dick or Carol that turns up. In general, I don't buy wine at that price without tasting it, regardless of awards, but we certainly left with a bag of other Hester Creek wines. Nice winery!

Next up, Le Vieux Pin. This is a winery focused on making great wine, with French winemaking techniques and Okanagan character. The French winemaker and viticulturist is Severine Pinte, who has been at the winery since 2010. Le Vieux Pin, although relatively young, is a very well regarded winery producing some great wines. The 2011 Ava, a white Rhone blend of mainly Viognier, with some Marsanne and Rousanne is absolutely splendid. Ava is the winemaker's daughter's name. The 2011 Syrah "Violette" - another daughter's name, I believe - is elegant, soft, perfumed and very lovely. I bought a bottle of each. They're both drinking beautifully now or could be cellared for a couple of years. I also tasted the 2010 Syrah. This is a lovely wine with lots of cellar life left in it. And, apparently, it was served in May at a feast at Aldourie Castle near Loch Ness.

Not everything pleased my palate. I'm not fond of Sauvignon Blanc with oak treatment, the Pinot Noir rosé didn't refresh or delight and the 2011 Equinoxe Chardonnay didn't grab my attention in a  $60 way. But do visit this winery for a tasting if you're in the region. You'll taste some top notch wines and everyone's palate is different.
Hungry by this point, we took some local advice and headed upwards to the casual little restaurant at See Ya Later Winery for a light lunch and more jaw-dropping views.

Our next stop was at Painted Rock, a relatively new winery producing absolutely fantastic world class wines. The first vines were planted in 2005, and the first sales were in 2010. So, notwithstanding anything I said previously about awards and accolades, the fact that their 2009 Red Icon wine was a Gold Medal winner in the 2011 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards and a Silver Medal winner in the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards, is a big deal. Tastings are currently conducted from a  temporary location, but the plans on the wall and the construction nearby add to the anticipation of a beautifully designed, ultra modern winery and tasting room to be completed this summer.
Painted Rock produces only a few different wines, but they're all incredible. This may be partly due to the services of French and Californian consultants who advised on the initial planting strategy, or the unique micro climate and conditions in the vineyards, or the ongoing services of renowned consultant Alain Sutre. More likely it's all of the above, coupled with the vision, strategy and work ethic of owner, John Skinner, to produce world class wines in the Okanagan Valley. Whatever the reasons, Painted Rock has become one of Canada's most highly regarded and decorated wineries in just a few short years. The website is excellent and eloquent and tells a compelling story. I encourage a read, and definitely encourage tasting the wines.

After a tasting at Painted Rock, the excellence bar is set so seriously high that it's a good idea to stop for the day, but there was some time left, so we popped into Blasted Church and enjoyed some of their palate cleansing, very tasty, just released, 2011 OMG sparkling wine. Their story and labeling is fun and they have a nice following in the Valley.

We stayed at a comfy B and B in Penticton for a couple of nights, where Jane and Bob at Vancouver House treated us like family and made us feel very welcome.

Day 4 started with a  hearty breakfast, a bit of a hike and then our first stop at La Frenz Winery, where we had an excellent tasting and left with some Sauv Blanc, Semillon, Rosé and Pinot Noir. Nice winery, good wines, great view, worth a visit. This was our day to explore the wineries and gorgeous scenery of the Naramata Bench, on the east side of the Southern end of Okanagan Lake.
Lunch was a fantastic duck prosciutto Caesar salad on the patio at Red Rooster Winery, followed by a tasting. I particularly liked the Riesling, an excellent buy at $16.99, and wonderfully dry and characteristic. The Reserve Viognier ($22) and Reserve Syrah ($30) were also very good.

We stopped in to Lake Breeze, where lunch was still in full swing on the patio at 3pm, probably because of - once again - great views, super looking food, a really good live band and great wines. I've tasted a number of Lake Breeze wines in the last few weeks and this is a good winery. The 2010 Seven Poplars Pinot Noir is particularly tasty. We didn't have time to stop and taste, as our "by appointment only" tasting at Laughing Stock was about to happen, so we had to scoot.

This winery, another relatively young one, produces some of the best wines in the Okanagan Valley. The owners were previously in the financial industry, and there are many fun throwbacks to those days in the bottle design, labeling, twitter tag and, indeed the name. Blind Trust White and Blind Trust Red, are blends with the grape varieties hidden under the cap, so that consumers can have some fun with guessing what's in the bottle. I did a terrible job of guessing the whites but redeemed myself by figuring out all five varieties in the 2011 red - Merlot, Malbec, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Syrah ( a bit of skill and a lot of luck!).
But outside of all the fun stuff, there are some seriously good wines here. Of the eight I tasted, I particularly liked the 2012 Pinot Gris, $22, full bodied, rich and fruity; the 2011 Syrah, $36, elegant, juicy, with lovely black fruit and cloves; and the 2010 Portfolio, $42, a left bank Bordeaux style blend - big, beautiful and a definite candidate for some cellaring. If nothing else makes it back home with me, that bottle will. This one was a Gold Medal Winner at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards.
Dinner that evening was at The Vanilla Pod, a splendid restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery,  where we had some great salmon and some of their 2011 Chardonnay. Lovely!
On Day 5, we had another hearty breakfast, said goodbye to Jane and Bob, and set off for Vancouver, abandoning the original plan to taste more wine, and choosing instead to just enjoy the route. Even with healthy use of a spittoon over the previous days, my palate needed a break from winetasting.
Road signs in Lytton
The route home took us west on the 97C through Merritt, up the 8 to Spences Bridge, then south through Lytton, where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet, and on to Hope, then west to Vancouver.
We followed beautiful rivers all the way from Spences Bridge and, once again, marveled at the spectacular mountain scenery, and this two kilometre long train. This was an amazing long weekend. I officially love BC!

We're still enjoying some of our spoils from the weekend, and will be stopping in to the central part of the Okanagan Valley on our upcoming journey from Vancouver to Calgary. More wine stories on the horizon. But before that, I plan to write about some other fantastic stuff that's been going on in and around Vancouver. Check back in a  few days. I hope to put that out before we head off on Friday. Maybe! The weather's pretty fantastic here.........................
Thanks for checking in.