Road trip! It?s summertime and the dollar is weak. It?s a perfect time to tour scenic B.C. and savour locally grown and crafted wine and cuisine.
? ANTHONY GISMONDI
The Vancouver Sun
All signs indicate this summer will be a big one for the Okanagan Valley. Where to go and what to taste remain the top questions. Here we focus on 10 wineries, plus a recommended single wine to taste at each.
All of our suggested stops should offer an enjoyable, highly informative visit while the wine we suggest should illustrate the philosophy and style of the winery. After that it will be up to the winery and you to make the most of your visit.
If you toss an empty wine carton in the back of your car or a cooler with ice, you should come home with an impressive selection of wines that are hard to come by outside of wine country.
Tantalus Vineyards calls itself the “new pioneer,” no doubt reflecting upon its original Pioneer Vineyards name when it was first planted in table grapes in 1927. Today it is known as the oldest continuously producing vineyard in British Columbia.
Owner Eric Savics is totally committed to the environment and that sense of stewardship drives how the site is farmed. The winery is the first in British Columbia to get LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certification.
The site includes numerous green initiatives, such as charging stations for electric cars, unpaved driveways, naturally farmed vines, no use of herbicides and a 10-acre, natural dry land forest in the centre of the vineyard.
Tantalus has a partnership with Okanagan Similkameen Wildlife Habitat Stewardship to identify and enhance wildlife diversity, along with a vineyard beehive partnership with Arlo’s Honey Farm. It is a special place to visit and has a collection of indigenous art you can view in the tasting room.
Made by winemaker David Patterson, the wine to seek out is the Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 ($30.35): Fresh, bright, beaming with acidity and wrapped in minerality, it will live for decades.
Lake Country is home to several wineries north of Kelowna and one definitely on the upswing is Ex Nihilo, where Chaos Bistro is packing them in with menu items like Unforgettable Eggs Benedict, Crazy Eggs and Ham or Chocolate Berry Banana Pizza.
Drop by and meet owners Jeff and Decoa Harder, and Jay and Twila Paulson and take note of their latest Rieslings and Pinot Noir. If you are looking for a late lunch with an amazing view of Okanagan Lake stop in and order a bottle of Ex Nihilo Pinot Noir v. 2014 ($36) and sit and watch the world spin by.
Nichol Vineyards was one of the earliest wineries to open on the Naramata Bench; in fact a section of the home vineyard was planted in 1989. Nothing has changed much today except for the reliability of the wines, in particular the Syrah which is now one of the best in the valley. All of the fruit is farmed within a few hundred metres of the winery.
At Nichol both vines and visitors get one-to-one treatment. With some of the oldest plantings on the bench and the Kettle Valley Railroad access road beside the winery it’s a historic stop as well. There’s no fancy tasting room or merchandise but they do have a covered area for lunch ( bring your own) and a picnic area for sun lovers. The lake views are amazing.
The wine to taste is the Nichol Syrah 2013 ($40). The fruit comes off 17 rows planted on granite in the northeastern portion of the vineyard facing west and south at 1,400-1,500 feet elevation. The vines are own rooted/un-grafted, mostly dryfarmed and the vast majority of work at Nichol is done by hand. The winemaking is natural and the wine, while not certified, is technically vegan. You can expect the Syrah to age effortlessly for a decade.
Much newer but equally small scale is the nearby Terravista Winery. Bob and Senka Tennant opened the winery tucked into a hillside in 2008. The original property name, Lone Hand Ranch, lives on in the vineyard name and it aptly describes the grapes (Albariño and Verdejo) that make up Fandango, one of the Okanagan’s most intriguing blends.
If you are lucky the Tennants may share one of the many recipes they publish to pair with their wines. Tastings and sales are available daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the wine to seek out is Fandango 2014 ($24.90).
At Okanagan Crush Pad you can enter the world of organic grape growing, concrete eggs and naturally made wine. The Summerland winery is one of the hippest stops on the wine trail and they have a wide range of still and sparkling wines like no other in the valley.
From baby doll sheep to chickens and worms you will learn what it takes to be sustainable and organic in the modern wine world and how those choices change the wine you make. Be sure to taste plenty of sparkling wine made by the effervescent Jordan Kubek, Okanagan Crush Pad’s sparkling winemaker.
The wine not to miss is the Switchback 2014 Wild Ferment ($29.90), made by chief winemaker Matt DuMayne. It is a Pinot Gris that was fermented on its own yeast in an 800-litre amphora, the way the Romans did it.
Okanagan Falls is a great place to explore local wines and I’m suggesting you make three very different stops in the area.
Synchromesh Wines is run by the Dickinson family. Alan Dickinson winemaker/viticulturist only owns 2 hectares of land and leases 7.2 but each of the seven Rieslings made there are worth buying.
The entire operation is terroir focused, and their sustainable techniques mean no-chemical farming, natural low cropping, extensive use of indigenous yeasts and no additives or manipulations in winemaking. The philosophy is holistic from start to finish.
It’s wineries like Synchromesh that will eventually put British Columbia on the serious wine map. You can get there before the world does this summer. The tasting room is open for the season every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until they run out of wine. Try the Synchromesh Wines 2015 Thorny Vines Riesling ($23).
Not far away winemaker Dwight Sick and owners Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger are carving out a niche for themselves growing Spanish and Italian varieties at Stag’s Hollow Winery.
They have expanded the original 10-acre vineyard planted in 1992 to Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Vidal.
In 2011 another 18 acres of virgin land was purchased two kilometres north of the home vineyard and Shuttleworth Creek was planted with Albariño, Tempranillo, Dolcetto and Teroldego.
Like many maturing Okanagan wineries, Stag’s Hollow has found its mojo and is daring to be different and original and it’s all coming together. Try the Stag’s Hollow 2015 Albariño ($22) when you visit.
Over at Meyer Family Vineyards Jak Meyer and Janice Stevens-Meyer are hard at work with winemaker Chris Carson trying to bring a little Burgundy to the Okanagan.
In 2008 the Meyers bought a 6.9-hectare site in Okanagan Falls to add to an earlier 1.62-hectare site on the Naramata Bench. At Meyer it’s all about small lot, single vineyard wines made with traditional Burgundian techniques. Only 600 cases are made each year.
Earlier this year Meyer earned worldwide recognition at very serious Pinot Noir tasting conducted by Decanter Magazine in London for their Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Road Vineyard, 2013 Pinot Noir. Out of some 80 wines in the blind tasting selected to be the best Pinot Noirs in the world there was one winner, two runners-up, 10 outstanding and 20 highly recommended. The Meyer ended up ahead of wines like Calera, Beaux Freres and was the only Canadian wine to be highly recommended by the panel.
Again the momentum is building across the valley, and seemingly as producers do less in the winery and more in the vineyard the wines are really beginning to express themselves in a positive manner.
You can buy the next vintage, the McLean Creek Road Vineyard, 2014 Pinot Noir ($36).
In the southern Oliver- Osoyoos section of the Okanagan Valley, take the vineyard and winery tour at Culmina Family Estate Winery, where the Triggs family will give a very personal, in-depth look at the property that sports some of the highest vineyards in the British Columbia.
They will take you through the state-of-the-art facility and finished with a structured, sit-down tasting in the winery’s VIP room overlooking the fermentation hall.
It’s a full 90 minutes and you will come away from that with a new appreciation of the Golden Mile Bench. Be sure to taste the flagship blend: Culmina 2012 Hypothesis ($38)
Finally, head for Black Sage Road just southeast of Oliver and make a special detour along the Black Sage Gravel Bar and visit the tiny Bartier Bros. winery.
Winemaker Michael Bartier is worth the price of admission, and his wines are equally talented. Bartier grew up in the Okanagan Valley and has been around wine and wineries most of his adult life. He works with his brother Don and they practice a very simple philosophy of winemaking. It begins with planting the correct grapes on the correct site and farming them as a 200-year project, keeping your fingerprints off the wine, and copying no one.
If you are on the fence about Merlot be sure to taste the Bartier Bros. 2012 Merlot ($22), it will change your mind about this misunderstood grape. The purity of Okanagan fruit in this 87/13 mix of Merlot and Cabernet Franc speaks to the Bartier philosophy in spades.
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