In late June of 2010 my nephew had finished high school,
having spent his junior and senior years with his father in the British Columbia
town of Kelowna.
I flew up there and spent two and a half wonderful days seeing the sights.
A friend who moved from Vancouver, BC, to Kelowna was my tour guide and we
ventured around the wine rounds of the Okanagan Valley.
A week before my trip I'd tasted a number of wines from British Columbia at the
San Francisco International Wine Competition. In the
"sweepstakes" tasting there were several Canadian wines and one
Okanagan estate had two wines in this "Double Gold" Medal taste-off
(Church & State Wines)!
Here's a map of the area. Most of the wineries are in Kelowna on south to
The Okanagan Valley is situated approximately 180 miles from the Pacific
Coast. The region, starting at the southern tip of Osoyoos (near the US
border) runs almost 100 miles north.
There are 5 sub-regions in the Okanagan.
Kelowna is the coolest region and the largest city, with a bit more than 100,000
residents at last count. The city itself reminded me of the stretch of El
Camino Real here in the Bay Area between Palo Alto and San Jose.
Vineyards are planted in sandy loam, clay and sand.
Slightly warmer is Naramata, famed for the Naramata Bench, a stretch of land
perched overlooking the lake with west-facing vineyards. It's east of the
Okanagan Falls, south of Naramata, is warmer still, located north of the town of
Oliver and south of Penticton.
The "Golden Mile" is a stretch of land south of Oliver on the western
side of the valley. Located above the main road, Highway 97, it's an area
less prone to frost damage. Soils are gravel, clay and sand.
The Black Sage/Osoyoos region in the south is the warmest area and feature sandy
soils. Cabernet and Merlot can actually achieve a good level of maturity
in this region.
The entire area doesn't see a lot of rain. Kelowna might have 12 inches in
a year, while the more desert-like region of Osoyoos might have 8 inches of
precipitation during the year. It's said that the Osoyoos area is the
northern tip of the Sonora Desert, with the southern tip being in Baja
The northern location allows for extended daylight. The sun, in late June,
rises before 6 in the morning and sets around 10 in the evening. Some
summers will see temperatures climb, in July and August, to levels warmer than
in California's Napa Valley.
In general, I found the level of winemaking to be quite
good. We did not taste "extreme" wines as one might in
California. The alcohol levels were in a range between 12% and 14.5% and
the use of oak was somewhat restrained compared to many West Coast wine
regions. I don't think the use of "Mega Purple," a grape
concentrate, is employed by vintners in this region as I did not see inky
colored wines nor wines showing "gobs of fruit."
We began our "tour" with a visit Tuesday afternoon to a small
distillery in the northern town of Vernon.
Here the still was in action, producing the base of a spirit
intended to be some sort of gin.
The still was wood-fired, a bit old-fashioned in that sense.
We tasted a number of their eaux-de-vie and found a rather
nice pear brandy and a wonderful "old plum" distillation.
The following morning we met our tour guide, Michelle Wandler.
Our first stop, as we drove south from Kelowna, was at the Bliss Bakery for a
coffee and something to start our day.
This little place is right on the lake in the peaceful town of
My nephew, Brian Weisl.
And so we drove on to begin our wine tasting adventure.
Our first stop was at a winery called "Dirty
The place takes its name from an old laundry facility where
gold-miners and traders got more than just their laundry done!
The property began its life as a winery called Scherzinger Vineyards, but under
new ownership, they claim the Chinese immigrant who ran the laundry facility,
also ran a gambling hall and brothel. That'll put some starch in your
The late Robert Mondavi is their hero.
The offerings range from a rather pleasant, standard quality Chardonnay, to a
more interesting Pinot Gris and a trio of good Gewurztraminers. A Riesling
was fairly standard and ordinary, while a Rosé called "Hush" was quite
pleasant. A Merlot from the 2008 vintage was rather nice, lightly oaked
and mildly berryish.
The most complex wine of our tasting here is a red blend called Bordello.
The 2007 vintage blend was split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with 1% Cabernet
Franc. It's $39 a bottle and a bit pricey, but it was certainly quite
good, showing dark fruit notes and a cedary, oaky character.
Check their website
for hours, as these change during the year.
Get there late, and you'll be sad to see this sign...
Next stop was Thornhaven.
This winery was founded in 1999 and the architecture is
reminiscent of America's Southwest.
There's an outdoor patio which is more like someone's lavish
backyard patio than it is a winery tasting room.
Inside they offered a half a dozen wines for sampling, though
we ended up running through 9 different bottlings.
These ranged from a nicely oaked Chardonnay to a dryish Pinot
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay was a surprise...the aromas were much
like a good New Zealand Sauvignon. For my taste, though, looking for dry
white wine, this had too much sugar and was rather noticeably sweet.
A 2008 Gewurztraminer was very good and in the off-dry range. A Pinot Noir
displayed light color and classic, intense varietal aromas, but it was a bit
shallow and tailed off quickly on the palate.
A red blend called Trinity featured Merlot, Gamay and Pinot Noir and was rather
Their 2008 Merlot featured nice oak and was quite good, while a proprietary red
is called Evolution. The 2008 is Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon
and Merlot. It had lots of red fruit aromas and a note of anise along with a
touch of cedary oak...
From there we drove back out of the hills and down to the main
road, Highway 97.
8th Generation Vineyard was our third stop.
The Schales family has a long wine history in Germany's Rheinhessen in the town
Bernd Schales (8th generation vintner) and his wife Stefanie (10th generation
vintner) started this little winery some years ago after stops in New Zealand
and South Africa.
Especially nice was a pair of Rieslings at this winery, though their Pinot
Meunier Rosé was mildly peppery and grapefruity. A proprietary blend
called "Red One" is a rosé-styled wine blending Dornfelder with Pinot
Gris...it's a pleasantly berryish wine.
The bottle of Pinot Noir we sampled had been open too long, but it seemed to
have nice intensity. A Merlot was quite good with black fruit aromas and
good intensity and length.
Wine Aficionada Michelle Wandler
We then drove south and east heading for the Naramata Bench.
7 actually has two locations, one in Langley and this one in
The winery is owned by a former restaurateur, who purchased the place in 2006
from its founder.
A Viognier was a bit quiet and simple, while a Semillon actually had pretty good
varietal character, showing some smoky and waxy notes. Their
Gewurztraminer was shallow. A Merlot/Cabernet blend had nice oak and was
an interesting bottle. Their "Reserve 7" was a Cabernet
Sauvignon blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Pricey, but quite good.
A Syrah had peppery and spicy notes on the nose, but I was distracted by a
metallic, tinny flavor on the palate.
From here we stopped at a most interesting winery, La Frenz.
An Australian couple, Niva
and Jeff Martin, came to the Okanagan after he had spent more than a
decade working for the McWilliams group Down Under. Following a Napa vacation,
Martin ventured to the Okanagan Valley in 1989 and in 2004 returned with the
wife and kids, working for the Quails Gate winery in Kelowna.
The La Frenz name comes from Jeff's grandfather.
In 2010, Mr. Martin will mark his 40th year as a winemaker!
A 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was a real highlight of our tasting journey. The
wine features classic citrusy Sauvignon aromas and it's dry. Very fine!
A Viognier displayed melon-like fruit, while a Rosé with a bit of sweetness is
a blend of Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Their 2008 Montage is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
This was also very fine, showing a nice bit of fruit and a mildly woodsy
A 2008 Malbec was a tip of the chapeau to the wines of Cahors in France
more than those of Argentina. It seemed a bit superficial to me and I
suspect that this comes from rather young vineyards. Perhaps time in the
bottle will allow it to develop into a more profound wine? Good, though.
A 2008 Shiraz offered nice spice notes and a berryish quality. I found a
touch of clove to this medium-bodied red, as well.
A 2008 Cabernet demonstrates that the Okanagan can, in fact, produce good
late-ripening varieties. This is a lovely wine, with red and black fruit
aromas, a nice bit of wood and plenty of finesse. It's a refreshingly far
cry from many of the Napa Cabernets which are "enhanced" with steroids
(either picked well past the level of 'ripe' or having Mega-Purple, a grape
concentrate added to them).
A non-vintage Tawny "Port" was perfectly pleasant, if relying on its
sugar too much for its charm, while a Liqueur Muscat showed nice varietal fruit
elements with a bit of caramel. Sweet, yes, but not too heavy or
The tasting room is comfortable and the staff was welcoming.
They have a hundred dollar view of the Okanagan...
An old hundred dollar bill sports a view from the La Frenz tasting room...
The winery was founded by a Swiss couple who came to Canada in 1990. They
purchased an old apple orchard and decided to plant grape vines, ignoring the
neighbor's advice to stick with apples.
The winery opened in 1997 and soon out grew its facility, so Beat Mahrer and his
wife Prudence built this new $2 million facility. The old facility is now
owned by an investment group and that place is called Therapy Vineyards.
The new winery was purchased in 2005 by the large Andrés Wines company.
The winery is home to a somewhat notorious bit of art work. The Mahrers
enjoyed nice art and near the tasting room is a somewhat controversial
piece. It was a number of suitcases and a nude male figure known as
"Frank the Baggage Handler."
Artist Michael Hermesh was commissioned by the city of Penticton. It was
erected at a round-about in town and caused all sorts of outrage from some
citizens, who did not appreciate the nudity, mild though it was. Some were
driven to vandalize the piece, essentially "castrating" poor Frank!
Talk about emotional baggage!
The mayor took a lot of heat and eventually the city council voted to deport The
Today Frank and his emotional baggage (and real suitcases) are displayed at the
It seems like poetic justice that a place named after an old cock would be home
to such art.
And Frank seems to be taking things in stride.
The tasting room is spacious and comfortable. There are several tasting
bars inside and all sorts of curious souvenirs on display. Wine, too.
A five dollar bill will get you five tastes, which is refunded with the purchase
of a bottle of wine.
We found a nice little 2009 Pinot Grigio to start...good varietal aromas and
it's close to dry. I found a touch of heat, though and it seemed a bit
flat on the finish.
A Rosé made of Cabernet Franc was delightful, sporting a hint of sweetness and
fairly high acidity to keep it balanced and zesty.
The 2008 Merlot was quite good, as well, showing nice dark fruits and a touch of
I was less enthused about the 2007 Reserve Merlot, which I found to be a bit
Their 2008 Syrah offered hints of ripe red fruits, though I did not find the
spice notes one often looks for in this variety.
Poplar Grove was next on the hit parade.
The winery was founded by Ian Sutherland in 1993 and it was a
small "garage" operation. Today the estate is owned by Tony
Holler and with Barbara Holler as the owner of more than 100 acres of
vineyards. Sutherland remains at the helm and a new, large winemaking
facility is being built into the mountain nearby.
The tiny tasting room has a refrigerated case offering a number of cheeses made
by Poplar Grove.
They do ask you to pay for tasting the wines and there's a box
on the counter with a note saying that the money they generate for tastings is
donated to a local charity.
(Most Napa wineries, which often ask $50 for "entry level" wines, view
their cash register as a charity case.)
The lady in the tasting room was quite knowledgeable about the wines, too.
Poplar Grove has a "second" label called Monster.
We began with a Monster blend called "Manmade", a
blend of R-S-V-P (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Pinot Gris).
Nicely done, but not particularly distinctive.
A Monster Gewurztraminer from 2008 was better and had nice spice and floral
notes. Fairly dry, too.
A Poplar Grove Pinot Gris from 2008 was nicely fragrant on the nose and seemed
close to dry on the palate. It's fairly full without being heavy or
A 2005 Syrah was spicy and nicely woodsy. It's had a fair bit of bottle
aging and seems to have lost its youthful qualities, turning into a more mature
The 2006 Cabernet Franc was one of the top wines of the day. There are red
fruit notes and dark plum tones. It's moderately tannic and showing
beautifully at the moment. I suspect it will cellar nicely for another
A proprietary blend is called Legacy and we tasted their 2005 vintage.
Merlot is the base, accounting for 65% of the blend. The rest is 20%
Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. As with their Syrah,
this wine has lost its youthful exuberance and is a more mature character at
this stage. Still, it can probably go another 5-12 years well-stored.
Next stop: Laughing Stock.
Yes, Laughing Stock.
This winery grew out of a hobby, garage winery near White Rock, south of
Vancouver and just north of the US-Canadian border. David Enns had
purchased fruit in Washington State's famed Walla Walla region back in 2001 and
was vinifying the juice in a neighbor's garage.
Encouraged by his early success, he and his wife Cynthia traded in their jobs in
the world of finance and mutual funds for wine grapes, barrels and the
mutually-satisfying world of winemaking.
Today they make about 5,000 cases of wine and we found a number of these to be
Howe Street, Bay Street and Wall Street...all roads in the world of Canadian and
I found the entire range of wines we tasted here to be very impressive.
We began with a 2009 Pinot Gris which seemed to show some evidence of barrel
fermentation and lees contact. The wine was mildly smoky and yet remained
true to its varietal characteristics.
A blended white is playfully called "Blind Trust" white. The
notion is the vintners here have full control of the "assets" and you,
as a customer, have to put your faith in their ability to manage these.
The blend, though, is revealed once you peel the foil capsule from the top of
The Sauvignon aromas seemed quite prominent in this blend and the wine is simple
and pleasant on the palate.
I found their Chardonnay to be exceptionally Burgundian in style and much to my
This was from the 2008 vintage and the wine had lots of leesy, smoky notes and a
nicely toasty element. While it doesn't have the depth or complexity of a
top French white Burgundy, one can certainly see the winemaker's leanings in
styling this wine. I thought it was very fine.
The Blind Trust Red was from the 2008 vintage. This is intended, we
understand, to be a "second" wine of their heavy-hitter bottling
I actually preferred the 2008 Blind Trust Red to the 2007 Portfolio. The
Merlot in this really shines and the blend if fairly deep and beautifully
The 2007 Portfolio is 56% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6%
Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. There are nice dark fruit notes on the nose
and palate, with an ample level of oak. The nose is particularly good and
the flavors were, too, though I expected a tad more on the palate given how
promising this was on the nose.
Still...it was quite good.
A view from the Laughing Stock tasting room...
I suppose this makes sense if you're gambling in the stock
This is one of a handful of wineries owned by a couple named
Holman. They began as fruit growers and after three decades of that,
opened a winery producing fruit wines in 2003. They purchased a vineyard
close by and hit upon the notion of producing grape wines in 2005.
They added the Lang cellar to their stable of wineries, which also includes the
Zero Balance, Soaring Eagle and K Mountain labels.
The most interesting of the wines we sampled was a 2008 Riesling, a wine which
was bright, fresh and floral, with a citrusy note.
The other wines, from Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer to Pinot Noir
and Marechal Foch.
I'm not sure if it was a mistake to not have a sip of their Canadian Maple Red
wine, a blend of red wines laced with maple syrup.
A view of the Okanagan lake from Lang's tasting room.
We headed to our next stop, seeing this little hacienda along the way...
Apparently land prices in the Okanagan have escalated dramatically with the
recent influx of wineries planting vineyard sites.
We headed for Therapy.
I was impressed they'd posted a little hockey player atop a
Let's get to the tasting room!
Yes, they make a rosé, too.
Pink Freud, naturally.
This cellar was the original Red Rooster wine facility until that winery outgrew
Therapy 2009 Pinot Gris was quite nice...good nose and nice
The Freudian Sip was less interesting and was a fairly standard blended white.
The 2008 Chardonnay was another leesy, smoky, while Pink Freud was melon-like
and close to dry. Freud's Ego was a mildly oaky, lightly fruity red
wine, while their Merlot from 2008 was a nicely oaked red. The 2007 Super
Ego was super oaky in a nice way, though the fruit is a bit covered by the wood.
The Kettle Valley winery is named after an old railway line.
The winery began in 1996 and its tasting room is in a garage.
I should have noticed their Gewurztraminer "Slush" machine...
A Sauvignon Blanc was mildly herbal and lightly vegetal.
A Riesling from 2008 was rather pretty, though...lightly floral...nice length
and not too sweet (around 3%).
A 2007 Cabernet/Merlot blend displayed a nice bit of oak and was fairly
woodsy all the way through, covering what fruit it might have.
A Syrah from 2007 was very spicy and extremely peppery...I liked it but my
tasting partner was uncomfortable with this level of spiciness.
We just snuck in the door at Nichol
Vineyard before they closed (and we were not the last!).
Founded by Alex and Kathleen Nichol in 1993, the place was
purchased by Ross Hackworth who took over the winery in the early to
mid-2000s. Hackworth had been a home winemaker and he'd actually grown up
in or near Naramata as his folks had an orchard there.
Ross had been working for a paper company before jumping into wine with both
His Pinot Gris from 2009 was orange in color...
If you pick the grape at a rather ripe stage, its color can emerge and yield a
wine with this onion skin or 'eye of the partridge'-like color.
A Gewurztraminer from 2008 had light spice notes and was a light version of this
Alsatian classic. It had a bit of sweetness, too.
A 2007 St. Laurent was delightful...a bit pricey at $32, but it was a good
example of this grape variety. I found nice blackberry aromas and flavors
with a hint of spice. There's a dark plum tone here as well. The
tannins are moderate, so it's quite drinkable now.
Nichol planted the first Syrah in Canada in 1989, with
additional plantings added in succeeding years.
With a bit of luck, we could just manage a final stop of the
day at Lake
We tasted a very fine 2009 Pinot Gris at Lake Breeze. A multi-varietal
wine called "Bench White" was one of the few blends which seemed to
have been assembled with some thought and care. Many of these mixed wines
seem to be a hodge-podge of "leftovers."
This wine featured Viognier, Gewurztraminer with Pinot Gris and Pinot
Blanc. It was very bright, fresh, fruity and quite good.
Their 2009 Gewurztraminer was very good. I found a nice lychee character
and a dryish finish to this medium-bodied white.
A 2008 Merlot was quite pleasant...nice fruit and berries with a touch of
wood. A 2007 "Seven Poplars" Merlot was far better, though,
showing loads of dark fruits and a nicely cedary tone.
A blended red called Tempest, from the 2006 vintage, was nicely oaky, though the
wood may contribute a coarse, tannic note to the wine.
Michelle had reserved a table for us at the Manteo resort...a
fancy hotel and restaurant along the lake in Kelowna.
Alberta beef...very good.
A view on to the lake as the sun was setting...probably around 9:30, or so.
And a bit of rain as we headed home that night brought out a nice little
The next morning we started bright and early...heading south
We began our day at a winery on a reservation of the Osoyoos
Indian Band and a major wine producer, Vincor.
It's called NK'Mip
(and sounds like 'ink-ah-meep') and it's on desert-like terrain.
The wines at NK'Mip are quite good, very polished and
A 2008 Riesling had plenty of varietal character and it was rather dry.
A 2007 Chardonnay showed nice oak and lots of apple and pear-like fruit.
At $16, this was one of the best values in Chardonnay we'd tasted in our 14
winery visits to this point.
A special line of higher quality wines carries the Qwam Qwmt designation.
The 2007 Qwam Qwmt Merlot offered deep, plummy fruit and lots of woodsy, cedary
oak. Quite good. A bottle of Qwam Qwmt Syrah was perplexing, but not
corked...just strange. The NK'Mip staffer brought a bottle from a
different tasting area and this 2007 Syrah was a delight, with nice black fruit
and a hint of wood.
The 2007 Qwam Qwmt Meritage was very good, nicely oaked and deep. I sensed
an aroma reminiscent of Cabernet Franc, but this grape is but a minor role
player here. Elegant and quite good.
The 2006 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon showed cassis and olive notes with nice
oak. I found a metallic tone on the palate which I'm not crazy about.
A 2009 Ice Wine made of Riesling was superb. Absolutely stellar, sweet,
hugely fruity and fine. This was an impressive start to our day of
La Stella was our second stop of the day. It's one of
three wineries owned by Enotecca (sic) Wineries & Resorts.
Two wineries are recently opened and one more is on the way. The resorts
are a work-in-progress, too, it seems.
Five bucks to taste and they had the curious idea of offering a new, clean wine
glass for each wine.
The tasting room hostess, a young lady named "Morning Dove."
A Non-Oaked 2009 Chardonnay was a pleasant, little white
wine. $25, though.
The 2009 Pinot Grigio, called "Vivace," offers a hint of spice and
pleasant fruit, though it's not a profound wine, but carries a profound $25
A Merlot Rosato from 2009 is also ridiculously priced at $25...perfectly
standard and seemingly off-dry.
The 2007 Merlot, called "Allegretto," shows nice oak as the wood
dominates the red fruit notes of the grape. We had a 2006 version of the
same, a vintage which saw a higher yield in the vineyards and this wine was less
woodsy, but less concentrated and mildly herbal. The former carries a $45
price tag, while the latter is only $38.
Fortissimo is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
It's $35 a quite good, with some earthy, dusty notes, dark fruit and a touch of
Their 2007 Maestoso Merlot was very good, but at $90, another expensive
bottle. Dark fruits and nice oak match up to strike a good balance.
The wine carries 14.8% alcohol, yet carries it well, as this is a 'fine' wine
and not at all heavy or ponderous.
A 2009 Moscato D'Osoyoos features three different clones of Muscat. They
claim it's inspired by the Moscato d'Asti wines, but the Italian versions tend
to be 5.5% alcohol, not 10%, mildly frizzante not 'still' and $15-$20 for
a full bottle, not $16 for a half.
This highly-acclaimed estate saw its first vintage in
1997. Napa Valley winemaker Bill Dyer was their consultant and he really
did a good job of establishing a winemaking style at Burrowing
We were told they have 140 acres presently and make about 30,000 cases annually.
The 2009 Pinot Gris showed a dusty note on the nose and light spice on the
palate. It's a good dry white with very good varietal intensity. $20
seemed like a reasonable price, too.
Chardonnay from 2009 was very fine...lots of ripe apple and pear fruit with
bright flavors and nice oak. Very good and nice length. A 2008 Pinot
Noir was rather ordinary and, while in the direction of Pinot Noir, it comes up
short on all counts.
The 2007 Merlot, though, was quite good. A bit dominated by the oak
presently, there seems to be nice dark fruit and mild tannin. A 2007
Cabernet Sauvignon offered some brown spice notes and cloves on the nose and
palate. It was a fairly complete wine and nicely balanced. The Syrah
from 2007 was a nice red wine, but I'd be hard-pressed to identify its varietal
origins were I to taste it "blind."
We ventured into their restaurant across the way from the tasting room...there I
had a glass of the 2006 Cabernet Franc. It's styled more along the lines
of a Bordeaux than a Loire Valley wine...quite good.
We ordered a main plate...nicely prepared, modern, elegant cuisine and good
service. The only minor criticism is the red wine was served
"warm" as they don't keep their opened bottles in a cool venue at
proper "cellar temperature."
They began planting vines in 1995 and sold grapes...a few years ago, apparently,
they began making their own wines.
Pinot Gris from the 2008 vintage was perfectly okay and simple. A 2009
Viognier, though, was more interesting and actually had a nice peachy element on
the nose. Dry and nicely acidic, this was a pleasant surprise.
There was a blended white called Cactus Series and it was a 2009 vintage blend
comprising Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier. Ho hum...
The 2009 Gewurztraminer was excellent. It has the classic aromas of
Traminer and was very fine and not heavy or ponderous.
Also surprisingly good was a 2009 Gamay. Here's a wine that's a cut above
a good Beaujolais-Villages and comparable to a good wine from the Morgon
appellation, for example. It offers a nice berry character and a little
bit of body and structure...quite nice!
A 2007 Merlot showed standard aromas and a bit of tobacco on the palate...while
their 2006 Mirage is a nice Bordeaux blend...it sports a fairly toasty oak
component and some green leaf tobacco notes.
I also enjoyed their 2006 Syrah which had clove-like spice notes and dark berry
fruit with a hint of wood and mild tannins.
Desert Hills doesn't appear to be much of a winery, but the wines were quite
good and another pleasant surprise.
We were driving down the road, on our way to another
cellar. Michelle knew of this property, but understood they were not open
during the week.
As we motored along the road, there was an A-Framed sign, which I did not
Michelle was surprised to see the "open" sign
out on the road and suggested parking the car so we could taste the
wines of this famous producer.
We parked on the road and ambled down a terraced stairway through the
vines to their cellar below.
A couple was just leaving, having purchased a 6-pack of wines.
The Black Hills staffer was rinsing some stemware in a glassed-off room
next to their tasting and sales room where we stood.
When the Black Hills lady came in Michelle said she was surprised to see
the "open" sign out on the road and asked if we could taste
"Do you have an appointment for tasting?" we were asked.
"No," said Michelle. "We didn't know you'd be
open. I thought your winery was open solely on the weekends, so
I'm surprised, as I said, to see the sign out on the road."
"Well, if you didn't make a reservation or an appointment, I'm
afraid we don't offer tasting."
This seemed strange to me...they had a sign posted out on the road,
hoping to catch some flies. Here we were and they were shooing us
"Sounds kind of snobby and arrogant to me." I said.
"Well, it's our marketing concept." she replied.
"Like I said, sounds kind of snobby and arrogant to me."
The winery website indicates they charge $20 per person for
tasting. When you call to schedule an appointment, they'll charge your
You need to be at the winery ten minutes before your 11am or 2pm (Thursday
through Sunday) appointment and you'll be hosted by an official Black Hills
If you need to cancel, they require 72 hours notice if you wish to have your
credit card reimbursed.
Here's what a busy schedule they had...(from their web site page for setting up
It seemed that if you don't intend to offer "wine tasting" at a
"winery," then perhaps the "Open" Sign should have, in
addition, something like
"OPEN FOR SALES ONLY"
"NO TASTING WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT"
or some other indication.
This was a rather awkward situation.
As we motored down the road to the perfectly hospitable Church & State
winery, I was amused to see this road sign, which seemed appropriate...
At the San Francisco International Wine Competition tasting in mid-June of 2010,
two Church & State wines were in the "Double Gold Medal
The Chardonnay was tabbed as "Best Chardonnay of the Show."
At least at this winery, visitors are able to buy tastes of the wines without
having to make plans well ahead of time.
There's a long tasting bar and comfortable chairs for visitors to evaluate the
wines in a cool and welcoming atmosphere.
The winery is fairly new and the name, Church & State, we
were told, was selected to make note of a point of "balance."
This facility, located on the Black Sage Bench, is quite new. Apparently
the original vinification facility was in the town of Brentwood, north of
Victoria on Vancouver Island. This is closer to Seattle than it is the
vineyards of the Okanagan Valley!
The Pullen family began this adventure by purchasing the Victoria Estate Winery
in 2004. They've since acquired additional acreage in the Okanagan Valley
as well as building the new facility. With the 2010 vintage, production is
around 12,000 cases, but this will grow as new vineyards come into production.
We tasted a lovely 2009 Pinot Gris...It has a fresh fruit aroma and a touch of
spice. This is beautifully balanced on the palate. A 2007 Pinot Noir
had very light color, but more than made up for this on the nose which was
wonderfully expressive and unmistakably "Pinot." This wine is a
good example of why you can't (or shouldn't) judge the quality of a wine based
on a visual assessment. The wine has a fair bit of oak, but it's sporting
wonderful varietal character. Quite good.
We then tasted a 60/40 blend of Cabernet and Merlot from the 2007 vintage.
It's medium ruby in color, with lightly herbal fragrances and a hint of green
leaf tobacco. Medium-bodied and mildly tannic, the wine is not big, yet it
A Syrah from 2007 was pleasant, showing a bit of spice, but it seemed a bit
mature for a rather young wine. The fruit seems to fall off the palate,
leaving a short finish...a nice little red wine, but not a very compelling
The 2007 Church & State Cabernet Sauvignon offered a lightly floral tone on
the nose, with some dark fruit and a mildly woodsy note.
More complete was their 2006 Meritage. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon,
Cabernet Franc and Merlot, this is a lavishly oaked, deeply perfumed red
wine. I found a note of anise along with dark fruit tones and cedary
oak. Very fine.
There's another Bordeaux-styled blend (or Napa-styled blend??) called
Quintessential. It's a 2006 vintage offering and features Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It's another
big, powerhouse red wine with lavish oak treatment. Very showy...
I can't say the wines were much to my taste, but the lady who takes center stage
in their tasting room is a real character.
Elena was wary of my taking photographs, especially of her!
"Yeah, my husband's not gonna be too happy when I wind up with my picture
They make some unusual wines and encourage visitors to taste and decide for
themselves whether or not they like the wines...
They make a wine called Sage Grand Reserve. This is a Gewurztraminer that
has been fermented with wild sage.
There's "Flame," a wine made of Gewurztraminer with a hot chili pepper
in the bottle!
My tasting note reads: "Ouch!"
There's a wine called Sunset which is a mix of Pinot Blanc, Cranberry and
Raspberry. A syrupy wine based on Merlot has Raspberry and Blackberry in
Elena, the tasting room comedienne, said of their Blueberry wine, "This is
good for wrinkles. Yes! I tried it myself. You drink two
glasses, you look in the mirror, you don't see any more wrinkles."
More wisdom from Elena:
"You drink some wines only on days starting with the letter 'T', like
Tuesday and Thursday. Of course, there's always Today and Tomorrow."
Oliver Twist Estate had a perfectly standard bunch of wines. A
2009 Viognier had hints of apricot-like fruit and seemed off-dry.
A Chardonnay was given an entire week of oak aging. I'm not sure this was
A 2007 Merlot was of modest quality, while a 2008 Syrah had some dark fruit and
mildly spicy tones. It was not reminiscent of a Rhone Valley Syrah, but it
was a reasonably interesting red wine.
The place was for sale at the time of our visit...It costs a bit more than I had
available on my American Excess credit card, so I passed.
Next stop was Le
Vieux Pin, the 'sister' winery of La Stella."
I've been in winery tasting rooms where there's been a horse's ass.
Sometimes, I'm certain the tasting room personnel has thought I was a
As with La Stella, prices are ambitious.
A 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was fresh, mildly citrusy and it
displayed a hint of oak...rather good.
A Pinot Noir Rosé was mildly berryish and quite nice. $25, though.
A couple of Pinot Noirs were promising. I preferred the 2007
"regular" bottling, which had good fruit and nice flavors of cherry
and some forest-floor notes. The bigger, more tannic "Belle"
Pinot Noir from 2006 was a bit austere and less charming.
The tasting room host and winemaker were quite enthusiastic and we were offered
a few tank and barrel samples.
I immediately pegged a young red wine, served anonymously, as a Syrah. It
had good color and lovely spice notes with a peppery undertone. Very fine
A 2009 Chardonnay was quite interesting, having been (or being) matured in
barrels with Acacia wood staves and French oak 'heads.' There was an
interesting clove-like spice note.
A second Chardonnay, drawn from a Francois Freres barrel, showed nicely leesy,
smoky, toasty notes.
A 2007 Merlot showed good berry-like fruit and mild tannins. Nicely
balanced. The Reserve bottling, priced at $70, twice the price of the
regular bottling, was more tannic and a bit deeper, but it did not strike me as
comparable to top Napa Merlots or Right Bank Bordeaux (or Washington State
Merlots, for that matter)...
A blended white called Sigma, was a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay and
Sauvignon Blanc. I found nicely peachy elements here with some apricot
tones. It was a very good wine and showed promise.
Winemaker James Cambridge of Le Vieux Pin.
We then brought our passports from France to Portugal...
Ferreira winery is owned by a Portuguese family which came to Canada
decades ago. After cultivating fruit orchards, they planted vineyards in
1999 and started a winemaking adventure after that.
I wasn't crazy about most of these wines.
A Muscat/Gewurz blend is called Mistura Branca...nice fruity nose, but a bit
metallic and shrill on the palate.
Their un-oaked Chardonnay was a bit redolent of mushrooms.
The wood-aged Chardonnay seemed sweet and had sweet wood notes, striking me as a
The 2008 Viognier was over-ripe and uncharacteristic of this grape as I know it.
A 2008 Rosé was good, though, showing berryish fruit and some freshness.
Mistura Tinto was a simple, standard quality red wine of no particular
complexity or character...it has, we were told, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc in the blend...
The other reds were more interesting.
A 2007 Merlot was a nicely oaked red, with their Obra Prima also being nicely
oaked. A Cabernet Franc from 2008 showed the best balance of fruit and
wood, while their 2008 Syrah offered light peppery notes and was of good
With a little bit of luck, we could make it to one last winery
before closing time...
We hit the road and made tracks for Jackson
Triggs, another cellar in the Vincor line-up.
The "corporate" aspect of this company was more in evidence...add to
that, the fact that we were there during the last 30 minutes of their day and
you can understand why the tasting room staffers were not quite as
"warm" as at other wineries.
The list of wines available for tasting is quite voluminous, yet they only allow
visitors to sample 4 wines.
"Pours" are quite small, too...we tried to share
tastes so we could try a greater range.
A 2007 White Meritage was predominantly Sauvignon Blanc with 25%
Semillon...standard quality and hard to identify either varietal in the blend.
A Grand Reserve Shiraz was quite good, showing a nicely smoky character and
somewhat Aussie style...
The 2006 Meritage was dominated by Merlot and it was a pleasantly, mildly oaky
red. A Sunrock Vineyard Merlot from 2006 was moderately oaky red wine of
little varietal character and the same vineyard/label of Shiraz from the 2007
harvest was a standard quality, oaky, tannic red wine. The Sunrock
Meritage from 2007 was somewhat tobacco-like and lightly oaked, while the
Sunrock Cabernet from 2006 was a more elegant red wine with floral notes and
bright red fruit.
Ice Wine is a specialty here and if you visit, these are probably the top
choices for tasting.
We had a 2007 Proprietors Reserve Riesling Ice Wine which was stellar. It
was fresh, fruity, melon-like with pear and apple notes...sweet and yet zesty on
the palate and complete.
Perhaps a shade more compelling was the Grand Reserve Riesling Ice Wine. I
think this was also from 2007 and it was slightly deeper and bigger than the
first Ice Wine. Both were excellent.
We headed for Quail's Gate as they have a nice restaurant.
On a Thursday night in June, this place was surprisingly busy!
And some folks sat outside, enjoying the moderately warm weather...
I ordered a "Flight" of white wines to taste...
An Amuse Bouche...
I started with a Mushroom Risotto anointed with a bit of truffle oil...
...this was delightful and quite good.
The main plate...
...A Fraser Valley Veal Rib Chop.
Michelle ordered the Maple Hill Farms Cornish Game Hen.
Quail's Gate Reserve Marechal Foch was exceptional...I returned the next morning
to pick up a couple of bottles of this (as the wine shop closes around 7)...
And so we headed for home, having discovered some new wineries
and a number of really good wines.
Many thanks to Michelle for joining in as the tour guide!!!