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OKANAGAN VALLEY WINE TOUR-2010

Notes by
Gerald Weisl,
wine merchant

Some Photos by Brian Weisl

 

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 Osoyoos.



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 lake.

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 California.

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 Peachland.


My nephew, Brian Weisl.



And so we drove on to begin our wine tasting adventure.

Our first stop was at a winery called "Dirty Laundry."

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 shorts!

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.


I understand they feature live music during the summer months...
Check with the winery for more info.

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 Gris.
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 pleasant.  
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 of Florsheim-Dalsheim.
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.


Township 7 actually has two locations, one in Langley and this one in Penticton.


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 character.
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 ponderous.

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...

 

Cock-a-doodle-Do!


Next stop was the Red Rooster winery.

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 Baggage Handler.
Today Frank and his emotional baggage (and real suitcases) are displayed at the Red Rooster.
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 wood.
I was less enthused about the 2007 Reserve Merlot, which I found to be a bit vegetal.
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 clumsy.
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 red wine.
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 5-10 years.
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 quite good.

Howe Street, Bay Street and Wall Street...all roads in the world of Canadian and American finance.



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 bottle.

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 taste. 
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 called Portfolio.


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 balanced.

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 market...

 

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 vineyard post.



Let's get to the tasting room!

 

Yes, they make a rosé, too.

Pink Freud, naturally.


Freud's Ego...

This cellar was the original Red Rooster wine facility until that winery outgrew the place.

The Therapy 2009 Pinot Gris was quite nice...good nose and nice fruit.  Dry.

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 feet.

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 Breeze.



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 rainbow.

The next morning we started bright and early...heading south to Osoyoos.

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 well-made.

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 tasting.

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 price tag.
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 wood.
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 Owl.


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."




Burrowing Owl offers guest rooms, too.  Nice pool...




Desert Hills was our next stop...

Very civilized, in my view.


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 photograph...

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 their wines.

"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 away...

"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 card immediately.
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 "Wine Evangelist."
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 and appointment).

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"
or
"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 Sweepstakes" tasting.
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 seems complete.
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 Syrah.


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...

We continued on our merry way, stopping at a curious little winery.
SILVER SAGE WINERY.


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 on Hotchicks.com!"

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 it.

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."

The 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 sufficient.
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 horse's ass.



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 and impressive.

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...


The Quinta 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 bit clumsy.
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 quality.

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!!!


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