Blahs Be Gone with Cheese and Wine: Upper Bench Estate Winery to the Rescue
By Roslyne Buchanan
Let’s face it winters in the Northern Hemisphere can drag on and some folks are more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) than others. SAD, which tends to rear in late autumn and persist throughout the darker months, is a type of depression that is seasonally sensitive.
Folks who suffer severely need to seek professional medical advice. Treatment may be prescribed including a light therapy box. For many of us, embracing the great outdoors and getting out into the light will almost suffice as an antidote.
To augment that antidote we need to adjust our diet to be in synch with the season. That’s where my friends at Upper Bench Estate Winery come in. Included in things to ingest to boost immune systems, add Vitamin D to our regimen and provide neurotransmitters that improve our mood and increase mental acuity, are cheese and wine.
Happily, at Upper Bench you can find both wine and cheese made with zeal. Founders and owners, Shana and Gavin Miller – the cheesemaker and the winemaker duo, met on the Naramata Bench while she was here from Nova Scotia and he was vacationing from England. They married and lived in the United Kingdom for a few years, eventually drawn back by the Okanagan’s allure. She learned her craft from Poplar Grove Cheese’s original cheesemaker Sandra Chalmers. Gavin started in the vineyards, then worked in winery cellars making award-winning wine, notably at Poplar Grove Winery and Painted Rock Estate Winery.
Together they dreamed of combining their passions of cheesemaking and winemaking. In 2011, they were able to realize that dream “when they found the perfect property and partners,” in Wayne and Margareta Nystrom. Upper Bench Estate Winery and Creamery became reality.
Not only can you find wine and cheese at Upper Bench, you can get it year-round on site. With Upper Bench open during the winter, daily 10 am to 5 pm, you can beat those winter blahs in at least a couple of ways. You can head out from the exile of your home into the light to visit its tasting room and you can consume those culinary cures. Tasting room fees are $7 per person and include four wines and two to three cheeses, redeemable upon the purchase of a bottle of wine. If you’re like me, after tasting Upper Bench products, you’ll probably end up purchasing at least a bottle or two of wine and a couple chunks of cheese.
It’s a wonderful time of year to visit because you’re more apt to meet the passionate pair of Shana and Gavin and learn more about their craft firsthand. Gavin says his focus is “on growing great fruit in the vineyard and then taking a minimalist approach to let the wines make themselves to allow the terroir to express itself”. At present, there’s 14 wine choices listed on upperbench.ca/wine/ and that’s subject to change as the limited releases sell out and new releases arrive. Watch for The Altitude, beautiful red blend, to be released by the end of January.
She’s a self-professed cheese nerd, loves to discuss all things cheese, and is often found experimenting with new techniques. When the dairy reopens after January repairs and maintenance to its full production February 1, you’ll always find something to see. With cheese generally made Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, you can peer from outside the winery through the dairy’s glass windows on those days to watch the process. In terms of production, says Shana, “We will have made close to 5,700 kilograms of cheese in 2018.”
Another unique attribute of Upper Bench is that it has The Curds & Corks Clubs – Canada’s only cheese and wine club that delivers directly to your door. Depending on the club you choose, there are different perks and options exclusive to club members such as special cheeses and wines. For those who prefer, there’s the more traditional Corks Club that just ships wine.
As winter gives way to spring, you’ll want to visit the covered patio, too. While it doesn’t shield you from heavy rains, it provides shade from the sun. On those hot summer days, the misters on the ceiling are a welcome feature.
Watch, too, for The Oven to return where you can order delicious charcuterie, salads, breads and pizzas made with those delectable cheeses to complement the wine. Shana says, “If the weather is nice, we would love to have The Oven open for Easter, when we’ll be hosting our second annual Easter Egg Hunt for adults.”
Highly collaborative with food and beverage industry colleagues, Upper Bench is a proud member of Naramata Bench Wineries Association (NBWA) naramatabench.com. In addition to visiting the winery, why not attend NBWA’s Vertical & Vintages 2019, hosted at Apex Mountain Resort, March 9, to say hello to Upper Bench’s team.
Featured photo: A great addition to any cheeseboard, Upper Bench is 100% Canadian milk. Photo credit: Roslyne Buchanan.