LAST LAPS OF WINE TOURING THE OKANAGAN IN PEAK SEASON, SPEED TASTING DAY ONE
By Roslyne Buchanan.
Some of our best BC wine moments for 2019 are still ahead with the Fall Festivals, yet many tasting rooms reduce hours as peak summer season draws to a close. I had the good fortune to view some of our Okanagan wineries through the eyes of visitors as I escorted a friend and her two friends recently.
I had become friends with Lorna Wallace through Opimian Wine Club of Canada when her Alberta Chapter was touring the Okanagan from Calgary a few years ago. When she said it was a ‘50 years of friendship’ getaway, I was delighted to assist.
They stayed at D’Angelo Winery & Guest House beautifully situated by the winery overlooking Okanagan Lake – and not far from my home base overlooking the Naramata Bench. I learned the pals all loved bubbles and preferred red wines. Plus, they hoped to hit a broad representation of BC wineries.
Armed with water bottles and appetites for discovery, the ladies were ready to roll when I picked them up on a Wednesday morning. My personal strategy was to see, sniff, swirl and spit any limited samples of wine I had not yet tried so I could perform safely as the designated driver. Pleased to catch up with Lorna and meet her friends Jennifer and Ellen I was happy to abstain to showcase the Okanagan’s bounty. I emphasized the advantages of using a local registered tour operator had I not been available.
Upon arrival the prior evening, they had the opportunity to experience D’Angelo Winery selections so we headed out to uncharted territories with a few encores from previous trips for them. First up, Poplar Grove Winery offered a fine example of a gorgeous and professionally run tasting room with a sense of place overlooking the City of Penticton. Owned by the Tony and Barb Holler family, it’s one of the original five wineries on Naramata Bench although moved from its former location. I also pointed out on site The Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove owned by Sheila and Paul Jones is a delicious dining option. Executive Chef Bruno Terroso wows with his international and Mediterranean-style cuisine.
We couldn’t resist a visit to Poplar Grove’s freaky little sibling, Monster Vineyards, just down the road toward Penticton. For both wineries, Stefan Arnason is winemaker and while you’ll find unique branding between the two, the quality in the bottles is consistent.
We looped past estate vineyards over to Upper Bench Road and the recently opened Four Shadows Vineyard & Winery for my first visit to its tasting room. Owned by the Joka and Wilbert Borren family, who decided after seven years of supplying grapes to other wineries, it was time to launch their own wines. With Lindsay O’Rourke of multiple award-winner Tightrope Winery assisting them, their first vintage in 2017 was Pinot Noir and Merlot. In 2018, working with Pascal Madevon, consulting winemaker, they added Chardonnay, Riesling and Rose. In the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada, the 2018 Riesling took Gold and the 2017 Pinot Noir received Bronze.
Hunger crept in and thankfully next door was Upper Bench Estate Winery & Creamery home to some of my favourite wines by Winemaker Gavin Miller and cheese by Shana Miller. It’s also home to an amazing woodfired outdoor oven. After a tasting, we paused on the patio for a lunch of caprese salad and two of the pizza selections. Here, I couldn’t resist a small pouring of the wine to accompany the lovely lunch.
It was on to Roche Wines for the Bordeaux-style wines of Penelope and Dylan Roche. On duty that day was Angie Paul, Tasting Room Supervisor, formerly from Calgary and had helped Corinne Keddie organize those Opimian trips mentioned previously. Angie led us into the back for a true cellar tasting experience. Lorna, Ellen and Jennifer got to meet Penelope as she popped into the cellar on an errand and Dylan with their Berger Picard dog Oka as we were leaving.
Past orchards, vineyards and many wineries, we drove scenic Naramata Road to Howling Bluff Estate Winery on Three Mile Road. Proprietor Luke Smith regaled the gals with his stories and food pairing tips while he multi-tasked the tasting for them and others in the wine shop and on its patio. It’s easy to see why Howling Bluff made the list for Top 10 Small Wineries in the 2019 WineAlign Awards.
We backtracked to Hillside Winery & Bistro where the beautiful gardens tantalize almost as much as Winemaker Kathy Malone’s wines and Chef Brent Pilon’s cuisine. In the tasting room, we were fortunate to run into President Duncan McCowan who took the time to thoughtfully answer our many questions.
While we were ready to call it a day, Duncan had urged me to end the ladies’ day one of touring at nearby Maple Leaf Spirits Inc.. Maple Leaf is the source of distilled spirits for Hillside’s new release Soirée – NV Fortified Red comprised of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. While Proprietors Jorg and Anette Engel were away, Lyn McDonald led us through a comprehensive tasting and showed examples from other wineries that rely on Maple Leaf for distillation.
We had only travelled a short circuit around D’Angelo Winery: The ladies were blown away by the breadth and depth of our tour. Along our route, I pointed out many other favourites and we hadn’t even driven beyond Three Mile Road! Some 30 wineries belong to The Naramata Bench Wineries Association NBWA. Plus, there’s at least another 10 wineries in the area. A great way to get to know NBWA members is by attending the annual Naramata Tailgate Party, September 14, if tickets are still available.
As parted until the next day, each clasped their empty water bottle and cases of mixed variety wines. More importantly, each held happy memories of BC wine encounters.
Featured photo: Poplar Grove Winery award-winning wine selection with Penticton in background. Photo credit: Roslyne Buchanan.