Thursday, June 13, 2013

Okanagan Valley

The way I started my career in wine was one of those miraculous right time right place type things. I was exposed to some top notch wines right off the bat. I mean some of the most famous and most expensive wines in the world. I'm talking Cristal and Dom Perignon, 1st Growth Bordeaux from 1985.  I helped decant and taste test 4 vintages of Sassicaia alongside Piero Incisa Della Rochetta, grandson to the creator of Sassicaia himself. I even got to travel to Napa Valley and get VIP tours of some of the best wineries Napa has to offer. But during this entire time I think I got to try maybe 2 Canadian wines; a Inniskillin Ice Wine and a Henry of Pelham Chardonnay so when I moved back to Vancouver this fall I was at a serious disadvantage. In Canada I am quite proud to say we really support our local wineries and most restaurants offer only a few wines from outside Canada. So there I was with all this wine experience but I had neglected my native country and now I needed to play catch up. Then luckily I had some lieu days at work buildup that coincided with my some time off for my husband so we organized a short 3 day trip over to the Okanagan Valley.

The drive up and over the mountains was just stunning. The snow sparkled off the mountains and was so blindingly bright and untouched it was magnificent.

Then just like that we rounded a corner and before us was this beautiful valley with a lake running right down the middle for as far as the eye could see. The mountains that rose up on both sides of the lake had lush patches of green amongst rocky outcrops. And of course grape vines all over the place.

The road has a nice lazy sort of curve to it and we followed Siri's directions to our first stop; Quail's Gate. The tour was led by a very sweet elderly gentlemen who did a great job telling us all about the Stewart Family and how they got into the wine business (I could give you all the details but why ruin the tour for everyone else who wants to partake). Then we had a lovely little tasting that included a tasty Chasselas White Blend, and a rich Foch. Chasselas is grown in France, Switzerland, and few other old world countries but it was the first vinifera variety Quail's Gate planted. Foch said like Faush is a native Canadian grape variety. You can find my reviews for these wines on Natalie Maclean's website Quails' Gate Estate Winery Old Vines Foch 2009 | Wine Reviews by Natalie MacLean  Quail's Gate Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris 2012 | Wine Reviews by Natalie MacLeanWe had lunch at the restaurant in the winery and it was beautiful, great outdoor seating, and amazing wine prices. I had a delicious Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay. The only downside was that for the price I was not blown away by the food. I had a smoked salmon and beet salad, that was kinda dull.

Our next stop was at the top of a hill and is home to probably the most widely recognized BC brand Mission Hill. Now this winery is jaw dropping, it just screams money, and is so beautiful you never want to leave. 
You start out the tour with a great video that founder Anthony Von Mandl stars in and then you go through a tour that is as much about the architecture as it is about the wine. The cellar is home to a locked up cave of treasures both of Mission Hill early vintages but gifts from other wineries that had visited over the years as well. 
They also play host to some amazing musicians in their bowl shaped mini amphitheatre including this summer the Gypsy Kings. My husband and I tested out the acoustics for ourselves and wow they are great!
So with all this investment in the property surely you would think the wine will be outstanding as well. Now we only tasted 3 wines but each one was disappointing to me. The Riesling had too much heat, the Sauvignon Blanc not enough, and the Shiraz was flat and lifeless. Now maybe the wines had been open too long, but for the price Mission Hill bottles go for I was expecting more. Still though, visually this winery will take your breath away, and I wouldn't write off all of Mission Hill's wines just because of one bad tasting.  We carried the Special Lot Collection Syrah at the restaurant I managed and I found it to be quite delicious, but expensive.

So it was getting to be late afternoon by the time we finished up so we decided to head to our hotel in Osoyoos. To better understand the Okanagan Valley it may help to break it down into regions, sort of like Napa Valley is except they are still not VQA recognized regions like Carneros is a Napa Valley AVA. The Okanagan Valley is about 250km in length. At the top is Penticton and Kelowna where Mission Hill and Quail's Gate is located. Then you pass through Okanagan Falls where See Ya Later Ranch is, then there is the Naramata Bench where Red Rooster is and then finally at the bottom of the valley is Osoyoos where the first Native owned and operated winery is Nk'Mip (Ink-A-Meep) and also where my husband and I stayed for the trip. Spirit Ridge is the name of the Resort in case you want to make a booking.

We enjoyed a late dinner at the restaurant in the resort called Mica, it was a funky little place and the view was beautiful. I did find it very odd that only 2 wines from the very winery that was less than 500 feet away could be found on the wine list, but the restaurant has a very nice vibe to it.
  The next morning I took my tour of Nk'Mip on my own. I was really impressed by the tasting at Nk'Mip  particularly their reserve series Qwam Qwmt (pronounced Kwaim Kwempt) to see a review of the Merlot I tasted just follow the link 2008 Nk'Mip Qwam Qwmt Merlot 2008 | Wine Reviews by Natalie MacLean
We decided to have lunch at the Winery's restaurant and were pleased to find lots of Nk'Mip selections on this list, plus my favourite: tables right out on the grass!

We spent the rest of the day taking a nice leisurely stroll along the lake, and decided to stay in for the evening and BBQ with the complimentary grill that comes with every room in the Spirit Ridge Resort. I mean come on people alone at a beautiful resort with my handsome husband you must forgive me if learning about wine took a back seat for a day.

The next morning I started at La Frenz in the Naramata Ridge. A lesser known brand but a great selection of wines, and I would expect with all the awards they have been winning lately we will be seeing more of them. Here is a link to my review of a great fortified wine they have.La Frenz Estate Winery Muscat | Wine Reviews by Natalie MacLean
Our final stop before returning to Vancouver was at Red Rooster. A fun tour and great tasting. I loved hearing about their Malbec program. You can adopt a row of grape vines, then for that year you come and help out in the vineyard in Spring and then come back in the Fall getting a chance to learn and work alongside winemaker Karen Gillis you end with a wine you can actually say you had a hand in making. I hinted pretty strongly to my husband what a great Christmas present it would make, whether he caught the hint, I will have to wait until Christmas to find out.

All in all it was a great introduction to Canadian wine, now I just need to get to Niagra!