Heading to the Finger Lakes Region


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I received some exciting news this past week – I had been named as one of the Wine Blogger Scholarship recipients, enabling me to attend the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes Region of New York next month! I am very thankful to all the donors of this scholarship program as I would otherwise not be able to attend this upcoming conference.images

In 2013 I attended my first ever Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Penticton, BC, followed a few months later by the Wine Tourism Conference, held in Portland, OR. At these two conferences I met many interesting people, learned a lot about the industry, and explored wines from new (to me) regions. I very much look forward to reconnecting with several of these people, meeting new friends and continuing to learn more about wine regions, new varietals and gaining more insight into wine blogging.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Finger Lakes AVA, it is located to the south of Lake Ontario, east of Niagara, running between and south of the cities of Rochester & Syracuse.

map image from newyorkwines.org

map image from newyorkwines.org

It encompasses eleven glacial lakes, with most of the vineyards being located around four of those lakes: Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca & Cayuga. The latter two have their own AVAs within the overall AVA. The Finger Lakes region is similar in size (as far as acreage planted) to BC, with between 10,000 and 11,000 acres planted to vine. Riesling does very well in the area, and many wineries produce a few different styles of Riesling, from dry with bracing acidity to sumptuous fruitier styles. Other varietals such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Lemburger (aka Blaufränkisch) are also planted, along with hybrid varietals. Sparkling wines, still wines, and Icewine are all produced in Finger Lakes.

As usual, the conference organizers, Zephyr Adventures, have a full agenda planned for the 3-day conference and I look forward to sharing my experiences here, as well as on Twitter and Instagram.

Touring the Kamloops Wine Trail


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What started as an offhand comment about a road trip during one week’s #BCWineChat on Twitter, ended up as a spectacular 24-hour whirlwind trip to Kamloops with my friend and colleague, Jeannette Montgomery, of Okanagan Writing & The Third Glass. Next thing we knew, with a great effort from Tourism Kamloops, we had a winery tour schedule arranged, accommodation and some meals lined up as well. Many people seem to think of Kamloops as a place to stop on the way to, or from, somewhere else. Perhaps it’s the place to buy groceries on the way to ski at Sun Peaks Resort, somewhere for some fuel and road trip snacks on the way to the Lower Mainland, or the overnight stop-over between Vancouver and Alberta. It hasn’t always been considered as the holiday destination, unless you’ve been attending one of the many sports tournaments in Canada’s Tournament Capital. But that is all changing these days, and particularly when it comes to Wine Tourism. The newest winery association in the province is about to launch – the Kamloops Wine Trail! Yes, Kamloops has wineries; four of them actually.

We arrived in Kamloops, only a 2.5 – 3 hour drive from Penticton via the Coquihalla Connector. and found our accommodation downtown at the Plaza Hotel. This is a heritage building, built in 1928, that has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation a few years ago. It is a gorgeous boutique hotel that is in a prime location. The renovation has kept the heritage charm, not to mention the fabulous old elevator, but has made everything updated, clean and comfortable. We were made to feel very welcome at the Plaza, and I actually had a good sleep in my bed (rare for me in hotels)!IMG_0105IMG_0097IMG_0077IMG_0076IMG_0083IMG_0093

We met up with Monica from Tourism Kamloops for dinner at Terra Restaurant. This restaurant is located in a building on Victoria Street that used to house a vaudeville theatre back in the early 1900s. According to local legend, Boris Karloff may have gotten his start in acting in that very same theatre! The edge of the stage is still visible in the basement, under the kitchen. But I digress. Terra Restaurant is a fabulous dining spot in Kamloops. Chef David Tombs and his wife Andrea, who runs the front of house, source local meat and produce, keeping with the seasons. We left the food and wine selections to David and were not disappointed. I started with the Spring Salad with Sunflower Cream & Pink Balsamic. The flavours melded beautifully and I loved the bright hit from the thinly sliced fresh rhubarb that was included. This was paired with the Pinot Gris from Ex Nihilo.IMG_0113 My second course was a roasted sunchoke purée with duck confit, drizzled with truffle oil and presented on a bed of thinly-sliced radishes and brussel sprout leaves. Sadly my photos of this dish leave something to be desired and can’t convey how fabulous the flavours were. This was paired with the Pinot Noir from Ex Nihilo. IMG_0120My main course was a perfectly-cooked Pacific Halibut with a smoked beet risotto, basil beurre blanc, green beans and some lightly roasted carrots, paired with the Chardonnay from Burrowing Owl.IMG_0123 For dessert, we all pooled our dishes and shared as they were each so different and divine: Chocolate Bar, Strawberry Fields & Bananarama. The chocolate bar was perfectly paired with the Fortified Foch from Quails’ Gate.

Chocolate Bar

Chocolate Bar



Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields

The entire meal was a delight, as was chatting with David and Andrea. It is very apparent just how passionate they are about the food that is produced, and where it is sourced as well. I look forward to a return visit sometime.IMG_0148-cropIMG_0146IMG_0137The next morning we met up with the manager of the Plaza Hotel, Shatha Al-Reihani, at the hotel restaurant, the Fireside Steakhouse & Grill, for breakfast. Over the Fireside Breakfast, 20150416_084355Shatha gave us some history on the hotel and its renovation, as well as some great insight into the kind of destination that Kamloops is becoming. After breakfast, she took us up on the roof of the hotel, which will hopefully soon be transformed into a rooftop deck area for events. The architectural details of the roof are fabulous, if in need of a lick of paint, and you get a 360 degree view of the city. Apparently Queen Elizabeth had tea up on the roof when she travelled through Kamloops back in the 1980s.IMG_0152IMG_015720150416_09121320150416_090954For our winery touring we were being driven by Maatje Stamp-Vincent, the owner of Tastefull Excursions, currently Kamloops’ only wine tour operator. Joining us on the tour was Trish Morelli of the Kamloops Wine Trail association.IMG_0186 Our first winery of the day was Privato Vineyard & Winery, located to the north of downtown Kamloops, along Westsyde Road. Owners John and Debbie Woodward greeted us and took us out to the vineyard, a small part of their 80-acre farm that they founded in 1987, where budbreak was just beginning, a couple weeks later than further south in the Okanagan.IMG_0162IMG_0167 Over the years John and Debbie have farmed Christmas trees, landscape trees, ginseng and hay. They planted their first vines in 2010 and now have four acres of primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with smaller amounts of Riesling, Ortega and Foch, all own-rooted. They currently produce 950 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and hope to grow to around 2000-3000 case production, gradually. Their tasting room is small but very well-appointed and opens up into the barrel room.IMG_0168IMG_0171 There is a very cozy, welcoming feeling in the tasting room with a nice contrast between the stone walls and the warm wood of the cabinetry, beams and barrels. The 2013 Silvio’s Chardonnay (unoaked) is a very pale straw colour, with citrus, apple and a hint of floral on the nose. It is dry, with high acidity and medium-minus body, with flavours of lemon pith, apple and a bit of spice on the palate. It is well-balanced with a long finish.IMG_0176 The 2012 Chardonnay (aged 7 months in oak) is pale gold in colour, with soft citrus, quince, baked apple, butter and baking spice on the nose. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity and medium body, with lovely flavours of lemon, apple, spice and some nice minerality. There is a great tension between the rounder mouthfeel and the bright acidity. It is very well-balanced with well-integrated oak. IMG_0177The 2011 Pinot Noir is a pale to medium garnet in colour, with an earthy nose with some raspberry and red cherry. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus ripe tannins. It has flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice, with some earthy tones. This is definitely more old-world in style, well balanced with a long finish.IMG_0178IMG_0181After our visit at Privato, we loaded ourselves back into the Tastefull Excursions van and headed out east of downtown Kamloops, along the north side of the South Thompson River, to Harper’s Trail Winery. I had visited Harper’s Trail back in August of 2012, before they had built anything on the property. It was great to come back and see the developments! IMG_0183IMG_0190We were greeted in the new tasting room by Vicki Collett, who owns the winery with her husband Ed, and her tasting room staff, as well as their consulting winemaker, Michael Bartier. It was very fortunate that our trip coincided with his visit as he was able to share a bit of his wealth of knowledge up in the vineyard. 20150416_115929The clay soils have limestone running through them, which tends to lend some great minerality to the wines produced here. The 24-acre Thadd Springs Vineyard is planted to Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, and more recently Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir. There is great care taken in the vineyard to farm in a sustainable way; no herbicides found here. When we were wandering though the vineyard, it was exploding with the yellow of dandelions and the tiny white flowers of Shepherd’s Purse, which is a great plant to have in your vineyard during cutworm season – the cutworms are attracted to it, eat it and die, therefore not damaging the vines. IMG_0204IMG_0201Back in the tasting room we went through the current flight of wines. The 2013 Pinot Gris is pale, almost clear, with aromas of pear, melon and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and a round mouthfeel, with bright flavours of pear and spice, apple, citrus and some minerality. It is well-balanced and has a long finish.IMG_0206 The 2013 Field Blend White is made up of roughly equal parts Pinot Gris, Silver Mane Block Riesling and Chardonnay. It is pale lemon in colour with aromas of apricot, peach, apple, floral notes and citrus – very nice aromatics. It is slightly off-dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of apple, peach, citrus and spice.IMG_0207 The 2013 Gewurztraminer is pale lemon in colour with aromas of lychee, citrus and spice, with hints of floral. It is slightly off-dry with medium acidity, a round mouthfeel, and flavours of lychee, spice and citrus with a medium-plus finish. It is very fresh and clean.IMG_0214 The 2013 Pioneer Block Riesling is pale lemon in colour with a rich, ripe nose of citrus and peach with a hint of petrol. It is dry with high acidity and medium body, with flavours of lemon, peach, apple, and minerality, with a long finish. This is my kind of Riesling, reminiscent of a Rheingau Riesling. Conversely, the 2013 Silver Mane Block Riesling is done in more of a Mosel-style. It has aromas of peach, apple and citrus, not quite as intense as the Pioneer Block. It is off-dry with high acidity and a round mouthfeel, with flavours of lemon, peach and granny smith apple, with a medium-plus finish. IMG_0216The 2012 Chardonnay is pale lemon in colour and has aromas of smoky-grilled ripe pineapple. It is dry, with medium acidity and medium body. 15% of the blend was barrel-aged, giving it a bit of spice on the palate to complement the citrus flavours. It has a medium finish.IMG_0209 The 2013 Cabernet Franc is a medium ruby colour, with a hint of fuschia, and has aromas of raspberry, kirsch, jujubes, currants and pomegranate. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-plus fine ripe tannins. On the palate there is ripe cherry, raspberry and spice, with a hint of earthiness and minerality with some cocoa on the back palate and a long finish. This is a beautifully elegant Cabernet Franc and I wish my budget would allow for a case! IMG_0210-cropWe finished off with the 2013 Late Harvest Riesling, from the Silver Mane Block. It is pale lemon in colour with an intensely aromatic nose. It is sweet, with high acid to balance the sweetness and has lovely flavours of citrus, apricot and honey – very tasty!

We made a very quick stop at Sagewood Winery, located about 5 minutes east of Harper’s Trail. This is a small family-run winery that produces about 500 cases. They planted their 3.5 acre vineyard in 2005 with 17 varietals. Several of their wines have ties in with the family, a sparkling wine named after their family dog, and two wines named by their children. Unfortunately I don’t think I was able to really taste the wines at their best as the two that I did try seemed to have been open for quite awhile prior to the tasting.20150416_133315

We headed back into Kamloops for lunch at The Noble Pig Brewhouse & Restaurant, that had been recommended to both of us by various foodie friends. And I must say that those recommendations did not lead us astray! IMG_0240IMG_0237The Noble Pig is Kamloops’ first microbrewery combined with a scratch kitchen, owned by Chef Jared Summers and his wife Maeghan. As it had turned into a lovely sunny day, we asked to be sat out on the patio – a retro-style swimming pool that had been filled in to allow for bench seating around the lip of the old pool – quite fabulous! 20150416_140235IMG_0226IMG_0236Maeghan greeted us and gave us a bit of an introduction to the Pig. There is quite an extensive menu of both craft beers and delicious food. I chose one of the featured beers, a Dunkelweiss, and ordered the Lamb Burger, with roasted garlic and onion glaze, carmelized apples and brie, with a side salad. I also had to order their signature Crispy Pickles with Cajun-seasoned breading and spicy dill ranch dip, to share. IMG_0231IMG_0230The Noble Pig is definitely worth a visit anytime you’re in Kamloops! I will be returning.

After filling up on way too much delicious food, and feeling the need to walk it off, we hopped back in the van and headed east of downtown Kamloops again, to our final stop of the day: Monte Creek Ranch Winery, near the junction of Hwy 1 and Hwy 97.IMG_0241 Monte Creek Ranch is owned by the Sidhu family, but they tend to take a bit more of a backseat when it comes to the public face of the winery; they are more involved behind the scenes. It is in fact a working ranch, with hayfields, a herd of cattle and horses, and Haskap berry production, but there are also over 100 acres of vineyard, with just over 40 currently planted over two vineyards, one on each side of the South Thompson River. The Lion’s Head Vineyard sits below the shape of a lion’s head on the hills on the north side of the river.IMG_0295 The Monte Creek vineyard sits opposite, on the south side of the river, and is the location of the winery. There are some different varietals being planted here, some Minnesota Hybrid varietals chosen for their winter-hardiness, including La Crescent, Marquette, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, and Frontenac Noir. There are also some more classic varietals being grown, including Marechal Foch, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.IMG_0296 Although their products have been on liquor store shelves since last year, the winery itself is just nearing completion (2013 & 2014 vintages were done at Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna). The new tasting room and winery building is a beautifully modern interpretation of an old Mission schoolhouse, although somewhat larger in scale, and is due to be completed in mid-June. We were greeted by Eric Fisher, general manager, and Galen Barnhardt, one of two winemakers, and led into the shade of some trees where they had set up a suitable makeshift tasting bar on a bale of hay, in the area that will become a large patio/courtyard for the tasting room. IMG_0307IMG_0250IMG_0255Before touring the building under construction, we tasted through a few of their wines. The 2013 Gewurztraminer is medium lemon in colour, with aromas and flavours of spice, lychee and citrus. It has a hint of sweetness to it but is essentially dry, with medium-plus acidity and medium body. The 2014 Hands Up White is a blend of Frontenac Blanc, La Crescent and Viognier. It is pale lemon in colour and has a beautiful floral nose. It is dry, with high acid and medium body, with flavours of apricot, citrus, floral and some honey notes with a long finish. The 2014 Rosé is made from 100% estate-grown Marquette. It is medium salmon in colour, with a candied strawberry nose. It is dry, with a hint of fruit sweetness, medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body, with flavours of strawberries and cream with some citrus and a medium finish. Perfect for a sunny day!IMG_0260 The 2013 Hands Up Red is a blend of Marquette, Frontenac Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is medium ruby-purple in colour with a very earthy nose with some dark fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium dusty tannins and medium body. It has flavours of dried fruit and garrigue herbs with a medium-plus finish. The 2013 Cabernet Merlot is medium ruby-purple in colour, with aromas of cassis, plum, cherry, and currant. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium dusty tannins, with flavours of dried cherry, currant, plum and smoke, with a medium-plus finish. IMG_0252

After tasting we walked up to what will be the tasting room, with expansive glass overlooking the winding South Thompson River and Lion’s Head Mountain. We were led through the back-of-house area and down to the future cellar and barrel room before heading back outside onto the large crush pad. The winery is currently producing 10,000 cases and will grow over the next few years to 15,000 cases.IMG_0264IMG_0269IMG_0272IMG_0278IMG_0293 One wine that we did not taste this day, but that I very much enjoy for the patio is their Frontenac Gris – look out for it at your local shop! We were sent on our way with a small package each of delicious beef jerky, produced by the culinary students at the local Thompson Rivers University using beef raised at Monte Creek Ranch. This jerky will be one of the food items available at the tasting room once it opens.IMG_0305IMG_0303

Okanagan Wine Festivals Best of Varietal Winners


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Last week I was one of the judges for the Best of Varietal competition in the 21st annual Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. Tonight I attended the Awards Reception where all the winners and finalists in each category was announced to the public and everyone was able to sample the top wines. For each category, the number of finalists was based on a percentage of the number of wines submitted. For example, there were 39 White Blends submitted, so there was one winner and 8 finalists chosen. Other categories with fewer entries had fewer finalists. This year there were a record number of wines entered: 479!okwinefest

A big congratulations to the category winners!

Best Cabernet Franc
Harper’s Trail – Cabernet Franc 2013
Best Cabernet Sauvignon
Cassini Cellars – Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve 2011
Best Chardonnay
Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Series – Chardonnay 2013
Best Dessert/Late Harvest/Port Style
Harper’s Trail – Late Harvest Riesling 2013
Best Gamay
Pentage Winery – Gamay Noir Estate Bottled 2013
Best Gewürztraminer
Wild Goose Vineyards – Mystic River Gewürztraminer 2014
Best Icewine
Inniskillin Okanagan – Dark Horse Vineyard Riesling Icewine 2012
Best Malbec
Sandhill Wines – Small Lots Malbec Phantom Creek Vineyard 2012
Best Marechal Foch
St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery – Oak Bay Vineyard Foch 2013
Best Merlot
Sandhill Wines – Merlot Vanessa Vineyard 2012
Best Pinot Blanc
St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery – St. Hubertus Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2014
Best Pinot Gris
50th Parallel Estate – Pinot Gris 2014
Best Pinot Noir
Moraine Estate Winery – Pinot Noir 2012
Best Red Meritage Blends Cabernet Dominated
Moon Curser Vineyards – Cabernet Merlot 2012
Best Red Meritage Blends Merlot Dominated
Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery – Family Reserve Summit 2012
Best Red Blends “Other”
Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery – Alagria 2009
Best Red Single Variety “Other”
Sandhill Wines – Small Lots Sangiovese Sandhill Estate Vineyard 2012
Best Riesling
Wild Goose Vineyards – Stoney Slope Riesling 2013
Best Rosé/Blush
Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery – Blanc De Noirs Rosé 2014
Best Sauvignon Blanc
Clos Du Soleil Winery – Fume Blanc 2014
The Best Sparkling
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery – Steller’s Jay Sparkling Pinnacle 2006
Best Syrah / Shiraz
TIME Estate Winery – Syrah 2012
Best Syrah/Shiraz Based Blends
Daydreamer Wines – Amelia 2013
Best Viognier
Sandhill Wines – Viognier Osprey Ridge Vineyard 2014
Best White Blends
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery – Mingle 2013
Best White Single Variety “Other”
Moon Curser Vineyards – Arneis 2014

Lost Inhibitions, the new brand from Church & State Wines


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Back at the end of January I replied to a post on Facebook from Church & State Wines. They were looking for people who would be interested in a blind tasting event. I wasn’t scheduled to work that day, so of course I quickly let them know that I was interested and available. Along with a couple of friends, I arrived at the tasting room on the Black Sage Bench in Oliver, not knowing all the details of what we would be doing, other than it would involve tasting some wine. As it turned out, we (along with about a dozen others) were attending the blending trials for a new line of wines from Church & State. lost-inhib-tastingJohn Pullen, Marketing Manager, and Jeff Del Nin, Winemaker, poured us five white wines and asked us to make some notes and come up with a score for each of the wines. Although all the wines were similar, one seemed better suited for food pairing, one seemed better for patio sipping, some had a little bit higher perceived sugar levels, some were lighter, crisper, and others were a little fuller. Next up were four red wines. Again, we made notes and came up with a score for each of the wines. They were all tasty blends, some better for aging with grippy tannins and great acidity, some ready for consumption sooner, with softer tannins and lush ripe fruit.

After everybody had listed their favourites of the whites and reds, Jeff spoke to what the blends were and John, along with his father Kim Pullen, Proprietor of Church & State, told us their plans for this new line of wines with higher production than their other wines (5000-7000 cases vs 200-1000 cases). They revealed a fun new label and talked about the process of creating this new brand. With the help of Brandever Marketing, the Lost Inhibitions brand was born. lost-inhibitions-letterslost-inhibitions-letters2Each of the individual letters used to spell out the words on the labels was created and stitched out of fabric before being replicated digitally, in order to have many different colour options to create the phrases on the bottles; really the possibilities are endless when it comes to phrases for the bottle labels. Currently there are 96 different Lost Inhibitions labels, split into two different series: the Prude and the Lewd. As indicated by the names, the Prude is a bit more “G-rated”, Lost-Inhib-Prudewhereas with the Lewd it’s “No Holds Barred”! There truly is a bottle for every occasion between friends.Lost-Inhib-Lewd

The 2014 Lost Inhibitions White is a blend of 35.2% Viognier, 19.7% Gewurztraminer, 16.8% Sauv Blanc, 16.4% Chardonnay, 7.3% Riesling, 3% Orange Muscat, 1.6% Roussanne. It is a great patio-sipping, aromatic wine with pineapple, apricot, peach and hints of floral on the nose. It is slightly off-dry, with a nice balance of acidity, round mouthfeel and flavours of citrus, peach, apricot and a touch of spice.

The 2014 Lost Inhibitions Red is a blend of 51.7% Merlot, 30.6% Cabernet Franc, 13.6% Malbec, and 4.1% Petit Verdot. It is a deep ruby-purple colour with aromas of black cherry, cassis and plum. It is dry but has quite an intense fruitiness. It has ripe tannins and flavours of dark cherry, plum, dark berries, cocoa and espresso with a medium-plus finish.

For the price ($18 & $20 respectively) these are pretty solid BC wines; and they’re something to really have fun with! And you can give suggestions on future label phrases too. Share your stories and suggestions with the winery and your idea could land on the next vintage.lost-inhibitions-red-aflp-148x500

Note: All bottle shots and letter images are from Church & State Wines.

BC’s first sub-GI: Golden Mile Bench


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Great news today for a group of wineries in the South Okanagan – BC’s first sub-GI (Geographical Indicator) has been approved! The application was submitted to the BC Wine Authority in May of last year and the final approvals from the Ministry of Agriculture were finally received.

Golden Mile Bench is the first official sub-region of six recognized GIs in the province, and can be used on wine labels. The criteria outlining the unique Golden Mile Bench GI are:

  1. Slope. Fluvial fans with an easterly-facing slope of between 5 to 15%, creating a mesoclimate and assisting with air drainage.

  2. Soil. Coarse-textured and without water table ​influence within the rooting zone, derived entirely from geological formations of Mount Kobau.

  3. Elevation or aspect. Minimum elevation is defined by the base of Hester and Tinhorn Creek escarpments, with maximum at the apex of the Reid Creek fan.

“After careful study and scientifi​c analysis, the Golden Mile Bench has been identified for the unique character of the wines made from grapes grown here,” says Don Triggs, owner of Culmina Family Estate Winery.  The scientific parameters for the Golden Mile Bench sub-GI include slope, soil, and elevation or aspect, as mapped in partnership with scientists from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre – Summerland (AAFC-PARC Summerland).

“We began working on this in 2009,” states Sandra Oldfield, CEO of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards. “This sub-region has the most scientifically defensible boundaries that we (and PARC) could find.” The BC Wine Authority approved the initial application and presented it to the Minister of Agriculture in October 2014.

“Wine is as much about place as it is anything else”, states Bill Eggert, owner of Fairview Cellars. “Having a legal definition of where our wine comes from is a huge step forward for us and the entire industry.”

The Golden Mile Bench sub-GI consists of 11 voting members: Rustico Farm & Cellars, CC Jentsch Cellars, CheckMate Artisanal Winery, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Fairview Cellars, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Road 13 Vineyards, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, and Willow Hill Vineyards.

Gehringer Bros & Hester Creek Vineyards

Gehringer Bros & Hester Creek Vineyards


New to Naramata – Tightrope Winery


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I visited Tightrope Winery on an overcast winter’s day when there was still some snow in the vineyard, and certainly on the surrounding hills. However, it wasn’t hard to imagine how lovely it will be when the vines are shooting up in a few months and the sun is shining, with Okanagan Lake glistening in the distance. Tightrope Winery’s tasting room will be one of a handful of new ones opening this spring along the Naramata Bench. Their first couple of vintages have been made using the facilities at Ruby Blues Winery and wines have been available in private stores and restaurants, but now Graham O’Rourke and his wife Lyndsay have their own facilities completed and are anticipating being open at the Easter weekend.IMG_9819IMG_9821IMG_9831

photo from Tightrope Winery

photo from Tightrope Winery

Graham & Lyndsay moved to the Okanagan in 2003, after living in Whistler for several years, in order to pursue their winery dreams. After learning some basics in viticulture and winemaking in the valley, they decided to relocate to New Zealand to further pursue their education at Lincoln University, just outside of Christchurch. They returned to the Okanagan in 2007 and purchased their 10 acre Naramata property which they planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Barbera.  Graham worked as a vineyard manager at Mission Hill for six years, while Lyndsay was hired as the winemaker at Ruby Blues Winery. This gave them both the local practical experience they needed before opening their own winery. Their new building will allow their production to grow from its current 2600 to approximately 4000 cases eventually. The name ‘Tightrope’ represents the balancing act that occurs throughout the entire winemaking process – from the vineyard to the cellar. I would also venture a guess that it can be compared to well-made wines – always in perfect balance.

The tasting room is bright, warm and inviting, with a modern rustic aesthetic. The tasting bar and cash point bar are both clad in corrugated aluminum, with stone accents on the tasting bar, and a glossy white solid surface bar top. The shelves are beautifully sculptural with solid wood and iron pipe – which should showcase their products nicely. Of course no tasting room is complete without a view, and this one looks out over the vineyard, with Okanagan Lake and the hills in the distance (my photo really doesn’t do it justice).IMG_9823IMG_9824IMG_9827

Graham insists that they want to showcase the Naramata Bench and its clean fruit, really letting the grapes speak for themselves in the bottle. Graham tends the vineyard with their wine style in mind so that minimal intervention can occur during the winemaking time. As the tasting room was not yet open for business when I visited, Graham generously packed up several bottles for me to taste through at my leisure. I decided to share these with some friends who are also wine geeks when it came time to taste through for the following notes, because wine is really always best when shared with friends and good food!IMG_9825

The 2012 Riesling is pale gold in colour and has those lovely aromas that I love in a Riesling that is beginning to develop – pencil eraser and hints of diesel (yes, you all know that I am a wine geek) along with some citrus. The palate is dry with high acidity, medium body and intense flavours of apple, peach and melon. This is a very tasty, well-balanced wine with a long finish. I discovered that this Riesling pairs beautifully with jalapeno cheddar sausages – the spice brings out a sweetness in the wine and the wine conversely tames the heat of the sausages – delicious!

The 2013 Riesling is still showing as a bit tight and closed; it needs some more age on it. It is a pale lemon in colour with aromas of citrus. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity and a slightly rounder mouthfeel than with the 2012, with flavours of apple, citrus and peach, and a medium finish.

The 2013 Pinot Gris is pale lemon with aromas of citrus, apple and pear. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It has pronounced flavours of pear with hints of almond and spice and a medium finish. This is one wine that developed nicely as it sat in my glass for a while – just kept getting better.

The 2013 Viognier is pale lemon in colour with a slightly perfumed nose at first. This is another wine that developed nicely as it sat in my glass. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of citrus and apricot with a medium-plus finish.20150221_172934

L-R: 2012 P.N., 2013 P.N., 2013 Vertigo

L-R: 2012 Pinot Noir, 2013 Pinot Noir, 2013 Vertigo

The 2012 Pinot Noir is a medium ruby in colour with an earthy nose with spice, dark red fruit and a little bit of the good kind of funk. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins that are ripe, medium body and flavours of dark red fruits, cherry, raspberry, spice and some earthiness. This is my kind of Pinot Noir flavour-wise, and is well-balanced with a long finish.

The 2013 Pinot Noir is a little bit lighter in both colour and body, with a slightly fresher nose with hints of floral aromas and bright red fruit – a slightly more feminine wine when compared with the 2012. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of cherry and raspberry and a medium-plus finish.

The 2013 Vertigo is the inaugural release of the winery’s red blend. Vertigo is made up of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Barbera. Tightrope is currently one of only two wineries in the Okanagan Valley (the other is Sandhill Wines) who are growing Barbera, a varietal from northwestern Italy. Graham & Lyndsay decided to plant a small amount of Barbera after an experience with a winery in New Zealand that uses a lot of Italian varietals – Vin Alto, near Auckland. The 2013 Vertigo is medium-plus ruby in colour with a hint of purple and aromas of dark fruit and spice and a nice intensity. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of dark fruit, plums, cherry and spice and a long finish. It is well-balanced but still very young – I would like to lay this down for a few more years. Overall, these wines were all very clean and well-made – I look forward to trying more as they are released.IMG_7771

Good news for fans of craft beer, cider & spirits!


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Today, at Cannery Brewing in Penticton, the official public announcement was made about amendments to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) that benefit craft breweries, cideries & distilleries across Canada.

Patt Dyck of Cannery Brewing introducing today's guests

Patt Dyck of Cannery Brewing introducing today’s guests

The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue, joined by Dan Albas, Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla, today announced that Canadians will now be able to purchase beer and spirits in provinces where they don’t live and bring them home for personal use. The measure removes unnecessary red tape and is expected to benefit independent breweries and distilleries in communities across Canada by opening up regional markets and generating jobs.

The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue (L) & Dan Albas, MP Okanagan-Coquihalla (R)

The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue (L) & Dan Albas, MP Okanagan-Coquihalla (R)

Amendments to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) remove federal barriers and now allow individuals to move beer and spirits from one province to another for personal use. They were adopted as part of the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2014 and follow the Government’s elimination of similar barriers in 2012 in order to permit the interprovincial movement of wine for personal use.

As provincial liquor laws govern the movement, sale, purchase and possession of wine, beer, and spirits within each province, changes to these laws are often also required to allow interprovincial movement. Since the previous amendment in 2012, both British Columbia and Manitoba allow personal importations of wine. It was noted today that both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia should be on board by July of this year. The Government of Canada is encouraging all provinces to support this measure and enact the necessary laws to facilitate and encourage interprovincial trade.

Toasting the announcement with (L-R) Josie Tyabji of Canadian Vintners' Association, Dan Albas, Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, Patt Dyck

Toasting the announcement with Lakeboat Lager, from left to right: Josie Tyabji of Canadian Vintners’ Association, Dan Albas, Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, Patt Dyck

“The Canadian Vintners Association continues to advocate for the removal of barriers that limit Canadians from purchasing wine from another province. We are encouraged to see the Government of Canada taking charge and removing internal barriers, first with wine and now with beer and spirits. We hope that all jurisdictions will adopt these measures so that Canadians can access a broad selection of Canadian wine products, no matter where they live.” – Dan Paszkowski, President and CEO, Canadian Vintners Association

“Breaking down trade barriers gives our local breweries and distilleries the opportunity to be competitive in national markets, thus fostering growth and creating jobs in our community. I am pleased to participate in today’s event and look forward to seeing the next steps the federal government takes to reduce red tape for Canadian businesses.” – Dan Albas, Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla, BCIMG_9864

Celebrate today…with Bella Wines!


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This spring, there will be a new tasting room opening up on the Naramata Bench. I know, there always seems to be a new winery around here and you’re probably asking what is so special about this one. Well, for starters it is the first winery in BC to focus solely on sparkling wines – Bella Wines. You may have seen their bubbly at VQA stores, in restaurants or at wine tasting events over the past three years, but this year they will complete the work on their tasting room and open their doors to the public.IMG_9808Bella Wines is the dream of Jay Drysdale, who has had an active role in the BC wine industry over the past decade. Like many people involved in the industry, wine was not his first career; Jay began in the kitchen, where he worked his way up. Cooking led to an interest and appreciation in wine, which led him to his sommelier training. Becoming a sommelier just fuelled his desire to try his hand at winemaking, which he dabbled in on a personal level before pursuing his enology studies at Washington State University. In 2011 Jay met Wendy Rose and their first date was a truffle hunting trip to Oregon, with Jay’s bulldog, Bella, as a chaperone.

Bella, photo from Bella Wines

Bella, photo from Bella Wines

On this roadtrip they discovered a shared passion for food and wine – Wendy’s mother was a chef and her father’s only hobby is wine. After all the standard “getting-to-know-you” questions, Jay decided that Wendy was “the one” and mentioned his plans to open a boutique sparkling wine house. Rather than being put off, Wendy’s response, in true California girl style, was, “Dude, that is so cool!  My family has been importing bubbles as our house table wine for decades.  I’m so in.” And so from there, Bella Wines was born.

Jay Drysdale & Wendy Rose, photo from Bella Wines

Jay Drysdale & Wendy Rose, photo from Bella Wines

Their first vintage in 2011 was done very quietly. They coincided the launch of Bella Wines and the release of their first two bubblies with their engagement party in June of 2012. I am honoured to call Jay and Wendy my friends and was happy to be included in that great day. The focus has always been on two varietals: Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. Their current releases express the terroirs of Kamloops, Oliver East & West, Keremeos and Westbank. This past June, Jay, Wendy and a group of volunteers planted their own Naramata vineyard with two and a half acres of Chardonnay and Gamay. Eventually, Jay would like to narrow the focus; instead of the terroirs of the Okanagan he’d like to perhaps explore the variation of terroir in Naramata.

Lunch for the planting crew

Lunch for the planting crew, photo from Bella Wines

Just as he has followed the path from cooking to wine, from sommelier to winemaker, he is now on his next (albeit concurrent) journey: that of farmer. With his own vineyard, large garden and soon some chickens and pigs, he is looking forward to the next chapter. His goal is to have a property that is sustainable and to create products that are, according to someone recently, “bio-licious” – perhaps not certified organic or fully biodynamic, but that are ethically delicious, produced without harming the land. “If this place can sustain us with food, friends and drink, that we don’t have to go far for our ingredients, then that is ultimately what we want. We are fortunate to live in the Okanagan where it is possible to know the names of the people we get our sustenance from.”

Jay with Gamay grapes at harvest, photo from Bella Wines

Jay with Gamay grapes at harvest, photo from Bella Wines

Although Jay doesn’t want to play favourites, he is very excited about one wine this year. With the 2014 vintage, he took a portion of the Gamay grapes from Westbank and made it as méthode ancestrale, in which the wine begins a natural fermentation (without the addition of commercial yeast strains) and then, during fermentation, is bottled so that it’s the release of the C02 from the primary fermentation (vs. secondary fermentation) that produces the bubbles in the wine. I was able to try it shortly before Christmas and it blew my socks off – so flavourful! Only 15 cases were made, to be released in March at $39.90 per 750mL bottle; well worth it for such a unique product.20141220_213159

Difference in sediment between traditional (L) & ancestral (R)

Difference in sediment between traditional (L) & ancestral (R)


The new tasting room will be located in what was a two-car garage on their property on Gulch Road at the north end of Naramata. A visit will be an exercise in celebrating the small things in life, celebrating the everyday. On occasion Jay will change hats and become the chef for intimate dinners under the cherry trees, overlooking the vineyard and Okanagan Lake beyond. Bella’s production will always be relatively small. Every bottle is tended to by hand and, with the help of family and friends, Jay and Wendy are building the tasting room themselves. It’s a lot of work, but it helps keep the soul of Bella. Celebrate today!

Dining under the cherry trees, photo from Bella Wines

Dining under the cherry trees, photo from Bella Wines


It’s That Time of Year Again… Wine & Dine!


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It’s that magical time of the year in the Okanagan for all those who love food and wine experiences but who may still be reeling from the post-Christmas bills – it’s Wine & Dine time! This year is the 13th Annual Wine & Dine Thompson/Okanagan, running from January 23rd through February 11th, 2015. This event is presented by the BC Restaurant & Foodservices Association and the Wines of British Columbia. Over 40 restaurants from Kamloops through Osoyoos are participating, offering set 3-course menus for $15, $25 or $35 per person, and featuring BC VQA wine pairing options.WandD_logo_date

The launch event was hosted by the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna, featuring menu previews from eight participating restaurants and a dozen Okanagan wineries. It was a sold-out event with just over 300 people in attendance. Unlike previous years where the restaurants featured at the launch arbitrarily chose the food on offer, this year they all had to feature something that would be available on one of their Wine & Dine set menus; I thought this was a great way to entice people to visit their restaurants during the event. Speaking with some attendees, they revealed that one of the main reasons they participate in Wine & Dine is to be able to try restaurants they have never before visited. If they enjoy their experience with the more affordable set menus, they are likely to make return visits at other times throughout the year.IMG_9792IMG_9721IMG_9751IMG_9767

The restaurants featured tonight were: 19 Okanagan Grill + Bar, Grand Bay Café, Krafty Kitchen + Bar, Match Eatery & Public House, Olympia Greek Taverna, Ricardo’s, Smack DAB & Social 242 Lounge & Grill. The wineries featured were: Bench 1775, CedarCreek, Dirty Laundry, House of Rose, Lake Breeze, Moraine Estate, Okanagan Crush Pad, Sage Hills, Tantalus, The View, Volcanic Hills & Wild Goose. I was quite impressed with all of the dishes that were on offer and I did have a hard time picking favourites. I would say that my top 3 picks (in no particular order) were:

Grand Bay Café at the Delta Grand with their 48 degree Salmon with Chorizo Cioppino Sauce and Fingering Chips, paired with the Narrative White from Okanagan Crush Pad.IMG_9765IMG_9770

Smack DAB at Manteo Resort with their House made Pork Pâté on a crisp flatbread with apple cider gelée, pickled mustard seeds, micro radish and cornichons served with a devilled egg. This paired quite nicely with the Autumn Gold from Wild Goose Winery.IMG_9739IMG_9742

19 Okanagan Grill + Bar at Two Eagles Golf Course with their pork belly slider with a horseradish slaw. I paired this with the Windfall white blend from Lake Breeze Winery.IMG_9752IMG_9759

All of the restaurants participating in Wine & Dine Thompson/Okanagan and their menus are available on the website. Information is also available on the Facebook page. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, use #okwineanddine. Reservations are certainly recommended at many of them due to the popularity of this program.

A big thanks to Christina at Impact Events for the invitation to the media launch and to the BCRFA and BC Wine Institute for Wine & Dine itself, along with the event sponsors: Delta Grand Okanagan Resort, Sysco, GFS Food Services, Black Press, Global Okanagan & Groupon.

Wine Tourism Done Well: Part 3


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Well, this post has certainly taken me a lot longer than planned, but I finally managed to complete it, only 9 months after the wonderful time spent in Georgia (the country, not the state). Has it really only been 9 months? It almost seems like a lifetime ago; 2014 was certainly a busy year!

Nearing the end of our intensive immersion in Georgian culture following the International Wine Tourism Conference, we set out on our final full day of the post-conference media tour. On the bus trip from the Kvareli Eden Hotel & Spa to our first destination in Napareuli, we passed so many vineyards, all with the beautiful snow-capped Caucasus Mountains as a backdrop. We also saw some historical monuments including Gremi, a brick citadel dating back to the 16th century. It is an important Late Medieval archaeological site with ruins of churches, trading arcades, baths and dwellings that is on UNESCO’s tentative site list. Up on a hilltop are the best-preserved buildings of the complex – Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel (16th century) and the Royal Tower (15th century).IMG_6408IMG_6413IMG_6416

Our first stop of the day was the Twins Wine Cellar & Qvevri Museum in Napareuli, owned by twin brothers Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvilis. This still-expanding facility offers the “full-meal deal” in Wine Tourism. IMG_6422Tours of both ancient and modern wine cellars are available, as well as the (at the time) not-yet-opened Qvevri Museum. This museum is the first of its kind and the brothers hoped that it would attain official museum status. In addition to the standard tours, the brothers offer hands-on experiences including picking grapes, making your own qvevri wine in the traditional method, making zavodi (vodka), baking Shoti bread, making churchkhelas (the much-loved “Georgian snickers”), and there is hotel accommodation on site as well. Upon our arrival we were greeted and shown into the ancient wine cellar that had been restored in 2002 and includes an ancient wine press, carved out of a single tree, which is still in operation today. Beside the ancient cellar is the still that is used to make chacha from the grape pomace. IMG_6435IMG_6441IMG_6446IMG_6454We were led through the more modern qvevri cellar en route to the museum, stopping for some shoti bread on the way. One must really watch their step around qvevris as it would be very easy to trip on one or, in the case of a larger empty one, actually fall in! Thankfully there were no qvevri casualties on this trip! IMG_6466IMG_6470IMG_6471The first interactive part of the museum involved actually stepping inside a massive qvevri. Once the door closed, a presentation demonstrated the fermentation process within a qvevri and the different levels achieved within the qvevri of wine and grapes from start to finish. The museum tour itself was very interesting and informative, setting out the reasons for the qvevri being the shape that it is, to the regions and grape varietals within Georgia, as well as the remaining regions still making qvevris (only 3 of 11 regions). The displays then demonstrate the life of a qvevri from start to finish, including the manufacturing, the placement in the ground, the preparation and cleaning, and finally the grapes into wine.IMG_6486IMG_6492IMG_6506IMG_6515IMG_6508IMG_6512IMG_6513IMG_6517IMG_6519IMG_6525IMG_6526IMG_6529IMG_6530IMG_6532IMG_6536 Twins Wine Cellar has patented a new “demonstration qvevri” that cuts it in half vertically, to allow visitors to see the wine during the fermentation process. Each year, white and red wines will be made in these demonstration qvevris so that it is possible to watch exactly what happens inside. It was really amazing to see how clear the wine was and to see all the grape skins and lees at the bottom of the qvevri. IMG_6538IMG_6543Following the tour, we were led up to the top floor of the museum for some wine tasting. From this vantage point, we could also watch the construction of the new wine cellar taking place, with some massive qvevris ready to be lowered into the large excavated area. IMG_6550The wines that we tasted included a 2012 qvevri-made Rkatsiteli. It was medium amber in colour, had citrus aromas, was dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins, with lots of complexity on the palate. I couldn’t place all the flavours but I very much enjoyed it. We also tasted a 2012 qvevri-made Saperavi with a deep ruby-purple colour. It had a nose of dark berries, was dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins with flavours of dark berries and spice with a medium-plus finish. These wines had no chemical or enzyme interference during fermentation and had very little sulphur added. We all headed back downstairs and out to the cellar for the big excitement – the opening of a qvevri of Rkatsiteli that had been sealed 6 months previous by three of the members of our group, Terry and Kathy Sullivan of Wine Trail Traveler, along with Tamta Kvelaidze of the Georgian National Wine Agency. The wine was clear, fresh, fruity and delicious, straight from the qvevri. We were able to watch as they emptied the wine, followed by the skins, seeds and lees, ready for pressing and bottling.IMG_6555IMG_6577IMG_6585IMG_6608

Our next stop of the day was at Shumi Winery which, in addition to producing wines in a European method (tanks and oak barrels), has Georgia’s first vine and wine museum. As part of the museum, the winery has a demonstration vineyard that contains 294 indigenous Georgian varietals plus 92 European varietals. IMG_6632IMG_6634Inside the museum’s exhibition hall are many wine-related artifacts dating back hundreds and thousands of years, including many wine vessels and a clay jug dating back to the 12th century BC! IMG_6645IMG_6646We noticed smoke billowing from a fire beside one of the outbuildings and could smell the most amazing aromas of grilled meat. We were led to the outbuilding, which houses the winery’s still. We were served shots of freshly-distilled chacha straight from the spout and still warm, paired with pickles and cheese. Not being a huge fan of spirits, this one was just a bit too young and fire-water-like for me. IMG_6635IMG_6659IMG_6660IMG_6662IMG_6669Passing the large skewers of pork being roasted over the grill by several men, we made our way up to the tasting room where, as per usual Georgian custom, a large table of food was prepared to go along with the wine tasting. On the table were assorted local cheeses, nuts, churchkhelas and soon the deliciously tender grilled pork. We sampled five wines, beginning with a 2012 Tsinandali appellation wine, a blend of 85% Rkatsiteli and 15% Mtsvane. This is a wine that I had tasted during the Grand Tasting at the IWINETC a few days earlier and still enjoyed it just as much. The second wine was a Mukuzani appellation 2012 Saperavi with dark ruby-purple colour and a rich ripe berry nose. It was dry, with medium-plus acidity and chewy medium-plus tannins with ripe red fruit and dark berries on the palate. Beginning in 2005, Shumi was the first company to make certified organic wines. The next wine was a 2008 organic ‘Bio’ Saperavi. It was medium ruby in colour with cherry and berries on the nose. It was dry, with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and flavours of dark berries and savoury spice with a medium-plus finish. It was a nicely balanced wine – quite delicious! The 2013 Kindzmarauli appellation natural semi-sweet Saperavi was deep purple in colour with a bit of a closed nose (the wine was a bit cold) of dark ripe fruit. It was medium-sweet and the flavour profile reminded me more of a port-style wine, although the alcohol was only 11%. To finish our tasting we were treated to something a bit special, called “Zigu”. This was a very tasty dessert-style wine that used all 386 grape varietals in the demonstration vineyard and was then fortified to 19% alc/vol with a mix of chacha and brandy.IMG_6672IMG_6674IMG_6682

We got back on our bus to make our way to our lunchtime visit to Schuchmann Winery, which produces both European style wines (still and sparkling) as well as qvevri wines, under the Vinoterra label, which makes up about 30-40% of their total production of approximately 33,000 cases. We opted against a tour of the modern winemaking facilities as we have all seen innumerable steel tanks and oak barrels before, so instead we were shown through the qvevri cellar and the sparkling wine cave. Schuchmann produces around 12,000 bottles of sparkling wine annually, split between a Rosé Brut made of 70% Merlot and 30% Malbec, and a Blanc de Blancs that is 100% Chardonnay. IMG_6699IMG_6707IMG_6728IMG_6734IMG_6746During lunch, with the most amazing views of the Caucasus Mountains across the valley, we sampled six of the wines. The 2013 Rkatsiteli made in stainless steel tanks with no skin contact was a pale straw colour with a fresh floral nose. It was bright and fresh with flavours of citrus. In contrast, the 2011 Vinoterra Rkatsiteli made in qvevri with 6 months of skin contact was a medium-plus gold colour with aromas and flavours of citrus and dried apricot. It was dry, with medium-plus acidity and tannins and quite a complex palate. The 2011 Saperavi was fermented in stainless steel, saw no oak and was bottled, unfiltered, and aged in the bottle for one year. It was a medium ruby in colour with aromas of cherry and damson plum. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins and flavours of damson plum, cranberry and cherry with a medium-plus finish. The 2009 Vinoterra Saperavi spent 6 months in qvevri, 1 year in French oak and 3 years in bottle. It was a medium ruby colour with complex aromas of dark berries, plum and dried fruit. It was dry with medium-plus body, medium-plus acidity and tannins with flavours of dried cherry, spice and dark berries, beautifully balanced with a long finish – quite delicious. IMG_6697IMG_6704IMG_6762IMG_6767IMG_6770Because most of us were curious to try the sparkling wines, they brought out a bottle of each for us to try. The sparkling Rosé had ripe berry and cherry flavours, tiny bubbles and was quite pleasant. I enjoyed it much more than the sparkling Chardonnay, which I felt was lacking acidity. After filling up on lunch and the views, we once again boarded the bus for our final destination of the media tour – the beautiful town of Sighnaghi.IMG_6779

Sighnaghi is situated high on a hilltop overlooking the Alazani Valley and the Caucasus Mountains beyond. It is considered to be the prettiest town in Kakheti, with its 18th and 19th century Italianate architecture. Interestingly, the town was originally developed in the 18th century by King Erekle II in part as a refuge for the area’s populace against Ottoman and Persian attacks. The name comes from the Turkish siğinak, which means ‘shelter’. IMG_6818We checked into Hotel Kabadoni, a lovely modern hotel with spectacular views and huge suites, before heading to our final supra, being hosted by Pheasant’s Tears Winery, located a short walk from the hotel. IMG_6831IMG_6837IMG_6838During that short walk, I noticed that just like elsewhere on our tour, there were a lot of sculptures dotted throughout the town, along with the omnipresent stray dogs. IMG_6843IMG_6860IMG_6861IMG_6868IMG_6874IMG_6882IMG_6890Once we arrived at Pheasant’s Tears we could visit the qvevri cellars in the basement, view the artwork in the Old Town Studios or just wander through the courtyard. For the supra, hosted by John Wurdeman of Pheasant’s Tears Winery, we were brought many dishes prepared from local foods, including some foraged foods. We also finally had the chance to try the much-spoken-about khinkali dumplings. IMG_6904IMG_6907IMG_6934IMG_6948IMG_6950IMG_6960IMG_6962IMG_6981IMG_7008IMG_7021Throughout the meal we were poured several natural wines. The Pheasant’s Tears 2013 Tsoulikouri from Imereti was a pale straw colour with a tropical nose. It was dry with medium-plus acidity with flavours of lemon and a long finish. The 2013 Tsitska was made from grapes that were picked in Terjola in Imereti from such a steep site that not even horses can work it. It was pale gold with an apple-cider-like nose. It was dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and flavours of citrus, quince and spice with a medium-plus finish. We then compared the 2012 and 2013 vintages of the Tavkveri Rosé. I must say that my favourite was the 2013. I found that the 2012 just had a bit too much funk and acidity to it for my tastes. The 2013 on the other hand had a lovely berry nose, was dry with medium-plus acid and light tannins. It had flavours of citrus and red currant – quite pleasant. Next we tasted the 2012 Kisi that had 6 months of skin contact and 20% of stems added into the qvevri. It was medium amber in colour and a bit cloudy. It had that apple cider note on the nose, was dry with medium-plus acidity and medium tannins with flavours of citrus and quite a bit of complexity and savoury notes on the palate. The 2011 Kakhuri Mtsvane came from 75-year-old vines in Manavi village in Kakheti. It was a clear pale amber with a complex honeyed nose. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins. There was some salinity on the palate, along with flavours of citrus and spice. The 2011 Rkatsiteli came from an area of Kakheti that is close to the border with Azerbaijan. It had 3 months of skin contact with 10-15% stems added into the qvevri. It had some smoke on the nose along with some floral notes. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and medium tannins. Its complex palate was elegant with flavours of citrus, spice and some interesting salinity again. Next up was a 2013 blend of Rkatsiteli, Chinuri and Mtsvane that had been made by one of our young tour guides, Alex Rodzianko, who also works at Pheasant’s Tears. This had been his first attempt at his own wine and was fresh out of the qvevri, and I’d say he did a pretty good job! It was clear and pale gold in colour with apple, stone fruit and some nuttiness on the nose. It was dry, with high acidity. It was still a bit young but I think it will be lovely with a bit of age on it. Next up was a 2011 Shavkapito from the Kartli region. It was medium ruby in colour with a fresh nose and aromas of red fruit with a hint of meat and smoke. The nose reminded me a bit of a Beaujolais Nouveau. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and medium tannins with minerality, red fruit and spice on the palate. Next we were treated to a 2008 Saperavi Reserve, of which there were only 30 bottles left. It had undergone spontaneous malolactic fermentation in a second qvevri, spending a total of two years in qvevri. It had not been filtered or fined and no sulphur had been added to it. It was a deep purple with a ruby hue to it, with a bit of funk on the nose and aromas of deep red berries and cherry. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins, a full body and flavours of cherry, damson plum and spice with a long finish. Next I opted to try a couple of wines that were not Georgian. The first was a Vin de Savoie from D & P Belluard made from the Gringet varietal. It was pale lemon in colour with aromas of lemon rind and orange rind. It was dry with high acidity with crisp citrus and minerality on the palate. It was a complex, elegant, well-balanced, delicious wine with a long finish. The second was the 2010 Jakot from Dario Prinčič of Oslavia in Italy, near the Slovenian border, made from 100% Friulano-Tokaj grapes. It was a medium amber in colour, slightly cloudy, with a lovely nose of tangerine. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins, a complex palate with flavours of citrus, spice and orange blossom with a long finish – fabulous! Throughout the supra we were treated to traditional polyphonic signing and some wonderful dancing. Some of the guests even got up and joined in. IMG_6936IMG_6941IMG_6988IMG_7041After saying our goodbyes to our fellow tour-mates we headed back to the hotel for a bit of shut-eye before an early start in the morning. Although we were flying out of Tbilisi later the next day, my co-presenter and travel companion Allison Markin and I were going on a little side journey and parting ways with the rest of the media tour.

When the trip organizers discovered that Allison had some family history in Georgia, the Georgian hospitality gene kicked into full gear. They helped organize a car and driver/translator to take us a couple hours outside of Tbilisi to her family’s former village before bringing us back to the airport to fly home. I will post some of the photos I took along that journey to show you the changing landscapes, however I will let Allison tell her story, so please check it out on the All She Wrote blog. Overall, the time spent in Georgia was truly an experience of a lifetime and I will be forever grateful for it.IMG_7111IMG_7124The wild cows of Georgia!

The wild cows of Georgia!



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