Getting out to some new Okanagan wineries: Summerland

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There are more and more new wineries popping up throughout BC, almost daily it seems at times. This summer I will endeavour to visit as many of them as I can (although I don’t know how many trips outside of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Shuswap I’ll be able to make).  I have recently updated my Wine Region pages to include all new winery and cidery licenses in BC.

A few weekends ago I decided to visit a few wineries in Summerland – one that I’ve visited before but they have many new products out; one whose wines I have sampled but to whose tasting room I’ve never been; and one that I’d heard good things about but never tried the wines or visited.

I started out by driving to the north end of Summerland to Sage Hills Organic Estate Vineyard & Winery. Perched on the bluffs overlooking Okanagan Lake, with clear views up to Peachland and over to the Naramata Bench, it is a clean modern tasting room and winemaking facility.20160612_154734 Rick Thrussell is the owner of the winery & vineyard, with his partner Toby and his son Keenan helping out in the vineyard, the cellar and the tasting room. Tom DiBello is their winemaker. They have a very strong belief about farming the grapes in a way that they refer to as “beyond organic”, striving to farm organically, beyond what is required for a certification process. The vineyard is planted to Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir, and this is what the portfolio is primarily made up of, with the more recent addition of a Syrah and a Syrah rosé, from fruit sourced from Covert Farms in Oliver.

Before visiting Sage Hills, you should be aware that there is a tasting fee of $20. This may turn some people away, but for this fee you can taste through the entire portfolio of whites, reds, orange, rosé and a fortified wine, and the tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle. Rick began my tasting with the Brut Sauvage 2014 ($39), a sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Gris. It is pale gold in colour with aromas of pear, apple and some toasty notes. It is dry with high acidity, a fine mousse and some nice minerality. It has flavours of citrus, Granny Smith apple and toastiness. The 2015 Syrah Rosé ($28) is a medium salmon colour, from the 3 hours of skin contact. It has a beautiful nose of strawberry, spice, watermelon and red currants. It is dry with medium acidity and a creamy mouthfeel, with flavours of strawberries & cream, rhubarb and a hint of spice – quite lovely! The 2015 Gewürztraminer ($27) is pale straw in colour with aromas of lychee, rose, grapefruit, orange blossom and mandarin orange. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of lemon, pink grapefruit and apple with a medium-plus finish. The 2015 Pinot Gris ($25) is pale straw in colour with aromas of pear, melon, spice and tropical notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon rind, pear rind and juicy melon, with a long finish. The 2015 ‘Rhymes with Orange’ ($26) is made from 100% Pinot Gris that was fermented with 5 days of skin contact to give its medium salmon colour and some structure and complexity. It has a smoky nose and savoury aromas. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins. In some ways, the palate reminds me of scotch, without the alcoholic burn, with smoke, citrus notes, a distinct peatiness and a hint of fruitiness. The 2014 Syrah ($55) is medium purple in colour with jammy aromas of dark berries, plum, blackberry, black cherry, with some meaty notes and smokiness. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, body and tannins with flavours of blackberry jam, pepper and smoke, with a long finish. The 2013 Aft ($29) is a 3-year barrel aged Syrah, fortified with grappa made with their own grape product by Maple Leaf Spirits. It is medium ruby in colour with floral notes, spice, black cherry and plum on the nose. It is off-dry with medium acidity and medium-plus body and balanced alcohol. It has flavours of blackberry, blueberry and violets. It is very smooth and more-ish.

Next up was Okanagan Crush Pad, which seems to have something new every time I visit! The patio seating was being well used on the sunny day that I arrived, and a secondary tasting bar was set up in the main part of the facility, alongside a great display of foodie-centric items from Edible Canada, including cotton candy, a host of jams, marinades, spices, and flavoured tonics to pair with the new Narrative gin being produced on site, now that OCP also has a distillery license.

Krissy Neilsen led me on an extensive portfolio tasting, beginning with the 2014 Samantha Chardonnay (from sommelier Samantha Rahn, of Araxi Restaurant in Whistler), fermented and aged in concrete.It has a pear and apple nose, is dry with medium acidity and body with a creamy mouthfeel. The 2014 Switchback Pinot Gris fermented for 9 months in concrete. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body with flavours of pear and lemon. The 2015 Secrest Gamay Noir Rosé is a pale salmon colour with a strawberry nose. It is fresh and dry with medium acidity and light body with flavours of melon and strawberry. The 2015 Switchback Wild Ferment Pinot Gris spent 9 months on skins in a clay amphora. It is a pale salmon colour and has a complex nose. It is dry with medium body and medium-minus body and flavours of apple, dried apricot and citrus. The 2014 Free Form Sauvignon Blanc has a lovely nose of quince and apricot. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with a complex palate with multiple layers of flavour – lovely. The 2014 Free Form Red is Pinot Noir that spent 5 months on skins in a clay amphora and then just the free run juice from that. It is pale ruby in colour and slightly off-dry with medium acidity, medium body and medium fine tannins. It has flavours of strawberries, with some sweet herbal notes. The 2014 Samantha Gamay was a wild ferment, part in concrete and part in stainless steel. It is pale ruby in colour with a rich nose. It is dry with medium acid, medium-minus body and medium tannins. It has nice complexity on the palate with ripe flavours of red plum, raspberry and spice – very tasty. The Narrative XC Method sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in Charmat tanks with 100 days lees contact. It has a fresh, toasty, fruity nose with a nice mousse. I finished off with a Fortified that is a combination of 60% Syrah and 40% Merlot. It is smooth with rich ripe dark fruit flavours with a hint of pepper and mint.20160612_164112

My third winery of the day was Lunessence, which opened last year (in the former location of Sonoran Estate Winery after they returned to their original location to the north of Summerland). They have done a lovely refresh of the building outside and in. The primary focus at Lunessence is in the vineyard and the harmony achieved through an integrated protection plan, following biodynamic principles and the rhythms of the moon, and introducing classical music throughout the vineyard, winery and tasting room. It certainly makes for a serene tasting experience.20160612_173201  I met Michael, the winemaker, and he led me through most of my tasting. The 2014 Chardonnay ($28) had a third of the wine spend 6 months in new Slovakian oak barrels but didn’t see any malolactic fermentation, giving it some very lovely aromatics. It is very delicate and pretty on the nose with fresh aromas of apple and pear with some light floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It has flavours of citrus, apple and a hint of spice.

The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) had a similar barrel program to the Chardonnay having one third spend 5 months in Slovakian barrels.It is a pretty wine with tropical notes, citrus and lemongrass on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of gooseberry, citrus and tropical fruit. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Muscat ($22) is a field blend made up of approximately 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Muscat Canelli, with the remaining 10% made up of Chardonnay, Semillon and Viognier. It is crisp with lovely aromatics and is well-balanced. The 2014 Riesling has aromas of citrus, apricot and peach. It is off-dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and a creamy mouthfeel. It has flavours of lemon-lime, peach and apricot and a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Gewürztraminer has 5% Semillon and 5% Schönberger blended in. It has aromas of lemon, lychee and rose petal. It is off-dry with medium acidity, medium body and is fresh on the palate with flavours of lemon meringue and lychee with a long finish. The 2015 Rosé ($18) is made up of 70% Cabernet Franc from Osoyoos and 30% Pinot Noir from Naramata. It is medium salmon in colour. It is off-dry and I was surprised to know that the residual sugar is at 22g/L, because it does not come across as that sweet. The acidity is kept high enough to nicely balance it out. This rosé is pure juicy strawberry.

The 2014 Merlot ($28) spent 6 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and Slovakian barrels, followed by 8 month in stainless tanks. It has a rich nose of ripe dark plum and cherry with some liquorice. it is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus body and medium-plus-plus fine tannins. On the rich palate there are dried herbs, plum, cherry and spice with a long finish. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)  spent 6 months in Slovakian and neutral French barrels, followed by 6 months in stainless steel. It has very rich ripe nose of black cherry and liquorice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body and medium-plus-plus tannins. It has flavours of black cherry, plum and eucalyptus. I enjoyed my tasting at Lunessence and will hope to return.

Sonoma Tour: Healdsburg Part 2

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Venturing up Dry Creek Road on the northwest side of Healdsburg was probably one of my favourite parts of my Sonoma trip. I really enjoyed that area, particularly venturing off the main road onto winding roads lined with vineyards, olive trees and with the mustard in full bloom. I visited a handful of the many wineries in the area, and kept wishing for more time to spend there.20160226_163814

The first winery that I stopped at was Papapietro Perry. It is part of a complex that houses several tasting rooms, spread out in various buildings around a common parking area. Papapietro Perry started out as a true garagiste winery back in the 1980s, and opened commercially in the 1990s, with a focus on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. The current offerings include ten different Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Noir Rosé, a Chardonnay, and a Zinfandel.

I began my tasting with the 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir. It is pale salmon in colour with light aromas of strawberry and some floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, light body and flavours of citrus, red plum and strawberry. The 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is pale ruby-garnet in colour with aromas of cherry, raspberry and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, light tannins and body with flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of raspberry, strawberry and a bit of earthiness. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, light tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry and raspberry.20160226_151707 The 2013 Russian River Valley Leras Family Vineyard Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of red fruit, mushroom and earthy notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cola, raspberry and spice. The 2012 Dry Creek Zinfandel is pale ruby in colour with a rich nose of blackberry, cocoa and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins, and medium body with flavours of baking spice, brambleberry, pepper and blueberry. It is elegant with a medium-plus finish. Just as I was about to leave, some beautiful barrels were being delivered as part of a local art project – a great idea!

While at Papapietro Perry, it was suggested that I stop in at Sbragia Winery, a few minutes up the road to taste the wines and particularly to check out the views. The tasting room was pretty busy when I arrived and I didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t end up tasting but I did snap a few photos of the views. I can imagine that it would be particularly lovely on a blue-sky day.20160226_153827

I made my way to Amista Vineyards toward the end of my day of touring and was amazed to find many of the vines already in budbreak. It seemed so early, although I suppose Sonoma and Napa are typically around 6 weeks ahead of the Okanagan.IMG_3623 I was offered a couple of sparkling wines to start my tasting. The Sparkling Blanc de Blancs had lovely citrus and toast on the nose and palate and a nice mousse. The Sparkling Syrah was a nice change to some of the Sparkling Shirazes that I’ve had before from Australia. I was prepared for something dark and rich and verging on sweet. Instead, this Sparkling Syrah has a lovely berry nose, is crisp and dry with a nice creamy mousse. A very pleasant surprise. The 2012 Chardonnay Estate spent 16 months in neutral French oak. It is pale lemon in colour with fresh aromas of apple, light tropical fruit and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity and light body with flavours of apple, tropical fruit, some creaminess to the palate and a medium-plus finish.20160226_160000 I got to try two single vineyard Zinfandels side by side. The 2012 Hill Block Zinfandel is medium ruby-purple with a lighter nose of plum and a bit of spice. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body with rich flavours of dark fruit, spice and earthiness – tasty. The 2012 Gene’s Block Zinfandel is medium ruby-purple with a ripe nose of dark berries. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of cherry, dusty notes and blueberry with a long finish.

I next got to compare two vintages of Syrah (their flagship). The 2011 Syrah is medium purple-ruby with a fresher nose or dark berries and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body with flavours of cherry, red berry and blueberry. The 2012 Syrah (currently available to wine club members only) has a smoky, meaty nose. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and body with a richer palate of smoky bacon and dark berries.20160226_161120 The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is medium-plus purple-ruby in colour with aromas of chocolate and hints of green bell pepper. It is dry with medium acidity, tannin and body with flavours of cassis, green bell pepper and spice. I finished with a Port-style fortified wine made of Zinfandel and Syrah, called Ilusion. It has aromas and flavours of rich ripe dark fruit and a bit of spice. It was quite nice – not too sweet. I had a great time at Amista, chatting with the tasting room staff.20160226_162248

The following day I went back to The Barlow in Sebastopol to meet a friend for coffee and to pass along some BC wines to her that I had brought down with me. I arrived a bit early and decided to do a tasting at Marimar Estate’s tasting room. Michael was a wonderful host at the tasting bar and gave me history on the winery while pouring through their lineup. I began with the 2014 Albariño with its lovely aromatics. It is dry with medium acidity and a rich mouthfeel. It has flavours of peach, pear, apple and floral and is crisp and clean.

The 2013 La Masia Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) is pale gold in colour with fresh aromas of citrus, toast and peach. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of citrus, apple and spice – nicely balanced. The 2013 La Masia Pinot Noir from Don Miguel Vineyard is pale ruby in colour with clean aromas of red fruit. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and spice – very fresh.

The 2012 Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir from the Doña Margarita Vineyard in Sonoma Coast is pale garnet in colour with aromas of spice and red fruit. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of dried raspberry, cranberry and cherry with a long finish. The 2013 Cristina Pinot Noir is made from select barrels. It is pale ruby in colour with a complex nose of baking spice and red fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium dusty tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry, red currants and hints of spice. It is elegant, balanced and has a long finish. The 2013 Método Antiguo Pinot Noir is from the Doña Margarita Vineyard in Sonoma Coast and undergoes carbonic maceration. It is pale ruby in colour with aromas of bright fruit and some herbal notes. It is dry with medium acidity, light tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of red fruit, floral notes and a hint of earthiness.

The 2012 Syrah from Don Miguel Vineyard in the Russian River Valley is medium ruby with a fuchsia hue with aromas of dark berries. It is dry with medium-minus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of dark berries and baking spice with a medium-plus finish.

I think that my favourite Sonoma winery of my trip was the last one I ended up visiting. After tasting their Grenache at Thea’s place, I could not head over to Napa without taking a bit of a detour back up Dry Creek Valley to stop in at Mounts Family Vineyard. Not only was it a beautiful drive to get there, the tasting space was simple, no-frills farm tasting and I loved each of the wines that I sampled.IMG_365120160227_141833IMG_3653IMG_365620160227_142136IMG_3661IMG_3665IMG_3666IMG_3669 The 2014 Viognier has a lovely nose of apricot and honeysuckle. It is dry with medium acidity and flavours of citrus and apricot.

The 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is elegant with flavours of dark berries and pepper. The 2013 Verah is a blend of 53% Mourvèdre, 24% Grenache and 23% Syrah. It is medium-plus purple-ruby with aromas of dark fruit and floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body with flavours of juicy red and dark fruit and spice. It is well-balanced with a long finish.

The 2012 Cabernet Franc is medium ruby with aromas of dark fruit and chocolate. It is dry with medium acidity, ripe tannins and medium body with balanced flavours of dried dark red fruit and spice and a long finish.

As much as I’d hoped (and planned) to visit Jordan Winery for their Taste of Healdsburg event before heading over to Napa, I simply ran short of time. It will be top of my list for my next trip.IMG_3682_crop

Sonoma Tour: Healdsburg Part 1

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I took a bit of an off-season holiday this February. I managed to sneak in six days in California between teaching some wine courses and the opening of the tasting room for the season. There never seem to be enough days in a holiday, and this was no different, particularly as I was exploring a new-to-me wine region for part of that time – Sonoma. Don’t get me wrong, I have certainly drank Sonoma wines before, but I had never explored the region in person. I started my time in California in and around San Francisco, getting a bit of city time in and visiting family. The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny – something that I certainly did not complain about. I managed a bus tour of San Francisco sitting on the open top deck of the bus, in a sleeveless top, and only needing a sweater when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Not bad for the end of February!IMG_3418

For my scant two days and two nights in the Sonoma wine region, my friend and fellow wine blogger, Thea of Luscious Lushes opened her home to me, guided me to several of her favourite local wineries and shared bottles of other favourites. In any wine region, it’s always so helpful to have a local’s perspective as many of the guidebooks don’t have decent maps and don’t tend to focus on the types of wineries that I enjoy visiting. I arrived at Thea’s only to be whisked off to The Barlow in Sebastopol – a fabulous former apple cannery that is now home to wineries, restaurants, a distillery, a brewery, food markets, artists, etc. This is something that I would so dearly love to see in the Okanagan, but sadly would require changes to current liquor laws. MacPhail Family Wines was hosting an evening of wine and goat cheese pairings with Redwood Hill Farm. I very much enjoyed sampling the MacPhail Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs with the delicious array of goat cheeses, and learning all about the different types of cheese.

The next day I decided to venture out and get a better idea of the sense of scale of Sonoma. It’s one thing to look at a map and distances, but there’s no way of knowing how long it actually takes to drive from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg for example. As it turns out, it doesn’t take very long to get anywhere, as long as traffic is cooperative, and with the help of the Wine Road Map, I found my way around easily. I started out my day in central Healdsburg, where there are close to 30 wineries’ tasting rooms all within walking distance (approximately 6 block radius of the main plaza).

Many of these wineries are small to medium sized producers who either make their wines at custom crush facilities, or have a primary winery and tasting room located out of town and this is a second tasting room for them. I figured this would be a great way to visit several wineries in a reasonably short time.

My first stop, after getting some coffee and breakfast into me, was to Banshee Wines. I loved the relaxed vintage vibe as soon as I stepped into the tasting room. Amy greeted me and told me to choose a seat – there are many comfortable chairs and sofas throughout the space.

The first wine poured was the 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir, from fruit sourced in Mendocino County. It is a pale salmon colour with cherry, strawberry, red currant and floral notes on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of Meyer lemon, raspberry, and cranberry with a medium-plus finish – very tasty.20160226_114149 The 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is pale lemon in colour with lemon cream on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon, spice. It has a nice amount of oak to it, without losing the fruit, and is quite elegant.20160226_114708 The 2014 Sonoma County Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of cherry, pepper and raspberry jam. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cranberry, sour cherry, earthy notes and spice with a long finish. 20160226_115251The 2013 Tina Marie Vineyard Pinot Noir is from Green Valley in Sebastopol. It is pale ruby with a fuchsia hue and a rich ripe nose of cherry with a hint of spice. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body, and flavours of cherry, red currant, cranberry with some earthiness and spice with a long finish.20160226_115721 My favourite of the reds was the 2013 Mordecai Red, which is a blend of 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 24% Zinfandel, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Grenache, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot & 3% Barbera. The fruit was sourced from various sites in Dry Creek Valley AVA, Russian River Valley AVA, Alexander Valley AVA and Napa. It is medium ruby in colour with flavours of blackberry, plus, cassis, black cherry and blueberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, dusty ripe tannins and medium body. It is elegant, with flavours of blackberry, plum, earthy notes and cocoa with a super long finish – delicious! I think I need to replenish my supply.20160226_120141 The final wine to taste was the 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain AVA. It is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc. It is medium-plus ruby-purple with a rich nose of cassis, plum and blackberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body, with flavours of plum, coffee, dark berries, some cassis and spice with a long finish.20160226_120943

Next stop was at Cartograph, right across the street from Banshee. I was curious about the place names with longitudes and latitudes on the wall behind the tasting bar. It turns out that this makes up the story behind the label, about the places that great wines can take you, about the story of the winery owners, where they’ve been and how they’ve gotten to where they are.IMG_3581

A “Cartograph” is a visual marking of ideas, either over time or place. The cartograph on our labels is a visual depiction of the journey that brought us to winemaking and the ideas that have propelled that journey. – Alan Baker & Serena Lourie, Owners, Cartograph Wines

The first wine I tasted here was the 2014 Greenwood Ridge Riesling. It is pale lemon in colour with peach and citrus on the nose. It is dry with high acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon, lime and green apple with a medium finish. The 2014 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer, from the Russian River Valley AVA, is pale lemon in colour with apple, honeysuckle, lemon and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and body, with flavours of grapefruit and lychee with a medium finish. We then went into the Pinot Noir portfolio – with four different Pinot Noirs. The 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of cola, strawberry, spice and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cherry, cola, cranberry, strawberry and spice with a medium finish. The 2013 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) is pale ruby in colour and has very light aromas. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cherry, cranberry, cocoa and earthy notes. The 2013 Choate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Green Valley AVA) is pale ruby in colour with an earthy nose with aromas of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry and chocolate. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry and chocolate. The 2013 Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge AVA) is pale ruby in colour with aromas of plum and some earthy notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of plum, pepper, cranberry and orange zest with a long finish.

Gustafson Family Vineyards is located perched in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma, however they have recently opened a tasting room in central Healdsburg and this is where I was able to experience their wines.

The 2014 Rosé of Syrah was fermented in neutral oak barrels. It has a juicy clean nose of red fruit and watermelon. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of cherry and strawberry with a lovely creamy texture. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc contains 20% Sauvignon Musqué. It has peach and pear aromas, is dry with a round mouthfeel and flavours of lemon, peach and floral notes – quite pleasant. The 2013 Riesling, from the Heritage Tree Vineyard, has aromas of green apple, petrol and lemon. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with flavours of lemon, lime and some stone fruit.20160226_170658 The 2012 Estate Mountain Cuvée Zinfandel is 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and 5% Syrah. It has aromas of chocolate, spice and dark fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body with flavours of dried dark fruit, spice and cocoa. The 2011 Estate Heritage Tree Zinfandel is 90% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Sirah. It has a rich ripe nose with aromas of dried dark fruit and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body and medium-plus-plus tannins. It has intense flavours of cocoa, black cherry, plum, dark berry with a long finish. The 2011 Estate Syrah has aromas of pepper and dark fruit with a hint of vanilla. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus-plus body and tannins with flavours of ripe fruit, pepper, blueberry and blackberry with some nice minerality. The 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It has aromas of blackberry, cherry and chocolate. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and body with flavours of ripe dark fruit and spice. The 2012 Estate Petite Sirah is the flagship wine with a juicy nose of chocolate, dark fruit and some floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, ripe tannins and medium-plus body. It is fresh on the palate with flavours of ripe blueberry, black berry, cassis, plum, lavender and liquorice.20160226_172049

I took a bit of a longer stroll through a Healdsburg neighbourhood to get to Davis Family Vineyards, located along the banks of the Russian River. There is a great garden area surrounding a covered patio that I imagine must be popular in the summer months. IMG_3596I began my tasting with a sparkling wine – the 2013 Rosé de Noir, made from 100% Pinot Noir from the Dutton Ranch Vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, nice mousse and flavours of cranberry, strawberry and citrus.20160226_130954 The 2014 Cuvée Luke, from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley AVA, is a blend of 48% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne and 17% Viognier. It has a lovely apricot nose, is dry with medium acidity and body, with a rich creamy mouthfeel and flavours of stone fruit and a bit of citrus with a deliciously long finish. The 2014 Estate Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) is a mix of 70% barrel-fermented with full malo and 30% stainless steel fermented fruit.  It has aromas of citrus, spice, apple and peach. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of citrus, golden delicious apple and has some nice salinity/minerality. It is an elegant wine with a long finish. The 2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of spice, raspberry, cherry and orange zest. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of cherry, raspberry and vanilla. The 2012 Starr Ridge Pinot Noir is pale ruby with a fuchsia hue. It has a clean nose with aromas of plums. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and light body with flavours of plum, currants and liquorice. The 2012 Throne is the first vintage of a blend of 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 12$ Mourvèdre. It has aromas of blackberry, plum and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body, with flavours of ripe plum, dark berry and spice. The 2011 Syrah was cofermented with 3% Viognier. It is a medium ruby-fuchsia in colour with aromas of blackberry, cherry, spice and floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body, medium-plus-plus tannins and flavours of dried cherry, dark chocolate, dark berries and spice.

I couldn’t spend a day in and around Healdsburg without eating at KINsmoke, The United State of BBQ. The aromas wafting from the building were enough to pull me in. In honour of the Okanagan Burger Tour crew I opted for the KIN Burger with sides of sautéed kale and frickles. Definitely delicious, albeit filling, and on my next trip to Healdsburg (and there will be another trip – it’s too awesome an area to not explore further) I will have to pay more attention to their Pit menu.20160226_175809

To hear more about my other winery finds in Sonoma and Napa, please stay tuned to my next blog posts.

Canadian Culinary Championships’ Gold Medal Plates

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This weekend, Gold Medal Plates is happening at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna. This is the grand finale of the Canadian Culinary Championships, presented by Deloitte. The goal of Gold Medal Plates is to raise substantial funds for Canada’s high performance athletes, while celebrating Canadian excellence. Since 2004, this event has received tremendous support and accolades all across Canada, and generated a combined net total of nearly $11 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes! Net proceeds from Gold Medal Plates are given to the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support athletes through high performance programs such as Own the Podium.

Throughout October and November, Canadian chefs competed in eleven major centres across the country for a chance to represent their region at the Gold Medal Plates, which is considered to be the ultimate celebration of Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, entertainment and athletic achievement. The competing chefs this year include:

Representing British Columbia – Alex Chen (Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, Vancouver)

Representing Calgary – Matthew Batey (The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar)

Representing Edmonton – Jan Trittenbach (Solstice Seasonal Cuisine)

Representing Regina – Jonathan Thauberger (Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar)

Representing Saskatoon – Darren Craddock (Riverside Country Club)

Representing Winnipeg – Norm Pastorin (The Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant)

Representing Toronto – Stuart Cameron (Byblos)

Representing Ottawa – Marc Lepine (Atelier)

Representing Montreal – Guillaume Cantin (Les 400 Coups)

Representing St. John’s – Roger Andrews (Relish Gourmet Burgers)

Representing Halifax – Martin Ruiz Salvador (Fleur De Sel, Lunenberg)

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

I attended a Wine & Media event yesterday as part of the Gold Medal Plates weekend, which featured the wines from the Bottleneck Drive winery association from Summerland. IMG_3372While I am quite familiar with the wineries, it was nice to be able to try some more recent vintages and some wines that were new to me, while chatting with the wineries’ representatives. Also included in the association are two new cideries. I sampled the Thornhaven 2014 Pinot Gris first. It has aromas and flavours of apple, pear and citrus and is an easy sipper.IMG_3368 Sage Hills’ 2013 Pinot Gris has a bit of toastiness on the nose, with aromas of apple, pear and citrus. It has a creamy mouthfeel and nice complexity on the palate.IMG_3364 The 2013 Ehrenfelser from Sonoran Estate has a very floral nose. It is a pleasant off-dry wine that is quite fruity and aromatic.IMG_3362 The Gala Apple wine from Sleeping Giant Fruit Winery is an off-dry easy sipper.IMG_3363 The 2014 Muscat Ottonel from Summer Gate Winery has a very aromatic nose, with notes of floral, fruit and a hint of spice. It is off-dry with fresh flavours of lychee fruit and spice.IMG_3367 The 2014 Riesling from 8th Generation has aromas of citrus, apple and a touch of honey. It is off-dry with flavours of lemon, lime, green apple, peach and honey, with a long finish.IMG_3380 Two ciders were featured – the new Dominion Cider is dry with great flavour and light effervescence.IMG_3378 The Porter’s Dry Cider from Summerland Heritage Cider Co. is another great dry cider with earthy rich flavours.IMG_3379 The 2014 Rosé from TH Wines was one of my favourite rosés of last summer, with a candied red fruit nose. It is dry, fresh, with flavours of juicy red fruit and a hint of spice.IMG_3366 The 2013 Gamay from Heaven’s Gate has a nose of plum and dark berries, with flavours of dark cherry and raisins and smooth tannins.IMG_3375 The 2013 Shiraz Viognier from Silkscarf has a ripe berry nose with a hint of spice. It is dry and elegant with ripe tannins and flavours of cherry, blueberry and spice with a long finish.IMG_3376 The 2012 Pinot Noir from 8th Generation has aromas of cherry and raspberry with a hint of earthiness. It is dry, with nice acidity and flavours of ripe cherry, spice and raspberry with a medium-plus finish.IMG_3385 The 2014 Pinot Noir from Giant Head Winery has delicate floral notes alongside aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry, with a slightly candied nose. It is dry and fresh, with a light body and medium finish.IMG_3383 The 2013 Haywire Pinot Noir, raised in concrete, has an earthy nose with aromas of cherry and spice. It is dry with good acidity, medium tannins and flavours of sour cherry, red currant and spice.IMG_3381 The 2013 Unoaked Merlot from Saxon has aromas of ripe red cherry and plum jam. It is dry with light tannins and flavours of sour cherry and damson plum.IMG_3370 The 2014 Cabernet Merlot from Evolve Cellars is full of dark fruit and caramel on the nose. It is dry, full-bodied with medium-plus tannins and flavours of ripe cherry, cassis and spice.IMG_3384 The 2013 Merlot from Black Sage Vineyard (Sumac Ridge) has aromas of cherry, plum and spice. It is dry, full-bodied with grippy tannins and flavours of plum, dark berries, vanilla and spice.IMG_3386 The 2013 Kay-Syrah from Dirty Laundry has a smoky nose, alongside dark fruit. It is dry, with medium-plus body, ripe tannins and flavours of dark berries, chocolate, smoke and spice.IMG_3387

Following the Bottleneck Drive tasting, the Mystery Wine Pairing took place. The Mystery Wine Competition is the first of three gruelling challenges for the competing chefs, each of whom has won the Gold Medal Plates competition qualifying event in their respective cities. Less than 24 hours before the Mystery Wine Competition, they were given the Mystery Wine – Gamay Noir from the Tawse Winery in the Niagara Peninsula along with a food budget of $500 with which to feed 400 guests.  Friday morning they had to decide on the perfect dish to pair with the wine and then find all of the ingredients in Kelowna.

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

David Lawrason, national wine advisor for Gold Medal Plates was instrumental in choosing the Mystery Wine for this year’s competition.  “This Gamay Noir from Tawse Winery was a mystery indeed. When selecting the wine it’s important to ensure three things: the wine will challenge the chefs and give latitude to do their own thing; it must be a wine that our 400 guests will enjoy drinking for 90 minutes and it will create mystery, debate and discussion. I heard a lot of great guesses tonight and some people even got the varietal right.“

Alex Chen from Boulevard Kitchen and Bar in Vancouver, representing British Columbia won the People’s Choice award.  The award does not affect the official judging scores for the ultimate title – the 2016 Canadian Culinary Champion – but it is a nice feather in the cap for Chef Chen.

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

“It feels good to win the People’s Choice Award this evening,” says Chef Chen. “We worked hard and it’s a nice way to end the first day of the competition. The win gives us an extra boost of energy and confidence going into tomorrow’s competitions but we know we still have two competitions ahead of us.” Chef Chen paired the mystery wine with a menu of Slow Braised Boneless Oxtail with Smoked Mayonnaise, Parsley Garlic Purée and a Borsht Emulsion.

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

The competition continues today with The Black Box Competition at Okanagan College Culinary Arts Department and The Grand Finale at Delta Grand Okanagan tonight.

BC Wine is not just from the Okanagan

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While the Okanagan certainly represents the lion’s share of BC wineries and vineyards, it is not the only region producing BC wine. In the past month I visited two other regions: the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, and one of the emerging regions, Lytton-Lillooet.

According to the 2014 BC Grape Acreage Survey, Vancouver Island is home to 50 vineyards, making up just under 400 acres, or 3.8% of the total planted throughout the province. And according to the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch (LCLB), as of August this year there were 32 licensed wineries on Vancouver Island. Over the last few years I have visited a handful of them but unfortunately I don’t get down to the Island more often than once every 12-18 months.

On a recent trip with friends to Vancouver Island we were focussing a lot on food, wine, beer & cider: visiting many restaurants, brew pubs, a couple of wineries, and one cidery (that happened to be playing host to over 20 cideries for a special event). Although we were based down in Victoria, it was an easy day trip to visit some wineries in and around Duncan (only 60 km north). We decided to start with Averill Creek (established in 2001) as we had sampled some of their wines before but had never visited the winery. It’s a lovely west-coast modern building in a picture-perfect hillside setting on the southeastern slopes of Mount Prevost (overlooking Satellite Channel, with Salt Spring Island beyond. I could see how the patio would be a very popular picnic spot in the summer months.IMG_3025IMG_3026IMG_3037IMG_3036We were greeted in the tasting room and led through some wines. We began with the 2014 Gewürztraminer, with grapefruit and lychee on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It has flavours of grapefruit and lychee with some tropical notes.IMG_3035 Next was a particularly interesting wine – the 2014 Foch-Eh! This is a light, fruity, easy-drinking, unoaked style of Marechal Foch that was fermented using a technique called carbonic maceration. It is a vibrant fuchsia in colour with aromas of juicy red currants and strawberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity medium-minus body and flavours of red berries and pomegranate. For those who aren’t huge fans of Foch, I would recommend trying this wine and serving it slightly chilled on a warm summer’s day.IMG_3033 The 2011 Pinot Noir (2010 pictured below) is medium ruby in colour, with a hint of purple. It has a perfumed nose of raspberry and ripe plum. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins, with flavours of damson plum, raspberry and bit of spice, with a medium-plus finish. IMG_3030The 2012 Foch Cab is a blend of 60% Marechal Foch, 15% Cabernet Foch, 15% Cabernet Libre (both Blattner varietals) and 10% Merlot. It is medium garnet in colour with a smoky nose, with some dark fruit and savoury notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body and medium tannins. It has flavours of red berries, black currants and some gamey notes.IMG_3032 We finished our tasting with the 2008 Cowichan Tawny, a barrel-aged fortified blackberry dessert wine with aromas and flavours of dried fruits, nuts and spice.

After stopping for a bit of sightseeing and a bite for lunch in Cowichan Bay, we headed to Blue Grouse Estate Winery & Vineyard, a 45 acre estate with 7 acres of vineyard planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Muller Thurgau, Ortega, Black Muscat, Siegerrebe and Bacchus. IMG_3066We were greeted by tasting room manager Derek and he began our tasting before owner Paul Brunner stepped in to explain the different lineups of wine offered at Blue Grouse. There is the Quill line of wines, which are made either entirely from grapes not grown on the estate (but still BC grapes), or blends of non-estate and estate grapes. Then there is the Estate line of wines, made from 100% estate-grown grapes. We began with the 2014 Quill Rosé, made from 100% Gamay Noir grapes, some from Blue Grouse and some from another vineyard 15km north. It is a crisp, refreshing, dry wine with aromas and flavours of strawberry and red currant. Definitely my kind of rosé! The 2013 Estate Ortega has a lovely aromatic nose, is dry with medium-plus acid and a light body. It has flavours of citrus, apple, almond & peach. The 2013 Quill Dry White is a blend of 36% Ortega, 39% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewürztraminer and 10% Müller-Thurgau. It has aromas of apple and peach, is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lychee, apple and citrus. Very pleasant, easy-drinking.BlueGrouse1 The 2014 Estate Bacchus was a surprise. I’ve typically enjoyed Bacchus wines in the past, but they’ve been typically done in an off-dry style, pretty, but easy, nothing overly complex or interesting about them. Not this Bacchus though! Winemaker Bailey Williamson has outdone himself on this one. It has a very pronounced nose with notes of elderflower and juniper. It is dry with high acidity, medium body and is highly aromatic. It has delicate floral notes, some savoury notes, flavours of orchard fruits and some unexpected complexity with a long finish. The 2014 Estate Siegerebbe has aromas of grapefruit, lychee and peach. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It is clean and fresh with flavours of citrus and white peach. The 2014 Quill Riesling (sourced from a vineyard near Tuc el Nuit Lake in Oliver) has a nose of peach, orchard fruit and light floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It has flavours of crisp green apple and lemon with a very long finish. The 2012 Paula is Bailey’s first release of a traditional method sparkling wine at Blue Grouse. It is a blend of Pinot Gris, Ortega, Müller-Thurgau, and a small percentage of Pinot Blanc. It has persistent fine bubbles and aromas of citrus and brioche. On the palate it has a fine mousse and flavours of green apple and citrus with toasty notes and a hint of sweet fruit. It is a lovely, very quaffable sparkling wine. We finished the tasting with the 2013 Quill Red, which is a blend of 44% Marechal Foch, 28% Cabernet Franc and 28% Merlot. The Foch was sourced from the Cowichan Valley, while the Cab Franc and Merlot were sourced from Oliver. It is a medium ruby in colour with aromas of ripe cherry and plum. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins. It has flavours of cherry, plum and red currant with a medium finish.BlueGrouse2

Following our tasting, Paul took us on an extensive tour of the new facilities. Although the new building only opened earlier this year, the property has had vines for close to 40 years, first as experimental plantings in 1977, then in earnest by previous owner Hanz Kiltz from the late 1980s. Blue Grouse Winery was established in the early 1990s. Paul and his family purchased the winery in 2012 and had the new state-of-the-art facility built on to the existing facility. The modern sustainable building relies on geothermal heating and cooling, which makes for one of the coolest mechanical rooms (I admit it, the architectural geek in me came out on this tour). The bright tasting room features double tasting bars and a fireplace lounge area.IMG_3106-2IMG_3083The upper level lounge which overlooks the tasting room, pays homage to Hanz Kiltz and the history of the property, while opening up views over the vineyards and the stunning surrounding landscape of rolling hills. IMG_3082IMG_3074IMG_3076IMG_3081

Following a quick trip earlier this month to attend the Cornucopia Wine Festival in Whistler, I stopped in at Fort Berens Winery in Lillooet on my way home. I hadn’t been out there since August of 2012, as part of my initial winery tour for this blog, and a lot has changed since then. Back in 2012, the tasting room was essentially in a barn and the only washroom was a porta-potty! Now there is a bright new tasting room and winemaking facility, which officially opened last year.IMG_328220151109_14000020151109_14001820151109_135022 I tasted through the portfolio, starting with the 2014 Pinot Gris with pear and melon on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It is fresh and fruit-forward with flavours of pear, melon and peach. The 2014 Unoaked Chardonnay has citrus and tropical notes, is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It has flavours of apple, pear and lemon with a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Riesling has aromas of stone fruit and some floral notes. It is dry with a hint of sweetness, medium body and a round mouthfeel. It has flavours of apricot, peach and citrus.FB-Whites The 2013 Pinot Noir has a rich nose of cherry, raspberry, spice and a hint of earthiness. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins, medium body and flavours of raspberry, cranberry, red cherry and a hint of spice. It is elegant, with some complexity and a long finish – quite lovely. The 2013 Cabernet Franc has aromas of smoke, raspberry and spice. It is dry with medium-acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium-plus body and flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice. It is nicely balanced with a long finish. The 2013 Meritage is a blend of 60%Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc & 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has aromas of smoke, plum, cassis, cherry and some savoury notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus silky tannins and medium body. It has flavours of cherry, spice, plum and cassis with a medium-plus finish. The 2013 Late Harvest Riesling has a ripe pear nose. It is off-dry with medium-minus acidity and medium body with flavours of pear nectar, lychee and ripe mango. FB-Reds

Women in Wine, Aging Finger Lakes Wines & more from #WBC15

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Following a late night of wine tasting, and buoyed by plenty of coffee and a bacon-based breakfast, I was ready for the second full day of the Wine Bloggers Conference itinerary. The first morning breakout session that I chose was The Business of Wine, moderated by Marcy Gordon, and featuring Leeann Froese of Town Hall Brands, Zach Milne-Haverty of Beverage Trade Network and Monika Elling of Foundations Marketing Group. This focussed primarily on a few ways to better understand the current wine consumer market and how to get your brand noticed in a sea of wine brands. I had been hoping for a bit more insight on current market trends, but had some great takeaways from the session, particularly with the millennials:

Unlike my own generation, who grew up drinking nasty sweet plonk like Arbor Mist or Boone’s Farm, the millennials grew up drinking the quality wines of their parents. They have more sophisticated palates at a younger age. However, they want to separate themselves from their parents’ brands, and are willing to try almost any brand whose packaging/branding jumps out at them and to keep trying new wines. They are less likely to have brand loyalty, unlike their parents, so the key for wineries is to find a way to hang on to their millennial customers.

The second breakout session that I attended was Women In The Wine World, moderated by Amy Corron Power, and featuring Stevie Kim of Vinitaly, Meaghan Frank of Dr Konstantin Frank Cellars, and Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. IMG_2257Although women are becoming far better represented overall in the wine industry, and particularly in positions of power in the wine industry, there are still challenges that exist. Stevie Kim outlined the many events that she coordinates as the Managing Director of Vinitaly (which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016). Not only is there the primary competition and exposition held every April in Verona, but there is OperaWine, Vinitaly International, Vino – A Taste of Italy at Expo in Milan, and the Vinitaly Wine Club. This is one very busy woman, along with her team. The Italian wine world is one very much dominated by men. At Cronache di Gusto, an online journal of food & wine, a Top 100 Power List is published of the Italian wine industry every year. The first woman doesn’t feature until #18 and, of the 10 women included on the list, one is American (Monica Larner) and one is British (Jancis Robinson).

Meaghan Frank was born into a local wine dynasty, being the great granddaughter of Dr Konstantin Frank who really began the commercial production of vinifera vines, and quality wine production in the Finger Lakes region. Despite holding a degree in Wine Business Management, she felt that she wasn’t being given credibility in the industry without an enology degree. She is now pursing that degree and is determined to become as educated as possible in order to have that credibility.

Karen MacNeil didn’t find that being a woman was a burden in the wine writing industry, as it allowed her to “fly under the radar” and to climb the ladder as quickly as possible. She believes that, in the past ten years, women are no longer suppressed in the wine industry; the door has been blasted open. She suggests we walk through that door, figure out how to do our best, and to be outstanding. She had a few comments on women and wine tasting. She has found that the people who get ahead are always trying things. One thing for women to keep in mind is that we metabolize alcohol more slowly than men. Therefore, in a large tasting setting we have half the number of tastes available to be able to take stock of the wine, even when spitting. If you’re serious about wine writing, get really serious, and that includes the way you taste. She feels that the biggest challenge that women have (and this is in business in general, not just in the wine business) is how to ask for money, how to figure out your worth. One great way is to have a mentor who is successful in business.

Lunch featured wines from the Seneca Lake Wineries Association. Three wines that stood out to me included the 2012 Sparkling Riesling from Wagner Vineyards,20150815_121147 the 2014 Rosé from Fulkerson Estate,20150815_120613 and my favourite of the day was the beautifully rich 2013 Gigliotti Vineyards Pinot Gris from Lakewood Vineyards.20150815_120045

After lunch, I attended Cellaring Sense: The Ageability of Finger Lakes Wines. I am already familiar with what makes a good wine for ageability, but was very curious to taste some Finger Lakes wines with a bit of age on them, particularly Rieslings. I love aged Rieslings with those petrol/diesel notes. According to some research in the region, those petrol notes tend to appear earlier in fruit from drought-stressed vines, or from long hot growing seasons.20150815_132421 The 2008 Dry Riesling from Hermann J Wiemer Vineyard was medium lemon in colour and had a hint of petrol on the nose, along with honey, lemon and stone fruit. It was dry, with high acid, light body and flavours of lemon, nectarine, honey and some mineral notes, with a medium finish. The 2008 Semi Dry Riesling from Dr Konstantin Frank Cellars was medium gold in colour with baked apple, apricot and honey on the nose. It was medium dry, with medium-plus acid, medium body and had flavours of dried apricot, honey, apple, minerality and a hint of petrol, with a medium-plus finish. 20150815_135923The 2005 Cabernet Franc from Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards was a deep garnet in colour, with a paler rim. It had a rich fruitcake nose, was dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium-plus body and flavours of dried cherries, spice, some herbal notes and savoury complexity with a medium-plus finish. Finally, the 2005 Fiori Vidal Icewine from Casa Larga Vineyards was a medium amber in colour with an intensely aromatic nose with floral notes and caramel. It was lusciously sweet with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body and flavours of lemon, apricot, peach, honey. It was complex and delicious with a long finish.IMG_2276

Following those delicious wines, I stepped out of the official program to do some tasting of Cornerstone Cellars wines with Craig Camp. I’ve become a fan of Cornerstone’s wines over the past few years as I’ve been able to sample them at Wine Bloggers Conferences and Wine Tourism Conferences. I just wish they were available closer to home. Oh darn, it will just mean that a road trip to Napa is in order. Craig had quite the lineup of Rosé and reds available and I tasted through them all. The 2014 Corallina is a Napa Syrah Rosé made specifically as a rosé, not an afterthought or a saignée, but whole cluster pressed. It has a ripe nose of red berries and a hint of spice. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity and medium body and flavours of red cherry, berries, citrus and spice with a long finish. Very refreshing.20150815_141805 The 2012 Stepping Stone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Artist Series) has a ripe dark cherry nose, is dry with medium acidity and body, and medium-minus tannins. This approachable, fruit-forward wine has flavours of dark berry and cherry and a long finish.20150815_142022 The 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir has a more earthy nose. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium body and tannins. It has flavours of dark berries and plum with a hint of spice. 20150815_142027For the Cornerstone wines from Napa, there is a black label and a white label. The black label tends to be blends of different vineyards, with production at approximately 500 cases each. The white labels is for either single vineyard or reserve wines, and usually from older vines – 15 to 25 years old. The 2013 Napa Merlot (black label) has great fruit and structure, along with some smoke and spice.20150815_142034 The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (black label), with 5.5% Merlot and 2.5% Cabernet Franc, has great structure but with fine tannins. It has flavours of cassis, cherry, plum and some dried fruit. It is ripe yet elegant. 20150815_142041The 2012 Cabernet Franc (black label) has aromas of dark fruit with some floral and herbal notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body, medium-plus-plus tannins and flavours of cherry, raspberry and plum with a long finish.20150815_142045 The 2012 Oakville Station Merlot (white label) comes from a single block of vines. It is a full-bodied wine that is very elegant with soft, fine tannins and flavours of plum and cherry – delicious. 20150815_142052The 2012 Michael’s Cuvée (white label) is a blend of single vineyards (Oakville Station, Kairos & Ink Grade Vineyards), 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot. It is a full-bodied, rich wine with flavours of cassis, hints of eucalyptus and a long finish. 20150815_142056The 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (white label) comes from a vineyard above 1400ft in elevation, above the fog line. It is a 28 year old vineyard with soil as fine as talcum powder. This wine has a savoury nose of chocolate, cherry, vanilla and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus-plus tannins and a full body. It has a complex palate with ripe flavours of dark fruit and spice and a beautiful minerality, with an extremely long finish. I would love to see this wine after some time in the cellar!20150815_142103

The day was not over yet, but I will save more for another blog post. Plenty of wine tasting, along with some glass-blowing to come.

In Memory of Aaron

I’m not usually one to re-blog posts, but Aaron was a good friend and colleague of mine at the BC Wine Info Centre for four years. I still can’t believe that he is gone. I will miss our great conversations, generally about wine since we’re both wine geeks, but all sorts of other things about life in general. The BC wine industry has indeed lost one of its most impassioned advocates and I will miss him greatly.

A celebration of life will be held this Friday, October 30th, 1-3pm at Poplar Grove Winery. Shuttle service will be available from the BC Wine Info Centre as there is limited parking at Poplar Grove. If you are unable to make it, please raise a glass to Aaron. Cheers!

Wine Country BC

DSC_7565 It is with a sad heart that I write this. The wine world is generally a very positive one filled with happy experiences around a shared bottle of wine or two. The loss ofone of those friends makes it all the more difficult.

The world lost Aaron Olfert on last weekend.Aaron and I worked together at the BC Wine Information Centre VQA store for the 3 years years that I was there from 2009 to 2011. He had been there since 2006 and continued to work there until his untimely passing. Regular customers appreciatedhis deep knowledge of B.C. wine. The many return visitors in that store knew him from there and recognized him when they came back. His personality filled the spaces between the thousands of bottles in that store. I first met him that way – as a customer looking to spend my birthday money on a nice bottle…

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Garagiste North Festival, Kelowna

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Late last month I attended the third Garagiste North Festival, held this time at the Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna. I arranged to bring my Wine Sales Certificate students to the festival as a field trip, to show them another side of the wine industry in BC. The Garagiste North Festival began last fall, the brainchild of Jennifer Schell and Terry Meyer Stone, to showcase the small producers of BC wine, some of whom are literally producing it in their garages (hence the name), with production ranging from 180 cases to just under 2000 cases. The first festival was hosted by Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, featuring twenty small wineries, and was a resounding success. It lead to a second festival date this past June in Vancouver. This time, back in the Okanagan, 22 garagistes participated in the two-hour tasting event. I try to keep fairly current on new emerging wineries in BC, but this year it has certainly been challenging to do so with several dozen opening around the province and this event introduced me to a few new labels.IMG_2748IMG_2751IMG_2759

This year’s line-up included:

Anarchist Mountain Vineyard, Osoyoos, BC – 250 case production

BC Wine Studio, OK Falls, BC – 900 case production

Bella Wines, Naramata, BC – 342 case productionIMG_2762

Black Cloud Winery, Penticton, BC – 450 case production

Black Market Wine Co., OK Falls, BC – 180 case production

Cana Vines Winery, Oliver, BC – 550 case production

Corcelettes Estate Winery, Keremeos, BC – 738 case production

Daydreamer Wines, Penticton, BC – 1100 case production

Deep Roots Winery, Naramata, BC – 1596 case productionIMG_2766

Giant Head Winery, Summerland, BC – 1055 case production

Kraze Legz Winery, Kaleden, BC – 1991 case production

Lariana Cellars, Osoyoos, BC – 700 case production

Lock & Worth Winery, Penticton, BC – 700 case production

Marichel Vineyard & Winery, Naramata, BC – 1280 case production

Nagging Doubt, Kelowna, BC – 600 case production

Nighthawk Vineyards, OK Falls, BC – 448 case productionIMG_2752

Niche Wine Co., West Kelowna, BC – 460 case production

Phasion Estates Winery, OK Falls, BC – 575 case production

River Stone Estate Winery, Oliver, BC – 1683 case production

Roche Wines, Penticton, BC – 460 case production

Van Westen Vineyards, Naramata, BC – 1837 case production

Vin Perdu Cellars, Oliver, BC – 370 case production

I didn’t have the time to try absolutely everything on offer, so I tried to stick to the wineries whose wines I had never tried before, or those who had new vintages available that I had not yet tried. Some of the standouts for my palate included the 2013 Wildfire Pinot Noir from Anarchist Mountain (making me happy that I already have some bottles in my cellar), The Syndicate 2012 from Black Market Wine Co,IMG_2750 the 2011 Meritage from Corcelettes, the 2013 Amelia from Daydreamer, the 2013 Syrah from Deep Roots, the 2014 Merlot from Lock & Worth, the 2014 Gewürztraminer from Nighthawk Vineyards, the Pinot Noir barrel sample from Roche Wines, and the 2014 Gamay Noir from Vin Perdu Cellars.

The wines produced by the garagistes are truly made with passion and I would recommend seeking them out. The owners/winemakers love what they do (often as a sideline to another job that actually pays the bills) and are happy to speak about their wines and their experiences. Stay tuned to the Events Calendar on the Garagiste North website to get your tickets for upcoming festivals and winemaker dinners.garagiste north

WBC Scholarship Fund – Thank You!

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The Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund was established in 2009 (the second year of the Wine Bloggers Conference) by Thea Dwelle of Luscious Lushes. She has worked tirelessly, along with the Scholarship Committee members, ever since to help ensure that citizen bloggers such as myself have the opportunity to attend the conference.IMG_20150908_204955

I know that I have said a general thank you to the donors of the WBC Scholarship Fund in a previous post, but I would like to extend a big personal thanks to both the corporate and individual donors without whose help I would not have been able to travel more than halfway across North America to attend the conference last month in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Thank you so much to the corporate donors: Ethnifacts, Enobytes, Craig Camp of Cornerstone Cellars, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Protocol Wine Studio, Angelsmith, Freixenet & Ferrer Family Wines, Nomacorc, Amy Gross of Wine4.me, and Vineyard Adventures. And a big thank you to the individual donors: Mia Malm, Tom Wark, Becca Yeamans, Janelle Beccera, Melanie Ofenloch, Debbie Gioquinto, Catherine Todd, Cindy Rynning, Alissa, Jeff Kralik, Kristina Manning of the International Wine of the Month Club, Willie Carter, Alina Ferguson, Thomas Riley, Amy Corron Power & Allison Aitken. I hope I have not forgotten anybody; if I have, please let me know. I hope to pay this forward by helping other citizen bloggers attend future Wine Bloggers Conferences. Cheers!

The Finger Lakes Region isn’t just Riesling.

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This year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Corning, New York, kicked off in style with an eloquent keynote speech by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. This was certainly one of the highlights of the conference, and I must tell you that if you ever have the opportunity to listen to her speak, please jump at the chance. She has lived a very interesting life as a pioneer in the world of women wine writers. I left with some great takeaways, with which I hope to be able to continually improve my writing, my wine knowledge, and how I describe those wines. Karen MacNeil shared many insights, but the three that really resonated with me are:

Be a learner, really know your subject. If you really know your subject, you can explain it in 17 words.

Tell your story, don’t write the story; it’s a conversation.

Never say X wine is like Y wine. Describe it in a way without referencing another wine. Same thing for referencing wine regions (think “Napa North” or “Napa of China”). It does a disservice to that region.

I look forward to reading The Wine Bible, 2nd Edition, which is scheduled to be released October 6th.IMG_2080

Next up on the agenda was an introduction to the Finger Lakes Wine Country, featuring Alan Lakso of Cornell University, specialising in grape physiology research, Fred Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer Winery, and Christopher Bates of Element Winery. Throughout this session I kept hearing many parallels between the Finger Lakes region and the wine regions of British Columbia. Finger Lakes is young region that now has fine winemaking and winegrowing but is still finding its sense of place and how to show this sense of place to the world. This is a small region where people have said, upon tasting the wines, “Great wine, for New York.” The challenge is to change people’s thinking that actually, the Finger Lakes region produces great wine, full stop.IMG_2086IMG_2085

The Wine Bloggers Conference Expo and Lunch was held outside, under a large tent, and allowed attendees to sample wines from around New York and the world, including wines from Ribero del Duero in Spain, Mendoza in Argentina, Alsace in France, and Montefalco in Italy.20150814_12134120150814_13120320150814_12313220150814_12311120150814_12220620150814_12241620150814_13014120150814_125324

After lunch, attendees were able to choose between three different Wine Discovery Sessions. I chose “Finger Lakes & Riesling: A Love Story”. After a brief summary of the region, we tasted through eight different Rieslings, from three AVAs. The 2013 Eugenia Dry Riesling (Keuka West) from Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars was pale lemon with a green hue. It had lemon and flint on the nose with some hints of passionfruit. It was dry with high acidity and a medium-minus body with flavours of lemon, lime, peach, gooseberry and minerality on the palate. It was well-balanced with a long finish. It was very tasty, but almost more like a Sauvignon Blanc in style. The 2014 Humphreys Vineyard Riesling (Seneca West) from Keuka Spring Vineyards was pale lemon in colour with a very light nose. It was slightly off-dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It had flavours of peach and apple. I quite enjoyed the 2012 Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling (Seneca East) from Red Newt Cellars. It was pale lemon in colour with a rich nose of petrol notes and rubber eraser. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It had petrol notes carrying over to the fresh clean palate, along with flavours of Granny Smith apple, lemon, lime and some minerality with a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Dry Riesling (Seneca West) from Knapp Winery was pale lemon in colour with aromas of peach, apple and lemon. It was dry with high acidity, medium body and a rounder mouthfeel, with flavours of apple, peach and lime. IMG_2088The 2014 Dry Oak Vineyard Riesling (Seneca East) from Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars was pale lemon in colour with a tropical nose of honey, passionfruit, guava and peach. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and a light body. It was very light on the palate with flavours of lemon and apple and a short finish. The 2014 Riesling (Cayuga West) from Sheldrake Point Winery was a medium lemon in colour with a rich ripe nose and aromas of baked apple, honey, peach and apricot. It was off-dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with flavours of apricot, honey and melon. It did have a bit of botrytis present, was well-balanced with a medium-plus finish; quite lovely. The next wine was probably my favourite of the lineup – the 2011 Reserve Riesling (Seneca West) from Fox Run Vineyards. It was a medium gold in colour with aromas of petrol, rubber, apricot, honey and tangerine. It was dry with high acidity and medium body, with flavours of tangerine, honey, apricot, apple, spice and preserved ginger with a long finish. The final wine was the 2014 Full Monty Riesling (Seneca West) from Lakewood Vineyards. It was pale lemon in colour with a rich honeyed nose with aromas of gooseberry and melon. It was off-dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of apple, lemon, peach and honey. It was very tasty with a long finish.

Following the Live Blogging/Tweeting speed tasting session – having ten wineries each present a wine to your table and get as much information and as many tasting impressions of the wine in five minutes per wine – we all set off for our Friday evening excursions. There were ten different excursions and each one was a mystery. All the attendees were split up onto buses and it wasn’t until the buses were in motion that we were told where we would be heading. I hopped on Bus #4, which was heading toward Keuka Lake.IMG_2096IMG_2101 We picked up a mystery guest en route, which turned out to be Fred Frank of Dr. Frank Wines. We headed to his sparkling wine production facility for a tour and some sparkling wines and canapés. IMG_2121IMG_2124IMG_2134IMG_2133IMG_2152We sampled the 2009 Blanc de Blancs and 2009 Blanc de Noirs, both delicious. Two other wineries were part of this excursion – Heron Hill Winery & Ravine’s Wine Cellars. We sampled the 2006 Ravine’s Brut (50% Chardonnay 50% Pinot Noir) and their 2009 Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir).IMG_2164IMG_2141IMG_2143IMG_2144IMG_2145 Heron Hill poured their 2013 Reserve Pinot Blanc and a delicious 2008 Single Vineyard Riesling that paired beautifully with goat cheese on a baguette round, drizzled with honey and topped with a fresh peach slice and some lavender.IMG_2175IMG_2176IMG_2140IMG_2174IMG_2173IMG_2172IMG_2171IMG_2123 After admiring the views over Keuka Lake, we departed for our final destination of the excursion – Pleasant Valley Wine Company also known as Great Western Winery, which was the first US-bonded winery, established in 1860. IMG_2187IMG_2188They released their first vintage of American Champagne in 1865 to celebrate the end of the Civil War. Great Western Champagne took the gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1900, and because of that, they have been grandfathered in and are allowed to call it Champagne, rather than sparkling wine. We were treated to their Millennium American Champagne, which had lovely toasty notes.IMG_2193IMG_2196IMG_2191 Dinner was served in a grand banquet hall – it had the feel of being in an old castle. The food was delicious and plentiful, featuring a salad, steak, Madeira chicken and a large ravioli, followed by a dessert of fresh berries on a puff pastry base. IMG_2205IMG_2208IMG_2218IMG_2225Throughout dinner we were able to sample several wines from all four host wineries: Pleasant Valley Wine Company, Heron Hill, Dr Konstantin Frank & Ravine’s Wine Cellar. The wines included were the 2013 Dry Riesling from Ravine’s, 2013 Heron Hill Estate on Keuka Lake Dry Riesling, 2013 Rkatsiteli from Dr Konstantin Frank (one of my favourites),IMG_2211 2013 Chardonnay from Ravine’s, 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay from Heron Hill, 2012 Pinot Noir from Ravine’s, 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc from Heron Hill (bottled especially for us),IMG_2222 Pleasant Valley Port, and a Late Harvest Botrytis-Affected Riesling from Dr Frank. The wines selected showed a broad range of the varietals and wine styles of the Keuka Lake area and I was impressed by them all. IMG_2228We hopped back on our bus to head back to Corning and the final official event of the evening – a reception at the Rockwell Museum, which featured other wine regions from around New York State. IMG_2231IMG_2232IMG_2235IMG_2246IMG_2254IMG_2255Then back to the hotel for a couple of unofficial events – a tasting of wines from Solena Estate & Hyland Estates from Oregon, followed by the Jordan After Party.20150814_22284920150814_22285720150814_23053420150814_23073420150814_23082120150814_23305720150814_233101

It was a long day that started at 9:30am and it was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room. But part of the fun of the Wine Bloggers Conference is all of the socializing, networking and wine tasting that happens outside of the scheduled agenda.

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