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)!
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. 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. My 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. 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.
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.The 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, Shatha 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.For 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. The 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.After 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! We 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. The 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. Back 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. 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. 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. 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. The 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. 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! We 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.
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! The 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! Maeghan 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. The 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. 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. 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. 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. Before 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! 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.
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. 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.