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It’s Spring Wine Festival Season! I decided that a great event to attend would be ‘Sip Sip Syrah’ at Seven Stones Winery in the Similkameen Valley. This is the annual release party of George’s fabulous Syrah, along with a lunch in the barrel room. I invited J along and we decided to make a day of it.

We started the day off at the south end of the valley at the ever-so-picturesque setting of Forbidden Fruit Winery. We were greeted at the car by the very friendly winery dog, Suki, who escorted us to the door of the tasting room, where owner Steve Venables took over. I have been to Forbidden Fruit several times and am never disappointed. Forbidden Fruit started off producing fruit wines but have, in the past couple of years, begun producing some wines from grapes as well. Today I sampled a cross-section of their wines. I began with what was their ‘Mystery Wine’, which had recently been revealed. Every year, depending on the crop levels, they will choose one fruit and make a mystery wine from it, only later revealing what it is made from. For 2011 it was their ‘Plum Noir’, a beautiful dry plum wine that spent two months in a mixture of French and American Oak. Delicious, with some nice structure to it. Next came the 2011 Cherysh, a slightly off-dry rosé made from Stella cherries. This will be a lovely summer sipper. Next I decided to try the 2011 SauVidal, a very tasty blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Vidal. This wine has lovely tropical fruit flavours and a lovely mouthfeel, with a small amount of residual sugar. I finished off with one of my favourites – the 2009 Cerise d’Eve Red Cherry Port, made from Stella cherries, fortified to 17% and aged in American oak. Some lovely spice complements the sweet cherry flavours. I look forward to returning here later this summer, when they will have retail sales of some of their 60 varieties of fruit available!

We drove a little way up the highway to Seven Stones Winery, ready for lunch and tasty Syrah! We checked in and were handed our glasses and food tickets. George ran us through all of his wines, so that we could then choose which one we would like to drink with our lunch. The 2011 Pinot Noir rosé is nicely dry, with red fruit flavours and some citrus. The 2009 Chardonnay has a lovely buttered popcorn flavour. I really enjoyed the Row 128 Merlot, with its cherry, blueberry, mint and a hint of leather.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc is beautiful, with full plum and raspberry flavours and some nice spice to it. The 2008 Meritage is one I would happily put in my cellar for a few more years. But the star of the show today was most definitely the newly released 2010 Syrah. I have always been a fan of George’s Syrah, and this vintage is no different. The white pepper grabbed me on the nose and carried through the blackberry on the palate. J and I chose this to accompany our lunch. We carried our bottle through to the laughter and conversation in the barrel room and found ourselves some seats. The food was delicious, and I must remember to ask who the caterer was! On the menu was: mixed green salad with celery, beet and carrot with a honey Dijon vinaigrette, roast pork with Madeira cream sauce, chicken breast stuffed with spinach cheese and basil, lemon butter herb infused basmati rice, and grilled veggie skewers. For dessert it was a decadent chocolate paté with marscapone. Delicious food, fabulous wine and lots of laughter and good company – a great lunch!

After having our fill, we carried on up to Cawston and stopped in at Rustic Roots Winery, where Sara Harker (winemaker) was a gracious hostess and filled us in on some of the history of the valley and of their family farm, which has been in operation since the late 1800s! I tried the 2010 Plum, an off-dry table wine with beautiful flavours and a nice counterbalance of acidity. The 2009 Peach Nectarine table wine had a candied banana nose and it carried through to the palate. Sara informed me that this happened to be a characteristic of the nectarine during fermentation. I then tried their 2009 Santa Rosa Plum dessert wine. This is so delicious as the acidity of the plums really balances out the sugar. To finish off I tried their fortified Mulberry Pear (2010). This was the winner by far! This is an Amarone-style fortified wine. A portion of the mulberries are dried out prior to fermentation, it is fortified to 18% and has spent 18 months in oak. This is a beautifully full-flavoured wine! A few exciting new releases will be coming out from Rustic Roots this summer: three different sparkling wines! They will be releasing the 2011 Pippin (made from Pippin apples), the 2011 Fameuse (Santa Rosa Plum and Fameuse Apple) and their 2011 Iced Orin Frizzante.

Clos du Soleil Winery was our next stop and Felix, the assistant winemaker, had quite a full tasting room to contend with.  He was great with everyone and ensured we all tasted in the right order. Their 2011 Pinot Blanc, from the Baessler vineyard, is once again a superb example of Pinot Blanc. The 2010 Capella, a blend of Semillon and Sauv Blanc, has lovely mouthfeel and beautifully lush flavours. The 2011 Fumé Blanc will be released June 21 and is a nice balance of acidity, freshness and a bit of oak. Their 2011 Rosé is one of my favourites so far this season! It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and has 6g residual sugar, so is a relatively dry, food-friendly rosé. The nose and palate exhibit juicy candied strawberries – so appealing on a hot summer’s day! The 2010 Célestiale, a Bordeaux blend containing 52% Cab Sauv, 39% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot is also getting released on June 21st. It has slightly heavier tannins than the 2010 vintage and lovely flavours, although it is still a bit tight, having only been bottled in March. The 2009 Signature is a beautiful big red and I can’t wait to lay some of it down in my cellar! This vintage is a blend of 41% Merlot, 28% Cab Franc, 20% Cab Sauv, 7% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. I finished off with the oh-so-decadent Saturn, a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc, making a little play on words with “Sauternes”. This is my new favourite dessert wine. There is a beautiful balance between the sugar and acidity. Clos du Soleil also produce another big red, called Eclipse. This is not found very often as only 4 barrels were produced for the 2009 vintage. It is a blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cab Sauv and 25% Cab Franc.

Due to my inattention (I was busy tweeting instead of navigating) we missed Orofino Winery and therefore decided to stop in at another neighbouring winery, Eau Vivre, before returning to Orofino. I have become quite a fan of Eau Vivre’s wines, having been introduced to them last summer. Dale was behind the tasting bar this day and he ran me through a selection of their wines. I started off with their 2009 Gewürztraminer, which is on the drier side, with nice crisp acidity. The 2008 Chardonnay is a nice balance between fruit and oak, with a lovely mouthfeel. The 2008 Pinot Noir is one of my favourites at the moment with some decent structure and lovely cherry flavours. Dale gave me a sample of their new big red, a Cab-dominant blend with a touch of Syrah. They have produced 400 cases and it will be released later this summer. This wine has lovely tannins and beautifully rich dark fruit flavours. I look forward to its release!

Around we turned and headed back to Orofino, the Straw Bale Winery. I had been looking forward to this stop all day as I wanted to try their newly-released 2011 Moscato Frizzante, and thankfully Aaron had it open for sampling!  J has discovered that he LOVES bubbles so I thought that this would be a nice treat. This is primarily a blend of three different Muscats, with a touch of Riesling and Pinot Gris added for acidity. All I can say is, “YUMMY!!!!” Beautifully balanced, a delicious bottle of bubbly. Next I tried their 2010 Riesling. This was crisp, dry with lovely acidity and a big mouthful of lime. The 2011 Pinot Gris had a nice round mouthfeel, due to some extended skin contact. It was fermented almost completely dry (0.4g RS) and has some really nice minerality. The 2010 Pinot Noir was up next and it had to be one of the fullest-bodied Pinot Noirs I have tasted from BC. It had an amazing peppery flavour to it in addition to the full black cherry flavour. This was only released last week and I scooped up one of the last remaining bottles. I think perhaps next year I’ll get on their mailing list early! Next, Aaron poured the 2010 Red Bridge Merlot. Its nose is full of baking spice and the palate is full of rich fruit and subtle tannins. The 2010 “Scout Vineyard” Syrah had beautiful flavours, lots of black fruits, blackberry, plum and pepper. The 2009 Beleza, a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc and 10% Petit Verdot, is a beautiful big red that is softening really nicely.

Our afternoon in the Similkameen was a great day out and I’m looking forward to returning soon to get to the other wineries in Cawston and Keremeos.