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It’s a grey rainy day in the Okanagan. What is there to do? Wine touring, of course! Yesterday J and I piled into the car (this time with the roof firmly on) to head up to Summerland to visit several of the wineries along “Bottleneck Drive”.

Our first stop of the day was at the lovely Summergate Winery. This small family-run winery quickly became one of my favourite discoveries last year when I was introduced to it in my Wine 21 class at Okanagan College. Mike and Gillian Stohler currently produce approximately 600 cases per year of Riesling, Muscat Ottonel and Kerner.  They use all organic practices in their vineyard, taking part in the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) network which links people willing to work on farms and gain knowledge in exchange for room and board, and they take equal care and pride in the cellar. In the bright and cheerful tasting room, Gillian served us the 2010 Muscat Ottonel, which has lovely floral notes and is quite fruit-forward with a pink grapefruit finish, and the 2010 Riesling, which recently won a Silver Medal at the Pacific Rim Awards. The Riesling is crisp and dry, with lots of lime and a touch of minerality. As the 2010 Kerner has been long since sold out, Gillian brought us into the tank room for a sample of the 2011. The wine had yet to be filtered so offered a lovely nuttiness from the yeast, in addition to the beautiful aromatics of the Kerner grapes. They anticipate that this batch of Kerner will be bottled in the next couple of months, and I look forward to returning once it is!

Our second stop was at Saxon Winery, which only opened its doors two weeks ago. This property was formerly named Hollywood and Wine but the new owners, Paul and Jayne Graydon, have renamed it and are in the process of making a pile of changes, along with the help of their Winemaker/Viticulturist, Danny. The vineyard at Saxon is organic and currently produces approximately 1200 cases, although Paul and Jayne do plan on increased production this next vintage. Jayne walked us through their current selection of wines, starting with the 2010 Pinot Gris with pleasant apple, pear and citrus flavours. Next came their lovely 2010 Gewürztraminer, with big bold lychee on the nose and palate, and a lovely round mouthfeel. The 2007 Pinot Noir was a bit light for my taste, but had nice flavours and would be lovely chilled as a patio sipper in the summer. Next came the 2009 Pinot Noir, which was much richer and had firmer tannins – more of my kind of Pinot! Next came a couple of tank samples. The first was their 2011 Pinot Gris, with nicely balanced flavours. The second was named ‘Experiment #1’ that was being poured for customers over the weekend for their input. It was a tasty rosé, slightly off-dry, made from Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and a bit of Merlot and I gave it my thumbs-up! Then we moved on to a couple of fuller reds. Saxon Winery is the only producer in the Okanagan of the Léon Millot grape, an early-ripening, cold-hardy French hybrid varietal. The 2011 Léon Millot is a fruity, unoaked wine with soft tannins – very pleasant drinking! The final wine was the 2011 Cranky Old Man, a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Merlot, which surprised me because I would’ve guessed the opposite percentages, based on the structure of this wine. I would happily let this lay down for a couple years to soften the tannins. Beautiful full fruit flavours with this one too.

Next stop: Dirty Laundry Vineyards. This winery is all about the experience. There is no mistaking their consistent branding. It flows all the way from the gates on the property, following the wineglass “footprints” on the pavement to their gorgeous new patio and through to the wine shop and tasting bar. This place is all about the fun, with a little twist of naughtiness. Although I have tried several of their wines in the past, I had not yet visited the winery, which underwent a massive renovation last year. We tasted through a series of the whites, including the 2011 Not So Knotty Chardonnay, 2011 Pinot Gris and 2011 Woo Woo Gewürztraminer. The latter is a top seller but is a bit sweet for my palate. Unfortunately my favourite of the Dirty Laundry Gews, Threadbare, was not open for tasting. It is the driest of the three Gewürztraminers, with Woo Woo in the middle and Madam’s Vines as the sweetest.  A surprise for me was the 2010 Hush rosé. I had tasted it in previous vintages and had found it a bit on the sweet side. The 2010 however was showing some nice acidity to balance it out. This is a blend of 35% Pinot Noir, 29% Merlot, 22% Cab Franc and 5% Riesling. Next up came my favourite of the Dirty Laundry reds – the 2010 Kay Syrah, a blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Merlot. This wine had a lovely smokiness and meatiness to it, with rich berry flavours and a hint of spice and smoke. This was followed by the 2010 Merlot and the 2009 Bordello, a blend of 49.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 49.5% Merlot and 1% Cab Franc. This was served along with some chocolate, to play with pairings.

Thornhaven Estate Winery was up next. This winery has a lovely southwest-style building with a huge patio overlooking the vineyards and lake. A great spot for a picnic (had the weather been a bit less grey and wet!) I decided to taste a few of the wines that I had not yet tried. First up was the 2011 Tortured Grape, a blend of Orange Muscat, Riesling and Chardonnay. This is a very easy-drinking summer sipper, with lovely flavours, well-balanced. The 2011 Decadence is indeed decadent! This is a late harvest Pinot Noir, which is quite tasty! It’s about a 4 on the sweetness scale so it’s not too sweet, and the acidity balances it nicely. The 2010 Pinot Meunier has lovely flavours of cherry and butterscotch and would be perfect chilled on a hot summer’s day. Pinot Meunier is one varietal that is sadly not used very much in the Okanagan. Wish it was around a bit more as it’s always so tasty! The 2009 Evolution is really tasting well at the moment. The tannins are softening quite nicely and it’s full of rich flavours. The 2010 Syrah has a really meaty nose, nice tannins and good flavours, with a hint of spice.

We headed down the hill a little way to Sonoran Estate Winery. Sadly, this winery seems to get overlooked at times, but they produce some very tasty wines! Arjan Smits, the proprietor, ran me through many of their wide selection of wines. The art work on the Jazz Series of wines is done by local Summerland artist Will Enns. The 2010 Jazz Series Riesling (17g Residual Sugar) had lovely citrus flavours and nice balance. The 2010 Jazz Series Oraniensteiner (13g RS) had beautiful aromatics and good acidity. This is my favourite of the whites, in part because it is something a bit different. Sonoran Estate Winery is the only producer of the Oraniensteiner grape in the Okanagan. The Golf Series Riesling-Gewürztraminer (18g RS) have a round mouthfeel and nice aromatics – great patio sipper. The 2007 Riesling is ageing very nicely – beautifully full flavours and nice acidity. Onto the reds, and some pretty fabulous reds they are! Arjan started off with one of my recent favourites to recommend to people at the VQA store, the 2007 Jazz Series Cabernet Merlot. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and this wine took the Best Bordeaux blend under $25 and Top Value Wine at last year’s All-Canadian Wine Championships. This is such a delicious, well-made red wine. I do believe the next wine was my favourite red of the day – the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This elegant wine is full of black fruit flavours and a hint of smoke, with great structure. This is probably one of my favourite Cab Sauvs in the Valley – beautiful! The 2007 Jazz Series Merlot is full of cherry and plum flavours with softer tannins. The 2007 Jazz Series Malbec is a bit lighter, with cranberry on the palate. The 2007 Jazz Series Pinot Noir had some lovely cherry and spice. To finish off the tasting, Arjan brought out their two Icewines. The first one was the 2007 Forbidden Love, a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. The second was the 2007 Oraniensteiner Icewine. Wow! It starts off sweet, with the beautiful aromatics and honey tones and then the acidity bursts through on the palate. Delicious! We will definitely return here, perhaps for lunch at their Full Moon Bistro as the smells wafting from the kitchen were wonderful!

Our next stop was just down the hill, at one of Summerland’s newer wineries, Heaven’s Gate Estate Winery. We were greeted at the car by Maggie the winery dog, a friendly yellow lab, and J became her new best friend by playing fetch with her. Andy took us through his full portfolio of wines, starting with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. This was lovely, crisp and dry, with citrus and gooseberry flavours. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon blend was quite light, with citrus and a hint of banana. The 2010 Pinot Gris had lots of apple and melon and an interesting nuttiness to it. Next up was a comparison between two vintages of rosé. The 2010 Rosé was a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cab Sauv. It was a pale salmon colour, with flavours of strawberry and blueberry. The 2011 Rosé was a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Gamay and was my favourite of the two. It had a beautiful pale ruby colour and delicious blueberry-pomegranate flavours. The 2010 Gewürztraminer was full of lychee and orange blossom, with a lovely full mouthfeel. The 2010 Malbec was lovely and rich, with lots of cherry and plum flavours and nice structure. The 2010 Revelation, a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon had a big black cherry nose, nice tannins and lots of cherry and blueberry on the palate. The 2009 Merlot had a nice nose of spice and berry, which carried through onto the palate. The tannins have softened nicely on this Merlot.

Around the corner we went, to Silkscarf Winery. This has been very high up on my list for favourite wines ever since I tasted their Viognier back in 2009, when I first moved back to the Okanagan, and I have been a fan of their wines ever since. I had my first taste of food from their ‘Kitchenette’ for the first time at the ‘Light Up the Vines’ event last winter and was blown away. So I was disappointed to hear that the Kitchenette will no longer be open on weekends, only for special events. I will now make sure I keep myself informed of future events! Ruth was our gracious hostess this day and was lovely to chat with as she poured us her wines. We started with the 2011 Viognier and this remains one of my favourites in the Okanagan. Full of fresh apricot, citrus and peach.  The 2011 Ensemble Blanc is a slightly off-dry blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling. It is practically clear in colour and has a lovely floral nose, reminding me of the recent fruit blossoms. The palate is a nice balance of floral and lychee, with a round mouthfeel. The 2008 Shiraz Viognier is full of cherry and raspberry and pepper, with nice medium tannins. I look forward to drinking some with roast lamb! The 2008 Cabernet Franc has lovely tannins and flavours of plum, berries and spice. To finish off, Ruth poured us some of their Cherry dessert wine, made from the Lapin cherries from their orchard. This was absolutely delicious!

Our final stop of the day was at 8th Generation Vineyard. Stefanie, whose family has grown grapes in Germany since 1691, was our lovely hostess. She started me off with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, light, crisp and citrus-y. The 2011 Pinot Gris spent 2 months in French oak, contributing to the rounder mouthfeel. This is crisp and clean with nice flavour. Next up were the three Rieslings produced this year. I was hard pressed to pick a favourite as each one had its merits, although I think the Riesling Selection may be edging ahead just a bit. The 2011 Classic Riesling (10g RS) is Stefanie’s favourite, with lovely green apple, some minerality and is nicely balanced. The 2011 Riesling Selection (8g RS) was given a bit of skin contact to balance the acidity and was fermented using wild yeasts. This was delicious! The 2011 Riesling just took top honours at the recent All-Canadian Wine Awards, winning ‘White Wine of the Year’. Congratulations to Stefanie and Bernd! This Riesling had a surprising 24g RS, but the fabulous acidity balances it out perfectly. The 2011 Pinot Meunier Rosé is a little bit drier (and therefore more pleasing to my palate) than last year’s vintage. Very tasty! The 2011 Confidence, their frizzante-style rosé is every bit as amazing as last year. Will definitely be a staple this year for bubbles. The 2010 Merlot spent 11 months in 30% new French oak and has been in bottle for about 8 months now. This Merlot was full of cherry and plum, with soft tannins. The 2010 Syrah had a lot of white pepper on the nose. The palate was rich cherry and raspberry with a healthy dose of pepper.