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Recently I had received an invitation to a series of open houses put on by the Okanagan Falls Winery Association. All of the wineries within the association would be open a little bit later than normal this evening and they would also have some munchies on offer. The only problem was that the open houses were only for three hours (4pm-7pm) and there are 13 wineries within the association! That may have been possible to do on a VERY strict schedule in a VERY limited area; however, the Okanagan Falls Winery Association encompasses wineries as far north as Painted Rock on the eastern Skaha Bluffs, in what I still consider to be Penticton, as well as the two wineries in Kaleden, on the west side of Skaha Lake. This is in addition to all the great wineries spread throughout Okanagan Falls itself. So I had to make some decisions. Obviously it would be impossible (or incredibly stupid) to try and stop at them all, so I opted to choose 4-5 wineries that I had not yet visited, or at least not in a very long time. So my list included: Blasted Church, Synchromesh, Noble Ridge, Kraze Legz and Top Shelf. Sadly I ran out of time before visiting Top Shelf but will get to them on the next go-round.

So, leaving the office about an hour early, I met up with J and we headed down the east side of Skaha Lake to Blasted Church Vineyards. The last time I had visited Blasted Church was before I really got into wine, back in the summer of 2006, when I was on a holiday home from England, introducing a bunch of my Aussie girlfriends to the Okanagan. My parents and I took them on a day-long tour of the wineries (far fewer to choose from then, compared to today), starting down in Osoyoos and working our way home to my folks’ place in Vernon, on a 42-degree July day. Great memories! And one of my memories of Blasted Church was of Mocha, the winery dog, who was still there to greet us this time. We were welcomed up to the bar, and offered some cheese and crackers and a selection of their wines. J and I opted to share the tasting so as to be able to run through everything that was on offer. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and dry, with a lot of citrus flavours. The 2011 Pinot Gris is full of grapefruit and granny smith apple. The 2011 Mixed Blessings is a slightly off-dry blend of 25% Chardonnay and 75% Viognier. It has lots of peach, apricot and pear on the palate. The 2011 Hatfield’s Fuse is an aromatic off-dry blend of 9 varietals: Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Optima and Ehrenfelser. This has lovely tropical fruit flavours and a nice mouthfeel; a great patio wine. The 2011 Unorthodox Chardonnay (unoaked) is full of juicy citrus flavours. The 2009 Pinot Noir has a nose of cherry with a bit of earthiness, which carries over to the palate. It has some pretty decent structure and is well-balanced. The 2010 Big Bang Theory is a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. It has a nice minerality to it, with rounder tannins and lots of black cherry and vanilla. The 2008 Cabernet Merlot, which won a Double Gold medal at the 2010 All-Canadian Wine Championships, is a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. This wine is nicely balanced, with medium tannins and flavours of cherry, cocoa and coffee. The 2008 Nothing Sacred is their big Meritage blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. This is one wine that could still be laid down for another 5 years easily, with rich flavours of cherry, plum, spice and cocoa.

We climbed back down the hill from Blasted Church and, shortly after, turned onto McLean Creek Road, which meanders through a pretty little rural valley, opening up to a unique plateau. This is the home of Synchromesh Wines, which is part of the Alto Wine Group, a collective of winemakers as well as a small-scale custom crush facility. Alan Dickenson, the lead partner in Alto, has come out with a series of small lot wines under the label of Synchromesh, referring in part to his family’s history with collector cars and motorsport. His 2011 Amelia Block Gewürztraminer has already sold out its 23 case production so unfortunately I was not able to sample it. The 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé (125 cases), made from grapes from East Kelowna, was made in two batches. The first batch was made in the traditional “saignée” method, bleeding off the juice from the soaking grapes and fermenting that juice. The second batch was crushed on the skins and fermented, leading to a bit more structure in this pale pink wine. This dry rosé has beautiful flavours of rhubarb and raspberry, with a bit of cherry. The 2011 Riesling (41 cases) is nearly gone and I can understand why; it is an explosion of flavours! The fermentation was stopped at 55g of residual sugar, which should place this as a dessert wine; however it has such beautifully high acidity that it is just perfectly balanced and only comes across as a 1-2 on the sweetness scale. The 2010 Tertre Rouge (70 cases) is a beautiful blend of predominantly Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in 1/3 new French oak. It has a deep colour and rich flavours of cherry and spice, with medium tannins. Synchromesh believes in low cropping in their vineyard, in order to get more concentrated flavours in the grapes. They also have minimal intervention in the winemaking, using wild yeasts, and not using any enzymes or added tannins. This really is noticeable in the clean beauty of these wines. I look forward to the opening of their tasting room shortly, and the commercial availability of these wines.

Next up was Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery, a lovely site on the Oliver Ranch Road, overlooking Vaseux Lake and McIntyre Bluff to the south. Entering the relatively-new tasting room, we were greeted by Leslie, the owner, Tamsin, the wine shop manager, and David, wine guru extraordinaire. We were ushered out onto the balcony to look at the fabulous views and were then greeted upon our return inside with glasses of their new sparkling wine, 2009 The One. This is blend of 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Blanc, produced in the traditional French ‘Méthode Champenoise’, and with the bottles lying en tirage for 2 years to develop its lovely biscuity flavour. The bubbles are lovely, tiny and plentiful. The 2009 Pinot Grigio is crisp and dry, with flavours of citrus and pear. The 2009 Chardonnay spent 14 months in French and American oak. This is a lovely Chardonnay with a nose of buttered popcorn, flavours of apple and pear with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon and a nice round mouthfeel. The 2008 Pinot Noir just recently took the All-Canadian Wine Championship Double-Gold Medal for best Pinot Noir under $25. It has a candied cherry nose, with cherry, spice and a nice earthiness on the palate. The 2009 Meritage Estate has a bit of liquorice on the nose, with black currant, raspberry and chocolate on the palate. We finished off with the 2009 King’s Ransom. This is a wine that is only made by Noble Ridge in exceptional years. So far, since 2005, it has only been made twice. This is a big red blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is blended from fruit that comes from both the north- and south-facing slopes. Each batch has been picked, pressed, vinified and barrel aged separately, culminating in a beautiful blend at the end. It has a rich chocolate cherry nose, with dark cherry and blackberry on the palate. This wine could be aged up to 10 years, but is showing beautifully right now.

Finally, we drove up to Kaleden and stopped in at Kraze Legz. Gerry and Sue greeted us and Gerry began telling us all about their winery and the wines. They produce 1500 cases per year, with everything grown on the property there in Kaleden. The overlying theme of this winery is the 1920s – the days of the Speakeasy, Jazz music and dance halls. The majority of the wines are names after different dances or colloquialisms that were popular in that time. The 2010 ‘Bee’s Knees Pinot Blanc’ tastes of Granny Smith apples, with a crisp lime finish. The 2010 ‘Charleston Chardonnay’ is unoaked, with a nice round mouthfeel, good acidity and nice pineapple flavours. The 2011 ‘Lindy Hop’ (named after Lindenberg’s crossing of the Atlantic) is a blend of 55% Pinot Blanc and 45% Chardonnay. There is a little bit of residual sugar in this wine, with nice acidity to balance it out; mandarin orange and pineapple on the palate. The 2011 ‘Speakeasy Rosé’ is 100% Merlot this vintage (previous vintages were blends) and has cranberry and candied cherry on the palate, with hints of mint on the nose. The 2011 ‘Whisper Sister’ (the name of a female proprietor of a speakeasy) is 100% Chardonnay, done in a semi-sweet style. This would be sweet enough for me as a dessert wine, but for those who like their wine a bit sweeter, it could make a lovely patio sipper. It is full of mandarin, tangerine and a hint of mango. The 2010 ‘The Cakewalk’ is 100% Merlot, aged for 18 months in French oak. It has cherry, plum and spice on the nose, with medium tannins, nice acidity, and caramel, espresso, cherry and cassis on the palate. The 2010 ‘All That Jazz’ is a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in French oak. This wine is still a little bit tight but I think it will open up very nicely in another couple of years. It has a lot of spice on the nose and the palate, with flavours of dark cherry, blackberry, espresso and cocoa. The 2009 ‘The Black Bottom Stomp’ is a blend of 66% Merlot and 34% Cabernet Franc. There is cherry, chocolate and a hint of mint on the nose. The tannins are still quite chewy but are starting to soften a bit. Rich raspberry, plum, black cherry and cassis fill your mouth; very tasty!

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