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After travelling up and down the Okanagan Valley these past few weekends, I decided to stay closer to home this weekend and checked out some of the wineries on the Naramata Bench that I had never been to, or in the case of a couple of them, hadn’t visited in a few years.

My favourite way to tour the Bench is to head out to the furthest winery first and then get progressively closer back to Penticton. So this time I headed a bit further north than Naramata Village and started with Nichol Vineyard & Estate Winery. This is the first time that I have ever even tasted any of Nichol’s wines and the first time to visit the winery, although I’ve been meaning to for quite some time! I was greeted by Andrew in the tasting room and he ran me through the selection of wines available for tasting. The 2011 9 Mile White is a crisp blend of 65% Gewürztraminer and 35% Riesling. It has beautiful acidity and minerality to it, with lovely citrus, spice and a bit of rose petal on the palate. The 2011 Pinot Gris is a lovely pale salmon colour, due to the 36 hours of skin contact that the juice received. It has lovely flavours of peach and apricot and a round mouthfeel with a little bit of oiliness. The 2009 Pinot Noir is made from two separate clones that have then been blended together. It has an amazing nose of spice and cherry, a deep ruby colour, good structure and is beautifully balanced with dark cherry, plum and cedar on the palate. The 2007 Cabernet Syrah is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Syrah, from the oldest Syrah vines in Canada, planted in 1989 on the winery site. The nose is full of cherry, raspberry and cocoa, which carries over to the palate as well. The tannins are still reasonably firm and the fruit and acids are still beautifully balanced. Although it is very tasty now, it could still be cellared for another couple of years. Matt came out from the back office to tell me about a new winery venture that Ross Hackworth, the owner of Nichol Vineyard & Estate Winery, and Matt are involved with, separate of Nichol. They have secured a lease on the old Poplar Grove property and have recently opened up Clean Slate Wine. I had seen a couple of signs for this on my drive up so was curious as to what was going on. They currently have one white which is available for tasting at the Poplar Grove Cheese Shop. Their red, which has not yet been released, will be named Square One and I just love the look of their packaging for it; Matt had a mock-up bottle on hand with the label on it. On my way back to town I stopped in at the Poplar Grove cheese shop to buy some Harvest Moon cheese and to try the wine from Clean Slate. The 2011 White Slate is predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, with some Pinot Gris and, as it says on the simple back label, “a splash of Riesling”. It was fermented in stainless steel and spent some time in neutral French oak. It is clean and crisp, dry yet fruity, with green apple and citrus on the palate.

The last time I was at Therapy Vineyards was just over three years ago, so it was definitely time to check out what they currently have on offer. The 2010 Freudian Sip is a blend of primarily Riesling and Pinot Gris, along with Viognier, Kerner, Chardonnay, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer. This wine is clean and has some lovely aromatics and crisp citrus with a hint of sweetness. The 2010 Pinot Gris was fermented in stainless steel and aged for 4 months. It is light, crisp and clean, with citrus on the front palate and apricot on the back palate. The 2008 Chardonnay was aged in 100% American oak. Its nose is of popcorn and spice, with citrus and toasted coconut on the palate. The 2011 Artist Series Riesling/Kerner is a blend of 75% Riesling and 25% Kerner. It has a lovely mango and honeysuckle nose, a round mouthfeel with pear and apricot on the palate. It is off-dry with nice acidity to balance it out. The 2011 Pink Freud is a rosé made with 78% Merlot and 22% Pinot Noir. It is off-dry with a nose of strawberry and raspberry, with citrus, cherry and berry on the palate. The 2010 Pinot Noir spent 8 months in American oak. It is light- to medium-bodied with plum and spice and a hint of smoke on the palate. The 2009 Merlot was fermented in stainless steel and aged in French and American oak. It has flavours of cherry, plum, tobacco and smoke. The 2008 SuperEgo is a blend of 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 19% Syrah and 9% Petit Verdot and is featured in a great screen-printed bottle covered in angels and demons in a helical DNA strand. Its colour is deep purple and it is very fruit-forward. If has nice tannins and full flavours of cherry and plum.

The next winery also hadn’t been visited by me in over three years and has undergone many changes since that time – Lang Vineyards. On my last visit the winery had still been part of the Holman Lang Group. It has since been purchased by new owners, although Günther Lang has been kept on as a consultant, and the tasting room has had a wonderful overhaul. It is bright clean and modern with crisp black cabinets and quartz countertops. The 2010 Aurora is an aromatic blend of predominantly Riesling and Gewürztraminer, with a bit of Pinot Gris and Viognier. It has just the barest hint of sweetness and lovely flavours of lychee and citrus. The 2011 Bravo is another white blend, although this one offers more complexity. It is made up of 29% Pinot Gris, 21% Chardonnay, 21% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Viognier, 10% Pinot Auxerrois, 4% Pinot Blanc and 2% Muscat. It has a lovely round mouthfeel, medium body and a bit of sweetness. It has luscious tropical fruit flavours and a hint of floral on the palate. The 2011 Gewürztraminer has the classic lychee fruit and rose petal on the nose, full lychee on the palate with good spice. It is medium-bodied and has a lovely mouthfeel. The 2008 Riesling Farm Reserve had been in tank when the sale of the winery went through and was not bottled until September 2010. It has a lovely petrol nose, a fair amount of residual sugar but is perfectly balanced with the acidity. There is lots of green apple and lime on the palate with a bit of minerality. Lang Vineyards’ flagship wine has always been their Marechal Foch. The 2011 has been released slightly earlier than normal in order to keep their customers happy since the last vintage has been long since sold out. It has a lovely chocolate cherry nose, with spice and dark cherries on the palate – very tasty! Lang is also known for their Canadian Maple Wine. This is a dessert wine, generally made from red grapes (the varietal can vary from vintage to vintage) with Canadian Maple Syrup added to it; it is definitely an interesting twist. This particular vintage was made with a Pinot Noir base, is reddish brown in colour and tastes of maple syrup, as would be expected. It is not really to my taste (I generally find maple syrup just too sweet) but it definitely has a market.

Moraine Estate Winery is the new name for what was formerly Zero Balance (also part of the Holman Lang Group); it has just opened up this spring under new ownership. Lori greeted me in the cheery tasting room and ran me through their wines on offer. The 2011 Cliffhanger White is predominantly Pinot Gris with a bit of Viognier. It is crisp and clean with flavours of citrus and apricot. The 2011 Pinot Gris is dry, with flavours of Bartlett pear skins and citrus. This would be a great food pairing wine. The 2011 Viognier is crisp and dry with flavours of apricot and a hint of sweet preserved lemon on the back palate. The 2008 Meritage is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It has a nose of smoky meat and cherry, with flavours of cherry, blackberry, black currant, leather and spice, with some caramel on the back palate – yum! There is a lovely patio area; a great place to stop midway in a day of wine touring!

Howling Bluff Winery is almost ready to open their new tasting room – scheduled for July. I will have to return to check it out once it’s done but this time I was hosted in the kitchen of the house, which is currently doubling as the winery tasting room. I have tried several of the Howling Bluff wines but had yet to visit the winery itself until now. The 2011 Summa Quies Sauvignon Blanc Semillon is almost gone. As it is, there is a 2 bottle maximum purchase. This wine is done in an off-dry style, with lovely acidity to balance it. It has some luscious tropical flavours and a hint of oak, from its time spent fermenting in a French oak puncheon. The 2010 Three Sisters Pinot Noir comes from the Three Sisters Vineyard across the road from the winery, which has very rocky soil. It has a candied cherry nose, with cherry, plum and spice on the palate. I then compared this to the 2010 Summa Quies Vineyard Pinot Noir; this is from the winery site which has much more clay soil as well as lower cropping. This wine is much richer, with flavours of cherry and strawberry and more earthiness. Finally, the 2009 Summa Quies Sin Cera, a blend of 29% Merlot, 37% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Franc and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a beautiful wine with lilacs, plum, and figs on the nose and flavours of plum, figs, spice, chocolate and espresso. I had last tasted this vintage around Christmastime; it was tasty then but it has really opened up beautifully since!

My last stop of the day was at Ruby Blues Winery. I always love any place that can combine beautiful shoes and wine – so fun! The last time I had visited was shortly after they first opened, so it’s nice to see how they’ve developed things. The 2011 Riesling has a round mouthfeel and is very fruit-forward, with lots of citrus flavours. The 2011 Pinot Gris is quite pleasant, with flavours of pear and citrus. The 2011 Viognier won the Double Gold medal at the All-Canadian Wine Championships this year. It has lovely apricot flavours with a hint of sweetness and nice acidity. The 2011 Gewürztraminer is just below a 1 in sweetness, with beautiful floral notes and full lychee flavour. The 2011 White Stiletto is an off-dry aromatic blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat. It is medium-bodied with a lovely honeyed flavour. The 2011 Strawberry Heels is their new rosé, which is a blend of 60% Barbera and 40% Cabernet Franc. I was not even aware that any Barbera was being grown in the Okanagan! This rosé has 2 days of skin contact, giving it a lovely salmon colour. With a candied strawberry nose, and luscious strawberry flavours, this off-dry wine has nice acidity and will likely be a popular patio sipper. The Red Stiletto that has just been released is a blend of 2009 and 2010 vintages and contains 80% Syrah, with the balance made up of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has soft tannins and is very fruit forward, with caramel on the back palate; it’s a very easy-drinking red that would easily appeal to those trying to get into drinking red wines. The 2009 Syrah has a smoky, meaty nose with cherry, blackberry and pepper on the palate. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon has nice structure, flavours of black currant and has some nice meatiness. The Merlot/ Cabernet Sauvignon has just a touch more Merlot at 51% and has spent time in American and French oak barrels. It has a rich chocolate cherry nose, with plum, cherry, chocolate and coffee on the palate, with nice structure. The 2009 Merlot Grand Reserve has a rich nose and decadent flavours of cherry, plum and cassis.