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This past Tuesday I attended the 2nd Annual Battle of the Benches, held at the Ramada Inn in Penticton. This event is based around the fact that the Okanagan Valley supports many different micro-climates, due to its complex geography. Each varietal performs differently in each of the six regions and this competition aims to highlight which terroir best showcases each one. The six regions are, from north to south:  Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseux-Oliver, Golden Mile, Black Sage Osoyoos and the Similkameen. Kelowna is split further into two sub-categories of Kelowna (East) and North Okanagan, and Kelowna (West) and Peachland. The Penticton region is also split into the three sub-categories of: Summerland, Naramata/Penticton, and Skaha Lake.

This event also helps raise money and awareness for two charities. The One Person Project is an organization that helps two communities in East Africa – Kahama, Tanzania and the Muhanga region of Rwanda. The volunteers of the One Person Project help to educate and raise awareness of issues in those areas as well as work with the locals to assist is programs that will best suit their needs and fundraise to implement those projects. The Raise-A-Reader campaign is a national fundraising program to help raise awareness of the fact that over 40% of Canadian Adults have issues with reading and comprehension, and to help raise money and other resources to support nationwide literacy programs.

The Battle of the Benches was an outdoor event, in the grassy courtyard of the Ramada Inn – a lovely venue that the weather cooperated for beautifully! If there were any complaints it was due to a bit too much heat, that we hadn’t yet gotten used to this summer in the Okanagan. The wineries were set up around the periphery, separated into their respective regions, with a few tented food stations set up in the middle. There was also live musical entertainment and silent and live auctions through the evening.

Kelowna (East) and North Okanagan is described as being “Vineyards on the east side of Okanagan Lake, northeast of Okanagan Mountain Park” and has growing degree days of 950 to 1360. There are a variety of soil types and a long frost-free growing season due to the sloped sites and good air drainage. Predominantly white varietal are planted here, along with some Pinot Noir. Representing this region were: St Hubertus & Oak Bay Vineyards, The View Winery, Summerhill Estate Winery, and Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.

Kelowna (West) and Peachland is described as being “Vineyards on the west side of Okanagan Lake, north of Peachland” and also has growing degree days of 950 to 1360. The soils are primarily clay-rich with excellent water and nutrient storage. Aromatic whites such as Gewürztraminer and Riesling grow well here, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Representing this region were: Volcanic Hills Estate Winery and Little Straw Vineyards.

Summerland consists of vineyards on the west side of Okanagan Lake, south of Peachland and has growing degree days of 1140 to 1500. The soils are a mix of sandy surface layers and clay and gravel subsoils, the vineyards are located at various elevations and aspects and are suitable for many white varietals mainly. Representing Summerland were:  Thornhaven Estate Winery, SummerGate Winery, Heaven’s Gate, and Saxon Winery.

Naramata/Penticton is described as being “vineyards on the east side of Okanagan Lake from Penticton to Okanagan Mountain Park” and has growing degree days of 1140 to 1500. The vineyards are located along the tops of the benches of rich silty-to-sandy soils. Due to its western aspect the Naramata Bench receives many hours of warm afternoon sun. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay seem to be produced well here. Representing Naramata/Penticton were: Upper Bench Winery, Misconduct, Perseus Winery, Moraine Estate Winery and Serendipity Winery.

Skaha Lake is made up of the vineyards that surround the east or west side of the lake and has growing degree days of 1140 to 1500. The soils are very similar to Naramata/Penticton but the surface layers have been re-worked by the winds. The warm but moderate climate is great for Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Representing Skaha Lake was Blasted Church Vineyards.

Okanagan Falls/Vaseux Lake is made up of vineyards between Skaha Lake and Oliver and has growing degree days of 1320 to 1490. The soils are mainly sandy or very coarse gravel and the landscape is full of deep circular depressions caused melted glacial ice blocks buried beneath sediment. Vineyards are located primarily at higher elevations and are planted with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Representing this region were: Wild Goose Vineyards and Meyer Family Vineyards.

Oliver/Golden Mile is described as being “vineyards on the west side of the Okanagan Valley from Oliver to Osoyoos Lake” and has growing degree days of 1340 to 1630. The vineyards are primarily planted on alluvial fans and terraces of stony well-drained soils. This region produces fine Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Representing the Golden Mile were: Gehringer Brothers Winery, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Hester Creek Estate Winery, and Fairview Cellars.

Osoyoos Lake/ Black Sage Bench is described as being “vineyards south of Oliver on the east side of the Okanagan Valley and surrounding Osoyoos Lake” and has growing degree days of 1360 to 1630. These soils are pure sand with very few stones or gravel, providing excellent drainage for the vines. The warm climate and the sandy soils produce Syrah and the Bordeaux red varietals. Representing the Black Sage Bench was: Moon Curser, Tinhorn Creek, Nk’Mip Cellars, Stoneboat Vineyards, Desert Hills Estate Winery, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Mission Hill Family Estate.

The Similkameen Valley is located to the west of the Okanagan Valley and has growing degree days of 1180 to 1540. Most of the vineyards are planted on gravelly alluvial fans on the eastern side of the valley. The steep rocky mountains that surround the area tend to retain the heat after the sun has set and reflects it back, keeping the vines warm longer. Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Merlot grow well here. Representing the Similkameen were: Seven Stones Winery, Cerelia Vineyards & Estate Winery, Rustic Roots Winery, Robin Ridge Winery, Orofino, Forbidden Fruit, and Mt Boucherie Family Estate Winery.

The wines were judged by Rhys Pender MW, Mark Filatow of Waterfront Wine Bar, Chytra Brown of Savour Magazine, and Martin Lewis of the Kettle Valley Station Pub.  They determined that the top wines are as follows:

PINOT GRIS: Kelowna (West) – Volcanic Hills Estate Winery 2011 Pinot Gris

CHARDONNAY: Naramata/Penticton – Upper Bench Estate Winery 2011 Chardonnay

AROMATIC WHITE: Summerland – Thornhaven Estate Winery 2011 Gewürztraminer

RIESLING: Kelowna (East) – Summerhill Estate Winery 2009 Riesling

PINOT BLANC: OK Falls/Vaseux Lake – Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 Mystic River Pinot Blanc

BORDEAUX WHITE:  Skaha Lake – Blasted Church Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

WHITE BLEND:  Osoyoos Lake/Black Sage – Stoneboat Vineyards 2011 Chorus

ROSÉ: Osoyoos Lake/Black Sage – Stoneboat Vineyards 2011 Faux Pas Rosé

SPARKLING: Similkameen Valley – Rustic Roots Winery 2011 Fameuse

MERLOT: Similkameen Valley – Robin Ridge Winery 2009 Reserve Merlot

PINOT NOIR: OK Falls/Vaseux Lake – Meyer Family Vineyards 2010 McLean Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir

CABERNET SAUVIGNON: Similkameen Valley – Forbidden Fruit 2009 Earth Series Cabernet Sauvignon

OTHER REDS: Summerland – Thornhaven Estate Winery 2010 Syrah

RED BLENDS: Osoyoos Lake/Black Sage – Nk’Mip Cellars 2008 Qwam Qwmt Meritage

In addition to the winning wines, there were some that particularly stood out to me in each of the regions. From Kelowna (East) I particularly liked the 2010 Frizzante Rosé from St Hubertus & Oak Bay Vineyards, and the 2011 Distraction Frizzante from The View Winery. From Kelowna (West) I loved the 2011 Rosé from Volcanic Hills Estate Winery and the 2011 Tapestry from Little Straw Vineyards. From Summerland I enjoyed the 2011 Tortured Grape from Thornhaven Estate Winery, the 2010 Muscat Ottonel from SummerGate Winery, and the 2011 Saxon Leon Millet Rosé. From Naramata Penticton, Serendipity Winery really stood out to me, especially for the 2009 Merlot and the 2009 Serenata. From Okanagan Falls/Vaseux Lake I very much enjoyed the 2009 McLean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2011 Gewürztraminer. From Oliver/Golden Mile I particularly loved Fairview Cellars’ 2005 Bear and the 2009 Bear, along with two different 2009 Cabernet Sauvignons (one spent a further year in oak). From Osoyoos Lake/Black Sage Bench I loved the 2011 Viognier from Desert Hills Estate Winery and the 2009 Syrah from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. The Similkameen Valley offered a wealth of choice and some favourites were the 2009 Speaking Stone Cabernet Sauvignon from Seven Stones Winery, the 2010 Gamay from Robin Ridge Winery, the 2010 Plum and 2010 fortified Mulberry Pear from Rustic Roots Winery, the 2009 Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon from Orofino, the 2010 Estate Collection Pinot Gris and the 2010 Summit Reserve Chardonnay from Mt Boucherie. You may wonder why Mt Boucherie was in the Similkameen region since they are located in West Kelowna, but they own many many acres of vineyards in the Similkameen.

This event was great fun and since the event I have heard nothing but good comments from assorted people who attended. I would definitely recommend it for next year!