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After a couple of weeks without winery touring due to moving house (J & I have now “shacked up” in a lovely lakefront home) I took advantage of the fact that my little brother was in the Okanagan for a long-overdue visit and invited him to come touring with me for a day. Since he’s a fan of big reds I figured that Oliver would be a great place to take him. Also, since the last time he’d visited was June of 2009, there were plenty of new wineries that he wouldn’t have tried. We started off the day at River Stone Estate Winery. I always love visiting River Stone because, in addition to some very tasty wines, Ted and Lorraine are just such lovely people that it’s always nice to see them and visit a bit. I met Ted and Lorraine at a wine event a couple of years ago, just as they were getting set up with the winery. We were set up to pour next to each other so chatted through the evening and sampled each other’s wines. I was impressed then, and continue to be impressed with new vintages. This morning Ted started us off with their 2011 Gewürztraminer, with lovely pear, lychee and honeysuckle flavours and a nice dry finish. The 2011 Splash is an off-dry Pinot Gris, with flavours of sweet honeydew melon. The 2010 Pinot Gris spent some time on the lees in stainless steel, which gives it a creamier texture. It is very fruit-forward, with pear, citrus and melon, with a nice round mouthfeel. The 2011 Malbec Rosé (yes, I did say Malbec Rosé!) spent 3 days on the skins to provide its pretty colour. The nose is pure candied strawberry, but the palate is a bit more subdued, with flavours of strawberry, raspberry and wild rose. The 2010 Cabernet Franc is one of my favourites here, with lovely blueberry and spice on the nose, with full flavours of cassis and black cherry with a hint of spice. The 2010 Merlot is definitely a wine that could be laid down for a couple more years. It has rich full flavours of blackberry and raspberry, with a hint of sage.  The fruit, tannins and acidity have lovely balance. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is full of dark fruits, with a hint of pepper and capsicum and has medium to full tannins. The 2009 Cornerstone is River Stone’s big Bordeaux-style red blend, combining Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. It has a hint of liquorice on the nose, along with dark fruits. The palate is full of cassis, plum and blackberry, with medium acidity and medium to full tannins.

After a stop for some lunch at Medici’s Gelateria – a wonderful place across from the post office about a block west of the Highway 97 (turn at the 7-11), an old church that has been transformed into a sandwich/ coffee shop with an amazing selection of gelatos and sorbettos, we continued on to Cassini Cellars. Kathleen and Sophia were behind the tasting bar and we had a great time chatting about wine, and I got to catch up on things that were happening in the area. The 2011 Chardonnay is unoaked, with apple, pear and pineapple on the nose and green apple and citrus on the palate, with a bit of toffee on the finish. The 2009 Chardonnay Reserve is one of my favourite Chardonnays in the valley, with a lovely balance of oak, spice, peach and pineapple. It is a beautifully balanced wine. The 2011 Mamma Mia Pinot Gris is an off-dry wine with tropical fruit, citrus, peach and apricot. The 2011 Gewürztraminer Muscat (7% Muscat) has lovely rose petal and lychee on the nose, with the addition of some gooseberry on the palate. It is slightly off-dry and has a lovely round mouthfeel. The 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve is elegant, with cherry and spice on the nose and palate, with a bit of earthiness. The 2011 Merlot has spent most of its time in stainless steel but has seen a hint of oak. It has soft to medium tannins and full flavours of cassis and raspberry jam. This Merlot really stood out to me as a great go-to, easy drinking red with a bit of finesse. The 2009 Collector’s Series Syrah is full of blackberry and white pepper, with a hint of liquorice and medium to full tannins. The 2009 Collector’s Series Maximus is Adrian’s big rich Bordeaux-style blend. This is full of black currant, vanilla, cocoa and tobacco, with medium-to-high acidity, full tannins. To finish off, Kathleen poured us the Moscato Fortified Wine. It sits at 19.5% alcohol and has a lovely floral nose with baked apple and spice on the palate – yummy!

Gold Hill Winery opened up last year but this is the first time that I had had a chance to stop in. They recently won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wine for their 2009 Cabernet Franc; sadly it’s all gone – I was too late to grab any of it, but got to try some other tasty wines! Navi Gill was a lovely host in the tasting room, with plenty of background information on both the area and the family land. Although Gold Hill is a new winery, the Gill family been involved in the grape-growing side of things for 20 years now, for others and themselves. They currently have 65 acres under vine, with a further 40 acres not yet planted, including some land higher up the mountain behind the winery, where they will test out some different varietals. They also have 15 acres of soft fruit on the property, which may get turned into some fruit wine. Their current portfolio consists of 4 whites and two reds. The 2010 Chardonnay is unoaked, with crisp citrus flavours and some grassy notes. The 2011 Chardonnay is also unoaked but has a rounder mouthfeel and is more fruit-forward that the 2010. The 2011 Pinot Gris has full flavours of pear and melon. The 2011 Gewürztraminer is slightly off-dry, with rose and lychee on the nose and full rose petal on the palate, with clove on the back palate. The 2009 Merlot is medium to full bodied, with rich black cherry, chocolate and tobacco flavours. The 2009 Syrah has a rich nose of ripe fruit and spice and flavours of raspberry, cherry and pepper. Sadly the Gills sold off their black grapes to other wineries in 2010 so I will have to wait a bit longer for the next release of their much lauded Cabernet Franc.

Around from the Golden Mile side of the valley and back over to the Black Sage Bench, Church and State was the next winery that was on our looped itinerary for the day. Nestled among the vineyards, the ultra-modern winery building stands out stunningly. Upon our arrival, Trish greeted us and showed us their new patio tasting bar, currently open on weekends only, which Kim Pullen (owner of Church & State) was currently making some adjustments to. This allows their customers to enjoy the summer sunshine, shaded slightly by the wooden pergola over top, and to take advantage of the beautiful views of the Coyote Bowl site. We ventured back inside to the cooler temperatures to enjoy the tastings. The 2011 Cabernet Blanc is a rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon. It is dry, with lovely flavours of strawberry and cherry and a bit of spice, with nice acidity. The 2011 TreBella is a blend of Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier. It has a lovely apricot nose that continues onto the palate, along with nectarine and a bit of spice. The 2011 Viognier is full of apricot, peach, with hints of cinnamon and ginger. The 2010 Gravelbourg Vineyard Chardonnay has lovely flavours of caramel and citrus, with some vanilla and spice. The oak flavour is lovely, although not quite as pronounced as the Coyote Bowl Chardonnay that I had loved so much, but this is still a very tasty Chardonnay. The 2009 Hollenbach Family Vineyard Pinot Noir has lots of cherry and spice on the palate, soft tannins but still with a bit of grip, and nicely balanced acidity. I did a side-by-side comparison of the 2008 Coyote Bowl Meritage with the 2009 C&S Meritage. The 2008 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that spent 31 months in oak (20% new French oak). The individual varietals were aged separately in barrel for 1 year, then blended and aged the additional 19 months. Compare with the 2009, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, which was only aged for 18 months in oak. The 2008 has much more of a garnet hue, compared with more purple in the 2009. The 2008 has flavours of black cherry, plum and spice, is quite full bodied, with full tannins. The 2009 has more bright fruit flavours of red cherry and plum, slightly higher perceived acidity, medium to full body, medium to full tannins. My favourite of the two was the 2008 Coyote Bowl Meritage. The 2009 C&S Cabernet Sauvignon has great grippy tannins, nice acidity and flavours of rich cherry and cassis. The 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah has an earthy, meaty nose, with rich flavours of black cherry, blackberry and spice. This is one tasty Syrah!

Last stop of the day is at Le Vieux Pin. Mo graciously ran us through the tasting and then gave us a quick tour of the barrel room, winery, crush pad, and growing collection of farm animals. Le Vieux Pin now houses chickens, roosters, a couple of miniature sheep and two Nigerian dwarf goats. Soon enough, all of these animals will be helping out in the vineyards, to keep the grass and weed levels down naturally. Sorry, got distracted by the cute sheep and goats… back to the wine. The 2011 Vaïla is a rosé made from 100% free run Pinot Noir juice. It has nice crisp acidity and flavours of raspberry, cherry and citrus. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc had ¼ of it fermented and aged in oak for 4 months, complete with battonage (the stirring of the lees). It has a lovely softer mouthfeel, with crisp acidity and flavours of green apple and a bit of grassiness. The 2010 Ava is named after the winemaker Séverine’s daughter and is a blend of 90% Viognier, 7% Marsanne and 3% Roussane. 37% of it spent time in French oak. It has medium to high acidity, round mouthfeel and fuller body, with flavours of apricot, citrus and pear. It is beautifully balanced. The 2009 Syrah is also a beautifully balanced wine, with flavours of white pepper, blackberry and plum, with medium high acidity and medium to full tannins. I look forward to seeing how this wine develops over the next few years. The 2008 Équinoxe Merlot has a floral nose with some cherry and spice which carry over to the palate. It has full chewy tannins and nice acidity and should definitely lay down for at least another five years.