The time has come for the one larger road trip of this resolution of mine – the ‘Northern Loop’ – visiting the wineries of the Thompson-Shuswap, plus Lillooet! 14 wineries along 800km over 3 days. In the end, it was only 11 wineries that we visited on this trip as two of the upcoming wineries in Kamloops (Monte Creek Ranch Estate Winery & Privato Vineyard & Winery) were not available for visitation and unfortunately time became too tight (and temperatures in a non-air-conditioned vehicle too high!) to make it up to Celista Estate Winery, the most northerly winery in BC.
We set out on the Sunday morning with the T-roofs off in the glorious sunshine and not-yet-too-hot temperatures to make our way from the Okanagan Valley over to Lillooet, approximately a 4 hour very scenic drive. Sadly, it was not very far into our journey when the air-conditioning in the car died. All was fine as we climbed into the mountains over the Coquihalla Connector but it was the temperature that really started climbing by the time we were heading west of Merritt, topping out in the low forties by the time we drove through Lytton, and arrived at our destination of Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet. Never was the cool indoor temperature of a winery more welcome! We were warmly welcomed in the tasting room and began sampling the wines on offer. Rolf graciously took time out of his busy schedule to speak to me about his winery and vineyard. So far this year they have been having great growing conditions and he’s very proud of what they have been achieving on their site. Two of their wines that received much acclaim (Riesling & Cabernet Franc) are currently sold out. The new vintage of Cab Franc will be available at the beginning of September but you’ll have to wait until next spring for more Riesling. We started with the 2011 23 Camels White, a blend of 50% Pinot Gris, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Riesling. Approximately 35% of the fruit is from the property in Lillooet, with the remainder coming from Black Sage in Oliver. It has crisp acidity and flavours of citrus and green apple. The 2011 Pinot Gris has luscious flavours of pineapple and pear. The 2010 Chardonnay spent 6 months in French oak, which is well integrated with the flavours of peach and pineapple. From the same picking batch as the above Chardonnay came the 2011 White Gold, a second Chardonnay. All of the 2010 Chardonnay was picked and fermented together, however the White Gold underwent malolactic fermentation and is a blend of 50% new French oak and 50% stainless steel. It has a beautiful toasty nose and creamy pineapple on the palate – a beautiful, elegant, well-balanced Chardonnay. The White Gold will only be made in years that they determine the quality to be high enough. For example, in 2011 there was no White Gold made. There will also be a Red Gold produced from Pinot Noir in future vintages. The 2011 23 Camels Red is a blend of 65% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. It spent 6 months in oak and has lovely flavours of cherry, plum, cassis and spice. It has medium tannins and acidity, well-balanced and quite approachable. This wine is also being sold in kegs via the Vancouver Urban Winery for restaurant use primarily. The 2010 Meritage is a blend of 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It has much heavier tannins, decent acidity and lovely rich flavours of blackberry, cassis and spice. Lillooet is definitely a place to watch for quality wines, and well worth the trip!
On our way from Lillooet to Cache Creek we were determined to find hats to help stave off the sun stroke we were sure to get otherwise and managed to find a couple of straw hats. Granted, they’re not quite a great fashion statement (as modelled by J in the photo) but they did the trick, along with litres and litres of water!
In Cache Creek we visited Bonaparte Bend Fruit Winery. Most of the fruit that goes into the wines here is grown locally, with a few exceptions that come from the Okanagan. The Rhubarb wine has a crisp citrus flavour and is tart, as rhubarb should be. The Saskatoon Berry wine has a nice nose, is quite tart and has medium body. The Blackberry wine has nice fruit flavour and a medium body. The Black Cherry wine is a bit tart but has some residual sugar and a pleasant flavour. The Blueberry/Blackcurrant wine is a really tasty combination and recently won a silver medal. The Red Currant and Black Currant wines were definitely my favourites of the bunch, nice fruit flavours and acidity.
After a relaxing (and air-conditioned!) night in a Kamloops hotel and a great breakfast, we started the next day on the east side of Kamloops at the vineyard (and future winery location) for Harper’s Trail, meeting with the owners Ed and Vicki Collett and their vineyard manager, John Dranchuk. Ed & Vicki bought a 150-acre plot of land on the north shore of the Thompson River and re-contoured the land to better suit the slopes for grape growing. They currently have 18 acres planted with Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. They did have some Merlot as well as a couple of test rows of Gamay and Pinot Noir that were all pulled out this year in favour of more Cab Franc. An additional 15 acres will be planted next spring with Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Gamay and Pinot Noir, with a further 26 acres to the west being planted in the future. There is a natural spring, Thadd Springs, which runs through the property. This plays into the grand plans that Ed and Vicki have for the, which includes a winery building (to be built in 2013 with a temporary tasting room), a large pond fed by the spring, a picnic area and walking paths plus eventually a restaurant and larger tasting facility. In 2011 they harvested 9 tonnes of grapes from their vineyard and had the wine made at Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, under the expertise of Michael Bartier. This year they anticipate somewhere between 40 and 50 tonnes, so production will really be ramping up! In the house on the property, Vicki and Ed poured us samples of their current wines. The 2011 Field Blend White is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. It has apple and pear on the nose, with apple, pear and citrus on the palate. It is a light, easy-drinking white wine. The 2011 Riesling has a bit of petrol on the nose, with great minerality on the palate along with green apple and lime. It is really nicely balanced. The 2011 Rosé is a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. It has a beautiful salmon colour with flavours of strawberry, citrus and a hint of caramel. Only 69 cases of this tasty rosé were made. Currently, all of the Harper’s Trail wines are available through the Okanagan Crush Pad.
Future growth at Harper’s Trail
Departing from Kamloops and heading east on the TransCanada Highway through Chase, I was evaluating the time it was taking for each winery and looking at the map for the distance between each winery. I had to unfortunately make the executive decision to not turn off the highway at Scotch Creek toward Celista as the additional 60km round-trip would’ve taken up too much time in an already-pressed schedule. I hope to find some wine from Celista Estate Winery to be able to sample at least. I will have to look into their distribution. We continued along to Tappen and headed east to Sunnybrae Vineyards & Winery, across the road from the shores of Shuswap Lake. Heidi greeted us in the busy tasting room and started us off on the 2011 Turner Road, a blend of Kerner and Schönberger. It has a floral nose, a hint of residual sugar and flavours of citrus and green apple. The 2011 Ortega is clean and fruity, slightly off-dry, with flavours of citrus and pear. The 2011 Siegerebbe has a big lychee nose, with lychee, apricot and citrus on the palate. This is a seriously tasty off-dry white wine. The 2010 Rosé is a blend of Kerner, Schönberger and a bit of Marechal Foch. It has flavours of strawberry rhubarb pie. The 2011 Bastion Mountain Red is named after the mountain behind the vineyards. It is a blend of Kerner and Marechal Foch. It has a meaty nose but is lighter on the palate, an easy drinker. The 2010 Marechal Foch is much richer and deeper in colour and flavour. There is dark berry, cherry and spice on the nose, with black cherry and lots of spice on the palate with medium-to-high acidity and medium tannins.
Sunnybrae Winery is quite close to one of my favourite spots to visit when I was younger – Margaret Falls at Herald Provincial Park – it’s only another 5 or 10 minutes up the road. I would always especially enjoy it in the hot summer days as there is an instant drop in temperature (I would estimate a good 10 degrees!) when you walk into the forest path. I wanted to show J the falls, and to take advantage of a chance to cool off a bit. It’s like walking into a prehistoric world, or at least into coastal rainforest, a far cry from the arid climate surrounding it. If you’re up visiting Sunnybrae I highly recommend this little side trip!
We drove back out to the highway and crossed over to the west side to Recline Ridge Vineyards & Winery. Graydon Ratzlaff, co-owner with his wife Maureen, came over to the tasting room to take us on a little walking tour of their vineyard and winery facilities, giving the history of the winery and the tasting room building (a custom-built log home, originally destined for Japan until it met with storms at sea!) Recline Ridge originally opened in 1999 but Graydon and Maureen bought it in 2010 and are making some changes in the wines that are being produced, keeping it much more local for any non-estate –grown fruit. After the short tour we returned to the tasting room to try some wines. The 2008 Shuswap Serenade is a pleasant white blend of Madeleine Angevine and Madeleine Sylvaner, with a touch of oak. The 2008 Ortega (the last of the stock, with the ’09 about to be bottled shortly) has lovely papaya flavours and aromas. The 2011 Kerner has a floral and peach nose, with green apple and pear on the palate. The 2010 Siegerebbe has a tropical fruit nose, with papaya, apricot and peach on the palate. The 2011 Bacchus has a rounder mouthfeel with pear and vanilla on the palate. The 2008 Optima has a honey nose, with citrus, honey, cinnamon and anise on the palate – quite tasty. The 2010 Make Me Blush is a Pinot Noir blend rosé with strawberry and peach on the nose and honey, strawberry and spice on the palate. The 2006 Grand Pinot is 100% Pinot Meunier (I was very excited as I love Pinot Meunier!) It has a light-to-medium body, with medium acidity, and flavours of cherry, blackberry and spice. The 2009 Marechal Foch is earthy and meaty, with flavours of plum, raspberry and some smokiness. The 2010 Gamay Noir is made from grapes that come from Oliver and has a raisin nose, with dried sour cherry and spice on the palate. The 2010 Hawk’s Haven is a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch and has some really nice spice to it. The 2011 Hummingbird’s Kiss is a late harvest blend of Optima and Bacchus. It has a floral and fruity nose, with flavours of orange blossom and peach. It’s only about a 3 on the sweetness scale so not a syrupy-sweet dessert wine – quite lovely! The 2009 Ridgeport is a Marechal Foch, fortified to 18% alc/vol. It tastes of rich black cherry and would be lovely on a winter’s day.
Up the road another kilometer is Granite Creek Estate Winery, nestled into the surrounding woods. The 2007 Viognier has flavours of citrus and dried apricot. The 2011 Rosé is a blend of Pinot Noir and Marechal Foch and tastes of citrus and berries. Most of the red grapes here are sourced from a vineyard in the Oliver area. The 2007 Gamay has flavours of raspberry, cassis and cranberry. The acidity is quite high and the tannins are soft. The 2006 Cabernet/Syrah has flavours of cassis, high acidity, medium body and soft-to-medium tannins. The 2007 Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot with flavours of cherry and blackberry and some dried fruits. The tannins are medium-to-full and it has nice acidity. The 2007 Fortified Merlot tastes of rich plums and strawberry jam.
The next winery we visited, our last of the day, was a little bit off the beaten path but really was a pleasant surprise. Ovino Winery is located 18km southwest of Salmon Arm, in the Yankee Flats area – a beautiful farming valley. John Koopmans, the owner greeted us from behind the tasting bar. We started with the 2011 Blush, a Pinot Meunier rosé with crisp citrus flavours. The 2011 Pinot Gris has a very light nose, but has a medium body with fuller flavours of pear, apple and citrus – very tasty. The 2010 Gewürztraminer has rose petals on the nose and full flavours of lychee and citrus. We were offered rice crackers with cream cheese and their own in-house hot pepper wine jelly to pair with the Gew – yum!! J immediately grabbed two jars of the pepper jelly from the shelf. The 2010 Pinot Tramino is a blend of 65% Pinot Gris and 35% Gewürztraminer. It is a true cuvee, with the grapes having been picked together and co-fermented. It has lovely spice on the nose and citrus on the palate. The 2010 Marechal Foch has medium body and flavours of cherry and dark plums. The 2011 Momento is primarily Foch but is much lighter in both colour and body, with flavours of strawberry and spice, along with nice acidity. This wine would be lovely served chilled on the patio on a hot day. The 2011 Entice is a medium sweet blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris. It has nice clean flavours and is well-balanced. Ovino was definitely worth the drive, although if your pockets run deeper than mine do, you can always take a helicopter wine tour of the Shuswap and include Ovino as one of your landing spots!
After spending the night in Salmon Arm (sadly a bit of a letdown after our lovely hotel experience in Kamloops the night before), complete with massive thunderstorms and a power outage that lasted a good couple of hours, we began day three of touring at Larch Hills Vineyard and Winery on the south side of Salmon Arm. We turned off the highway and kept climbing up and up the hills, eventually coming out at the top of the hill overlooking a couple of different valleys below. This is the view from Larch Hills Winery – breathtaking! I have previously tasted several of the wines from Larch Hills so I decided to primarily taste some of their wines that I had not seen before, although I did start with one I have tried before and enjoyed – the 2010 Ortega. It is crisp and clean, with a round mouthfeel and flavours of pear and tropical fruit. The 2010 Northern Lights is a blend of four varietals grown on the winery property. It is crisp and pleasant, with flavours of apple and pear. The 2010 Lemberger (also known as Blaufränkisch) is a pale ruby colour, with light body, medium acidity and soft tannins. It has flavours of black cherry and spice and is quite tasty. The 2010 Marechal Foch Special Reserve has a medium body, medium-to-high acidity and rich flavours of dark fruit and cherry with a bit of spice. The 2010 Grandview Bench Red is a blend of Marechal Foch, Merlot and Lemberger. It has a medium body and is quite fruity – an easy-drinking red wine. The 2011 Lemberger Dessert Wine is nice, clean and fresh with lots of berry flavours.
We continued south to Grindrod and one of this year’s new wineries – Baccata Ridge. We were greeted at the car by a couple of large (but very friendly) winery dogs. On the way to the tasting room we also came across some winery chickens and roosters (the rooster is not as friendly as the dogs were). Apparently at various times of the year, one can also be greeted there by a cat and a couple of horses, according to Sheldon Moore, the owner. The property of Baccata Ridge is 160 acres total, with 8 ½ acres currently planted to vine, and future plans to expand the vineyard to a total of 40 acres. The property had been certified organic for five years. It is no longer certified but Sheldon still using organic practices. There are four wines on offer in the tasting room: one white and three reds. Last year Sheldon produced 500 cases and this year he anticipates approximately 700 cases. The 2011 Northern Expressions White is a blend of Oraniensteiner, Gewürztraminer, Siegerebbe and Pinot Blanc. It has nice acidity, with flavours of citrus and some floral notes. The 2011 Pinot Noir has a nice deep colour, a nose of cherry with some earthiness, soft-to-medium tannins, medium acidity and flavours of cherry and spice. The 2011 Foch has rich flavours and smooth tannins. A portion of the grapes underwent carbonic maceration in order to make the most of the fruitiness and keep the lighter tannins. The 2011 Northern Expressions Red is a blend of Foch, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Gamay. It has a lovely meaty nose and makes for very pleasant drinking.
After a quick visit at Mom and Dad’s in Vernon, we continued on to our next stop in Lake Country – Intrigue Wines. Their tasting room had not yet been opened when we had toured the other wineries in Lake Country. I have tasted previous vintages from Intrigue but had yet to taste any of the 2011 vintage. The 2011 Riesling has a green apple nose, a round mouthfeel and green apple and lime on the palate. It is very well-balanced. The 2011 Focus Riesling has a clean nose with hints of minerality. The palate is full of green apple, lime and lovely minerality. I look forward to giving this one a bit of time in the bottle. The 2011 Gewürztraminer has a huge lychee nose with clean flavours of lychee, rose and hints of citrus and spice with a very round mouthfeel. The 2011 Pinot Gris has melon and pear on the nose and a fuller mouthfeel. The 2011 ‘11’ is a blend of 75% Riesling, 23% Gewürztraminer and 2% Muscat Canelli. It has flavours of crisp citrus, apple and pear and is an easy sipping wine. The 2010 Merlot is made with grapes from Summerland and spent 12 months in French oak. It has cherry, plum and cocoa on the nose which also carries over to the palate, along with some spice. It is very well balanced with medium-to-high acidity and tannins.
Bounty Cellars is a commercial winery at the north end of Kelowna in an industrial park. They cater primarily to companies or events that want corporate branded wines, but do also have their own brands available for tasting and for sale. The majority of their wines are made on-site with BC grapes, although they do have one line of wines (Pacific Northwest) that are made with grapes from Washington State. They get the finished wines shipped up from Washington for blending in Kelowna. Two of Bounty`s corporate customers include the Actor`s Studio and the Crystal Wines for Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon. As the owner, Ron Pennington, was away on holiday, Danielle ran me through the wines and showed me around their facility. The 2010 Pinot Gris has flavours of pear, melon and citrus. The 2008 Gewürztraminer (Crystal Wines) has flavours of citrus and spice with a round mouthfeel – quite pleasant. The 2010 Elite Pinot Blanc has flavours of apple and lemon, with a nice balance between fruit and acidity. The 2011 Crystal Pacific Northwest Riesling Pinot Gris is a slightly off-dry blend with lovely flavours of pear and citrus. The 2009 Elite Red is an easy-drinking blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Zweigelt. It has flavours of cherry, spice and dried fruits, with medium tannins and medium acidity. The 2009 Crystal Pacific Northwest Meritage is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It has cassis and orange zest on the nose, with flavours of cassis, plum, black cherry, coffee and cocoa. It has medium tannins and medium acidity and is quite tasty.
A quick stop at Costco (well, as quick as one can be) and we headed off home, having completed our Northern Loop of BC wineries and met some great people and tasty wines along the way.