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On our way back south from visiting the folks in Vernon we decided to stop in at some Kelowna wineries, starting with the joint downtown location of Calona Vineyards, Peller Estates Winery and Sandhill Wines. This year Calona is celebrating a huge milestone – it is now 80 years old, and is the oldest continuously-operating winery in the province, having been bought most recently by Andrew Peller Ltd in 2005. Peller Estates and Calona are both known for their good quality value-priced wines. Sandhill Wines, also owned by Andrew Peller Ltd., are some of the premium wines of the valley, especially the Small Lots program which features some rare varietals and are made in small quantities (less than 500 cases, sometimes as few as 100 cases). On this day I tasted a small cross-section of the different brands. The 2010 Sandhill Estate Pinot Blanc has crisp pear on the nose and palate with medium acidity and medium body. The 2011 Calona Artist Series Unoaked Chardonnay has apple and pear on both the nose and palate along with some tart yellow plum on the palate. With medium-plus acidity this wine is crisp and clean. The 2010 Calona Artist Series Cabernet Merlot has raspberry and smoke on the nose with raspberry, blackberry, spice and smoky meat on the palate with medium acidity and tannins; a very approachable red wine. The 2009 Private Reserve Merlot from Peller Estates has cassis and blueberry on the nose and cassis, blackberry and spice on the palate, with medium-plus acidity and tannins.

On the way to the next winery, we took a little bit of a detour. About 5 minutes up the road from Cedar Creek Winery is Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan. This is a great little stop to make. It is perched high on the hill with spectacular views over Okanagan Lake and Kelowna, next to a rocky ravine where the goats graze. There is a cheese shop on site where tastings are available – delicious selection of hard and soft cheeses that are too difficult to choose from, so we bought several! Tours of the facility can be arranged in advance, but even without a tour you can get closer to the goats at the viewing area. We were amused by several who had escaped from the fenced area – rebellious young goats it seemed. They did return via their escape hole a bit later.

Back down the hill to Cedar Creek Estate Winery, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations it is passing on 25% savings to anyone purchasing wine on the 25th of every month at the winery shop. Each month a different wine is featured for savings. In my experience with Cedar Creek they consistently produce quality wines in both tiers that they offer (Platinum is the name of their upper tier). I was offered a good representation of their wines with my tastings. The 2011 Pinot Gris has flavours of crisp lemon with a round mouthfeel. The 2010 Platinum Chardonnay has pineapple and buttered popcorn on the nose, with pineapple, grapefruit, toffee and some nuttiness on the palate. The 2008 Platinum Pinot Noir has cherry and strawberry on the nose with cherry, raspberry and clove on the palate and some floral notes on the finish. It has medium acidity and soft silky tannins. The 2009 Merlot has cherry and cassis on the nose and palate with medium acidity and tannins. The 2009 Platinum Merlot has cocoa and Black Forest cake on the nose with cherry, cassis and cocoa on the palate with soft tannins and medium acidity. The 2009 Syrah has blackberry jam on the nose with blackberry and white pepper on the palate, medium acidity and medium-plus tannins. The 2008 Syrah is full of black currant, dark plum and black pepper – yum! The 2009 Platinum Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, with less than 1% of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It has cassis, cherry, liquorice and cocoa on the nose with red cherry, plum and cassis on its rich palate. The 2009 Platinum Malbec has a lot of dried fruit, especially raisins, violets and lavender on the nose and palate with medium-to full tannins and medium acidity. A little treat to finish off was the 2007 ‘M’, a Madeira-style Pinot Blanc, with smoke and caramel on the nose and smoke, honey and citrus on the palate. This wine may not be to everybody’s taste but I loved its complexity and individuality.

Just up the road from Cedar Creek is St Hubertus/ Oak Bay Vineyards. This is another old vineyard site in Kelowna, originally planted back in 1928. However, none of those vines are in existence today, with the oldest ones on the site now being the Riesling that was planted in 1978. Tragedy struck the winery in the summer of 2003 when the enormous Okanagan Mountain Park fire destroyed some of the vineyard, the wine shop and the home of one of the owners. The winery rose up from the ashes though and continued making their tasty wines, including ‘Fireman’s Red’ which is dedicated to all the firefighters who helped battle the vicious forest fire that burned more than 250 square kilometres and destroyed 239 homes. The 2010 Pinot Blanc has a pear nose, is slightly off-dry with flavours of pear and citrus and a round mouthfeel. The 2010 Gewürztraminer has lychee and spice on the nose with rose petal and lychee on the palate. It is slightly off-dry and very tasty! The 2010 Frizzante Rosé has a clean nose of strawberry jam, with flavours of strawberry, cherry, cranberry and a citrus finish. It has a little bit of bubble to it, hence the ‘Frizzante’ name. This is a lovely patio sipper. The 2011 Gamay Noir has a cherry nose with sour cherry, spice and black pepper on the palate. It has soft tannins and medium-plus acidity. The 2009 Meritage is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that spent 14 months in primarily French oak. It has cherry, cocoa and cassis on both the nose and the palate with medium acidity and tannins. The 2010 Marechal Foch has dried fruit, blackberry and plum on both the nose and the palate with medium-plus acidity and medium tannins.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery is an interesting winery to visit, with stunning views over the vineyard and Okanagan Lake. I highly recommend combining your visit with one of their Sunday Brunches in their Bistro – an amazing spread is put on and it makes for a very pleasant meal to be sitting on the patio with those lovely views. Summerhill follows organic and biodynamic farming principles, minimizing interference with the wines. They are also very well known for their Sparkling wine program. I had the opportunity to taste their Cipes Gabriel (N/V) this day, which was voted the Best Sparkling Wine in the World at the 2010 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London, England. It is a Blanc de Blancs, meaning that it is made from 100% Chardonnay. It spent 5 years sure lie, which helped contribute to its fabulous biscuit almond nose. It has tiny persistent bubbles and flavours of apple, vanilla, biscuit and pineapple. Very tasty, as it should be for a $65 bottle! The 2011 Viognier is a new release for the winery. It has a clean nose of apricot and mandarin orange with a round mouthfeel and flavours of lime, apricot and mandarin. The 2008 Zweigelt has cherry, plum, cocoa and pepper on the nose with raspberry, cherry and white pepper on the palate. It has medium-plus acidity and medium tannins. The 2009 Cabernet Franc was just newly released, having just been bottled 8 weeks prior. It had been aged for 28 months in a mix of French and American oak. It was still quite tight but I found black cherry, fruit cake and cedar on the nose with cherry, blackberry and graphite on the palate. We finished off with the Chalice (N/V), which was a bit of a happy accident. It is a late harvest Merlot that got put in barrels which somehow managed to get put outside of the winery and were forgotten, out in the elements, for six years! So this wine has been oxidized, has been exposed to extreme heat and cold and has miraculously resulted in a tasty Madeira-style dessert wine with a deep tawny colour and flavours of nuttiness, caramel, molasses and orange zest.