This spring, there will be a new tasting room opening up on the Naramata Bench. I know, there always seems to be a new winery around here and you’re probably asking what is so special about this one. Well, for starters it is the first winery in BC to focus solely on sparkling wines – Bella Wines. You may have seen their bubbly at VQA stores, in restaurants or at wine tasting events over the past three years, but this year they will complete the work on their tasting room and open their doors to the public.Bella Wines is the dream of Jay Drysdale, who has had an active role in the BC wine industry over the past decade. Like many people involved in the industry, wine was not his first career; Jay began in the kitchen, where he worked his way up. Cooking led to an interest and appreciation in wine, which led him to his sommelier training. Becoming a sommelier just fuelled his desire to try his hand at winemaking, which he dabbled in on a personal level before pursuing his enology studies at Washington State University. In 2011 Jay met Wendy Rose and their first date was a truffle hunting trip to Oregon, with Jay’s bulldog, Bella, as a chaperone.
On this roadtrip they discovered a shared passion for food and wine – Wendy’s mother was a chef and her father’s only hobby is wine. After all the standard “getting-to-know-you” questions, Jay decided that Wendy was “the one” and mentioned his plans to open a boutique sparkling wine house. Rather than being put off, Wendy’s response, in true California girl style, was, “Dude, that is so cool! My family has been importing bubbles as our house table wine for decades. I’m so in.” And so from there, Bella Wines was born.
Their first vintage in 2011 was done very quietly. They coincided the launch of Bella Wines and the release of their first two bubblies with their engagement party in June of 2012. I am honoured to call Jay and Wendy my friends and was happy to be included in that great day. The focus has always been on two varietals: Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. Their current releases express the terroirs of Kamloops, Oliver East & West, Keremeos and Westbank. This past June, Jay, Wendy and a group of volunteers planted their own Naramata vineyard with two and a half acres of Chardonnay and Gamay. Eventually, Jay would like to narrow the focus; instead of the terroirs of the Okanagan he’d like to perhaps explore the variation of terroir in Naramata.
Just as he has followed the path from cooking to wine, from sommelier to winemaker, he is now on his next (albeit concurrent) journey: that of farmer. With his own vineyard, large garden and soon some chickens and pigs, he is looking forward to the next chapter. His goal is to have a property that is sustainable and to create products that are, according to someone recently, “bio-licious” – perhaps not certified organic or fully biodynamic, but that are ethically delicious, produced without harming the land. “If this place can sustain us with food, friends and drink, that we don’t have to go far for our ingredients, then that is ultimately what we want. We are fortunate to live in the Okanagan where it is possible to know the names of the people we get our sustenance from.”
Although Jay doesn’t want to play favourites, he is very excited about one wine this year. With the 2014 vintage, he took a portion of the Gamay grapes from Westbank and made it as méthode ancestrale, in which the wine begins a natural fermentation (without the addition of commercial yeast strains) and then, during fermentation, is bottled so that it’s the release of the C02 from the primary fermentation (vs. secondary fermentation) that produces the bubbles in the wine. I was able to try it shortly before Christmas and it blew my socks off – so flavourful! Only 15 cases were made, to be released in March at $39.90 per 750mL bottle; well worth it for such a unique product.
The new tasting room will be located in what was a two-car garage on their property on Gulch Road at the north end of Naramata. A visit will be an exercise in celebrating the small things in life, celebrating the everyday. On occasion Jay will change hats and become the chef for intimate dinners under the cherry trees, overlooking the vineyard and Okanagan Lake beyond. Bella’s production will always be relatively small. Every bottle is tended to by hand and, with the help of family and friends, Jay and Wendy are building the tasting room themselves. It’s a lot of work, but it helps keep the soul of Bella. Celebrate today!