I visited Tightrope Winery on an overcast winter’s day when there was still some snow in the vineyard, and certainly on the surrounding hills. However, it wasn’t hard to imagine how lovely it will be when the vines are shooting up in a few months and the sun is shining, with Okanagan Lake glistening in the distance. Tightrope Winery’s tasting room will be one of a handful of new ones opening this spring along the Naramata Bench. Their first couple of vintages have been made using the facilities at Ruby Blues Winery and wines have been available in private stores and restaurants, but now Graham O’Rourke and his wife Lyndsay have their own facilities completed and are anticipating being open at the Easter weekend.
Graham & Lyndsay moved to the Okanagan in 2003, after living in Whistler for several years, in order to pursue their winery dreams. After learning some basics in viticulture and winemaking in the valley, they decided to relocate to New Zealand to further pursue their education at Lincoln University, just outside of Christchurch. They returned to the Okanagan in 2007 and purchased their 10 acre Naramata property which they planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Barbera. Graham worked as a vineyard manager at Mission Hill for six years, while Lyndsay was hired as the winemaker at Ruby Blues Winery. This gave them both the local practical experience they needed before opening their own winery. Their new building will allow their production to grow from its current 2600 to approximately 4000 cases eventually. The name ‘Tightrope’ represents the balancing act that occurs throughout the entire winemaking process – from the vineyard to the cellar. I would also venture a guess that it can be compared to well-made wines – always in perfect balance.
The tasting room is bright, warm and inviting, with a modern rustic aesthetic. The tasting bar and cash point bar are both clad in corrugated aluminum, with stone accents on the tasting bar, and a glossy white solid surface bar top. The shelves are beautifully sculptural with solid wood and iron pipe – which should showcase their products nicely. Of course no tasting room is complete without a view, and this one looks out over the vineyard, with Okanagan Lake and the hills in the distance (my photo really doesn’t do it justice).
Graham insists that they want to showcase the Naramata Bench and its clean fruit, really letting the grapes speak for themselves in the bottle. Graham tends the vineyard with their wine style in mind so that minimal intervention can occur during the winemaking time. As the tasting room was not yet open for business when I visited, Graham generously packed up several bottles for me to taste through at my leisure. I decided to share these with some friends who are also wine geeks when it came time to taste through for the following notes, because wine is really always best when shared with friends and good food!
The 2012 Riesling is pale gold in colour and has those lovely aromas that I love in a Riesling that is beginning to develop – pencil eraser and hints of diesel (yes, you all know that I am a wine geek) along with some citrus. The palate is dry with high acidity, medium body and intense flavours of apple, peach and melon. This is a very tasty, well-balanced wine with a long finish. I discovered that this Riesling pairs beautifully with jalapeno cheddar sausages – the spice brings out a sweetness in the wine and the wine conversely tames the heat of the sausages – delicious!
The 2013 Riesling is still showing as a bit tight and closed; it needs some more age on it. It is a pale lemon in colour with aromas of citrus. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity and a slightly rounder mouthfeel than with the 2012, with flavours of apple, citrus and peach, and a medium finish.
The 2013 Pinot Gris is pale lemon with aromas of citrus, apple and pear. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It has pronounced flavours of pear with hints of almond and spice and a medium finish. This is one wine that developed nicely as it sat in my glass for a while – just kept getting better.
The 2013 Viognier is pale lemon in colour with a slightly perfumed nose at first. This is another wine that developed nicely as it sat in my glass. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of citrus and apricot with a medium-plus finish.
The 2012 Pinot Noir is a medium ruby in colour with an earthy nose with spice, dark red fruit and a little bit of the good kind of funk. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins that are ripe, medium body and flavours of dark red fruits, cherry, raspberry, spice and some earthiness. This is my kind of Pinot Noir flavour-wise, and is well-balanced with a long finish.
The 2013 Pinot Noir is a little bit lighter in both colour and body, with a slightly fresher nose with hints of floral aromas and bright red fruit – a slightly more feminine wine when compared with the 2012. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of cherry and raspberry and a medium-plus finish.
The 2013 Vertigo is the inaugural release of the winery’s red blend. Vertigo is made up of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 25% Barbera. Tightrope is currently one of only two wineries in the Okanagan Valley (the other is Sandhill Wines) who are growing Barbera, a varietal from northwestern Italy. Graham & Lyndsay decided to plant a small amount of Barbera after an experience with a winery in New Zealand that uses a lot of Italian varietals – Vin Alto, near Auckland. The 2013 Vertigo is medium-plus ruby in colour with a hint of purple and aromas of dark fruit and spice and a nice intensity. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of dark fruit, plums, cherry and spice and a long finish. It is well-balanced but still very young – I would like to lay this down for a few more years. Overall, these wines were all very clean and well-made – I look forward to trying more as they are released.