Over the past couple of months I have managed to get to a few new wineries in the central and south Okanagan. One new winery that is making some waves on the Naramata Bench is Little Engine Winery. It is located immediately south of Red Rooster Winery and has knocked it out of the ballpark for its opening vintage release. I had reasonably high hopes for the wines prior to visiting as I am familiar with previous wines made by winemaker Scott Robinson, formerly of LaFrenz. Little Engine has a great team in place, from owners Steven and Nicole French, winemaker Scott, viticulturist Pénélope Roche, and tasting room manager Audralee Daum. The winery and tasting room building is pretty great as well, designed by Heather Shedden of People Plus Space, and built by Ritchie Custom Homes.
Steven French (L) and Scott Robinson (R)
I visited within their first couple of weeks of being open, joined by my friend Christine of Girls Go Grape with promises of amazing Chardonnays (she and I both consider ourselves to be #Chardcore). Scott met us there and walked us through the wines. The 2015 Rosé is made up of 80% Merlot and 20% Pinot Noir from Naramata. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and a creamy texture. It has flavours of strawberry and raspberry with a long spicy finish. The 2015 Silver Sauvignon Blanc is mainly done in stainless steel but has 5% fermented in neutral French oak for some more mouthfeel. It has aromas of grapefruit and guava. It is dry with high acidity and medium-minus body with flavours of grapefruit, tropical notes and gooseberry. It has a long finish, is well-balanced and delicious.
The 2015 Silver Chardonnay is a blend of three different clones of Chardonnay, sourced from two vineyards in Naramata and one in Kaleden. It has been fermented 50/50 in stainless steel and in barrel (half new, half neutral), aged 5-6 months on lees. It is pale lemon in colour with aromas of citrus, apple and smoke. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of lemon, cream, apricot and spice, with a long finish. The 2014 Gold Chardonnay (Reserve) spent 15 months in barrel with lees stirring and includes fruit from 26 year old vines, giving much more complexity to the wine. It is pale gold in colour with aromas of baking spice, lemon and peach. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body, with flavours of buttered popcorn, pineapple, butterscotch, tropical fruit and spice. It is well-balanced with a very long finish – quite delicious, but will certainly benefit from some cellar-aging.
The 2014 Silver Pinot Noir is medium garnet in colour with earthy aromas, spice, raspberry jam and a hint of floral notes. It is dry with medium-acidity, medium body and medium (fine) tannins with flavours of red cherry, raspberry and spice. It has a long finish with lovely balance and intensity. The 2014 Gold Pinot Noir is medium-plus ruby with a garnet rim. It has a rich ripe nose of darker fruit in a jammier style to the Silver. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body and medium-plus (ripe) tannins with flavour of ripe black cherry, blackforest cake and baking spice with a really long finish.
The 2014 Silver Merlot is medium purple-ruby with aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry, spice and liquorice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, full (ripe) tannins and nice intensity, with nice length and balance.
Up in East Kelowna, with sweeping views of the city and Okanagan Lake beyond, is Kitsch Wines, owned by Trent and Ria Kitsch. Having followed their progress on social media over the past year, I decided to go check out their tasting room and meet up with winemaker Grant Biggs. We were greeted out at the parking lot by a golf cart to drive us around the estate home that houses Kitsch in the large garage space. The panoramic view met us behind the building.
Kitsch currently has three wines produced from their two vineyard properties. The 2015 Pinot Gris spent 20 hours with skin contact prior to fermentation. It has fresh aromas of pear and melon. It is dry with medium acidity and light body with flavours of peach, pear and apple. It is very well-balanced. The 2015 Chardonnay comes from young vines in third leaf and has spent 50 days in French oak barrels – 40% 1 year old barrels and 60% neutral. It has aromas of apricot, apple and hints of smoke. It is dry with medium acidity, medium body and a creamy texture. It has delicate flavours of apple and hints of floral. The 2015 Riesling was fermented in two separate lots, keeping two different blocks (with different elevation and characteristics) apart. It has a fairly light, but very pleasant, nose. It is dry with high acidity and medium body with juicy fruit flavours of peach, lemon, lime and nice minerality. It is well-balanced, clean, fresh and has a really nice texture, which is in part due to some time in neutral French oak barrels.
Penticton now has another winery-with-restaurant option at the south end of town, overlooking Skaha Lake with Play Winery. Open now for a couple of months, and located in the Skaha Hills development above the airport, in a partnership between Stage West Hospitality out of Calgary and the Penticton Indian Band.
Recently I met up with Mohamed Awad, general manager and winemaker, for a tour, tasting and lunch, and I’ll definitely be back again for more, particularly as it’s a great option for a meal out close to home! I decided to sample a couple of their First Act (lighter bite) options for my lunch – the Seared Scallop with beetroot yogurt, fried beet ribbons and micro herbs, along with the Forest Mushroom Arancini with caramelized onion purée, pickled shimiji mushrooms, parmesan and toasted hazelnuts. Both dishes were delicious and beautifully presented by Executive Chef Jeff Burns.
Following a quick tour of the barrel room and production facility (located below the restaurant and tasting room) we returned to the tasting bar to go through their lineup. The wine names certainly fit with the connection with Stage West, with names such as Ad Lib and Improv for their white and red blends. The 2014 Ad Lib is 76% Sauvignon Blanc and 24% Semillon. It has a tropical nose, is dry wtih medium-plus acidity and medium body. It has flavours of citrus, almond, apple, pear and floral notes. It is refreshing with some nice complexity and a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Viognier has a third of it aged in new French oak, which I worried would overwhelm the wine, but it has been handled really well. It has aromas of spice, floral, apricot, peach and some tropical notes. It is dry with a round mouthfeel, medium acidity and medium body, with flavours of apricot, citrus, ginger and a hint of oak with a long finish.
The 2014 Syrah has a medium ruby colour with aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, spice and a touch of oak. It is dry with medium acidity, medium body and tannins with flavours of cherry, blackberry and a hint of spice. It is a more delicate fruit-forward style of Syrah, with a long finish. The 2014 Improv is a very easy-drinking blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Syrah. It is medium ruby in colour with aromas and flavours of ripe cherry, juicy plum and baking spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and tannins.
The 2015 Moscato is a blend of Muscat Ottonel, Orange Muscat and White Muscat. It has a very typical, highly aromatic, muscat/floral nose. It is off-dry, clean, fresh, fruity and juicy – a highly dangerous wine that can go down just a little too easily. The 2014 Dramatic White Blend is made up of 59% Sauvignon Blanc, 39% Viognier and 2% Gewurztraminer. It has aromas of citrus, stone fruit and some floral notes. It is dry but fruity with medium acidity and medium-minus body, with flavours of citrus, apricot and pear rind with a medium finish. The 2013 Dramatic Red Blend is made up of 70% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has aromas of ripe cherry, plum and spice. It is dry but fruity with medium acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins, with flavours of cassis, cherry, plum and some oak with a medium finish.