Heading up to Kelowna I decided to stop in at a couple of the Peachland wineries on my way – Greata Ranch and Deep Creek/Hainle Vineyards. Although I have visited Greata Ranch’s sister winery, Cedar Creek, many times in the past I had yet to stop in and try the wines here. Greata Ranch is perched on the west side of Okanagan Lake, with beautiful views up the lake towards Kelowna, across to Rattlesnake Island and down towards Naramata. I would recommend taking the time to sit on the deck with a glass of wine and enjoy the views! The 2011 Chardonnay has a lot of pineapple on both the nose and the palate, the 2011 Gewürztraminer is full of the classic rose petal, lychee, citrus and spice and is nicely balanced with a slight sweetness and a round mouthfeel. The 2011 Rosé is 94% Merlot and 6% Syrah with a candied strawberry raspberry nose. The palate is creamy raspberry and vanilla with a cranberry finish – quite tasty! The 2010 Merlot is 88% Merlot, with the remainder a blend of Syrah and Malbec. It has flavours of blueberry, cassis, cherry and cedar with nice acidity and medium tannins.
I turned off the highway in Peachland to visit Hainle Vineyards but unfortunately my timing was not great. I had suspected that they might have sustained some damage from the recent Trepanier forest fire but had not had any real confirmation of that. While driving up the road I could see the burnt trees and patches of ground and knew it wasn’t a great sign when about a 100m radius around the winery building was nothing but the rust colour of the fire retardant dropped by the water bombers. On the bluff above the winery building, all that stood of a former building was the chimney and I could see withered vines, cooked by the heat of the fire; it was all really quite sad. I have since found some articles in the media which tells of the sad story of the 40-year old vineyard that was almost completely decimated by the fire that came through the area on September 9th of this year. This was the vineyard that produced Canada’s first commercially available Icewine. The Ministry of Agriculture hopes to be able to take cuttings from those vines that were not so damaged in order to propagate them and not completely lose the genetic history of these old vines brought over from Germany. Walter Huber, the owner of Hainle/Deep Creek is not sure at this point what the future of the winery will be. The tasting room has apparently reopened this past week so I do hope to stop in sometime in the next couple of weeks.
On to Kelowna I went and over to East Kelowna, where the first pioneer settlement of Kelowna once stood. John Casorso was one of the first settlers in the area, alongside Father Pandosy who founded the Kelowna Mission. The Casorso family was one of the first to produce grapes commercially in the area and Sperling Vineyards (still owned by descendants of John Casorso) was originally planted in 1929, although the varieties have changed and been replanted over the generations. It is still very much a family operation that includes the adjacent Pioneer Country Market. Ann Sperling is the winemaker and her niece Jill works the tasting room. The 2011 Pinot Gris was aged sur lies in barrel for 6 months. It has crisp citrus notes and a round mouthfeel. The 2010 Gewürztraminer comes from 25-year old vines. It has a lovely lychee and pear nose with lychee and rose on the palate. It has a little bit of residual sugar and is beautifully balanced. The 2010 Old Vines Riesling comes from vines that were planted in 1978. There is limestone in the vineyard, which contributes to the wonderful minerality in the wine. There is a bit of petrol on the nose, along with lime and that minerality I mentioned before. On the palate there is lime, green apple and a nice chalkiness. The 2011 ‘The Market White’ is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Bacchus and Gewürztraminer. This is one of my favourite ‘summer sippers’ and I never hesitate to recommend it to customers looking for an easy-drinking white wine. It has lychee, pear and citrus on the nose and palate, is very clean and balanced with lovely acidity and a round mouthfeel. The 2011 Sper…itz is a fun little wine. It is a blend of Pearle of Csaba and Bacchus that is off-dry and a little bit bubbly. It is only available in 375mL bottles and is low alcohol at 7.9%. It has a clean nose and a palate full of tropical fruit and melon. The 2009 Old Vines Foch is from vines that were planted in the 1960s. This wine is made as gently as possible, using a gravity-fed process and it is unfiltered as well. It has a great smoky earthy nose that also carries over to the palate along with rich ripe dark fruit. The tannins are very smooth and velvety. The 2010 Old Vines Foch Reserve is very soon to be released, possibly during the Fall Wine Festival. The 2011 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer was harvested the night of November 19th through to the early morning of November 20th, at -6 degrees. It has a honey nose, is clean, rich and unctuous on the palate with flavours of lychee and pear. To finish the tasting, Jill opened a bottle of one of Sperling’s newest products, although it has been a long time in the making – the 2008 Brut. This is a sparkling wine made with 100% Pinot Blanc in the traditional method, sitting for 36 months sur lies. The Pinot Blanc comes from 25-year old vines. This Brut has tiny persistent bubbles, has a clean nose with citrus and biscuit. It has a light citrus flavour and nice minerality with a bit heavier mouthfeel. Only 1200 bottles were made. Sperling Vineyards also has a 2008 Brut Reserve, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that won’t be released until 2016. I very much look forward to that one!
Next I continue my tour of the ‘Fab Five’ wineries of East Kelowna (which now actually has 6 wineries on the route: Sperling Vineyards, The View Winery, Spierhead Winery, The Vibrant Vine, Camelot Vineyards & House of Rose Winery). The View Winery is another historic location of East Kelowna – the George Ward Fruit Packinghouse, which opened in 1926 to support the orchard fruit industry of East Kelowna. The property has been in the Turton/Ward family for five generations and in 2006 Jennifer Turton-Molgat opened up The View Winery in a part of the old packinghouse. The 2011 Riesling has a citrus and apple nose, with lime and a hint of minerality on the palate. It is clean and has great acidity. The 2011 Gewürztraminer has a light clean nose with some lychee and spice. It has nice acidity but is quite soft, with flavours of citrus, melon and lychee and a nice mouthfeel. The 2011 Distraction Rosé is made from Pinotage that spent 2-5 days on the skins. It has a strawberry nose with strawberry, cranberry and citrus on the palate; it’s nice and refreshing. The 2011 Red Shoe Red is 100% Pinotage that has been done half in stainless steel and half in oak barrels. It has a nice smokiness on the nose, is light-to-medium in body and has medium acidity, with flavours of plum, cherry and smoke. The 2009 Pinotage has been aged in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. It has black cherry and smoke on the nose and palate, along with more plum and spice on the palate. In order to tie in a bit more with the heritage of the property and the fact that 60% of the property is still orchard, Ward’s Hard Apple Cider is also available at the winery, using Granddad Ward’s family recipe. It has 5.5% alcohol, a spicy apple nose and a baked apple flavour – quite delicious! I’m not always an apple cider fan, but this stuff was so tasty that I had to buy some.
Spierhead Winery is relatively new in the valley and I met two of its proprietors in the tasting room – Bill and Marina. Just last night, Spierhead Winery won ‘Best New Winery’ at the BC Wine Awards, as part of the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival – congratulations to them! The 2010 Chardonnay has a nutty nose and flavours of buttered popcorn. The 2011 Riesling is off-dry with 11.7g of residual sugar and has flavours of citrus. The 2010 Pinot Noir comes from only 3 year old vines, which really surprised me, given the depth of flavour it has. It has an earthy nose with cherry and spice, medium acidity and soft tannins with cherry and spice on the palate; it is a very elegant Pinot Noir. The 2010 Pursuit (referring to it pursuing their flagship red – Vanguard) is a blend of 57% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. It spent 18 months in 44% new French oak. It has caramel, cherry and plum on the nose and palate, with medium-plus acidity and medium tannins. The 2010 Vanguard is a blend of 48% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. It spent 18 months in 55% new French oak. It has medium acidity and medium-plus tannins, with cherry, mocha and plum on both the nose and the palate.
Visiting the Vibrant Vine is quite a unique experience. Upon entering the tasting room I was handed a pair of 3D glasses because all the art on the walls, plus the artwork on the wine bottles, are all in 3D! Also, there was some great live music outside for customers to sit and enjoy with the wine. Candace led me through the Vibrant Vines wines. The 2011 Pinot Grigio is slightly off-dry, very light in flavour and has a round mouthfeel. The 2011 Gewürztraminer has lychee on the nose and palate along with flavours of citrus and spice. The 2011 blend (as yet unnamed – suggestions are being taken online and in the wine shop) is 60% Riesling, 20% Pinot Gris and 20% Gewürztraminer. It has flavours of citrus and stone fruit. The 2011 Chardonnay has been lightly oaked; it has coconut and vanilla on the nose, along with some citrus. It has medium acidity and a round mouthfeel. The 2009 Rose Eh! is made from Syrah, with 24 hours of skin contact. Its nose and palate are full of strawberry, raspberry and a bit of spice. The 2009 Merlot comes from 37 year old vines on the Black Sage Bench in Oliver and has a clean nose of plum, cherry and smoke, medium acidity, medium-plus tannins, and cherry, mocha, plum and smoke on the palate.
Visiting the tasting room at Camelot Vineyards is a bit like stepping back into medieval times, with suits of armour all over the place, and in fact the winery does host a medieval fair every year! Crystal greeted me in the tasting room and led me through the tastings. The 2011 Pinot Gris has lemon on the nose, is dry and crisp with flavours of citrus and melon. It has a medium body and a nice mouthfeel. The 2010 Chardonnay spent 6 months in a mix of French and American oak and has a slightly smoky nose with flavours of buttered popcorn, tasty citrus and a bit of nuttiness. The 2010 Riesling has great minerality on the nose, with flavours of lime, apple, quince and a bit of wet slate. The 2011 Riesling has slightly higher residual sugar than the 2010, along with higher acidity and flavours of apple and citrus. The 2010 Gewürztraminer has lychee and grapefruit on the nose and palate, a round mouthfeel and a finish reminiscent of Moroccan spice (Ras el Hanout). The 2011 Gewürztraminer is full of lychee, Turkish delight and rose petal with clean flavours and a full mouthfeel. The 2010 Pinot Noir has a nice cherry nose with a bit of earthiness and cherry and spice on the palate.
I followed the winding country roads to House of Rose Winery and was welcomed by Patricia in the tasting room. I have previously tasted many of the wines from House of Rose at various wine events but this was my first visit to the winery itself. I started with the Riesling which is crisp and dry with nice acidity and flavours of orange rind, citrus and a bit of spice. The Cool Splash is a slightly off-dry blend of Riesling and Pinot Gris that is light and fruity. The Summer White is an off-dry blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and 1% Icewine. It is floral, fruity and has a hint of spice. The Rosé is full of strawberry, raspberry, red currant and citrus on both the nose and palate. The 2009 Marechal Foch comes from 35-year old vines and has quite a meaty nose. This is the only wine from House of Rose that has any exposure to oak: 4 days of oak chips. It has blackberry, cherry and a bit of smoke on the palate. Hot Flash is a wine that has recently been in the media due to some promotion from the actress Brooke Shields after she handed out bottles of it to her crew on the movie ‘The Hot Flashes’. It is a blend of Marechal Foch and Syrah. It is very fruit-forward with flavours of blackberry and spice, with medium acidity and soft tannins. Sweet Mystery is a blend of Pinot Noir, Lemberger and Foch, with a splash of the Okanagan Port. It is an off-dry red with blueberry and spice on the nose and flavours of plum, blackberry and blueberry. The Okanagan Vintage Port has been fortified to 16% alcohol, has medium-plus acidity and has flavours of plum, raspberry and anise.
I retraced my path back through East Kelowna’s orchards and vineyards and found my way to the East Kelowna Cider Company, the Okanagan’s first land-based cidery, on an orchard that has been in the Ross family since the early 1940s. Theressa Ross greeted me as I headed toward the tasting room. She apologized that at this time of year their stocks were mainly depleted – sold out through the spring and summer and they’re just about to start picking and fermenting this year’s crop. She did however have some products available for tasting and led me through them. East Kelowna Cider Company produces three types of cider: hard (with alcohol), soft (alcohol-free) and iced cider (made from apples frozen on the trees). The Ross Winter Burn Iced Cider comes from conditions that can never again (hopefully!) be duplicated. It is a higher alcohol cider (17%) that was made in 2003 following the devastating Okanagan Mountain fire; this iced cider has a very distinctive smokiness to it. The Ross Winter Gold Iced Cider is made from Golden Delicious apples, is at 14% alcohol, has nice aromatics and would make a lovely sipper on a cold fall evening. There are two more Iced Ciders that weren’t available for tasting that are more of a dessert style: Iced Granny Smith & Iced Fuji. The Ross Hard Apple Cider (6%) is made from a blend of four different varieties of apples. It has a clean nose, crisp dry apple flavour and nice carbonation. A new product that should be released shortly is the Ross Logger Cider. This is the same blend of apples as the Hard Cider but has a different molecular structure. It is darker and fruitier with a rounder mouthfeel and a frothiness more akin to beer. I look forward to purchasing some of it once it has been bottled! Ross Soft Cider comes in three different flavours: Apple, Cherry and Peach. Theressa poured me some of the Cherry to try and it was quite tasty! Perfect for the children that get brought along on winery tours, or for the designated drivers! Finally, Theressa poured me another new non-alcoholic product that they will be releasing soon – a peach juice. This is made from 75% peaches and 25% Macintosh apples. It is a clear juice, unlike many of the peach nectars on the market, and is quite delicious and refreshing! Theressa and her husband Dave are also starting to create logoed apples, primarily with corporate logos at this time but I suppose anyone could have logos applied. The apples are bagged when small to allow them to grow in size but to stay green. The stickers are then applied to the apples and the bags are removed to allow the sun to turn the apples red around the stickered areas.
My final winery of the day was Tantalus Vineyards, another property with a longstanding history: this was first planted as a Pioneer Vineyards in 1927! Some of the current Riesling vines were planted back in 1978 and the grapes from these vines go into the very much sought-after Tantalus Old Vines Riesling. The winery has some library-release Old Vines Riesling available for sale in the tasting room. The current winery building was built in 2009 and is BC’s first LEED-certified winery building. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is an internationally-recognized standard of excellence for Green Building and sustainability. It is quite a fabulous space, with views from the tasting room out over the vineyards and Kelowna and Okanagan Lake in the distance, as well as views down into the barrel room and the tank room beyond, through the use of glass inserts in the large overhead doors. The 2011 Riesling has some lovely minerality on the nose, along with lime and grapefruit. It has a rich round mouthfeel with flavours of citrus, green apple and pear. The 2010 Chardonnay underwent partial malolactic fermentation and was aged sur lies, without any stirring of the lies, in 30% new oak. It has beautiful citrus, vanilla and a bit of nuttiness on the nose, with citrus on the palate and a great creaminess on the mid-to-back palate; it is very well-balanced. The 2010 Pinot Noir has an amazing amount of black pepper on the nose, along with some cherry and plum that also carry over onto the palate. It is a very elegant and well-structured Pinot Noir with medium acidity and soft-to-medium tannins.