Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wine touring in the Shuswap

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Photo: Vineyard at Celista

If the number of wineries you can visit comfortably in one day constitutes a critical mass, the Shuswap region around Salmon Arm qualifies with six wineries.

It has taken a while. Larch Hills Winery, which opened in 1997, was the first in the area. Sunnybrae Estate Winery, profiled in a previous blog, is the most recent, opened this spring.

This is British Columbia’s northernmost cluster of wineries and vineyards, an hour’s drive from the north end of the Okanagan and half a day’s drive from the great concentration of British Columbia’s wineries. It is easy for wine tourists to overlook this group.

You shouldn’t. If you are driving by on the Trans-Canada or taking in the Adams River Salmon Run or vacationing on a Shuswap houseboat, save a little extra time for touring these northern wineries. Here is a modest guide to the wineries and some of their best wines.

Photo: Hazel and Jack Manser

Larch Hills Winery, about a 15 minute drive south of Salmon Arm, is British Columbia’s highest elevation vineyard at 2,480 feet. From the top of the steep south-facing vineyard, you can see the beginning of the Okanagan Valley in the distance.

The owners are Jack Manser, formerly a forester in Switzerland, and his wife, Hazel, who bought the winery in 2005 from founders Hans and Hazel Nevrkla. The non-irrigated vineyard grows the cool-climate varieties appropriate for the location, including Ortega, Madeleine Angevine, Siegerrebe and Maréchal Foch.

The Larch Hills wines are consistent and reliable.

Mad Angie 2008 ($15.40). This is the winery’s cheeky name for its Madeleine Angevine, a white with a floral aroma, flavours of melons and green apples and a dry finish. 88.

Siegerrebe 2008 ($16.40). This early-ripening white invariably is a crowd pleaser because of the dramatic aroma of spice and fruit and the tropical fruit basket of flavour. The Larch Hills example is particularly intense and exotic. 88.

Gewürztraminer 2009 ($16.40). This is an appealing wine with a spicy aroma, lychee flavours and a satisfying weight and texture, with a dry finish. 89.

Tamarack Rosé 2008 ($15.40). A juicy wine with a crisp finish, this has flavours of raspberry and cranberry. It is made with Lemberger and St. Laurent grapes. 89.

Grandview Bench Red 2009 ($16.40). A full-bodied blend of Maréchal Foch, Merlot and Lemberger, this has flavours of plums and red berries. 88.

Maréchal Foch Special Reserve 2008 ($19.40). A good concentrated red with soft tannins and flavours of black cherries and plums. 89.

Lemberger Dessert Wine 2010 ($20.90 for a half bottle). This is a cheerful dessert wine that tastes like cherry and mint candies, with a good balance of acidity and sugar. 90.

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Photo: Maureen and Graydon Ratzlaff

Recline Ridge Vineyards & Winery, located at Tappen, just west of Salmon Arm, was established in 1999 by Mike Smith and was taken over last year by Graydon and Maureen Ratzlaff. They moved from Metro Vancouver where Graydon has had a long career in the food processing industry. He was drawn to wine during a four-year-stint when he set up and ran the wine products plant for Vincor’s Spagnols division in New Westminster.

“We view the wine industry as a happy industry,” Graydon says. “There are trials and tribulations and hard work, but by and large people in the industry are generally very positive about the products and what they are doing. There is a lot of pride as a result of that.”

The winery relies on grapes from its 7 ½- acre vineyard and also buys a large vineyard nearby. Graydon would prefer to showcase the wines of this northern region rather than padding this list with wines made from Okanagan grapes.

My recent visit was a little too early: the winery had not yet bottled and released its 2010s. The wines to come this summer will include Recline Ridge’s first Bacchus; a rosé called Make Me Blush; and Optima desert wine called Hummingbird’s Kiss; and a Zweigelt/Blaufrankisch blend called Hawk’s Haven. The latter two wines are tributes to Graydon’s parents, Jack and Agnes, who both died in the past year.

Of those wines on the current list, try the Siegerrebe 2009 ($17.90), another spicy and tropical crowd pleaser. 88.

Photo: Doug and Gary Kennedy

Granite Creek Vineyards, just a kilometre further along the road from Recline Ridge, was opened in 2004 by Gary and Heather Kennedy with their son, Doug, and his wife, Mayka. Their 10-acre vineyard, planted in 2003, grows similar varieties as the other vineyards in the region.

They also make wine from Okanagan grapes, reflected by the current offerings in the tasting room. Viognier 2008 ($20) has the creamy, rich texture of the varietal, with flavours of apricot and pineapple. 88. Riesling 2009 ($17) shows tropical flavours of lime and grapefruit, with a refreshing finish. 88. Syrah 2006 ($23) shows aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and pepper. 87.

Meritage 2007 – the winery prefers to give its reds plenty of bottle aging before release – has a firm structure with flavours of currants, a hint of coffee and chocolate and a long finish. 88.

The newest products in the tasting room include excellent wine jellies made by Heather.

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Photo: John Koopmans

Ovino Winery was opened last year by John Koopmans on what was a former dairy farm about twenty minutes south of Salmon Arm. There is a small flock of sheep on the property now. That inspired the winery name, ovino being a word for sheep in several romance languages.

John keeps it simple, pricing every wine at $15 and producing between 800 and 1,000 cases a year. His initial preference would have been to make just dry white wines but, recognizing consumer demand, he also has reds and a few off-dry whites.

Pinot Gris 2010 is crisp and clean, with aromas and flavours of citrus. 88.

Pinot Tramino 2010 is one of the winery’s best sellers. It is an off-dry blend of Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, with rose petal spice on the nose and with flavours of citrus and peach. 87.

Gewürztraminer 2009 has good weight, with aromas and flavours of spice and orange peel. 88. Gewürztraminer 2010 reflects the vintage, being lighter and crisper, with delicate rose petal aromas. 87.

Pinot Meunier 2010 is a light, easy-drinking summer red, with aromas and flavours of cherry. 87.

Maréchal Foch 2010 is medium bodied, with the variety’s smoky undertone to the cherry flavours. 87.

Entice 2010 is a blend of four white varietals and made in a dessert wine style. It has fresh apple and melon flavours. The 55 grams of residual sugar are very nicely balanced with vibrant acidity. 88.

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Photo: Jake Ootes

Celista Estate Winery opened last summer near the community of Celista on the north arm of Shuswap Lake. British Columbia’s most northern winery, it is 30 kilometer drive from the highway through a landscape that ranges from forest to beachside.

The owners are Jake Ootes and his wife, Margaret Baille-Ootes. He is a former publisher, political aide and Yukon minister of education while she formerly owned a Yellowknife art gallery. Their vineyard and winery occupy part of a rambling property that also includes rental accommodation for summer tourists.

They are almost certainly the only British Columbia winery owners who have put sketches of themselves on the wine labels, but done very tastefully as one would expect from a former art gallery owner. “This is our product and we stand behind it,” Jake explains.

Riesling 2010 ($18) is a pleasant dry white with flavours of citrus and spice. 87. Conundrum 2010 ($22) is a fruit blend of four varieties including Gewürztraminer, Siegerrebe and Ortega. It begins with a spicy aroma, has citrus and spice flavours and a dry finish. 88. Celista Cuvée 2010 ($16) is another refreshing white blend with flavours of green apples and citrus. 88.

Marg’s Rosé 2010 ($20) has bright, vibrant hue, reflecting the deep colour of the Maréchal Foch grapes used for the wine. It has aromas and flavours of strawberries and has a crisp dry finish. 88.

Maréchal Foch 2009 ($19) is good quaffing fruity red, with flavours of cherry. 87. Still to be released is an oak-aged Foch.


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