Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dinner in the vineyard at Noble Ridge

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Photo: Jim D'Andrea in the Noble Ridge cellar

What would you do if it rained on your dinner party?

It happened last week to Jim and Leslie D’Andrea, the owners of Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery at Okanagan Falls, when they were hosting about 30 guests for a dinner in the vineyard.

They turned it into an educational opportunity, entertaining the guests with a barrel tasting of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon while the staff of Bogner’s, the caterers, moved the table and the dinner settings into the winery.

The Okanagan weather this year has been no more conducive for dining under the open skies than it has been for growing grapes. The temperature was pleasant enough for a reception outdoors at the Noble Ridge winery. We were treated to canapés and glasses of Mingle 2010, the winery’s white blend, which will be released as soon as the last of Mingle 2009 has been sold.

This is a delicious $18 blend built around Pinot Gris and other varieties that are not disclosed. This allows the winery to keep its options open, changing the components of the blend from year to year, depending on what the vintage gives them to work with.

It is an excellent wine, tasting of apples, peaches and citrus. Even though there is a touch of residual sweetness, the 2010 has exquisite balance, with a refreshing and crisp finish. My score: 88.

The guests had barely been seated at the long table in the vineyard when black clouds moved overhead and fat drops of rain splashed down. We dashed for shelter in the winery, leaving the caterers to bring the table inside and set it up all over again.

Jim and Leslie needed to occupy the half hour that Bogner’s required to reset the table. They took this chance to recount their history, finishing with a barrel tasting.
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Photo: Leslie D'Andrea

Calgary natives, they bought a 15-acre vineyard property just south of Okanagan Falls in 2001. Jim is a senior lawyer and Leslie was a hospital administrator. They were attracted to the lifestyle of winery owners during vacations in France and even considered buying a vineyard there. Then they discovered the remarkable wines that were beginning to emerge from the Okanagan. It was much more practical to set up their winery here than in distant France.

Noble Ridge opened in 2005. The following year, they bought a 7 ½ vineyard across Oliver Ranch Road from their original property, partly for the additional grapes but also for the sturdy building (a massive garage for trucks) they turned into a winery. It took Jim’s considerable skills as a lawyer to persuade the regulators that the winery could be on one side of a public road while the tasting room was on the other.

The disciplined planting on these vineyards gives Noble Ridge the grapes to produce a focussed portfolio of about six table wines. Coming fall is the winery’s first sparkling wine which Jim and winemaker Phil Soo have benchmarked against good Champagne. Also coming soon is 120 cases of 2009 King’s Ransom, a limited release of the icon Bordeaux blend the winery produces only in the best years. First dibbs on both wines belongs to those on Noble Ridge’s email list (free registration).

The barrel tasting of the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was revealing. That is a late ripening variety and the 2010 vintage was almost as cool and late as the 2011 is turning out to be. Not an ideal Cabernet year. I expected the wine to show some green aromas and flavours but I was quite surprised to find both samples were ripe and full of clean fruit flavours. It was obvious that Noble Ridge has a very good vineyard crew. If they delivered ripe Cabernet Sauvignon to the winemaker last year, you know they got everything else right, too.

The table was now set up in the winery and we sat down to dinner which included an excellent Chateaubriand paired with an award-winning Noble Ridge library wine, a Meritage 2006 that I scored 91. There might be a few bottles left under the counter in the wine shop. The Meritage 2007 (89 points) is the current release on sale here, $10 off the usual $30 price in celebration of the owners’ 1oth anniversary in the Okanagan.

The rainstorm having passed, the uncomplaining crew from Bogner’s moved the table back into the vineyard for desert. (Bogner’s, of course, is the renowned restaurant in downtown Penticton.) And there was still time for a late evening visit to the wine shop.

The other wines here include:

Pinot Grigio 2009 ($18.90). The wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus and tastes of pears and bake apples. The alcohol is a touch generous for the Pinot Grigio style and the wine might better be called Pinot Gris. The finish is long and rich. 88.

Chardonnay 2009 ($23.90). There was no opportunity to taste this wine, which has already won gold at the All-Canadian Wine Competition. The 2008 vintage, which was served at dinner and is now sold out, garnered medals at several competitions including Chardonnay du Monde.

Pinot Noir 2008 ($27.90). This will be released in the fall when the 2007 has been sold. While the 2007 Pinot Noir is lean, with cherry notes on the nose and palate, the 2008 is a glorious wine. It has aromas of strawberries and flavours of strawberry and cherry. The velvet texture is rich and concentrated. 90.

Noble Ridge has expanded its Pinot Noir plantings, both to support this varietal and for its sparkling wine program. After a decade in this vineyard, they have concluded, as Leslie says, that “Pinot Noir is happy here.”


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