Friday, April 19, 2013

Okanagan Falls Wineries host a coming out party

Photo: Noble Ridge owners Leslie and Jim D'Andrea with "The One."

The member wineries of the Okanagan Falls Winery Association, which was formed about a year ago, had its coming out party in Vancouver this week.

The objective is to raise the profile of the wineries and the area in which they operate. They want wine tourists to spend time what they call “The Heart of Wine Country” rather than just stopping for an ice cream at Tickleberry’s before heading north to Naramata or south to Oliver/Osoyoos.

It should not be a hard sell. With the exception of a good hotel, all the other pieces are in place to attract wine tourists to Okanagan Falls.

There are 12 wineries in OFWA, including the two in Kaleden and two on East Side Road, the lightly travelled back road between Okanagan Falls and Penticton. That certainly is a “critical mass.” In fact, only the most energetic of wine tourists would be able to visit them all in a single day. At the Vancouver tasting, which lasted three hours, I could only get to 10 winery tables before the event closed.

Here is why the OFWA cluster will emerge as a wine touring destination:

  • The wines are well-made. A number of these producers have won awards of excellence in the Lieutenant Governor’s competition. Wild Goose Vineyards alone has won seven of those awards. The only reason why a couple of these wineries do not yet have a big inventory of awards is because they are new.
  • Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars opened its tasting room to the public last year after 20 years of by-appointment only visits. This is very important to the region’s success. With its reputation for quality, Blue Mountain is one of the anchor tenants in the OFWA cluster.
  • Painted Rock Estate Winery, another of the anchor tenants, will open a gleaming new wine shop this summer. It is a beautifully designed building which such breath-taking vineyard views that it should be an instant wedding destination. In a few years, Painted Rock also will add a country inn and Okanagan Falls will have its first good hotel in a century.
  • Liquidity Wines, one the newest wineries, is opening an elegant wine shop and a bistro this summer. See Ya Later Ranch already has bistro service at its winery. Wild Goose opened a large new wineshop last summer, with a licensed picnic deck. All of these have fabulous views from their patios.

Regional winery associations like OFWA or the Naramata Bench Association might one day evolve into sub-appellations. Industry chatter suggests that the Oliver-Osoyoos Wineries Association is well down the road in creating a Golden Mile sub-appellation.

You could make an argument for an Okanagan Falls sub-appellation that would encompass most of the wineries. This is a compact vineyard area with complex soils, but not wildly different. Of course, the argument loses a bit of force because of the wide number of varietals grown here – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Vidal, Tempranillo, and so on. This is not Burgundy and won’t have focussed on key varietals for a century or two, if ever.

You could argue for Pinot Noir as the area’s flagship variety, except that everybody’s Pinot Noir is different. But frankly, that’s why you go wine touring. It would be boring if the wines were homogeneous.

Sub-appellations can be turned into good marketing tools. They might also be used as a way to raise quality standards now that VQA has been hollowed out as a standard-setting tool. (The other day, I have 91 points to a terrific white wine that had failed VQA.) No wine would be allowed to carry the sub-appellation unless it had been passed by a competent tasting panel.

Here are notes on some of the wines offered by these wineries. Apologies to See Ya Later Ranch and Stag’s Hollow Winery, whose tables I missed. I may also have missed one of two other of the sixty plus wines that were being poured.

Blasted Church Vineyards

Photo: Evelyn and Chris Campbell

Aside from the solid wines, the appeal of Blasted Church is local history that owners Chris and Evelyn Campbell tell through the colourful and sometimes quirky labels. Blasted Church has awards for its labels as well as for the wines.

Hatfield’s Fuse 2011 ($17.99 for a bottle or $377 for a keg). A nine-grape blend, this is a Blasted Church’s top selling wine. With a production of 11,300 cases in 2011, it is widely available, including liquor and wine stores. The winery now also offers it in 20-litre stainless steel kegs for restaurants equipped to serve it on tap. This is a crisp and refreshing with, with aromas and flavours of citrus, apples and pears. 90.

Pinot Gris 2011 ($19.99). This wine offers a fruit bowl of aromas and flavours – pear, apple, citrus and spice on the finish. The wine has good weight and a lingering finish. 90.

Big Bang Theory 2011 ($18.99 for a bottle, $403 for a keg). This is a seven variety red blend built around Pinot Noir, Merlot and Lemberger. It has fresh, appealing aromas and flavours of cherry and is a medium-bodied quaffer. It is perfect for wine by the glass, which is why it is available by the keg. 88.

Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars

Brut Sparkling Wine NV ($23.90). This is excellent value for a bottle-fermented sparkling wine. The wine has toasty and citrus notes with a crisp, dry finish. 90.

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($18.90). This is a Loire-style Sauvignon Blanc, not a New Zealand style. It has herbal and grape fruit aromas and flavours of grapefruit, grapefruit rind and minerals, with a crisp finish. 88.

Chardonnay 2011 ($21.90). This wine has an appealing elegance. There is oak here but not much; there is butteriness but not much; and the citrus flavours are delicate. 90.

Pinot Noir 2011 ($24.90). You know this came from the same cellar as the Chardonnay. This is also elegant and understated, with notes of strawberry, cherry, spice and even a hint of mocha. The texture is classically silken. 90.

Krāzē Legz Vineyard and Winery    
Photo: Gerry and Sue Thygessen

This winery opened in 2010 and was the first winery in Kaleden. That’s a bit surprising, given all the vineyards around this pretty village beside the lake. Both the winery and the wines have names that are memorably eccentric because the owners, Sue and Gerry Thygessen, have branded the business on the theme of The Roaring Twenties. Popular dance steps of that era feature on the labels.

The Bee’s Knees Pinot Blanc 2011 ($18.95). Crisp and clean, this wine is the classic “slice of fresh apple” Pinot Blanc. 90.

Speakeasy Merlot Rosé 2012 ($N/A). As in the previous two vintages, the winery continues to make a delicious rosé, with strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavours that jump from the glass. The finish is crisply fresh. 90.

The Cakewalk Merlot 2010 ($25.95). This wine shows the bright vitality of the year, with aromas and flavours of blueberry and black currant. 89.

All That Jazz 2010 ($23.95). This is 55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc. On the palate, its shows the delicious brambly fruit flavours of the Cab Franc. 90.

Liquidity Wines

Chardonnay 2011 ($22.90). The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, with a subtle hint of oak and butter and with lively acidity, giving the wine a crisp Chablis-style finish. 90.

Pinot Gris 2012 ($19.90). It seems that wines from the 2012 vintage express the fruity aromas and flavours well. This wine tastes of pears and citrus and has a crisp, spicy finish. 90.

Rose 2012 ($18.90). This light and refreshing rosé has strawberry and cherry aromas and flavours. 88.

Pinot  Noir 2010 ($24.90). This wine is light and lean, with notes of cherry and raspberry. I would enjoy this, slightly chilled, on a hot summer day, perhaps on Liquidity’s patio. 88.

Meyer Family Vineyards

It was late in the afternoon and I had to skip this winery’s sophisticated Chardonnay wines. Too bad, because they always are among the Okanagan’s top Chardonnays.

Pinot Noir 2011 ($25.00). This is very good for a budget Pinot Noir, with classic strawberry aromas and flavours, a medium body and a silky texture. 89.

McLean Creek Pinot Noir 2011 ($40). This is the wine to cellar while drinking the previous wine. The flavours are concentrated, with hints of cherry, strawberry and toast (from the barrels). The texture is still developing. 90.

Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($40). The cherry and strawberry flavours are more vivacious that the sometimes brooding McLean Creek version but the wine is equally satisfying. 90.

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery

The One 2009 Sparkling Wine ($39.90). Crisp and elegant, this Champagne-style bubbly is the winery’s first and it is nearly sold out. The 2010 vintage, which will be released in September, spent twice as long resting on the lees. Owners Jim and Leslie D’Andrea say it will be more creamy that the 2009.

Chardonnay 2010 ($23.90). Here is a wine for those who hanker for the good old days when no one was afraid to use a little oak with this varietal. The buttery notes and the barrel treatment give this wine rich tangerine and citrus flavours. 89.

Pinot Noir 2009 ($24.90). Dark in colour, this is a big ripe and earthy Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of plum, leather and tobacco and with a touch of spice on the finish. This is not a wimpy Pinot. 90-91.

Meritage Reserve 2008 ($29.90). Even with five years of age, this wine is just hitting its stride and won’t plateau for a couple more years. The texture is concentrated and the flavours are bold - black currant, plum and vanilla. 90.

Painted Rock Estate Winery

The scores for these wines indicate why I see this winery, with its Holt Renfrew pricing, as one of the anchor tenants bring wine tourists and lustre to Okanagan Falls wineries.

Merlot 2009 ($40). This is an elegant wine with ripe tannins that seem almost sculptured. There are flavours of plum, blueberry, black currant, with excellent concentration. 91.

Syrah 2010 ($40). The viticulture here must be remarkable because it was no easy to get Syrah ripe in 2010. This wine is ripe, with flavours of plum, leather and earth and with hints of pepper on the nose and in the finish. 92.

Red Icon 2009 ($55). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend. It is a lovely wine, rich and generous, with flavours of plum, black currant, blackberry, vanilla and mocha. 93.

Synchromesh Wines

This is perhaps the smallest of the Okanagan Falls wineries. The Dickinson family which owns it is intensely interested in motor racing. That explains the use of Synchromesh as a winery name. In fact, the winery’s spring release tasting on April 20 is 2 pm to 4.30 pm at the Ferrari Maserati showroom at 1860 Burrard Street in Vancouver.

Thorny Vines Riesling 2012 ($18.90 for 296 cases produced). This excellent wine is from a three-year-old Naramata Bench vineyard planted with the legendary Clone 21B.  The wine is crisp and tangy, with lime and lemon aromas and flavours and with dry finish. 89.

Pinot Noir 2011 Palo Solara Vineyard ($24.90 for 135 cases). The fruit for this wine comes from an East Kelowna vineyard. The wine has a fine dark hue, with aromas and flavours of cherry and spice. The texture is firm but it will flesh out with some cellaring. 89-90.

Tertre Rouge 2010 ($34.90). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has generous black and red berry flavours, backed with vanilla and chocolate. 90.

Topshelf Winery

This Kaleden winery has built is offerings on a hockey theme because the owners, Leonard and Myra Kwiatkowski, are classic hockey parents, with two sons who once played professional hockey.

Slapshot Chardonnay 2011 ($18). This is a crisp, fruit-forward Chardonnay, with citrus aromas and flavours. 88.

Point Shot Pinot Gris 2011 ($18). This is also fruit forward with a crisp finish; and with aromas and flavours of apple and pear and with a hint of spice on the finish. 88.

Over The Top Merlot 2011 ($20). This is an easy-drinking red, with red currant and cherry flavours and with the slightest hint of greenness. 88.


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