Photo: Naramata Bench vineyards
concentration of wineries along the Naramata Bench is astonishing, given the
from Upper Bench Winery at the south end to Bella Wines at the north is a mere
13.9 km. Coolshanagh Wines, which has no wine shop, is a few kilometers further
but scenic road includes all 27 members of the Naramata Bench Wineries
Association as well as 10 or so wineries not in the association.
to (and perhaps still does) advertise itself as the wine capital of Canada. But
there are more wineries along Naramata Road and tributary streets (divided between
two municipalities). It is a magnet for wine tourists.
happened in a comparatively short time. Lang Vineyards and Hillside Estate
Winery, which opened in 1990, were the first wineries on the Bench. Nichol
Vineyard opened in 1993. Kettle Valley Vineyards, which this year celebrates
the 25th anniversary of planting vineyards, and Lake Breeze
Vineyards both opened in 1996. And so on until the numbers we find today.
are more to come! Little Engine Wines has its winery under construction just
south of the Red Rooster Winery on Naramata Road. The intent is to open the
tasting room by July 1. I will do a separate blog shortly but I have already
tasted the wines and the quality is spectacular.
once a year, the Naramata Bench member wineries come to the major metropolitan
markets to tantalize customers with samples of the wines waiting when they come
touring. Here are my notes from the recent Vancouver tasting – at least from
the tables I was able to get to before the tasting ended.
Black Widow Winery is marking its 10th year as a winery. It began when Dick and
Shona Lancaster, then living in the lower mainland, bought a small Naramata
vineyard in 2000 as a “summer place.” Dick already was an accomplished home
winemaker. It was only natural that, on retiring as a vice-president of a
stucco manufacturer, Dick now became a professional winemaker. The winery
produced a total of 2,800 cases in 2015.
Black Widow Pinot Gris 2015 ($21 for 560 cases). In the hot 2015
vintage, these grapes were picked in early September when the flavours had
developed but before the acid had dropped too far. Long cool fermentation
preserved the freshness of this wine, which is crisp and dry, with flavours of
citrus, apple and pear. 90.
Black Widow Gewürztraminer 2015 ($22 for 220 cases). Classically
spicy, the wine also has aromas of lychee and grapefruit, leading to a medley
of tropical fruit flavours and a dry finish. 90.
Black Widow Oasis 2015 ($22 for 340 cases). A blend of Pinot
Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Schönburger, this fruity and spicy wine, with
flavours of melons and peaches, is finished slightly off-dry. The winery
characterizes it as “ideal for summer patios and lighter meals.” 90.
Black Widow Schönburger 2015 ($27 for 95 cases). This wine has
luscious tropical fruit aromas and flavours mingled with Muscat spice on the slightly
off-dry finish. 91.
Black Widow Muscat 2015 ($25 for 180 cases). While it seems superfluous
to have a Muscat Ottonel in a portfolio that already has Schönburger, Dick has
found a good source at a nearby Naramata vineyard. This is Black Widow’s second
release. The wine is also lush and tropical, with an appealing floral aroma and
irresistible sweet fruit on the palate. 91.
Black Widow Rosé 2015 ($23 for 55 cases). This is 60%
Syrah, supported with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. It is a
juicy-textured wine with cherry and strawberry aromas and flavours. The fruit
flavours are sweet on the palate but the finish is crisp and dry. 91.
Black Widow Sparkling Rosé ($24 for 75 cases). The blend is
similar to the still rosé. The difference is the carbonation which gives the
wine a Prosecco-style frizzante finish. There are aromas and flavours of
strawberry and raspberry. The bubbles give this dry wine a lively personality.
Black Widow Phobia 2014 ($27 for 315 cases). This is 50%
Syrah and 50% Merlot. It is a bold, ripe wine with 15.2% alcohol but with so
much fruit that there is no heat on the finish. The wine has aromas of cloves
and plum, with flavours of plum, black cherry and pepper. The texture is
generous and the finish goes on and on. 93.
Black Widow Red Back 2014 ($32 for 170 cases). This is 50%
Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Syrah, all Naramata Bench fruit. The
dark, brooding wine spent 18 months in barrel, mostly French oak, which
polished the long, ripe tannins. The wine has flavours of black currant and fig
with a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. The texture portends good
Black Widow Single Vineyard Merlot
2013 ($30 for 120
cases). This unfiltered Merlot is bold and ripe, with aromas of cassis and
flavours of black cherry and plum. The
wine was aged 21 months in oak, with the result that there is a hint of toasty
oak on the nose. 90.
Black Widow Hourglass 2013 ($42 for 160 cases; some magnums and
double magnums are also available). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux
blend; the wine has developed a following among collectors. This is 70% Merlot,
30% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a complex wine, aged 21 months in French oak
and not fined or filtered. It begins with berry and cassis aromas, leading to flavours
of plum, black cherry and black currant.
Black Widow Vintage One 2013 ($23 for 375 ml; production 80 cases
of 24 bottles). This Port-style wine is Merlot fortified to 19.2% alcohol and
aged 21 months in French oak. Full on the palate, this medium-dry wine has
aromas and flavours of spice, plum and fig. 90.
Black Widow Mirage 2014 ($18 for 200 ml; production 88
cases). This is a fortified and barrel-aged Muscat Ottonel, with aromas and
flavours of apricot. The finish is medium dry. 92.
Deep Roots Winery opened in 2014. The winery name reflects the deep roots that Bryan
Hardman and his family have on the Naramata Bench. Bryan’s
grandfather came here in 1919 after four years of military service, working
initially with pioneer fruit grower Carl Aikins who once owned about 250
hectares (600 acres). A long-time apple grower, Bryan planted two
hectares (five acres) of grapes in 1996 “just to see if I liked it.” He has
expanded vineyard acreage considerably since then, especially when his son,
Will, decided to become the winemaker at Deep Roots.
Deep Roots Chardonnay 2015 ($22). This unoaked Chardonnay
showcases the complex fruitiness this variety can have. The wine has aromas of
melon and cantaloupe, with flavours of apple and stone fruit. 89.
Deep Roots Pinot Gris 2014 ($19). This wine’s off-dry palate
gives it a rich, mouth-filling texture. There are aromas and flavours of pear,
apple and citrus, with spice and pineapple on the finish. 90.
Deep Roots Gamay 2015 ($24). The winery is developing a
following for its full-flavoured Gamay. The winemaker macerates the grapes for
six days, ferments slowly for 11 days and ages 80% of this wine in French oak
for five months. I assume the oak is neutral because the only evidence is in
the rich and supple texture of a wine that is redolent with cherry flavours.
Deep Roots Merlot 2014 ($26). This is a full-bodied Merlot
with berry aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry and with firm tannins,
giving the wine ability to age well. 90.
Deep Roots Malbec 2014 ($28). This is a dense, almost chewy
with floral and berry aromas, and with flavours of plum and blackberry. The
wine was aged 18 months in French oak. 91.
Deep Roots Syrah 2014 ($34). Bold and full, this wine has
aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry and deli spices. There is black
pepper on the nose and on the finish. 91.
Kettle Valley Winery’s owners, Bob Ferguson and Tim
Watts, have rarely met a grape variety that they did not ferment to produce
wines ranging from iconoclastic to superb. The portfolio is remarkably big for
a moderately-sized winery. After 25 years, they show no sign of becoming bored
with exploring varieties. “We have a small block – a quarter of an acre – of
Petit Syrah – from which we will get fruit this year,” Bob told me.
Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2014 ($24). This Pinot Gris (along with
that from Nichol Vineyard) is singular for its deep colour and intense fruity
flavours. That results from give the grapes prolonged skin contact (two days)
to extract colour and flavour. A portion is fermented in older French oak,
adding to the structure. 90.
Kettle Valley Sémillon Sauvignon
Blanc 2012 ($24 for
306 cases). A portion of this was also fermented in
older French oak, adding to the wine’s richness and complexity. It begins with
grassy and herbal aromas, leading to flavours of lime and grapefruit. 91.
Kettle Valley Chardonnay 2014 ($22 for 495 cases). The grapes for
this wine are from a grower in the Similkameen Valley. This is an elegant
Chardonnay, with aromas and flavours of citrus and apple against a buttery
background from partial ferment in older French barrels. 90
Kettle Valley Riesling 2012 ($26). This is the sort of Riesling
you might encounter along the Rhine: nine per cent alcohol, with 25 grams of
residual sugar balanced with nine grams of acidity. The flavours of lemon
mingle with petrol aromas and flavours. 91.
Kettle Valley Pinot Noir Reserve 2012
($38 for 215 cases).
Robust and ripe – the winery’s style – this wine has intense, almost stewed
plum and cherry flavours. The unapologetic oak on the palate reflects 20 months
of barrel aging in French oak. 90.
Kettle Valley Malbec 2010 ($38 for 339 cases). This is a wine
with intense dark fruit on the nose and the palate around a spine of flinty
Kettle Valley Great Northern
Vineyards Syrah 2012 ($24).
Great Northern is the label developed for wines from Kettle Valley’s own
vineyard in the Similkameen. This is a big, ripe wine with aromas of plum and
prune and flavours of plum and fig. The texture is rich and generous. 90.
Kettle Valley Great Northern
Vineyards Zinfandel 2013 ($24). Bright and brambly, this wine has a bold texture and aromas and
spicy flavours of very ripe blackberries. 90.
Lake Breeze is releasing several wines this year to mark its 20th
anniversary. The winery was founded by a South African businessman who brought
along Garron Elmes, a newly graduated winemaker. Lake Breeze has had several
ownership changes since but Garron – now the winery’s president as well as
winemaker – has kept the ship stable and the wines reliable.
Lake Breeze The Spice Jar 2015 ($18.90). This is a blend of Gewürztraminer
(45%), Ehrenfelser (30%), Schönburger (15%), Viognier (10%) that winemaker
Garron Elmes created a few years ago to take a step beyond the usual
Gewürztraminer common in many portfolios. The wine has the spice and the citrus
of the aromatic varietals along with the spine of the Viognier. The wine
finishes crisply and cleanly. 90.
Lake Breeze Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($21.90). This wine begins with
aromas of citrus with a hint of spice. On the palate, the flavours are intense,
with notes of lime and tropical fruits mingled with delicate herbal notes. The
finish is zesty and tangy. 91.
Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2015 ($19.90). The wine has aromas and
flavours of pear, apple and peach, with a satisfying fleshy mid-palate but a
good crisp finish. 90.
Lake Breeze Rosé 2014 ($18.90). This wine is 65% Pinot
Noir, 35% Merlot. The wine has aromas and rich flavours recalling a delicious
red berry jam. The finish, however, is dry. 89.
Lake Breeze Pinot Noir 2012 ($25.90). Dark in colour, the wine
has aromas of cherry and strawberry, with flavours of cherry and plum. The
texture still is firm, suggesting ability to age for several more years. 90.
Lake Breeze Meritage 2013 ($21.90). All the fruit in this wine
is from the Naramata Bench. It is a blend of Merlot (45%), Cabernet
Franc (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Malbec (5%). The wine has the structure
and good tannins recalling a Bordeaux red. It has aromas and flavours of black
currants and plum. 90.
Therapy Vineyards opened in 2005 when a group of investors purchased the former Red
Rooster winery on Debeck Road after Red Rooster moved to its grandly designed
winery on Naramata Road. Subsequently, the owners of Therapy found room on
their site to build a grand winery and tasting room as well.
Therapy Fizziotherapy Blanc 2014 ($19.99). This frizzante style is
right in the wheelhouse of Prosecco fans, but will different grapes. The blend
is 91% Chardonnay, 9% Orange Muscat. The bubbles result from carbonating the
wine in tank about three weeks before bottling. The wine is refreshing and
crisp, with an appealing touch of spice and flavours of apples and citrus. 88.
Therapy Freudian Sip 2015 ($16.99 for 2,038 cases). This is a
blend of 43% Pinot Gris, 30% Riesling, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Chardonnay and 3%
Viognier. The wine is finished with a touch of residual sweetness nicely
balanced with bright acidity. The wine has a medley of tropical fruit flavours.
Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18.99). This is a tangy wine with herbal aroma and
flavour notes mingled with grassy lime flavours. Think Sancerre. 89.
Freud’s Ego 2013 ($18.99 for 1,850 cases). This is a blend of 70%
Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It has been aged 24
months in French and American oak barrels but still retains a good firm
structure. It has aromas and flavours of black currant with toasty oak and dark
chocolate on the finish. 89.
Three Sisters Winery is
a new Naramata Bench winery. The winery is at the end of a narrow, winding road
(Todd Road) in a valley that is hidden from Naramata Road. As a result, there
is no tasting room. However, owner John Lawrence has acquired the property of
the now-closed Stable Door Winery. When he re-licenses that property, a Three
Sisters wine shop will open on Munson Road, just before it becomes Naramata
Sisters Bench White 2014 ($17.90). This is a quaffable blend of Pinot Gris,
Gewürztraminer and Riesling. It is juicy with flavours of apples, mango and
guava. The finish is slightly off-dry. 90.
Sisters Riesling 2014 ($17.90). This is a crisp and lean with, with aromas
and flavours of lemon and with a spine of minerality. 88.
Sisters Chardonnay ($19.90). The 20 months this wine aged in American oak
have give a fairly bold oak profile to mingle with the flavours of citrus and
Sisters Rosé 2015 ($19.90). Here is a bowl full of cherries – a cheerful,
mouth-filling summer wine. 90.
Sisters Bench Red 2013 ($19.90). This is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30%
Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in barrel. It has aromas and flavours of black
currants and blackberries, with a texture that is firm but rich. 88.
Terravista Vineyards is the Naramata Bench encore by Bob and Senka Tennant, former owners of
Black Hills Estate Winery. The Terravista portfolio is dedicated just to white
wines, including two Spanish varieties, Albariño and Verdejo, from the estate
vineyard, and Rhone whites from the south Okanagan.
Terravista Fandango 2014 ($24.90). This is the blend of the
two Spanish whites. It is a fresh and juicy wine with aromas and flavours of
lemon, honeydew melon, peach and apple. The finish is long. 91.
Terravista Figaro 2014 ($23.90). This is a blend of
Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. It begins with herbal aromatics and delivers
stone fruit flavours with a hint of hazelnut. The finish is dry and austerely
Terravista Viognier 2014 ($18.90). Crisp and firm, this wine
has aromas of apricot and flavours of apricot, melon and lime, with a nice
spine of minerals. 90.
Van Westen Vineyards was opened near Naramata in 2005 by Robert Van Westen, a member of a
family that also grows incredible cherries. The winery is in a former fruit
packing house. The tastings here are informal and friendly. All of the wines have
names starting with V.
Van Westen Vino Grigio 2014 ($19.90 for 325 cases). This is
Rob’s take on Pinot Gris – a crisply refreshing white with aromas and flavours
of apple, pear and lemon. 90.
Van Westen Vivacious 2014 ($19.90 for 524 cases). This is Pinot
Blanc, usually with a dash of Pinot Gris. It begins with aromas of apples and
green melon, delivering flavours of apple, pear and citrus. 90.
Van Westen Viognier 2014 ($24.90 f0r 174 cases). This is a
textbook Viognier, beginning with aromas of apricot. On the palate, there are
flavours of apricot and orange with a not of spice and ginger on the crisp
Van Westen Vixen 2014 ($19.90 for 73 cases). This is a
spectacular late harvest wine (70% Pinot Blanc, 30% Pinot Gris) touched with
botrytis. The wine begins with honeyed aromas of fruit mingling with sweet
tobacco. On the palate, there are intense flavours of ripe pear and mango. The
sweet finish is very well balanced with acidity, creating a finish that lasts
and lasts. 92.
Van Westen Vicicle 2014 ($24.90 for 200 ml; 195 cases
produced). Lush and tropical, this wine has aromas and flavours of marmalade,
along with a medley of flavours that include baked pear and baked apples. 88.
Van Westen/Dibello Pinot Noir 2014 ($39.90 for 134 cases). This wine is a collaboration between
Rob and his friend, winemaker Tom DiBello. Tom’s fingerprints are here with the
fairly bold oak aromas. They mingle with strawberry and raspberry aromas and
flavours. The palate is firm but evolving toward a silky texture. 89.
Van Westen Violeta 2012 ($34.90 for 92 cases). This is a
Malbec. Full-bodied, it has aromas of blueberry and vanilla and delivers
flavours of blueberry, plum, and blackberry with spice on the finish. 91.
Van Westen Vivre la Vie 2012 ($29.90 for 113 cases). This is Rob’s
Merlot – a wine with a concentrated texture that frames the rich flavours of
plum, black cherry and black currant. 92.
Van Westen Voluptuous 2012 ($29.90 for 341 cases). One of the
winery’s flagship reds, this has always been a field blend of 67% Merlot and
33% Cabernet Franc. It has aromas and flavours of cassis, plum, black olives,
dark chocolate and black coffee. On the finish, there is a note of spice and
Van Westen V 2011 ($34.90 for 426 cases). This is 49%
Merlot, 24% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit
Verdot. The wine is intense and complex, with aromas and flavours of black
currant, black olives, dark chocolate and sage. Not yet at its peak, this is a
wine that will cellar well for at least 10 years. 93.
Van Westen Vulture 2012 ($39.90 for 76 cases). This is Rob’s
Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of raspberry, black cherry and plum and
delivers flavours of spice, black currant, raspberry and milk chocolate. 92.