Photo: Bench 1775's Val Tait
Almost every winery on the Naramata Bench has a superb view over vineyards and Okanagan Lake.
Few can match Bench 1775 Winery with its expansive patio. The winery, once known as Soaring Eagle, was renamed in 2013 to Bench 1775, its address on Naramata Road. The winery thus is hard to miss.
On an idyllic morning this summer, I shared a corner table on the patio with general manager and winemaker Val Tait, tasting through most of the current wines. The wines hold up to the view.
Val, a noted viticultural consultant in the Okanagan, joined the winery in 2013, partnering with Jim Stewart, one of the former owners. The winery was sold the following year to low profile immigrant investors who maintained Val in her role, recognizing her immense depth of experience.
Born in 1964, she has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master’s in integrated pest management. She started working at the Summerland research station on plant viruses and then developed her independent consulting business with grape growers in the early 1990s as new vineyards were being planted. “I was lucky to get in on the industry when it was starting to grow,” says Val.
At Bench 1775, she has reorganized the winery and quickly upgraded viticulture. “We have to be impeccable in the vineyard,” she vows. “It’s such a beautiful site and it has such great potential.”
The 7.5-hectare (18.5-acre) vineyard’s remarkable features include a lengthy private beach on Okanagan Lake. “There are very few wineries in the world that are on the water,” Val says. “It is like we are working on a vacation site.” Indeed, one of the privileges to members of the Bench 1775 wine club is access to the beach.
It is worth noting that a number of the wines reviewed below are available just to wine club members. Even if a dip in Okanagan Lake does not appeal, the wines should. "I am trying to make wines that do not have an abrupt finish," Val says.
Here are my notes:
Bench 1775 Chill 2015 ($17.90 for 1,640 cases). This is a blend primarily of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier. The wine begins with herbal aromas that continue to aromas of melon and pear. These fruits and the herbs are echoed on the palate, along with a hint of grapefruit. The finish is crisp and dry. 88.
Bench 1775 Pinot Gris 2015. ($19.90 for 1,685 cases.) This delicious wine is packed with fruit aromas and flavours, including citrus, peach and pear. Four per cent Gewürztraminer in the blend pops the aromas. The texture is full and juicy. 90.
Bench 1775 Sémillon 2015 ($19.90 for 75 cases). This is a dramatic white wine, bursting with tropical aromas and flavours including melon and cantaloupe. There is a hint of olives on the complex finish. 92.
Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($24.90 for 880 cases). There is 10% Sémillon in this blend. The wine begins with aromas of lemon and lime, leading to lime and herbs on the finish. 91.
Bench 1775 Muscat 2015. ($19.90). Three clones of Muscat are combined in this lovely aromatic wine, delivering spicy citrus aromas and flavours and finishing with spicy herbs. The wine is dry. 91.
Bench 1775 Viognier 2015 ($24.90 for 180 cases). This wine has 10% Gewürztraminer and 5% Pinot Gris in the blend. The wine begins with stone fruit aromas. On the palate, the texture is creamy, with flavours of ripe apricots. The finish is very long and generous. 91.
Bench 1775 Glow 2015 ($19.90 for 360 cases). This copper-hued rosé is 70% Malbec and is filled out with Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromas and flavours of cherries and raspberry are intense. This wine, with its dry finish, is a food wine. 90.
Bench 1775 Groove 2014 ($19.90). Here is a soft juicy red that can be chilled for summertime drinking. Made primarily with Malbec and Cabernet Franc, it is a bowl full of cherries with vanilla on the finish. There seems to be a touch of sweetness. 88.
Bench 1775 Pinot Noir 2014 ($25.90. This silky wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry with hint of vanilla. 90.
Bench 1775 Malbec 2013. Dark in colour and rich on the palate, this begins with aromas of Violets and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of plum and cherry that move on to earthy flavours of dark fruit. 92.
Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc Malbec 2014 ($25.90) This is an inspired 50/50 blend of these two varieties. The wine begins with a bold aroma of blackberries and violets, and goes on to deliver layers of bramble fruit flavours and a spicy finish. 93.
Bench 1775 Merlot 2013. A Merlot with good concentration of bright fruit, this has aromas and flavours of black currant and black cherry. 91.
Bench 1775 Syrah 2013 ($27.90 for 370 cases). Juicy, almost jammy in its richness, this wine has aromas and flavours of plum and black cherry. 90.
Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc c. 214 2013. Only the Bench 1775 wine club can buy this superb red ($28). It is a big, ripe wine with layers of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and mulberry. 92.
Bench 1775 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 ($26.90). This is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc. The fruit flavours are boldly ripe. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant, mulberry. 92