Everyone who tours British Columbia's wine country should include the Similkameen Valley and, in particular, Herder Winery & Vineyards.
Lawrence and Sharon Herder, who had previously operated a winery with a similar name in California, opened this winery in 2004 in a small facility near Cawston. Three years later, they moved to a much better location on Upper Bench Road, close to Keremeos.
The new winery is better for at least two reasons. First, it occupies one of the best vineyard sites in the Similkameen, a sun-drenched, rock-strewn slope where the Herders have planted mostly the varieties that produce big reds.
Secondly, the winery has taken over a large three-storey house perched on a hillside with a panoramic view over the valley. The Herder tasting room is large, with high ceilings and with expansive south-facing windows. It is a comfortable place where a visitor can lean against the tasting bar, savour a glass of wine and enjoy the scenery.
The Herders also installed a commercial kitchen next to the tasting room. From time to time, the winery hosts food and wine extravaganzas. This season, three are scheduled on Friday evenings - July 31, August 14 and October 2. Check the winery's website for details.
Lawrence Herder established the winery in the Similkameen Valley because he saw it as a terroir that can produce big red wines. His winery has earned a cult following for both its reds and its whites, precisely because the wines deliver generous flavours. The current new releases include three of the finest reds yet from Herder.
Here are some notes.
Herder Pinot Gris 2008 ($17). Entirely fermented in stainless steel tanks, this is a crisp, almost austere, unoaked white with tangy flavours of lemon, pear and green apple. The style of this wine has me looking around for the oysters on the half shell. 86
Herder Cabernet Franc 2007 ($32). The south Okanagan grapes in this wine come from 14-year-old vines on the Osoyoos Lake Bench. That explains the attractive concentration of the texture and flavours. It is a dark-hued wine with aromas of cherry, cranberry and black currants. The flavours mirror the aromas, with additional notes of chocolate and coffee and with a satisfying earthiness of the big ripe tannins on the finish. 90
Herder Merlot 2007 ($35). Made with grapes from both the Similkameen and the Okanagan, this is a bold, ripe Merlot with so much concentration that it demands to be decanted so that wine can open up. It presents flavours of blackberry jam and spice and has a juicy, rich finish. An appealing wine, indeed. 91
Herder Josephine 2007 ($40). This is the flagship red wine at Herder, a blend of 66% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, made with grapes from both valleys and aged 12 months in French oak. This is a cellar-worthy wine and collectors have begun accumulating the several vintages released so far. The wine should also be decanted for current consumption. Dark in colour, it begins with aromas of cherries, vanilla and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of spice, red currants, plum, chocolate and tobacco, with black cherry emerging as the wine opens. Drinking this layered, complex wine is like reading a good book that you wish would never end. 92