Saturday, May 7, 2016

Naramata Bench: 14 kilometers jammed with wineries

Photo: Naramata Bench vineyards

The concentration of wineries along the Naramata Bench is astonishing, given the limited geography.

The distance 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 north.

This short but scenic road includes all 27 members of the Naramata Bench Wineries Association as well as 10 or so wineries not in the association.

Oliver used 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.

This has 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.

And there 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.

At least 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. 90.

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 ageability. 92.

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. 91-93.

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. 90.

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 minerality. 90.

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. 90.

Therapy Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18.99). This is a tangy wine with herbal aroma and flavour notes mingled with grassy lime flavours. Think Sancerre. 89.

Therapy 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 Road.

Three 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.

Three 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.

Three 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 apple. 88.

Three Sisters Rosé 2015 ($19.90). Here is a bowl full of cherries – a cheerful, mouth-filling summer wine. 90.

Three 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 crisp. 91.

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 finish. 91.

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 sage. 92.

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.

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