Photo: Camelot's Robert Brass (left) with wine director Julian Samoisette
Visitors arriving at the tasting room of Camelot Vineyards in Kelowna all pass by a large stone with a sword impaled in it.
It celebrates the legend of King Arthur. Inside the tasting room, however, one finds far better beverages than the king and his knights got to drink. (They probably had either beer or mead.) The current releases from the winery are delicious and affordable.
For background on the winery, here is an excerpt from the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Since opening this winery, Robert Young and Denise Brass, his wife, have added a unique wine country festival: the day-long Medieval Fair, celebrating European history and culture of the 11th to 16th Centuries. It is a colourful spectacle, including jousts by armour-clad individuals who belong to a Kelowna historical group calling itself the Duchy of Connaught.
Robert’s father, R.J., who died in 1996, once named a family home Camelot; Robert and Denise honoured his memory by calling the winery Camelot and then added the touches from King Arthur’s court that led to the annual fair. A sword embedded in a stone greets visitors. Inside the wine shop, there is a round table and replica suit of armour that Denise bought at auction for $650. “We had seen a genuine one from England,” she says, a bit wistfully. “They were going for about five thousands pounds.”
R.J. Young was ahead of his time when he planted a hectare (2.5 acres) of Maréchal Foch vines on this property in 1974. Unable to get a winery contract, he soon pulled them out and planted apples. When Robert and Denise took over the farm, they continued to grow apples until 2006, when the price fell below the packing house handling charges. Vines replaced the orchard in the next year: 1.6 hectares (four acres) of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. The original plan was just to sell the grapes but, perhaps reflecting on R.J.’s experience, the couple chose to develop their own winery.
The venture is something of a retirement project, even if both are about 10 years from retiring. Robert, who was born in Quesnel, BC, in 1961, and Denise, who was born in Britain, have been Air Canada flight attendants for about 20 years. They usually work together on the same international flights, on schedules that allow time to deal with the vineyard between flights.
When they launched the winery, which opened in 2009, Robert and Denise also engaged the legendary Kelowna winemaker, Ann Sperling, to make Camelot’s wines. It was a convenient arrangement: Ann also used the Camelot winery to make initial vintages for Sperling Vineyards (her family winery) and Clos Du Soleil Winery, where she was consulting winemaker.
Both of those wineries have since built their own processing facilities. However, the arrangement allowed Robert to mentor with Ann. Today, with about three years to go to retirement, he and Camelot wine director Julian Samoisette are making the wines.
Julian, who was born in Manitoba in 1986, grew up in Kelowna. He and his wife, Angelica, spent a year teaching English in northern China. On their return to Kelowna, he developed his interest in wine while working with a large liquor store. He joined Camelot in 2014 to manage the wine shop and has since moved on to viticulture and winemaking.
Here are notes on his wines.
Camelot White Knight 2017 ($17.90). This is a blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer. It begins with aromas of spice and orange peel, leading to flavours of grapefruit, peach and pineapple. The finish is slightly off-dry but the wine is refreshing. 90.
Camelot Pinot Gris 2017 ($19.90). The wine begins with aromas of pear and bananas. These are echoed on the fruity palate. The finish is crisp, dry and refreshing. 90.
Camelot Rosé 2017 “Ruthless” ($19.90). This Pinot Noir rosé is named for Ruth Young, described by the winery as the matriarch of Camelot Vineyards. It begins with an appealing vibrant rose petal hue, leading to aromas of strawberry. The fruity flavours are juicy, including strawberry and watermelon. The finish is off-dry but very well balanced toward a refreshing crispness. 91.
Camelot Immortal Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 ($NA for 4,000 bottles). This bold, intense Pinot Noir begins with aromas of cherry and toasty oak leading to flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The silken texture, polished by two years of bottle age, adds to the elegance of the wine. 90.
Camelot Meritage 2015 ($24.90). This is a blend of 78% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry, leading to flavours of black cherry mingled with blackberry, coffee, chocolate framed by good oak. 91.