Naramata Bench adventures

IMG_2004 On the first full day of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, while I was doing some last minute rehearsal and logistical planning for my discussion on Saturday about positioning your blog(more on that later however), the rest of the attendees were enjoying some interesting insights on podcasting, the use of photography, and other digital media in their blogging efforts.

After a morning and afternoon filled with Google Plus, Compelling Content, Wines of Ontario, and a rather wonderful speech from author James Conway, we were off on our chosen buses to our evening excursions to local wineries.

Unlike past WBCs, we were able to chose our buses based on an activity, or theme.  I chose the Paddleboarding adventure, since I hadn’t been to the Naramata Bench area of the Okanagan and was curious.

Off we went in our two mini buses, darting in and out of wineries for a quick dry by tour before stopping to hear more about the unique terroir of the area.  The Naramata Bench Wineries Association is a group of 24 wineries that stretch along 24 kilomenters of lakeshore, both high and low, on the east side of Lake Okanagan.

With sandy cliffs and gently sloping lakeside land, these vineyards have a unique climate that is perfect for some of the areas Bordeaux styel reds.  The views aren’t bad either!IMG_1942

Our adventure took us through a vineyard, and culminated at Sandy Beach Lodge, where the Naramata Bench wineries were hosting a walk around tasting and dinner, showcasing the best of the area.

In addition to the tasting, here at the sandy beach, we had the option of partaking in the paddleboarding.  Now, I wasn’t dressed for the occasion (hey it was my birthday!) but several of my blogging brethren certainly did!

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If you go, be sure to stop by these wineries:

  • Black Widow Winery – specializing in single vineyard wines, I especially liked the Merlot.
  • Elephant Island Orchard Wines – I was not expecting to enjoy these fruit wines, but boy was I wrong.  Some were more like a hybrid between wine and cider, others were refreshing and unexpected.
  • Howling Bluff – I love Pinot Gris, and the Okanagan makes some stunning examples.  This is one of my favorites.
  • Popular Grove – the view from the terrace is simply stunning and second to none.  The home of Vanilla Pod restaurant, this was my favorite stop on my first visit to the region.  The red wines are world class and I wish I could take home a case!

With four seasons and a festival for each one, now is the time to visit the area!

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Tinhorn Creek

TinhornOn another gorgeous early Summer day in the Okanagan, in the general direction of Covert Farms, I made a beeline for Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.  Founded in 1993, Tinhorn Creek has been growing grapes and making wine for 20 years in the south Okanagan.  A driving force behind the beauty of the Okanagan, Sandra Oldfield, has been an active member of the social media community of wine writers for several years and wasn’t exaggerating when she said it was one of the greatest places on earth.  Built on a strong friendship, the winery has become a destination.

Tinhorn Creek tasting room

A refugee defector from the Sonoma County wine industry, Sandra headed north in 1995 and landed in Oliver after studying winemaking and Canadian history at UC Davis (ok well that’s an interesting combination!).  Slogging away at producer Rodney Strong in Sonoma County, she is now part owner at Tinhorn Creek.  While we miss her talent and energy here in California, Sandra is part of an exciting future for the Okanagan wine industry and I can’t wait to go back and visit more.

Tinhorn Creek sits on a unique hillside, rising steeply above the river valley, where you have rock, gravel, sandy loam an alluvial fan soil beds all mixing together to create a fantastic terroir for wine.  Tinhorn Creek owns two distinct tracts of land, in an area of the south Okanagan called the Golden Mile; with 50 acres of estate vineyards and 100 acres of additional land on the Black Sage Bench, Tinhorn Creek has the perfect growing climate for some amazing Bordeaux style wines as well as aromatic whites.

In addition to expressing the best of the region, Tinhorn Creek focuses on sustainability and being ecologically responsible.  With programs that includes recycling, composting, and making smarter

View from Tinhorn Creek terrace

choices, they maintain stewardship of the land and local people to maintain their livlihood and safety while reducing carbon production and water use, keeping the area clean and pristine for generations to come.

But what abou tthe wine?  Not that I’m biased or anything, but Tinhorn Creek would be one of my favorite wineieres in the Okanagan.  I was told about the Cab Franc from my friend Marcy, who had previously travelled tot he region on a scounting mission while I was on the northern end in 2012.  Her depiction of the wine and the winery made me crave my own visit.  As kismet would have it, I walked in the door of the winery, and randomly walked straight in to Marcy – who was also in Penticton a day early for WBC13.  Well!  An expert guide to the wine was just what I needed.

Cab Franc vineyard at Tinhorn Creek

And now, the wine!  The Oldfield Series 2 Bench White blend is a unique wine, with a blend of a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion that were co-fermented  in addition to a co-fermented Semillion and Viognier that was blended in.  The result is a rich, barely off dry white with beautiful aromatics that are perfect for porch sipping.  I love the use of Semillion in Sauvignion Blanc, because it rounds out any rough edges that Sav Blanc can have, and while the acidity is maintained, the Semillion brings some firmness and body.  

A crowd favorite, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Rose is a rose of Cabernet Franc, something that is hard to find as there is so little Cab Franc in general.  Typically Cab Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon blased roses are bolder, darker, deepr and sometimes cloying, but this rose is light as a feather, refreshing, full of red fruit and simply divine.  A purpose made rose, the grapes kiss the skins for just 4 hours, resulting in a deep salmon color, but just a beautiful touch of that Cab Franc flavor.  i drank my one and only bottle that customs let me come home with, so I hope to get back up to Oliver soon!  Or maybe Sandra can bring some to Santa Barbara (hint hint) for the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference.  I opened this recently with some friends in California, who were card carrying “I hate rose” people, and they were impressed at the delicate, refreshing wine without a hint of residual sugar.

Now in to the reds, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red Blend follows it’s white counterpart, and is a Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.  It’s a big wine, but not over the top and it has some delicious black fruit and spice notes that make it perfect for a steak or a hamburger.

The Oldfield Series Syrah is a rich and dark syrah, full of dark blackberries and tobacco.  Beef jerkey covered with white pepper round out this cool climate example with juicy notes.

And now, the Cabernet Franc!  While the Oldfield Series Cab Franc was sold out, much to my chagrin, I was able to taste the Cabernet Franc and it was delicious.  Black raspberries, leather, tobacco, cigar box, and herbal notes blend together to create a pop of flavor in your mouth.  This is a party in a glass and should be enjoyed on it’s own or with a rich beef stew.  I loved this wine!

Tinhorn Creek is a must on any Okanagan itinerary, and it’s worth an afternoon over a leisurely lunch at their adjoining restaurant, Miradoro.  I look forward to a return visit, or many!

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Painting the story

IMG_1854The morning sun rises over the mountains, casting light on the lakes below.  The thin light of morning almost seems like moonlight, as it peeks through the thin curtains in my room.  It was 4:30am, and I groaned as I looked at my iPhone with disdain.  This was a summer morning in Penticton, British Columbia.

Knowing there was no possibility of going back to sleep with the light growing with every passing minute, I climbed out of bed to get dressed.  Poking my head outside, I remembered how far north I was, and ducked back inside for a warm sweater and my camera.

Capturing the early morning light is something I’ve always thought I would enjoy doing,

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save for my slight love hate relationship with early morning.  So up I get, and wander outside to the terraced grounds of God’s Mountain Estate Bed & Breakfast, where the dew was still glistening on the grapevines surrounding the house.

Sitting on a bluff high above Skaha Lake, God’s Mountain is a 115 acre property with a rambling neo classical Mediterranean villa, that in some ways, resembles Fawlty Towers.  The maze of rooms was both delightful and maddening to explore, with each doorway opening up a new view and experience.

IMG_1842A throwback to the B&Bs of my mind’s eye, the inviting living room and guest library offer you a peek in to the bohemian nature of the property, which is also a working vineyard.  The Wild Goose Vineyard has produced award winning wines, and the outdoor living space is inviting and relaxing.

After wandering around the property while it still slept, I was greeted by a breakfast spread fit for a king.  Reminding me of the meals I’ve had at pensions all over Europe, my request for some fruit and yogurt was granted beautifully, and summarily understood to be just the beginning:

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Fresh blueberry mufifns

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Fresh bread and crackers, to put the meat and cheese on of course!

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Fruit & yogurt with fresh berries

Well fed and with some local coffee fueling my adventures, I headed down the east side of the lake, in to Okanagan Falls to explore more of the beautiful country and backroads of the Okanagan.  There was no doubt that I would slept well on this night, with dreams of mountain sunrises and wine to remember.

With direct flights and easy transfers from the west coast, Penticton is closer than  you think.  For a unique expereince and a retreat you will not forget, visit God’s Mountain Estate and enjoy the views, the wines, and the hospitality!

Accomodations were provided by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and God’s Mountain Estate

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Covert Operations at Covert Farms

IMG_1880Tucked away in a corner of British Columbia that is a well kept secret, Covert Farms evokes an earlier time in North American history; a simpler time, a slower time. Exploring the south Okanagan Valley before the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference began this June, I took some time to savor some of these special treats.

Covert Farms was founded by George Covert, who was a produce broker and business man from Tracy – a now suburban city near San Francisco. In 1959, Tracy was a rural landscape, where George was part owner of a packing company that worked with the fruit growers in the Okanagan. Tired of the grind in California, he packed it in and headed north to see what was so special about the area and the produce grown there. Discovering the land on top of the mesa where Covert Farms now sits, he purchased it on the spot and the rest is history.

Little has changed in the last 50 years, where tomatoes, onion, potatoes, corn and grapes, are still grown, along with cherries, strawberries and – today – wine grapes. Still one of the leaders in organic, sustainable fruit and vegetables, Covert Farms is a major supplier of fresh produce to western Canada as well as locals.

Touring around the farm in an old red truck, you can feel how this piece of land inspires.  Tucked away from the prying eyes of the highway, up a hill, you wouldn’t know that it was there.  Driving through the farm in an old truck, you can imagine that it’s 1959 and George Covert had just arrived.  As I learned about the history of the farm and how they are trying to maintain and encourage sustainable, natural, and local food culture in the Okanagan, we stopped to pick strawberries and sample some of the other fruits that were ripe for the picking in early June.

As the Okanagan was once all fruit trees and farms, taking the land back to the early days with thriving, lush organic crops makes it clear why this place is so special.  But we’re here for the wine right?

 

Covert Farms Family Estate Winery was founded as Dunham & Froese Estate winery in 2005, and part of the 600 acre farm.  Today, the organic wines are crafted from 100% estate fruit, and focus on the artisan nature of the farm.  The organic fruit is sought after by other winemakers, and display the terroir of the area beautifully.

As I learned on my first trip to the Okanagan in 2012, the aeromatic white wines of the IMG_1870Alsace, northern France  and Germany do exceptionally well here.  That said, this part of the Southern Okanagan is also a welcoming climate for Bordeaux reds.  The Oliver-Osoyoos region is a special area within the Okanagan and can be a bit of a chameleon.

 

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2012 Sav Blanc Semillion – I love the natural pairing of Semillion which softens sav blanc and gives it a lush roundness.  This wine was fermented in primarily stainless steel, which a few barrels of neutral oak to balance out the crispness.  With creamy lemonade flavors, kiwi and passionfruits, the finish of flinty stone were a refreshing treat on the warm summer day.

2012 Pinot Blanc – Pinot Blanc is a happy grape in the cool climate of the Okanagan, and the tart green apple and pear notes are a refreshing treat as we sit at the farmstand and have a lunch of wild sorrel salad and sandwiches on coconut bread.

The Amacitia red is a Bordeaux style blend, with a bit of zin thrown in for fun.  This bold and jammy treat is plush and elegant, while still maintaining the true nature of the farm – fun!

A visit to Covert Farms is a must for anyone in the lower Okanagan.  Great food, wonderful hospitality, local produce and quality wines of the region will have you leaving with a smile.

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