Naramata Bench adventures

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 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! 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!     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! Google    

Airing that Dirty Laundry

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Our first stop on the tour of the Okanagan was Dirty Laundry Vineyard, in Summerland.  Our hostess, Judi Skinner, is a viticulturist and vineyard designer by trade, and the chief Sales & Marketing Manager for Dirty Laundry.  I’d call Judy half Las Vegas, half Miss USA and a whole bundle of energy and fun!  Buried under the quirky and electric personality, Judi has a long history here in the Okanagan and is very well versed in the local climate. The vineyards are on the Summerland Plateau, which rises gently above the lake.  The microclimate is mild, and provides for wonderful degree days.  Dirty Laundry is a force of nature, much like Judi herself.  Playfully named after the gold rush era to be the town laundry, which may or may not also have been the town brothel, Dirty Laundry is a growing winery.  They craft playful wines from most of the major varietals, with names like Woo Woo and Bordello. Dirty Laundry is an eclectic, irreverent look at the wine industry producing some entertaining whites and reds.  We sat on the soon to be vine trellised deck, overlooking the loping vineyards, to enjoy a picnic lunch with a bottle of Thread Bare Gewürztraminer, which is a lovely semi-dry style that is “bare” of oak treatment. The location on the bluff is simply stunning, and the varied wines are a treat.  The Thread Bare was a lovely departure from the sweeter Gewürztraminers also available, and the Bordello is a play on a classic Bordeaux blend.  Two of my favoirtes!  If you’re in the area, make sure you say hi to Judi, who is sure to make you smile. Stay tuned for a report from the Okanagan Crush Pad, the regions biggest custom crush facility!    

Ogopogo and other fish tales from the north

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When I first found out that the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference would be in the Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia, I, like many fellow bloggers, was somewhat dubious.  Canada?  Passports?  No transport of wine?  What the heck? Little would I know that many months later, I would fall in love with this isolated region east of Vancouver.  When flying in to the Okanagan Valley from Calgary, as I did, you get a bird’s eye view of the long, thin lake and the mountains that surround it.  It reminds me a lot of Lake Tahoe, except that is a glacial valley and not a caldera as Tahoe is. It’s here that the requisite lake monster, Ogopogo calls home.  You know the type – looks like a dinosaur, swims around, might be friendly, might eat small children.  Every large inland body of water has one:  Lake Tahoe has Tahoe Tessie; Lake Champlain has Champ, and of course – Loch Ness has Nessie.   These Darwinian mysteries swim the depths of these lakes and draw tourists to the souvenir stands.  But…I wonder if Ogopogo likes wine? The wine region is located in a narrow glacial lake valley, with Okanagan Lake to the north, and the much smaller Skaha Lake to the south.  There are actually several lakes dotting the region to the south, with the Okanagan River connecting them.  Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake were at one point a continuous body of water after the glaciers melted, but now, the town of Penticton  separates the two on a narrow strip of land. It is there in Penticton, and the base of Okanagan Lake that the wine bloggers will gather in June of 2013.  A small beach resort town, it’s cleverly walkable, with the lakeshore next to our host hotel (and casino…which I expect will have an interesting impact on the bloggers!), and wineries within a short drive. This steep sided valley is very reminiscent of the Rhine in Germany.  Historically fruit orchard territory, it is increasingly becoming the Napa Valley of the north.  The first known wine was produced in the Okanagan in the mid 1800s for the mission, which of course required Sacramental Wine.  However, much like the U.S., Prohibition wiped out the early vinous settlers, and the area turned the focus back to fruit production.  Once Prohibition was repealed, there was a booming fruit wine industry, but traditional wines were not produced here again in earnest until the 1970s. At that time, the first vinifera grapes were planted, focusing on the aromatic whites of Europe, such as Riesling, Ehrenfelser and Scheurebe which were well suited to the northern climate.  In the late 70s and early 80s, more and more wineries popped up.  The region has seen a massive growth in the last 20 years and has changed from a fledgling area with experimental still wines, to one of elegance and unique terroir.  The Okanagan started to gain more attention int he early 1990s when winemakers and consultants from around the world were courted to produce in the region.  This draw resulted in cross border penetration, with Old World winemakers from France and Germany mingling with New World rebels from Napa and Chile. […]