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    

Tinhorn Creek

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On 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. 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 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. 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 […]

Painting the story

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The 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, 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. A 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: 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 Google  

Covert Operations at Covert Farms

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Tucked 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 Alsace, 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.   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 […]

Wine Bloggers invade Okanagan

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I interrupt this adventure through Croatia to highlight my recent trip to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, British Columbia. As first glance, one would think travelling to the middle of the mountains, on a series of glacial lakes, would be an odd desetination for a bunch of digitial wine writers, industry reps, and interested members of the community – however, after visiting the area last year, I was enamoured. Arriving a day early, I was able to see the calm before the storm, and visit some areas that weren’t on the roster for the official trip.  Over the next few week, there will be a lot more on that but first, here are my top 10 highlights, Letterman style!; 10.  The fresh, local, and unadulterated food of British Columbia.  While I have never seen so many A&W’s in one place, we were treated to the natural wonder of the local breadbasket and were never ever hungry for anything bugt more fresh and wonderful food. 9.  A quick stop at Vino Volo in Vancouver, where Jim Conaway said, unsurprisinging, “I can’t believe you’re having wine!” 8.  The same James Conaway’s  keynote, subtly quiet humor that was bang on for the wine industry, and a great introduction to his novel Nose. 7.  The wines – from hearty reds in the classic Bordeaux style, to light, aromatic, unusual whites. 6.  The content of the conference.  Ok I’m biased here since I presented on Positioning Your Blog with my partners in crime Kathleen and Megan, but hey, there was some great stuff there! 5.  See Ya Later Ranch and the reception presented by Constellation Brands.  Surprisingly small, local and wonderful – from one of the largest wine conglomerates in the world 4.  Sandra Oldfield and her crew at Tinhorn Creek.  Marcy, you weren’t kidding!  I saw Jesus in that cab franc! 3. The scenery – every angle, every window, every view – breathtaking 2.  The people of Penticton, specifically for their welcome breakfast, farmers market, and general excitement to have us there.  Every person I encountered was genuinely excited to have us there and just plain nice. 1.  Did I mention the scenery?   More, much more to come! Google

And away we go…

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Here we are, on the first full day of June, and the impending Wine Bloggers Conference begins next week.  This year marks the sixth annual event, and it’s hard to believe that my little old Luscious Lushes has been up and running for that long as well! As I sit here and wait with anticipation for my flight to Kelowna, BC, I am getting excited about the time I will have to explore more of the Okanagan.  Last year, I was able to travel around the northern end of the lake, experiencing Kelowna and the wineries surrounding it, and this year, before the conference I will do more exploring down near Penticton, where the conference is actually occurring. Flying in to Kelowna, the larger of the two regional airports, is a breeze from my home base in San Francisco.  One hop to Seattle, and another hop to Kelowna.  A few short hours, and I’m in the spectacular lakeside region, full of wine, summer sports, and scenery. As I’m flying in a day early, I’m excited to check out some places that I didn’t see on my trip last spring.   There are so many spectacular wineries to visit, I’ll have a hard time choosing! With some help from the local tourism folks at Tourism Penticton and Thompson ‎Okanagan Travel, as well some very welcoming local businesses, I look forward to setting out to explore the Westside Wine Trail, Bottleneck Drive, and some places in Penticton I won’t see during the conference. The excitement is infectious as Penticton has been rolling out the red carpert, declaring June 6th Wine Bloggers Day in the city.  What odes that mean?  That means every business, from coffee shops to our host hotel, has been tweeting, Facebooking and smoke-signalling their welcome to the 200 or so strangers that are invading their town. You just can’t buy that kind of hospitality.  I will be driving down the lakeshore from Kelowna to Penticton, stopping at local wineries, spending some pretty colored money, and taking in the spectacular scenery at a couple of wineries before meeting up with some locals in town for dinner. Settling in for the night at Gods Mountain Estate.  This 115 acre estate is a Mediterranean style B&B escape, with views of Skaha Lake, vineyards and mountains.  This sounds like a place I need to come back to! On Wine Bloggers Day, I will be visiting some beautiful, small production wineries that we won’t visit on our excursions on Friday, exploring what local really means.  With wineries that have been in families for generations, and a few rebels thrown in, I am looking forward to tasting Okanagan! Stay tuned for more updates from the road, but in the meantime, a few more tidbids from Istria.  

Judgement at Okanagan

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On our last day in the Okanagan, we were greeted by gloomy skies and chilly temperature.  That didn’t deter from the sweeping views from the top of the valley floor, where we arrived at Tantalus Winery for a tasting and lunch.  At the winery, we were joined by Rhys Pender, Master of Wine, from the B.C. Wine Institute, who led us through a head to head blind tasting, pairing B.C. wines with those from Napa, Sonoma, Australia, and France. During this taste-off, I really had a chance to taste the red wines of the region and get a better sense of place.  More often than not, the BC wines showed the depth of character and old world charm of those from France and Italy, landing somewhere between the New World and Old Worlds.  The value is on par with the comparable wines, and there are some excellent examples being produced. Among the wines we tasted, here are my notes, and my first guess below the actual wine. Flight 1 – Chardonnay Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve – Santa Barbara, California oaky and bold, California Chartron et Trebuchet Pouilly Fuisee – Burgundy, France bright citrus, minerals, France acidic with lots of citrus, B.C.Tantaslus Chardonnay – Okanagan Valley, B.C. Yay I guessed right!   Flight 2 – Syrah/Shiraz Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit Saint-Joseph – Rhone Valley, France Oaky, with smoke and bold berry plum flavors.  thinner, tannic.  B.C. Nk’Mid Cellars Qwam Qwmt Syrah – Okanagan Valley, B.C. (It’s interesting to note that Nk’Mid is the first winery in North America to be owned & operated by First Nation native peoples) Juicier, ripe plum, bold berry bright fruit.  France. Layer Cake Shiraz – McLaren Vale, Australia Huge, brambly and chewy.  Tell take Aussie shiraz with dense spice and chocolate. Hey, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!   Flight 3 – Cabernet Blends Chateau Branaire-Ducru Saint Julien – Bordeaux, France Funky earth, dry and bitter.  France Mission Hill Family Estate winery Oculus – Okanagan Valley, B.C. Bold and jammy with deep coffee notes,  B.C. Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, California Flabby, with floral notes, violets.  Sweeter and dense.  Napa. This flight was hard but I got them all right too!   Now I was really guessing on the first two because it could go either way, but the Napa example was such a departure from the first tow, it was obvious.  It’s amazing what side by side tastings can do for your palate exposure! After our blind tasting, we enjoyed lunch and some of the Tantalus wines.  I particularly enjoyed both the Riesling and the pinot noir, which was juicy and full of ripe strawberries and cherries.   This wine was going down a a treat, and I sipped it during lunch much to my pleasure.   While it can be challenging to find BC wines outside of the local area, and certainly outside of Canada, it’s a worthwhile destination for all that the Okanagan offers.  From water sports, to snow sports, to wine sports, I am […]

Road Rules Okanagan Style

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You know the show, similar to The Real World, where 7 strangers are chucked in a small RV (aka the Winnie) and scoot off around the country on missions of adventure.  Throw in some wine, and I’m all in.  Nevertheless, when I first found out one of the stops on our tour of the Kelowna region of British Columbia was an RV park, I had visions of Clark Griswold and bad episodes of septic pumping.  Luckily for me, I was completely taken aback at Canyon Farms. When we first got to the facility, all I could see was a small farm, with chickens and a large garden, bordered by the semi-rural home sites, and trees nearby.  Oh yes, and on one side there was a 5 star resort golf course. Little did I know that hidden behind a full scale organic poultry farm were eight RV parking spots, with full hookups.  The owners, Lesley Reid & Michael Coulthard, had gone to the extent of crating a bath house, with an internet surfing station that had wifi wafting in to the park.  You also have a washer and dryer, which everyone knows is required on a long road trip. The best part of this hidden gem? Leslie will bring you farm fresh free-range eggs in the morning for your breakfast! If you’re lucky, you might be there in berry season and can send the kids out to pick some snacks in brambles nearby. With the local wineries just a short bike ride or car ride away, you can make Canyon Farms your home base and stay a while. I had visions of renting an RV and going Road Rules style through the Okanagan next year…three bloggers, one wifi, and a whole lot of fun!  If you are interested in sponsoring us, driving us, or joining us, let me know.  I’m still figuring out logistics but it will happen. Leslie also runs a thriving floral business, specializing in Dahlias. The greenhouse has ample blooms, and you can see the vast array of flowers that are growing year round in this special spot. Feel like stopping by?  Contact them on Facebook, or their website.  I know I am trying to craft a plan to visit! Happy trails!

Crushing on the Okanagan

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Those of us in California, or other parts of the United States, probably know about Crushpad;  Crushpad is was a custom crush facility that was once upon a time located in urban San Francisco, and not only offered custom crush facilities for budding commerical wineries, but also for the consumer who had some extra money to spend under the guise of being a budding (pun intented) winemaker. Alas, recent news has indicuated that Crushpad will cease operations before the end of June, citing lack of sufficient funding.  But that is for another post!  I have all sorts of thoughts, good, bad and ugly, about that – but here in Okanagan, there is a new kid on the block. The Okanagan Crush Pad operates on a simple model:  small wineires share equipment and resources in a small facility that has invested heavily in capital equipment costs.  The importance of such an operation in an expanding wine region is critical; the largest hurdle to get over as a new winery is the major investmetn you must make in winemaking equipment.  By sharing these facilities, effectively renting the press, crusher, barrels, and in this case concrete eggs, as well as a mobile bottling line, you are paying a fraction oi the price; you are only only paying for the equipment when you use it, stead of all year round. OCP offers a variety of services, from vineyard management, winemaking expertise, as well all full service branding & markeing efforts.  Their philospiphy is “from field to market”, allowing the client to select how much or how few services they require in thier journey from grape to glass.  With three brands currently, they strive to produce distinct, Okanagan terroir focused wine. As we sat down to taste some of the wines that OCP produces, I was reminded of how wonderful it is to experience new wines.  OCP products Bartier Brothers, Bartier Scholefield, and Haywire, as well as the Crush Pad series of wine on tap. I was particular impressed by the 2011 Bartier Brothers Semillon, which had wonderful lemon and mineral notes.  Oh how I love a semillon!  I also really enjoyed the 2011 Canyon View Pinot Noir, which was still in tank but was a great preview of what will come.  The pinot had fabulous fruit, black cherry, rhubarb, and bold pepper notes on top of cola flavors.  Love!  Another fave was the 2011 Switchback Pinot Gris.  I adore Pinot Gris, and this was no exception with the crisp acid and medium body.  This was aged sur lie and with a heavy battonage schedule, the grapefruit notes gave way to creamy lemon curd and green herbs. I can’t wait to go back and visit again in 2013, if not sooner!

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. […]