I'm writing this from "Beautiful British Columbia", Okanagan valley to be specific AKA wine country. Did you know the Okanagan Valley is Canada's second largest wine region behind Niagara? Did you know that the weather here in summer is essentially sunny, dry and hot right into 35C and beyond? This climate allows for some "big wines" from warm climate grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This being said in wine there is always an exception to every general understanding or rule. The thing that makes the Okanagan valley so unique is its temperature variation between the northern section and the southern section. This can mean the difference between growing light aromatic whites all the way to heavy hitting red's with 14%+ alcohol.
My parents moved here this spring and I'm finally visiting them, seeing their new home and exploring the lifestyle that is #OkanaganLife. Kelowna is located in the BC interior which means it's on the east side of the Cascade mountains. To quickly explain, the wet weather moves in from the Pacific and hits the mountains, is then pushed up high where it cools, water in the cloud condenses and falls as rain. This is why Vancouver and Vancouver Island are so wet where here in Kelowna very little if any clouds make it over the mountains creating the dry almost desert-like conditions here. So we know Kelowna is hot, we know it's dry but why is it special? Well, the moderating effects of the Okanagan Lake can help keep grapes warm on cooler nights and help cool grapes on hotter days as well as provide the required irrigation (water) to sustain plant life in this arid climate.
Let's start in the North and work our way down. If you look at a map Kelowna is mid-way up the lake so around here white's such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and lighter red's like Pinot Noir thrive. Further north mostly just whites are grown but this is considered the northern section of the Okanagan Valley. My first stop was at Quails Gate Winery on the west side of the lake known as West Kelowna. The vines are on hills sloping down to the lake providing better morning sunlight capture. Quails Gate grows a plethora of different grapes but in my opinion, specializes in their whites and Pinot Noir. Closest to the lake on the steepest section of land they grow Syrah and getting further back from the lake it turns into Pinot Noir and Whites like Riesling, Chardonnay etc. It's profound how the warm lake water can keep the grapes closest to the water warm overnight to help grow bigger reds like Syrah where even only 100 meters away from the lake you can only grow cooler climate grapes. I toured the winery and had a few samples on their breathtaking tasting patio. Right now the LCBO is mostly out of Quails Gate wine be it their rose, Chard or Pinot but keep an eye out because it's worth a try or you can also order some shipped right to your door via https://www.quailsgate.com/
Growing grapes is probably the craziest thing you can do and I fly airplanes for a living. The reason I say this is because there are so many variables that can impact a vintage. I find drinking wine much easier than making wine, not that I have tried. The 2017 Vintage as you can see below is partially affected by smoke from the surrounding forest fires earlier this summer. The smoke created a blanket for moisture to form (like a cloud) and some rot set in so they will discard these specific grapes. #ForestFireWine
Next stop was Summer Hill winery back on the east side of the lake. My family and I had some lovely Viognier (white grape) and charcuterie for lunch. The Viognier was oak aged so it was smooth, rich with pear and melon-like characters. I just love lounging an afternoon away with food, wine, and family or friends.....it's my yoga.
We then headed to Tantalus Winery which is a little more up my alley. They are a smaller producer making a few different wines from Pinot Noir to a sparkling Blanc De Noir and sparkling Riesling. The fun thing about this side of the lake is that because we are on the east side of the lake we get the hotter afternoon sun so you can be further up the hill away from the lake and still maintain a warmer climate. I'd order a small selection of their different wine to have but for me probably mostly their Pinot Noir and Riesling #Excellent :P www.tantalus.ca
We headed over to Spierhead winery next on our wine adventure. This was a really great spot because it was small, affordable and offering great quality. I'm passionate as you know about wine being affordable and this place offered the best value for their Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I found so far. Check it out and order some for yourself www.spierheadwinery.com. If I lived here I would have joined their wine club because although the labels may not be as sexy the wine is and at a great price. A definite must while in Kelowna because their wine appealed to my mother, stepfather and my palate which is impressive because sometimes we can't always agree on everything. #Family.
Next, we went to Sperling Vineyards. You should know that Ann Sperling makes her own wine here in Kelowna, is the winemaker at Southbrook in Niagara and also owns her own vineyard in Argentina. I would imagine Ann has a few aeroplan points from the traveling that must be required to manage all three. I would describe her wine here in the Okanagan as very unique. This almost seems like her playground where she fiddles around in the sandbox. Ann makes a Pinot Noir without any skin contact so you get the nose and fruit of Pinot Noir without the tannins or colour, it's a white wine! Ann makes a Pinot Gris with skin contact creating an "Orange Wine'. Pinot Gris is a white grape and normally a white wine but instead, Ann has aged the wine on its off-white skins to absorb some tannin, colour, and character that a normal white wine wouldn't ever have. Ann also doesn't filter or fine this wine so it's cloudy, hazy and has some sediment. This may not appeal to the average consumer but trust me it was delicious, fresh, funky and awesome! I enjoyed comparing her two Pinot Noir's as well. Different plots of land, different styles and different characters. Like a bother and sister from the same family, similar yet different. I guess these are Ann's kids and I'd adopt them. Check out her 2013 Poetica Chardonnay she makes at Southbrook in Niagara, it's life changing! If you want to venture out of your comfort zone and into funk town, order some of her wine here http://sperlingvineyards.com if not, anything from Southbrook is excellent! Also, keep an eye out for her "Versado" from Argentina for a Canadian take on Argentinian wine.
The next day we ventured about 1 hour south to Penticton which is about halfway in this north-south wine growing region. This is where things get more intense because the heat is stronger. It's more common to see Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah instead of Chardonnay or Riesling. While Syrah was grown in West Kelowna it had to be on a steep angle to catch every drop of morning sun and right on the lake to help keep it warm at night. Here it's a few degree's warmer which can fully ripen these longer growing season reds. We went to Painted Rock winery which is right out of Architectural Digest due to its modern aesthetic and honest breathtaking views. Jim the owner was kind to pour our tasting and had a wealth of knowledge to share from the grapes and terroir to the business side of things in regards to sales and pricing. Did you know that the Painted Rock 2013 Merlot was loved so much by the King of Sweden than he ordered a case or that you can find this wine in the Shangri-La in London? While this level of seriousness in any winery can be intimidating even to me I'm impressed with Painted Rock. Our nations wine game is really aiming for the stars these days. Sure the whole Okanagan Valley makes less wine than the tiny region of Beaujolais France but our country comes from humble small beginnings and is building from the ground up. Who would have thought that an old apricot orchard in the BC Interior could be turned into an up and coming world renown winery? These Bordeaux varietals are big, like 15% alcohol, rich red and black fruit but incredibly balanced and smooth. Order some of this premium wine for a special occasion because it is worth celebrating. Don't take my word for it, some of Canada's most respected wine writers have given very high praise in the 90+ point range! The 2015 vintage was a challenging one for all winemakers here because it was extremely hot and if you pay close attention you can taste it (acidity is slightly lower) but they have done an amazing job with it and I would proudly recommend anything they produce! http://www.paintedrock.ca
If you head further south to Oliver and Osoyoos it's hot, hot hot. It is around 5C warmer in Osoyoos than in Kelowna which really helps grow some of the biggest reds you can grow. Winemakers are experimenting with Carmenere (Chile), Sangiovese (Chianti, Italy), Aglianico (Southern Italy), Nebbiolo (Barolo, Italy) and many others. The few extra degrees makes growing Pinot Noir out of the question because it is too hot but these larger more powerful wines at 15%-16% alcohol are possible. I find it unique that one, quite frankly small, growing region of Canada can produce such diversity in its wine. From delicate and aromatic whites and Pinot Noirs to Bordeaux type blends and palate punching hot climate red's it's really impressive. If you think Canada is just beer, maple syrup and Ice Wine you couldn't be further from the truth!
Going backward for a moment, while tasting at Quails Gate winery I spoke to a couple from Switzerland. The couple couldn't believe that Canada made white wine let alone fuller bodied red wines. I like when people come to Canada they underestimate us be it our peace, healthcare, multiculturalism or our winemaking. Knowing this couple is going to bring back a few bottles to share with their friends made me happy because it's how our story is being shared, one bottle at a time. The wine industry in Canada makes something like 1-100th of 1% of total wine production globally but considering we are still relatively infantile in age yet already being celebrated internationally by Royalty and 5-star hotels are worthy of pride. I find sometimes Canadians can be quick to doubt our own ability to produce great wine, but trust me..we do and the best is still yet to come!
Stock your cellar (or kitchen cabinet) with some homegrown talent and show some pride.
From Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful British Columbia,