It’s that time of the year when hope springs eternal inside wineries.
The 2016 harvest is well underway thanks to another early spring and a mostly warm growing season, especially in the Okanagan Valley.
There is no way to know how it will all turn out but it looks like the grapes will have the chance to fully ripen, and that’s about all a winemaker can ask for.
Not all grapes are created equal when it comes to picking time. This year’s grapes for sparkling wine were picked first, as they are every year, to preserve their high acid content. Early ripening grapes like Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot are being crushed as you read this (moving south to north), while growers and winemakers nervously wait for the likes of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Add to that the vagaries of any vintage — be it cool or hot, wet or dry, or in some cases just perfect — and that final pick time all comes down to Mother Nature’s schedule.
If you are up early and out on the road in wine country keep an eye out for the picking dance. It a daily ritual that begins with science providing sugar, tannin and acid numbers that come in to the winery regularly at peak ripening times. Then there is the vineyard walk, where growers and winemakers pace the rows looking for signs of stress, cane ripening and other signals that might suggest to start the picking. Finally, there is the crucial berry tasting. Chewing the grapes is really the only way to assess the final physiological state of the crop and make the decision to pick.
While all that is happening, grape growers are continuously checking the weather, desperate to get the picking underway because you never know when the rain will arrive. The picking date is a high-stakes game of poker and no one wants to make the wrong decision. In most cases instinct and years of experience make the final decision but no matter how it happens it’s a decision you have to live with for the rest of the wine’s life. No pressure, though!
What we do know for sure is that the smell of fermenting grapes has spread across the Okanagan Valley, and if you haven’t been in wine country during the harvest you are in for a real treat. Just remember these are the money days at wineries. Many folks are on edge and overtired so be respectful and polite and stay out of the way of the grapes and trucks parading into each winery. Keep in mind, the smaller the winery, the less likely they will be able to receive you grandly during the harvest because they are just too busy, so plan ahead.
Following the success of our summer edition of Salut where we picked 10 wineries to visit we have put together a new list of 10 harvest stops for the fall. The picks are based on the site, the ability to perhaps walk the vineyard and possibly get a glimpse of the winery team sorting or crushing grapes and, where possible, we have included some stops where you can grab lunch or dinner.
Remember crush goes on day and night at many wineries so be on the lookout for tractors, forklifts and trucks in the vicinity. And don’t forget to toss an empty wine carton or two in the back of your car to collect your favourites.
50th PARALLEL ESTATE
17101 Terrace View Road, Lake Country | 250.766.3408
The winery catchphrase is “Meet Me at the 50th, ” a nod to its GPS co-ordinates on the 50th parallel north that gives the spectacular 61-acre site overlooking Lake Okanagan a very cool demeanour. Just a short drive north of Kelowna International Airport, the relatively new winery joins a growing number of producers seeking cooler vineyard sites between Kelowna and Vernon.
The red granite soils in the area have been liken to those of Alsace, France, and to that end the vineyards are planted with Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. If you love architecture this is the winery to visit. From the 10 wooden doors that guard the crush pad and entrance to the building, to the Floating Crush Pad that sits above the Pinot Noir fermenters, there are no shortage of wonders to ponder.
Get organized and take one of the Grape to Glass tours that begin in the demonstration vineyard and move through the winery and barrel cellars to the tasting room. Winemaker Grant Stanley, ex Quails’ Gate, is just settling in to his vineyards and winery, and the wines are beginning to settle in, too.
MUST BUY: Our pick is the 50th Parallel 2014 Pinot Noir ($29). Made from a blend of six Dijon clones this is bright, juicy, spicy Pinot whose red cherry/raspberry rhubarb fruit slides down easily. At the 50th they are betting on it to be a place where mountains, lakes, and vineyards combine for the perfect Pinot experience. They are right.
SUMMERHILL PYRAMID WINERY
4870 Chute Lake Road, Kelowna | 250.764.2598
Having visited thousands of wineries in my lifetime I can honestly say that few have the vibe that pervades Summerhill. The goal of the Cipes family is to make beautiful wines, and it begins with an extraordinary commitment to organically and biodynamically grown grapes.
Stephen, Ezra and Gabe Cipes each play a role in the amazing fabric of production at Summerhill that is unlike any other in the valley. They have an equally strong commitment to the community, encouraging all who will listen to be less wasteful, more proactively organic and sustainable in all their endeavours. The winery is also granting access to its vineyard, gardens and wetlands as it proactively engages the curious.
Perhaps the best way to experience the Summerhill aura is to dine at the on-site Sunset Organic Bistro restaurant. Winery chef Alex Lavroff has been in place the entire season serving food from as nearby as the on-site biodynamic gardens.
MUST BUY: I’m a big fan of the Riesling and Cabernet Franc, but the star is the aged sparkling wine they label Cipes 2008 Ariel ($88) and/or the Cipes 2010 Blanc de Blanc ($37). The family is working on their 2020 Vision to take the whole valley organic and sustainable in less than four years. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I’m not sure what will.
DIRTY LAUNDRY VINEYARD
7311 Fiske Street, Summerland | 250-494-8815
Sometimes you just want to have fun when you visit wine country, and that is more or less the mantra at Summerland’s Dirty Laundry Vineyard. Now under the watchful eye of winemaker Mason Spink, Dirty Laundry is more than just a fun place to visit, it has wines you want to drink.
Spink came to Dirty Laundry via See Ya Later Ranch, where Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir were a focus that no doubt made taking over the numerous Dirty Laundry Gewürztraminer offerings a much easier task.
The winery encourages picnic lunches from deli foods and snacks you can purchase on-site. There is a whimsical theme to the tasting room — voted the number 1 destination to visit in Summerland by travel website Trip Advisor.
The original Gewürztraminer grapes have been around since 1978 making them some of the oldest in B.C. It’s easy to spend an early or late afternoon on the vine-covered patio that looks out over Okanagan Lake and some spectacular scenery. Follow the signs west on Arkell Road as you wind your way through upper Summerland.
MUST BUY: For the fall we suggest you look into the Dirty Laundry 2014 Kay Syrah ($24.99), a modern, almost Rhone-style look at Syrah.
1350 Naramata Road Penticton | 250-493-6274
Winemaker Kathy Malone and owner Duncan McGowan have a magical relationship built on trust and it’s really turned things around at Hillside. Over the last five years Malone has found her mojo and the winery has become a poster child for a separate Naramata sub-appellation.
From its unique Muscat Ottonel, to its various single vineyard Merlot and a stunning Pinot Gris, the Hillside team is getting down to the business of expressing its terroir and, more importantly, not over working any of its wines.
On the hospitality front Hillside boasts one of the top winery restaurants in the valley under chef Brent Pillon. Dinner on any of the decks of the Hillside Bistro is a special experience. Hillside was the first winery designed by architect Robert MacKenzie back in 1997 and the old gristmill design remains timeless, as do the gardens that surround the grounds.
MUST BUY: Our wine pick is the Hillside 2012 Merlot Hidden Valley Vineyard ($30.42). If you stay for dinner pair it with the pan roasted duck breast with grilled onions, beetroot, walnut figs and buttered squash.
2825 Naramata Road, Penticton | 250-496-0092
Heidi Noble is fully in charge at JoieFarm winery — emphasis on the word farm. JoieFarm opened its doors with some of the best wine marketing seen in North America, thankfully eschewing the family estate moniker for something a little more modest and connected to the land. The back labels are some of the best in the business, as are the front labels, the packaging and the POS.
Of course none of that makes any difference if your wine is forgettable but in the beginning it gave the winery the possibility to find itself and its winemaking. JoieFarm is all about aromatic white wines and super fresh reds, led by one of the best Gamay Noirs in the valley.
There is lot of emphasis on food wines at JoieFarm because winemaker Noble, a former chef, knows acutely that all wines are better with food. To that end a picnique wood-burning oven is operational Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and there’s takeout available after 4:30 p.m. Your visit can include authentic Neapolitan-style pizza and local ice cream in a grassy field with your own picnic blanket.
MUST BUY: Our wine pick is the JoieFarm 2014 Gamay ($26). The grape that made Beaujolais famous is thriving in B.C., and Joie is a market leader in quality. Stony, savoury and salty and delicious, it’s a star in the making.
4720 Allendale Road, Okanagan Falls | 778-515-5500
Liquidity is a winery that surprises the visitor at every turn. In view of Blue Mountain, it sits on a hilltop in the heart of Okanagan Falls with spectacular views east, west and south to McIntyre Bluff — an iconic piece of rock that demarcates the warm south Okanagan from the slightly cooler mid-Okanagan Valley.
If you are an art fan the winery is dotted with exquisite works, inside and out. The on-site Liquidity Bistro offers 48 seats indoors, 48 seats on the patio and a tight menu of what they describe as their take on classic Canadian wine country cuisine. Of course most of the ingredients can be traced back to some part of the Okanagan Valley, or at the widest, the Pacific Northwest.
Two wines stand out at Liquidity, a bright fresh inviting style of Viognier and a very respectable, savoury Okanagan Pinot Noir. Liquidity has 30 acres under vine and some of the Pinot Noir blocks are now over 20 years old, and contain a mix of five Dijon clones and three Heritage clones of Pinot Noir. The views, the art collection and outdoor art displays is simply added bonus to all visitors.
MUST BUY: Our pick is the Liquidity Wines Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($42). The reserve ups the intensity over the regular Pinot and will reward some cellaring over the next two years.
TINHORN CREEK VINEYARDS
537 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver | 250-498-3743
What can’t you do at Tinhorn Creek? Throughout the harvest it’s go, go, go inside and out with picking sorting, pressing and cleaning 24/7. Much of the activity can be observed from viewpoints throughout the winery that are all part of a well organize self tour.
There is a demonstration vineyard you can visit, and the winery offers a number of other activities, including a private tour and tasting for those looking for a more in-depth experience. You can also bring along your hiking boots and walk the Golden Mile Trail.
Tinhorn’s home vineyard links into a larger trail network that stretches across the Golden Mile Bench, the only delimited sub-appellation in the Okanagan Valley. It also provides the only remaining access points to the Mount Kobau Range and you can check out the 100-year-old historic Tinhorn Creek stamp mill ruins.
Plan on lunch or dinner (you will need a reservation), at the award winning Miradoro Restaurant on-site. Winemaker Andrew Windsor is settled in now and bringing a sharper focus to all the Tinhorn wines. Join the Crush Club, you won’t regret it.
MUST BUY: Our pick is the Oldfield Series Chardonnay 2014 ($34.99), a new look at Chardonnay in a tighter, more linear profile of nutty, flinty, apple/lemon flavours.
LE VIEUX PIN
5496 Black Sage Road, Oliver | 250-498-8388
The old, solo pine tree that towers over the Black Sage Bench vineyard is the Le Vieux Pin namesake and the vineyard is home to winemaker Severine Pinte, the woman who is changing the face of winemaking in the south Okanagan.
The winery has played the French card over the years but in fact Pinte is merely using her French experiences to help her translate the south Okanagan terroir into some amazing wine. Sustainable and, where possible, organic grape growing is the mantra at several south Okanagan sites.
At Le Vieux Pin there is a definite trend toward Rhone-style wines producing both blends and some varietal versions of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Syrah. For Pinte, Syrah is a major focus and she is working with want she would describe as five different terroirs, form both sides of the valley, that go into the LVP Syrah labels namely Cuvée Violette, Cuvée Classique, and Equinoxe. Le Vieux Pin is Syrah lover’s paradise but don’t over look any other wines they all exude personality.
MUST BUY: Our pick is the Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2014 ($45). Cuvee Classic is the North Oliver LVP Syrah that is a savoury, floral, peppery black fruit red you could cellar through 2020.
CLOS DU SOLEIL WINERY
2568 Upper Bench Rd, Keremeos | 250-499-2831
The philosophy is simple at Clos du Soleil, where they are “taking a long-term approach to making consistently beautiful wine: “it’s all about the vineyard and the wine in the bottle.”
Easy to say much harder to attain — but this tiny little Similkameen producer, run by a small group of professionals, has stayed the course over the last decade first planting a 10-acre vineyard on the Similkameen Valley’s Upper Bench in 2005 that by 2006 was replete with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Bordeaux was the model but stony, mineral, bright Similkameen wine is the result.
They have recently opened a tasting room and you can wander the organic vineyard on site. Do inquire about the bed and breakfast. The winery is part of a small band of pioneers that are breathing life back into the valley with so much promise. Vancouverites would do well to take the fork in the road right at Hope and follow the Crowsnest Highway to the Similkameen.
MUST BUY: Our wine pick is Clos du Soleil Célestiale 2013 ($26.90), a Bordeaux-styled blend that mixes Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A dry, fresh, elegant, juicy red that pairs well with grilled beef.
*This article initially ran in The Vancouver Sun on September 23, 2016.