There is something immensely satisfying watching friends realize a dream. My friend Maya was instrumental in helping me move from the coast to the Okanagan in 2007. She was a friend of the family and we bonded instantly over wine. We toured wineries together, critiqued wines, wine shops, and wine labels together, and gossiped non-stop about the industry and some of the goofy and amazing experiences that we’d had. We both started working in the cellars (for different wineries) in 2007, have met and compared notes with regularity ever since. When I started this blog and podcast in 2009, Maya was involved in some of the earliest podcasts and even contributed awesome articles, which have remained popular to this day.
On one of my first trips to meet Maya in Naramata in 2007, she showed me a recently levelled patch of dirt that she claimed would one day be the site of her family’s vineyard. It was a hot day in July and the dust was everywhere but it was clear that this was a unique site. High above Okanagan Lake on a southwest-facing plateau, the vineyard would clearly offer some of the best views seen by any grapes in Naramata and maybe even the whole valley. It also had something extremely interesting that sparked my interest in learning about the geology of the Okanagan: beach sand.
I’m sorry – WHAT?? After driving uphill for 10 minutes from Naramata, 300 meters above the current level of Okanagan Lake, there is BEACH SAND?? Yes, there is. It is the remains of the former shoreline from Glacial Lake Penticton, a body of water that encompassed both Okanagan and Skaha Lakes as the glaciers receded following the ice age. Standing at the edge of the vineyard overlooking the lake that is now far below, this will boggle the mind somewhat if one spends too much time thinking about it. It is best to have a glass of wine before attempting this.
Thankfully this spring, her family’s dream to open a winery has finally come to fruition and a wine tasting is now available to prevent this kind of senseless mind-boggling. Over a decade in the making, the Forgotten Hill Wine Company opened its doors to the public for tastings this spring by appointment only. Don’t let the ‘by appointment’ thing scare you. There are solid practical reasons for this including very limited parking and single-lane access to the wine shop. However, the reward for the adventurous is big since it is securely ensconced far beyond the pavement high above the village of Naramata. After easily booking online and then making the trek up to the top of Smethurst Road, your welcome could not possibly be any warmer. (Wine touring tip – spending the afternoon in this area of Naramata is now entirely possible since Smethurst Road is also home to Nichol and Daydreamer Wines.)
Maya and her husband Ben operate Forgotten Hill and the Forgotten Hill B&B on the same property. Both are trained winemakers and viticulturists who are able to talk about their wines with precision and passion. The wine shop is small but matches the garagiste scale of the winery. Their initial offering is of four wines – two Pinot Gris, a Rosé, and a Pinot Noir – but future plans include Syrah, Viognier, and a second Pinot Noir.
For those who like the small-scale wineries and the attention that they clearly pay to what seems like every individual bottle of wine, Forgotten Hill will not disappoint you. Maya has always been fascinated by Pinot Gris and was relentless is her pursuit of the perfect version of it for her vineyard site. The Pinot Noir is also immaculately executed and is a stellar confluence of silky textures, complexity, and a long , dreamy finish.
Rather than waste space with tasting notes, I would rather that you seek these wines out and judge for yourself rather than simply trust my opinion. I will say that all of the wines are solid performers that will hold your interest throughout a meal or a dinner or an entire evening for that matter. I have enjoyed more than a few bottles of prior non-production vintages of the Pinot Gris and can say with certainty that they are absolutely true to their unique place on the highest elevation vineyard on the Naramata Bench.
After spending the past 3 years of my life looking backwards by researching BC wine’s past, it is refreshing to get a glimpse of its future. Forgotten Hill is not only the carefully executed culmination of a dream, it also shows how the leading edge of the wine industry is not afraid to explore the furthest reaches of the Okanagan. I am glad to have been able to witness even a small part of its evolution.
Cheers from wine country!