BC Wine 101 – The Wineries of the Naramata Bench

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Welcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode* for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

The Naramata Bench was recognized early on in the modern-era of the BC wine industry as a premium growing location in the Okanagan because of many factors, the most significant of which is the proximity of Okanagan Lake. The lake acts as a moderator of temperature that protects the vineyards from both frost and searing heat and allows many vineyards to confidently plant grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that would otherwise be extremely difficult at this latitude. 

Lang Vineyards high on the Bench

Lang Vineyards high on the Bench

The Bench is the wine tourist’s dream. There are so many small wineries in a relatively small area high on a bench of land that is so close to Penticton that locals can conveniently shop for their wines there. Some wineries are easily accessible by bicycle. There is a huge diversity of wineries here that are located close together so that driving times between them is the shortest of any wine region in BC. You can visit a lot of wineries in Naramata in a very short time.

You will still need multiple days to see them all, if that is your goal. There are wineries that focus almost exclusively on icewine or pinot noir. There are others with large and diverse portfolios that will surely have something for everyone’s taste. There are traditional wineries and there are theme-wineries with creative labels. Some make their own cheese. Some have restaurants or bistros. Some have guest houses or B&B’s. There is a huge diversity, but only one road.

That’s another thing that makes Naramata unique. The main (and only) road that will take you to the wineries doesn’t connect with anywhere else. It is a road to nowhere. While other regions are places that you drive through, you can’t do that here. Naramata is the destination, the end of the road in BC wine.

Fitting then that this is the final chapter in BC Wine 101. See you at the Wine Bloggers Conference!

Late day sunlight makes it to the Bench's western face.

Late day sunlight gives the vines on Bench more sunlight that other regions in BC.

The wineries of the Naramata Bench:

3 Mile Estate Winery Bench 1775 Black Widow Winery
Clean Slate Winery D’Angelo Winery Elephant Island Orchard Wines
Hillside Estate Winery Howling Bluff Estate Wines Joie Farm
Kettle Valley Winery La Frenz Lake Breeze Winery
Lang Vineyards Laughing Stock Vineyards Misconduct Wine Co.
Monster Vineyards Moraine Winery Perseus Winery
Poplar Grove Estate Winery Red Rooster Ruby Blues Winery
Serendipity Winery Terravista Vineyards Therapy Vineyards
Township 7 Vineyards and Winery Upper Bench Estate Winery Van Westen Vineyards
Vines at Moraine Estate Winery

Vines at Moraine Estate Winery

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Cabernet Sauvignon grows for Kettle Valley Winery within feet of the lake.

Part of the 180 degree view from the patio of Bench 1775.

Part of the 180 degree view from the patio of Bench 1775.

*Unfortunately, I was unable to produce a podcast featuring this region.

Podcast 132 – The Wineries of Bottleneck Drive and Summerland

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Welcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

Summerland is a great little town. I say that not because I grew up there (I didn’t), but I did live there for a short time when I first relocated to the Okanagan Valley. There’s an energy here that isn’t like other towns in the valley. The landscape around Summerland is extremely dynamic. There are wide valleys, high mountains, lakeshores, deep canyons, and huge silt bluffs all within town limits. And the most amazing part is that the town is located inside the remains of an extinct volcano. But that’s another story.

There are a lot of wineries here and they are all very close together. You can see a lot of terrain and try a lot of wine here on a lot of different patios all with remarkably different views. Straight roads do not happen in Summerland. There are more S-curves and wineries that start with the letter “S” than anywhere else in BC.

Bottleneck Drive represents the majority of wineries in this region and have a good track record for putting on a great show as an organization. The Light Up the Vines festival held each year in November really gets the holidays started with a series of tours through the participating wineries. (Check out Podcasts 94 and 95 for interviews from the 2011 edition.)

I’ve always enjoyed my visits to wineries in Summerland and have made the wineries here destinations for over 10 years now. Even living in the south Okanagan as I do, I always enjoy making special trip to Summerland just to visit a particular winery or to track down a particular bottle of wine. It all happens there.

The wineries of Bottleneck Drive:

Bonitas Winery Dirty Laundry Vineyards Greata Ranch
Heaven’s Gate Winery Okanagan Crush Pad Thornhaven Estates Winery
Saxon Estate Winery Sleeping Giant Fruit Winery Sonoran Estate Winery
Silkscarf Winery Sumac Ridge Estate Winery Valentine Farm

Other wineries in Summerland:

8th Generation Vineyards Summergate Winery

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Podcast 131 – BC Wine 101 The West Side Wine Trail

Mount Boucherie, at the center of the West Side Wine Trail

Mount Boucherie, at the center of the West Side Wine Trail

20130218-203437.jpgWelcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

Of all the regions covered so far in BC Wine 101, the West Side Wine Trail is the most urban. The Trail takes you through areas in West Kelowna where vineyards that have grown for over 50 years are now surrounded on all side by gated housing developments. They are probably the only collection of wineries in BC that are accessible by public transit. But Being this close to Kelowna and the growing communities of West Kelowna has its benefits.

The range of wineries here is truly amazing. A 3-minute drive on Mt. Boucherie Road will take you past wineries in garages and quonset huts, mid-sized wineries with modest wine shops, and a huge commercial winery with an architectural grandeur that is unparalleled in BC and probably Canada as well. And according to Tina Slamka in this podcast, all of these wineries have one similar feature that unite them all, regardless of their size.

I first explored the area as a wine tourist 10 years ago. I remember going to two very different wineries that day and having a great experience at both of them. The view of Okanagan Lake is so dominating here, it is impossible to ignore at every winery on the trail because of the slope on which the wineries are perched. I remember taking a lot of photos that day.

In this podcast, Tina Slamka Chair of the West Side Wine Trail, co-owner and wine shop manager of Little Straw Vineyards, and Salina Petschulat Curtis, marketing coordinator for the West Side Wine Trail sit down for a chat about what makes the West Side such a welcoming place.

The wineries of the West Side Wine Trail:

Beaumont Family Estate Winery Kalala Organic Estate Winery Little Straw Vineyards
Meadow Vista Honey Wines Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery
Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Rollingdale Winery Volcanic Hills Estate Winery
Tasting in front of Quail's Gate Estate Winery.

Tasting in front of Quail’s Gate Estate Winery.

From the Barrel Top Grill at Little Straw Vineyards. Volcanic Hills is across the street.

From the Barrel Top Grill at Little Straw Vineyards. Volcanic Hills is across the street, Mt Boucherie and Beaumont Wineries are on the far left. .

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The Amphitheater at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. The Terrace Restaurant is on the left.

Podcast 130 – BCWine 101 The Similkameen Winery Association

The view from Seven Stones Winery south of Cawston.

20130218-203437.jpgWelcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

The Similkameen Valley is beautiful, and not in an easily identifiable, normal way. There’s something about this valley that is almost other-worldly.

Looking south from the northern edge of Clos du Soleil's vineyards.

Looking south from the northern edge of Clos du Soleil’s vineyards.

I actually find it distracting to drive through it. The mountains are so shapely and imposing that I cannot take my eyes off them, in any season. This becomes a problem when I’m the only one in the car and must concentrate on keeping the wheels on the winding roads. (Except in Cawston, in the middle of the Similkameen’s vineyard area, where there is probably the longest, straightest stretch of road anywhere in BC’s interior.)

It’s difficult to really explain the place that the Similkameen Valley occupies in terms of BC’s wine industry. The terroir is not as studied as the South Okanagan and the reputation does not precede it like the Naramata Bench. Just like the wineries of the Columbia Gorge AVA from last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, the Similkameen Valley is the little region that is often overshadowed by the more renowned neighbor and only people in-the-know understand that there is an amazing party going on there with wines that will blow you away.

The Similkameen also happens to be the home of one of my all-time favorite wine and food events – The Similkameen BBQ King Championship. I’ve recorded a podcast at each of the last two events (check out 2011 or 2012‘s posts and podcasts) and each time, the beautiful location of the historic Grist Mill heritage site, the amazing collection of local wines, and the Okanagan and Similkameen’s top chefs competing for bragging rights makes for an unbelievable event you won’t soon forget.

Even driving through the Similkameen is unforgettable. Imagine what the wines taste like from this unique place.

Joining me in this podcast are Similkameen Winery Association Chair George Hanson and Marketing Director Kim Lawton.

The Similkameen river from the patio of Forbidden Fruit Winery.

The Similkameen river from the patio of Forbidden Fruit Winery.

Wineries of the Similkameen Winery Association:

Cerelia Clos du Soleil Eau Vivre
Forbidden Fruit Orofino Robin Ridge
Rustic Roots Seven Stones Sage Bush Winery

Other Wineries in the Similkameen Valley:

St. Laszlo

Crowsnest Vineyards Herder Vineyards Little Farm Winery
Wine shop breezeway at Orofino, and winery built with straw bales.

Wine shop breezeway at Orofino, and winery built with straw bales.

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Vineyards in the Similkameen.

Podcast 129 – BCWine 101 Oliver Osoyoos

Riverstone Estate Winery, north of the town of Oliver.

20130218-203437.jpgWelcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

There’s a reason that the town of Oliver calls itself “The Wine Capital of Canada” and you’ll know why when you see it. There are vineyards everywhere here. But there are other crops here – cherry, peach, and apple orchards, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, and more. It is a farming community and, for BC at least, it’s a large, high density one. For wine grapes, it’s the quality and consistency to grow grapes that are more difficult or impossible to grow elsewhere that draws wineries from other regions in BC to proudly proclaim that the grapes for this or that wine come from “the Golden Mile” or “the Black Sage Bench” or simply, “Oliver.”

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Looking south from White Lake Road. The Golden Mile is on the right side of the valley, Black Sage Road on the left.

Map courtesy of Wine Tripper – BC Edition available on iTunes.

A little disclaimer about this region: I live here. Although it’s pretty safe to assume that I will have something personal to disclose about every wine region in this series, the fact is that I live and drive through this area everyday and have for over 5 years now and have worked at wineries here for most of that time. I run into winemakers picking out bananas at the supermarket. My kids go to school with their kids. It’s a community built around wine, farming, and central air-conditioning. The summers here can get very hot.

Which is why grapes, and those who grow them, love this region. Some of the best vineyard land in the country is located here. In this podcast, Tim Martinuk, president of the Oliver-Osoyoos Winery Association, talks about what makes this area worthy of the name, the Wine Capital of Canada.

The wineries of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association and the South Okanagan.

OOWA Member Wineries

Adega on 45th Black Hills Burrowing Owl
Cassini Cellars Castoro de Oro Church & State
Covert Farms Desert Hills Fairview Cellars
Gehringer Brothers Hester Creek Hidden Chapel
Inniskillin Intersection Jackson-Triggs
Moon Curser Nk’Mip Cellars Oliver Twist
Platinum Bench Quinta Ferreira River Stone
Road 13 Rustico Silver Sage
Stoneboat Tinhorn Creek Young & Wyse

Other wineries in the South Okanagan area:

La Stella Winery Le Vieux Pin Winery Platinum Bench Winery
Looking north from Burrowing Owl Vineyards on the Black Sage bench.

Looking north from Burrowing Owl Vineyards on the Black Sage bench.

Overlooking the town of Oliver from Hester Creek Estate Winery's vineyards on the Golden Mile bench.

Overlooking the town of Oliver from Hester Creek Estate Winery’s vineyards on the Golden Mile bench.

Fall colors in a vineyard near the town of Oliver.

Fall colors in a vineyard near the town of Oliver.

Sunset from Nk'Mip Cellars looking northwest over Osoyoos Lake.

Sunset from Nk’Mip Cellars looking northwest over Osoyoos Lake.

Podcast 128 – BCWine 101 Okanagan Falls

20130218-203437.jpgWelcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode. This is for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine but with a particular nod to the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

Okanagan Falls (or as the locals call it, OK Falls) has a wide variety of wineries and scenery. Some of my all-time favourite BC wines come from this region. The Okanagan Falls Winery Association represents the marketing and promotional needs of the majority of wineries in this region and in this podcast, I speak with marketing and events coordinator Kristin Peturson-Laprise about what makes Okanagan Falls so special.

MacIntyre Bluff and Vaseaux Lake, looking south.

MacIntyre Bluff and Vaseaux Lake, looking south.

Here are the wineries in Okanagan Falls to remember:

Blasted Church
Blue Mountain Vineyards
Kraze Legz
Liquidity Wines
Meyer Family Vineyards
Noble Ridge
Painted Rock
Pentage
See Ya Later Ranch
Stag’s Hollow
Synchro Mesh
Tangled Vines
Top Shelf
Wild Goose Winery

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I have had some amazing experiences in the wineries and vineyards of Okanagan Falls. My first wine touring experience ever brought me to Okanagan Falls in 2003 where I learned a little more about how to taste wine in a wine shop from an awesome host at Hawthorn Mountain Vineyards (now See Ya Later Ranch). My first job in a winery as a cellar hand was in OK Falls. I have interviewed many winery owners and wine makers for this podcast and other media. It is a place that I truly enjoy visiting any time I can.

There are both long established family-run wineries and historical vineyards there alongside newly built boutique wineries that are creatively following their own vision. It’s a very dynamic region where you will find rich and bold Merlot’s at one winery, beautifully aromatic whites at the one next door, and unbelievable sparkling wine just around the corner. Far from being scattered, this area represents the diverse Okanagan wine experience in microcosm, where the drive, passion, science, and creative artistry all meet at the south end of Skaha Lake.

Cheers from wine country,

~Luke

Painted Rock

The vineyards of Painted Rock Estate Winery from the west side lookout above Skaha Lake.

North to OK Falls

Looking north from above Vaseaux Lake. Hawthorn Mountain is on the left. Blue Mountain is behind the bluff on the right and Noble Ridge is center.