Visiting New Wineries in BC

There have been a few new additions to the winery scene in the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys recently. As I have been deep into research for my book and WSET diploma, the “blogger” part of my brain that usually jumps out in front whenever I see a new winery sign on the road has been preoccupied for the better part of a year. Rest assured, I am getting back into the swing of it although not with the same pace that I used to. I’m sure this will pick up again as soon the book reaches production.

So here are a few of the wineries that I’ve been able to visit over the past couple of weeks. Two of them are in Osoyoos and one in the south Similkameen Valley. Osoyoos has generally been slow to develop wineries. Just ten years ago there was only one – Nk’Mip Cellars – before Young & Wyse, La Stella, and Adega on 45th opened their doors. 2016 may be the first year ever when vacationers staying in Osoyoos don’t have to venture very far from their hotel to spend a day or two tasting the local wines.

Blue Sky Estate Winery

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img_1623Blue Sky Estate Winery is the newest winery in Osoyoos and, for visitors to the area, this might be off the beaten path just slightly. Locals know it because it is just down the road from the BC Tree Fruits packing house (where we locals often buy our apples, peaches, and nectarines) and motorcyclists know it because it’s an awesome, winding road to get into town without a lot of cars. It is absolutely worth the drive and is quiet and out of the way. They have a beautiful patio to stop and enjoy the view so there really is no rush when visiting.

It’s a beautiful location and they have a welcoming and spacious tasting room with a large tasting bar. The labels stand out brilliantly without being gaudy. The wine portfolio is concise and strong across the board. It is based on the grapes that are most suitable for the Osoyoos area – Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc – so there may not be everything for everybody. The Rosé is wonderful and has been a big seller since they opened in July but the whole collection is quite strong.

Overall, it was a fun and welcoming experience that is well worth seeking out.

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Liber Farm & Winery

img_1608img_1606This winery joins The Vine Glass and Forbidden Fruit on Sumac Road south of Cawston, which makes it one of the three southern-most wineries in the Similkameen Valley. The addition of Liber to that stretch of road now means that there is a stunningly beautiful, serene destination for a quick afternoon of wine touring that is only 15 minutes away from Osoyoos. The wineries at either end (Liber and Forbidden Fruit) both have beautiful picnic areas for a little extra lounge time.

img_1607New to the BC wine industry, Mike and Nicole took over a recently developed winery that had not yet opened. They hired Pascal Madevon as their winemaking consultant who will be guiding them through their first vintage this fall. The current lineup of wines – a red blend, a Cabernet Franc, and a Chardonnay – is short but worth it. The Chardonnay stands out at this point in time but the reds might still need a little more time. All come from the excellent 2015 vintage.

img_1605Two of the wines were given scripted names that show that they clearly aren’t taking themselves too seriously, which is refreshing these days. The “Let’s Be Franc” Cabernet Franc is bold and assertively fruity while the “Everyday Chardonnay”  is a great example of a big and rich wine that is not bombastically oaked – no vanilla or creme brulée here in this wine – but it has a beautifully full texture and fruit flavours. Perhaps the name belittles the wine’s image somewhat because I believe it is clearly more than just a run-of-the-mill version of this grape variety.

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Bordertown Vineyards and Estate Winery

img_1625img_1626This is a winery that should have already appeared on Wine Country BC by now. Over the past few years, I’ve seen them build their winery and wine shop and knew that they were coming. (I think I even tweeted a photo of the wine shop under construction at one point…)

If there was anyone in the industry who have lucked out with the old business adage “Location, location, location…”, it is Bordertown. They are right on Highway 97 leading north out of Osoyoos and are super easy to access. In fact, it would be almost impossible to miss this place.

img_1630And really, you shouldn’t miss it. Stopping in is a rewarding wine tasting experience. There is the past, present, and future of the BC wine industry embodied in their sizeable portfolio of wines, especially in the whites which make up the majority of their wines. It’s odd that a winery in Osoyoos would be stacked so heavily on the side of the whites and not reds but the reality is that in the hot summer, a cool bottle of tangy Pinot Blanc or Gruner-Veltliner is just what the doctor ordered.

There is a lot of choice when it comes to whites, which makes for a very enjoyable tasting. There is a Muscat, Riesling, two Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer in addition to the aforementioned Pinot Blanc and Gruner. For reds, being Osoyoos, they are based on the biggies – Cabernet Franc and Syrah are the two single varieties and The Living Desert Red takes on a Cheval-Blanc-like blend of Cab Franc and Merlot. Before you write off the blends as the simple, base-line wines, be aware that The Living Desert Red is one of the few wines that have won a Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wine as is the deepest and most complex red wine that I tasted in their portfolio.

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So, please check out these new wineries during stops between your favourites on your next visit to BC’s wine country. It’s always an adventure to taste a new winery’s wines and often, you will be rewarded with the experience.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

 

You’ve gotta visit: Mocojo

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Located just east (uphill) off Naramata Road, Mocojo is easy to find. Just look up the hill after entering the Naramata boundary and follow the signs. The actual address for you GPS people is 1202 Gawne Road but I think it’s much safer to keep your eyes on the only road to Naramata so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.

Why you should go there

IMG_0999The view is stunning. There are lots of views in Naramata for sure, but not always with so few obstructions. Owners Dianne and Kon are welcoming and absolutely wonderful to chat with. They are true garagiste wine makers, meaning that their winery is located in an actual garage. When so many wineries go out of their way to build a fancy tasting bar with lots of cute gifts to buy in it, Mocojo is refreshingly down-to-earth and authentic. They sell wine and t-shirts. Kon grew grapes before making his own wine so it’s no surprise that the wines he makes reflect that attention to detail in the vineyard more than any splashy wine making techniques.

What to expect

IMG_0998Expect to be welcomed like you were a long-lost family member, except that not everyone has family that can make wine like this. The wine shop is sparse but comfortably shaded so even when it is hot, it is still comfortable. All of the wines that they have available for sale are also available for tasting although one of them had sold out after only my first visit there.

A word of warning though: Staring at the view for too long has caused more than one person to seriously consider a career change just so that they could move to the Okanagan to have a view like this. It is that good.

The wines

IMG_1001Gewurztraminer

Viognier

Rose

Marichel Foch

Malbec

IMG_1002The view is distracting but the wines will hold your attention for sure. Aromatic whites and sleek, powerful reds are the focus here. I have not yet been able to taste the whites but the reds are absolutely solid. The Malbec (sold out at the winery but available in a few private stores – I know one in particular near me and I’ll tell you where it is but only for multiple non-sequential, unmarked bills) is truly beautiful – dark, smooth, and deeply flavored as all good malbecs should be. The Foch is also dark and distinctly fruity as only Foch can be with a complex nose and a uniquely dark tangy quality. Foch is an acquired taste that some people never acquire, which is fine. To each their own. But don’t pass up the chance to try it in the tasting room.

Make this a definite stop on your next trip down Naramata Road. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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You’ve gotta visit: Synchromesh

IMG_0992Located on McLean Creek Road just east of Okanagan Falls, Synchromesh is on a flat area just behind Peach Cliff (that big rock that you see can towering over the town of Okanagan Falls. It’s about a kilometer out of town and it’s on the left just past Meyer Family Vineyards.

Why you should go there

IMG_0993If you’re going to visit them, you’d better do it quick. On my recent visit, 3 of the Rieslings were sold out and only one red was left. They are not expecting to make it through the summer with any inventory intact so the sooner you get there, the better. Sometimes it’s a race to get to these small producers when they have their best wines available and that’s what boutique wine touring is all about. And the prices are surprisingly reasonable.

What to Expect

IMG_0991Allan Dickinson doesn’t wear shoes while he’s on the job, or at least he wasn’t wearing them when I first met him earlier this spring. Perhaps it keeps him rooted (metaphorically) to the earth that grows his grapes. Perhaps it was just one of those shoe-less days. Either way, he is firmly attached to terra firma and he walks the walk when he talks the talk in the wine shop. You will get an elucidating, convivial tasting experience that borders on a religious experience and is devoid of any of that bland “you will get hints of apples and rosemary…” banter. Alan is down to earth, the real deal, and he talks about his wines that way. He comes by it naturally so if it happens to be Alan’s dad, John, in the wine shop, your experience will be very similar.

The Wines

There is Riesling. A lot of Riesling. Check it out;

IMG_0994Bob Hancock Vineyard Riesling

Thorny Vines Riesling

Four Shadows Vineyard Riesling

Storm Haven Riesling

Riesling (blend of all four vineyards)

Cachola Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Turtle Rock Farms Cabernet Franc

Turtle Rock Farms Tertre Rouge (blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot)

Riesling is the big one here and even though they have won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for one, they certainly aren’t one trick ponies. The reds that I’ve tasted are at the same high level as well. These are seriously amazing, grand cru-level wines (although as per my criteria stated previously, I can’t call them an official grand cru yet…) I have personally witnessed experienced tasters and neophytes all recognize this so I know it’s not just me. Their emphasis is on single-vineyard wines which, confusing as they can sometimes be brand-wise, are a perfect platform to demonstrate Riesling’s (and Cab Franc’s) uniqueness and potential. Want to really understand what the word “terroir” means? Taste all five Rieslings in one sitting and you will never forget it.

The growing number of wineries and wine lovers that are turning their attention towards high-quality Riesling shows that this variety has a promising future in BC. Alan and Synchromesh have almost guaranteed that.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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You’ve Gotta Visit: 50th Parallel

IMG_0948Located on the newly developed Scenic Sip wine route around Lake Country, 50th Parallel is a little far off the main route on Carrs Landing Road. Various routes will get you off Highway 97 to the shores of Okanagan Lake near Okanagan Centre. Follow the road north until you reach 50th Parallel.

Why you should go there

IMG_0949Because it’s amazing. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. But perhaps I’m being too subtle and understated. I’ve seen a lot of wineries and I’ve seen a lot of new wineries just starting out. This place is unbelievable in the sheer amount of details involved. Nothing has apparently been overlooked. The name 50th Parallel invokes their own latitudinal position and owners Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Tuner-Krouzel have creatively riffed on that for everything from marketing to design and architectural elements of all kinds. The results are clearly visible in the new building’s architecture (parallel lines are everywhere, vertical windows) and branding but are subtle rather than in your face or over the top.

It is also a vineyard with a past. For BC wine history buffs like me, this was a vineyard planted with hybrid grapes that used to supply wines to commercial wineries until the pull-out program in the late 1980’s. It was never replanted and remained essentially abandoned as a vineyard until purchased by Curtis and Sheri-Lee in 2008.

What to expect

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Winemaker Grant Stanley with Sheri-Lee and Curtis

Expect to be wowed. The tasting room is currently at one end of the winery where all of the tanks and sometimes barrels are located. Sometimes winemaker Grant Stanley might be working on barrels or racking or filtering and you’ll be able to watch the action. At the very least, it smells like a winery should – clean but with a cool, damp, refreshing feel that wine loves as it matures. The tasting bar is made from rafters from their old Quonset hut that used to be the winery for their initial vintages so it has a beautiful curve to it. There are guided tours of the vineyard that are available for a price and must be booked in advance. It’s well worth it if you like seeing where the wines come from along with stunning views of Okanagan Lake like you’ve never seen before.

The wines

IMG_0950Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Rose

Gewurztraminer

Riesling

Chardonnay

Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir is their focus here along with a collection of aromatic whites. All the wines are solid performers. They’ve been racking up awards with all of them so nothing is “filler material” at all. The Gewurztraminer is a much drier style than most BC wines which brings out a unique aromatic profile. The Chardonnay is what I call a “classy” style – meaning, it has some oak flavors on it but it’s just a part of the complexity rather than a dominant flavor. It is a style that I think does well in BC And if you still write home at all, it’s the Pinot Noir that you will want to mention. Just smelling it in the glass, it made my eyes bug out of my head and I heard that old-style car horn sound (a-ROO-ga) that always sounds funny no matter how old you are. Needless to say, I took that wine home with me that day along with a bottle of the Chardonnay.

I first visited 50th Parallel in the early spring and was blown away by the thought that went into everything that they did here and the ultimate end result is absolutely evident in the wine. Complex aromas and flavors, balanced acidity, and just a general sense of thoughtful artistry is clearly in every sip. I’ve found that sometimes new wineries take a few vintages to really get their style established, especially across the portfolio but I believe that 50th Parallel has really reached that phase early on. When it does happen this quickly, it’s usually by happenstance, coincidence, or just blind luck. But in this case, with the amount of detail that went into the planning of this winery, I have come to the conclusion that this consistency is entirely by design.

I’ll meet you anytime at the 50th. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: Corcelettes

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Corcelette’s new winery and wine shop have a prominent physical position overlooking the Similkameen Valley (Another Similkameen winery?? Noticing a trend yet?) from the northern slope which you can see from all over the Keremeos and parts of the Cawston area. It is close to the town of Keremeos at the junction of Route 3 and 3A and is located on Upper Bench Road. Follow the signs for the Grist Mill and keep going just a little further and it will be on the left. Look for the huge stones near the end of the driveway.

Why you should go there

IMG_0897At this point, wine maker Charlie Baessler does not make very much wine and he and Jesce Walker consider themselves to be garagistes although they probably won’t be that way for long. The wines that they make now are beautifully balanced and wonderfully complex made by two of the nicest people in the industry today. It’s kind of hard to explain these things without seeming all New-Agey but the personalities of the people who produce the wines can strongly influence how much you enjoy a wine. If I’m not connecting with a producer on a personal level for some reason (weird attitudes, bizarre methods, or just a “bad vibe”), it’s highly unlikely that I will like their wines. For small producers, personality will go a long way to driving sales and establishing long-term relationships with customers. I think that’s why some people prefer small boutique producers rather than large corporate wineries because they are so far removed from any human element. That’s just a theory though. Regardless of winery size, personality comes down from the top and the gang at Corcelettes are awesome and they let that awesome filter down through everything they do.

The other big reason to go, and go soon, is that they may be sold out fairly quickly and you really don’t want to miss out on the experience of this place.

What to expect

This is a small, boutique winery so expect a small tasting room with only one or two people staffing it. This isn’t a large volume winery with a big tasting bar so while they may not have many wines to taste, they will certainly have a lot of things to tell you about how they were made. Personalized service and lots of stories are part of the fun with visiting boutique wineries. They may also not have everything available to taste when you visit so enjoy the wines that they do have.

You will want to be taking lots of photos at this winery. The view is truly inspiring. It’s perfect for group shots.

IMG_0898The Wines

Trivium (Chasselas, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris)

Gewurztraminer

Oracle Rosé (Zweigelt)

Syrah

Menhir (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah)

Two whites, two reds, and a rosé in the middle. And, did you notice that first grape variety in the Trivium?? If not, I’ll type it again for you slowly.

Chasselas.

Yeah, that’s right. I typed it. There’s not a lot of that grape variety in BC let alone in the Similkameen. I’ll let you be the judge of how it tastes but if I have to type it again, I totally will.

IMG_7120The style here is subtle complexity that can evolve over time or even as you drink a glass. The Gewurztraminer starts out with a beautiful set of flavors and then, when you aren’t looking, changes into something else beautiful altogether. The Trivium, unique in the Similkameen with 50% Chasseslas (there I go again…), does that to somehow. The Oracle is refreshing without being wimpy while the reds bring a solid fullness without any harsh, unripe tannins. This is what prudent, quality-conscious grape growing can do for making wines. The Baessler family has a history doing just that. If you’ve ever tried the Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc, that wine was grown by Urs Baessler, Charlie’s father, and is what brought them to my attention years before Corcelettes was released.

Go there. Be amazed. Enjoy. Tweet it with #bcwine. Then enjoy it some more.

Cheers from wine country.

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: Hugging Tree

IMG_7024Located right on Highway 3 just south of Seven Stones, Hugging Tree is on the east side of the valley facing due west. The driveway is all gravel and leads straight up to the wine shop in the middle of the 68 acre vineyard and orchard owned by Cristine and Walter Makepeace.

The southern end of the Similkameen Valley is quickly becoming the hot spot for new wineries in that valley. Seven Stones and Forbidden Fruit have long been a part of the scene there but were often a little remote for some travelers to the valley. That shifted a little with the opening of The Vine Glass Resort near Forbidden Fruit and now there is another winery that has opened its doors in the deep Similkameen south.

IMG_7026Why you should go there

You aren’t going to find these wines easily anywhere else so this is the best place to try through their collection.

This is the Similkameen at its best – rustic charm, beautiful scenery, and small, family run farming where everything is done with quality of the wine in mind. It’s a small-production boutique winery with a real country feel. The wine shop is new and welcoming. The view from the front deck is beautiful and shows the southern part of the Similkameen Valley very well.

What to expect

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Brad Makepeace

Great wines, great conversation, and a peaceful easy feeling. There is nothing rushed about this wine shop and I really enjoyed my visit there. (The fact that Brad also plays music and enjoys riding motorcycles may have helped a bit as well…) The big mirror behind the bar recalls an old west saloon and the windows let in lots of light to see the wines well. The front deck is just screaming for an old rocking chair to watch the sunset. It’s what a winery would have been like if there had been boutique wineries 100 years ago. Don’t get me wrong – It’s not a kitschy old-west theme park kind of place. This is the real deal. Brad is a pro and seems very comfortable behind the bar which I learned was from spending years behind bars in Whistler. The result is a real, honest, wine shop experience with a social aspect that will have you kicking the “social” right out of “social media”.

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The wines

Viognier

Rosé

Telltale (48% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc)

Moonchild Merlot

Vista (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah)

1 white, 1 rosé, and 3 reds are the wines currently in the Hugging Tree portfolio. Brad is a strong believer in Viognier and the first 2013 vintage is a beautiful representation of what that variety can do in this part of the world. It has big aromas and excellent balance – not flabby or overly soft like other viogniers out there. The Rosé is bold without being over the top, dry, and lovely – everything a tasty rosé should be. The Telltale and Moonchild Merlot were both solid reds as well. As I was visiting early on in the season on a weekday, the Vista was not available for tasting although I did buy a bottle on a friend’s recommendation on twitter earlier that day. Look for it on one of my “Tonight’s #bcwine…” tweets in the future.

Have you been there? Let me know if you visit Hugging Tree by leaving a comment below.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: vinPerdu

A new series for Wine Country BC – “You’ve Gotta Visit…” where I will feature new, exciting, and interesting wineries that you absolutely should not miss on your travels through wine country. I get asked a lot where to go for unique experiences and this series will focus on some of the new ones that I notice on my own travels though the Okanagan the rest of BC’s wine country. 2015 is showing a good crop of new wineries and as you’ll see from this first featured winery, they are really upping their game when it comes to bringing out a great experience. Hopefully I will feature a new winery each week, if not more often, so that  you can plan your trips and stop in. Tell them you heard about their winery from Luke at Winecountrybc.ca. Cheers!

IMG_0935vinPerdu Cellars is located mere minutes south of Oliver right on Highway 97 and is on the left as you drive south. They have a large sign right out front and a parking lot that is easy to get into and out of without turning around.

Why you should go

IMG_7023There’s no reason not to stop here and every reason to stop here. Convenient location? Check. (It’s right on the highway.) Beautiful tasting room? Check. Solidly built and unique wines? Big check. Amazing winery experience? Absolutely.

Assistant wine maker Catherine Coulombe and her family have really done an amazing job of creating an idyllic space geared for a real wine experience. Even though the highway is right there, you won’t even notice it because the commanding view of the vineyards really steals the show. Thanks to some amazingly effective landscaping, you won’t even hear it either! Each part of the wine shop is beautifully designed for form and function and even includes a little play table for wee-ones. It is truly a first rate example of a wine shop design that blends customer experience, functionality, and aesthetics brilliantly. All five of your senses will get a treat in this wine shop. As if the beautiful vineyard view out of the windows wasn’t enough, the wine shop is filled with beautiful artwork by Catherine’s sister, artist Nathalie Denise Coulombe.

IMG_0936The Wines

IMG_7021A focused portfolio of wine is available as of spring 2015 – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Compass (a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). “French style, approachable wines” is how Catherine describes the wines at vinPerdu. They were tasting quite young when I tasted them on my visit but the style is precise and very enjoyable. There are no powerful, full-throttle, tannic monsters here nor are there aromatic varieties like gewurz, riesling, or sauvignon blanc. What you will find is selection of tasty wines that will get along splendidly with just about any food you can imagine.

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What to expect

In addition to wine, the Coulombe’s have planned catered food pairings to accompany the wines on weekends and terrines available to purchase while enjoying the deck that overlooks the vineyard.

The tasting bar can accommodate 8-10 people comfortably and there is also a private tasting room for small groups. There are relaxing chairs and a shaded deck overlooking the vineyard. It’s not a small room but it isn’t big either. When so many wineries out there look and feel more like bus stations, it’s great to find a place to stop in where you can feel at home.

Have you been there? Let me know if you visit vinPerdu by leaving a comment below.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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