Monday, April 4, 2011

One Day Tour - Central Okanagan

This wine tour focuses on the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls which I've summarized with the use of "Central Okanagan". Personally, I like to combine the two appellations when I visit as the drive between them is manageable and quite pretty. Plus, Okanagan Falls needs more press as it is a hidden gem of an appellation just off the highway that so many folks drive past without stopping when headed South to the Oliver wineries. The extra mileage may make your offer to be the day's designated driver costly to the personal relationships with your fellow tourers, but it will be worth it when you get home with all your wine-related loot. Start at the north end of the Naramata Bench and work your way south towards Penticton.

1. Van Westen Vineyards
Look for the a-frame sign perched along Naramata Rd as an indication of availability or better yet, make an appointment. Winemaker and proprietor Robert Van Westen is passionate about his estate grown wines and the positive energy is infectious. A great way to start your wine tour. All of the wines are named with "V" words because... vell, vhy not?
Key wines to try:
Viognier 2008
Vino Grigio 2008
Voluptuous 2006

2. Lake Breeze Winery
Should you choose to take this tour in reverse order, then Lake Breeze would be a good place to end for a late lunch as their on-site, patio-style restaurant is excellent. The wines are very well made and their best releases speak to one of the Naramata Bench's strengths: top-notch white varietals.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Blanc 2008 2009
Gewurztraminer 2008
Bench White
Seven Poplars Sauvignon Blanc

3. Poplar Grove Winery
The Poplar Grove Winery is currently building a new facility which may effect its order in the day's tour (stay tuned). You'll get two wineries in one as the firm offers a second label called "Monster Vineyards" which are easy-drinking and more affordable. Also on offer is excellent handmade cheeses to enjoy with your wine.
Key wines to try:
Chardonnay 2008
Cabernet Franc 2006
The Legacy 2005 2006

4. Nichol Vineyard
Ross Hackworth owns and operates the ultimate boutique winery on the Naramata Bench offering excellent, well-made, estate-grown wines. The hard-to-find releases makes Nichol a must-visit winery on any tour through the Naramata Bench.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Gris
Cabernet Franc 2006
Syrah 2008
Pinot Noir 2008

5. La Frenz Winery
La Frenz has such a large portfolio of wines that if it were a restaurant's menu then Gordon Ramsey would be yelling at them to cut it down to less than half. But it's hard to argue with the success that Jeff and Niva Martin have created as a top producer of... everything. A must for every visit to the Naramata Bench.
Key wines to try:
Chardonnay 2008 2009 2010 2011
Sauvignon Blanc 2009 2011 2012
Montage 2007 2008 2009 2012
Shiraz 2006 2008 2010 2012
Grand Total Reserve 2006 2007

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
If you've been wise with your time and fancy a bite to eat then stop-in at Hillside Estate Winery to sample their wares and visit the top-notch bistro in the back.

Drive south to the Skaha Bench

6. Painted Rock Estate Winery
Visiting the tasting hut (I hasten to call it a room) at Painted Rock is sometimes a time-share experience as folks wait to get into the cramped space. A more complimentary tasting room is planned that will match the quality of the wine but is a ways off. With any luck you'll visit when proprietor John Skinner is present and pouring the wines he's so rightfully proud of. Amazing views of Skaha Lake await you from the perfectly contoured vineyard.
Key wines to try:
Chardonnay 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Syrah 2007 2008 2009 2012
Red Icon 2009 2010 2011 2012

7. Blasted Church
Blasted Church wines are fairly easy to get a hold of as the BCLDB stores carry a few skus, however, the winery is worth a visit if for nothing else but the best view of Skaha Lake available. There is a reason the property is popular for weddings and receptions - it's breathtaking. Not that the wines aren't worth mentioning as well.
Key wines to try:
Hatfield's Fuse
Pinot Gris
Mixed Blessings

Drive to Okanagan Falls

8. Stag's Hollow
Sure, you've seen one or two of their wines at the BCLDB and VQA stores, but unless you've visited the tasting room and tried the full range of wines, including their excellent Cachet line, you "don't know Stag". Great views of a very pretty hidden valley await you from the tasting room parking lot. Visit with the knowledgeable and passionate owners or catch a glimpse of their talented winemaker Dwight Sick at work.
Key wines to try:
Syrah 2008 2009 2010
Heritage Block 2007 2008 2010 2011
Grenache 2012 2013
Riesling 2013 2014
Syrah Rosé 2009 2011 2012 2013

9. Meyer Family Vineyards
Meyer produces some of BC's best (and most expensive) Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines but they are expanding their portfolio with more varietal wines and are now offering "entry level" Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines that are well worth the money.
Key wines to try:
Tribute Series Chardonnay 2007 2009
Micro Cuvée 2009
Maclean Creek Pinot Noir 2008
Optional Add-on (if you have time):
Head over to the other side of the valley to See-Ya-Later Ranch to enjoy an excellent line-up of well-priced wines and an amazing view of the valley. I place SYLR in the "Add-on" category as their wines are quite easy to procure via the BCLDB and VQA stores "back home".
Happy touring,
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011

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