Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One Day Tour - South Okanagan

Touring the South Okanagan can be dangerous. Firstly, you'll likely overspend your established budget twofold due to all the amazing wine on offer. Secondly, the physical beauty and tranquility of the region may entice you to peruse the local real estate listings looking for a property with enough land to start your own winery. And thirdly, your realization and disbelief that Oliver, "Canada's Wine Capitol", has no wine store to speak of may drive you to quit your job and turn your quaint dream of running a wine shop into a reality. Been there, almost done that.

This tour is designed as a loop, starting at the south end of the Black Sage Bench, up through Oliver and then back down the Golden Mile Bench. Perfect if you are staying in Osoyoos. I have left off some fabulous wineries due to the limitations of a one day tour and due to the fact that I haven't been to visit every winery yet myself (there are so many to explore).

1. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
The only thing that detracts from the beautifully situated winery, tasting room, hotel and restaurant is the outline of the massive buses perched in the parking lot that unload large groups of thirsty folks who fill-up the wine shop. My recommendation, should you find yourself queued behind a large group of mega-coach-tasters, is skip ahead to #2 on the list and then come back. It will be worth the effort as Burrowing Owl produces excellent wines, year after year and offers one of the best views of the entire valley. Photo opp anyone?
Key wines to try:
Pinot Gris 2010
Syrah 2011 2012
Meritage 2006 2007 2011
Cabernet Franc 2004 2008 2009 2011 2012
Athene 2011 2012

2. Desert Hills Estate Winery
Although Desert Hills has been around for a while the family-owned winery has yet to establish itself with an obvious notoriety or identity. However, they have gained acclaim and recognition for a few of their single varietal wines and Meritage blend making it well worth the visit. Taste for yourself and perhaps bring home a wine you wouldn't likely have been introduced to.
Key wines to try:
Gamay 2008

3. Black Hills Estate Winery
Although the most famous of the Black Hills wines, Nota Bene, sells-out every year, you can still get a taste of this cult favourite wine by visiting the tasting room in person and signing-up for the "tasting experience" tour ($20 a head). Visit the winery's website for booking information.
Key wines to try:
Syrah 2009 2011 2012
Alibi 2009 2012 2013
Nota Bene 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

4. Stoneboat Vineyards
At some point I will have to stop referring to Stoneboat Vineyards as an up-and-coming winery. For the meantime, the moniker fits as some folks still haven't heard of them or have yet to visit. Go already! They produce exceptionally well-priced aromatic whites and medium-bodied reds.
Key wines to try:
Chorus 2008 2009 2010
Pinot Noir 2007 2009
Pinotage 2007 2008 2009

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
Not ready for a bite to eat yet? Have time to squeeze in an extra winery? If "yes" then drive over to Le Vieux Pin and taste their new Rhone Valley wines and well made entry level blends.

Drive to Oliver

5. Fairview Cellars
After driving up to Oliver, and perhaps stopping for lunch along the way, head towards the Fairview Golf Course (follow the signs), take a right and head up the hill a ways to Bill Eggert's Fairview Cellars. If there is a sign blocking the entrance to the long driveway, then he's not home (or not available) if there isn't then head on up to the tasting room where you will be warmly greeted and regaled with entertaining opinions and stories. You will also be tasting some of the best Cabernet-driven blends in BC and an under-appreciated Sauvignon Blanc.
Key wines to try:
Sauvignon Blanc 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Two Hoots 2004 2008 2009 2010 2011
The Bear 2003 2004 2007 2008 2009 2010
Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 2010
Madcap Red 2007 2008 2011

6. Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Heading south along the Golden Mile Bench will lead you to Tinhorn Creek (again, follow the signs). Tinhorn's tasting experience is threefold: a large tasting room, a self-guided tour of the facility and, new this year, a restaurant. Two tiers of wines await you: great value varietals and the premium Oldfield Series. There should be something for everyone in your group.
Key wines to try:
Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2009
Cabernet Franc 2007 2008
Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2007
Oldfield Series Syrah 2007

7. Hester Creek Estate Winery
A small re-branding effort is underway at Hester Creek: primarily, slick new labels and new wines. A good result all-round but the most significant upgrade is the overall improvement in quality of the entire portfolio. It doesn't hurt that the wines are well priced too.
Key wines to try:
Pinot Blanc 2009
Reserve Cabernet Franc 2008
The Judge 2007

8. Road 13 Vineyards
Ending your busy day of wine tasting at Road 13 Vineyards will be just what the doctor ordered. They have a picnic license for their property which means you can purchase a bottle and actually drink it outside while you sit and enjoy the view of the valley from, nearly, the exact opposite spot you were at when your adventure began at Burrowing Owl that morning. Apropos, don't you think?
Key wines to try:
Chenin Blanc
Honest John's White 2008 2009
Honest John's Red 2008
Pinot Noir
Jackpot Riesling 2009
Fifth Element 2005

Optional Add-on (if you have time):
If you managed to visit 60% or more of the above wineries in one day then consider yourself a real pro. If, for some miraculous reason, your designated driver is still speaking to you and willing to make one more stop, then head down from Road 13 back on to the highway and stop in to visit one of the new kids on the block, Cassini Cellars. Great Syrah, Red Blends and Chardonnay wines await you.

Happy touring,
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011

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