Over 40 wineries were represented at the BC VQA Fall Release Tasting sponsored by the British Columbia Wine Institute. I sampled wines from approximately half of them. Listed below are some of my personal favourites as well as some of the conversations I had with the winery representatives. Please keep in mind that I only sampled wines from half the wineries represented. The fact that I don’t list a winery doesn’t mean it isn’t great.
BC’s wine industry has grown from 17 wineries in 1990 to over 195 in 2011. Wine is now being produced in five different wine regions – Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands) – from 60 different grape varieties.
Hester Creek Estate Winery
I had enjoyed a bottle of Hester Creek Estate Winery’s Merlot earlier in the week, but the Cabernet Merlot is even better – smooth and spicy. Hester Creek (Oliver) is one of the larger wineries with a restaurant, guest villas and cooking classes.
Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery
My brother and his wife frequently climb near Skaha, so I took particular note of Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery, which has a tasting room and two licensed picnic areas overlooking Skaha Lake.
The single vineyard Pinot Blanc won a Silver Medal at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards. It’s tart, green and very pleasant.
Moon Curser Vineyards
Moon Curser Vineyards (located in Osoyoos), formerly called Twisted Tree, underwent a dramatic rebranding this past year. Their black and white labels remind me of Hallowe’en and they recount a story of gold-smuggling miners crossing the border at dead of night to avoid the customs agents. It’s great fun and very distinctive.
They also make great wine. The representatives told me that they deliberately chose to grow different grape varietals from other BC wineries rather than to compete head on with the same varieties. As a result, they are one of only 2 or 3 Canadian wineries growing Tempranillo grapes. Tempranillo is an early-ripening Spanish grape, but it is challenging to grow in Canada, even in Osoyoos, one of the hottest areas. The Tempranillo 2009 is still a bit rough and will improve with aging; however, I thought the Dead of Night, a blend of Tannat and Syrah, was brilliant (a personal preference for smooth red wines).
Okanagan Crush Pad Winery
Advertising for the Okanagan Crush Pad Winery (Summerland) states “wine is narrative,” and this winery makes a point of telling the story of Okanagan wines – the climate, the land, the geography of the northernmost wine-growing region in the world. They produce some of their own wines but also provide a co-working space, resources and expertise to other winemakers, assisting small winemakers with everything from crushing the grapes to marketing.
Robin Ridge Winery
Robin Ridge Winery, in the south Similkameen Valley, is approximately 15 years old. The Similkameen can be hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the Okanagan as there is no lake to provide a moderating influence. It’s very windy, which helps with insect control.
The 2009 Chardonnay (aged on oak) is buttery and rich. My favourite was the 2008 Merlot – round, acidic, lovely.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Summerhill Pyramid Winery (Kelowna) has been making organic wines for the past 20 years. I’ve tried several of their wines in the past and enjoyed them all. The Cipes Brut, a very dry sparkling wine, has won a gold medal every year since being introduced in 1992. I thought it was lovely!
Summerhill is now offering boxed wines, which reduce carbon footprint by over 75% over glass bottles. The wine stays fresh up to 6 weeks and is less expensive than a similar amount of bottled wine. I tried the 2008 Alive Organic Red and enjoyed it.
Burrowing Owl and Tantalus
Both Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Tantalus Vineyards use sustainable farming practices.
Burrowing Owl is located at the northernmost tip of the Sonoran Desert that stretches all the way to Mexico. They use alternative pest control systems, providing bluebird boxes and bat nurseries so insect-eating guests will stay awhile. They discourage big-horned sheep and bears from eating the grapes but never harm them. Athene is their newest and most full-bodied red with lots of fruit and a touch of spice.
Tantalus Vineyards overlooks Kelowna and is one of the oldest continuously-producing vineyards in British Columbia. Riesling vines planted in 1978 and Pinot Noir planted in 1983 make up the backbone of the vineyard. The fruit is sustainably grown and they employ a non-interventionist approach to the winemaking process. The Old Vines Riesling is their flagship wine – green, crisp and acidic.
Other Great Wines I Sampled
Paradise Ranch Wines (Naramata). It was certainly my favourite.
Saturna Island Vineyards (Gulf Islands) has a very nice fortified wine, Vinsera. I also enjoyed their Rosé, a very pleasant summer patio sipping wine.
I recommend the Merlot from Poplar Grove Winery (Naramata). It’s been aged for 21 months in French oak and 9 months in the bottle.
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards (south of Oliver) offers a self-guided winery tour and a concert series from late spring to early fall. The Oldfield Series are winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s signature wines. I particularly enjoyed the 2Bench White and the Oldfield Merlot.
Do try the Merlot and the 7Blanc from Township 7 Vineyards (located both in the Okanagan and in the Fraser Valley).The white is fruity with just a hint of sweetness. The Merlot has been barrel-aged for 26 months and is smooth and full-bodied.
The Amber white blend from Young & Wyse Winery is light and citrus, while the Syrah is smoky and yummy.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada provided samples of three BC cheeses. My favourite was the Comox Brie (mild and creamy) from Natural Pastures Cheese Company, but the Rathtrevor (tangy, nice texture) from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and the Tiger Blue (creamy) from Poplar Grove Cheese were also very, very good.
See Also: Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, Morningstar Farm