Summer 2010 Okanagan Wine Update

Last week, I spent four delightful days in the Okanagan Valley (forest fire free!) that included an opportunity to visit wineries from Lake Country all the way down to Osoyoos and Oliver.  I will report out on the results of those tastings — region by region and winery by winery — but thought I would share a few general thoughts as an introduction.

1. Naramata still rules the quality roost

With the exception of Blue Mountain winery in Okanagan Falls, the Naramata Bench overlooking the Lake continues to produce the highest number of great wines.  Whether it is sloping vineyards, age of the vines, soil or winemaking, a number of the wineries are continuing to turn outstanding, completely ripe and well-balanced wines — red and white — that can compete with any around the world (both in terms of price and quality).  La Frenz, Kettle Valley and Nichol remain “on top of the heap”, while newcomers Howling Bluff and Marichel are also making a name for themselves.  The only source of concern was at Township 7, where there appears to be a change in style (among other things) in the red wines.  More about Naramata in a future blog.

2. The Up and Coming Similkameen Valley

There are only seven or eight wineries right now, but the next “big thing” in B.C. wine may come from the Similkameen Valley.  Certainly from a price/value point of view, a number of these wineries are making a serious statement, with lots of wines in the $18 – $22 range.  Eau Vivre, Cerelia and Robin Ridge were the most impressive wineries during this drive through; I also tasted Clos du Soleil in a restaurant and was very impressed. More on them and their wines in the future.

3. The “Big Red Wine” Phenomenon Isnt’ Working

I was struck — particularly in the Oliver and Osoyoos area — with something I will call the “big red wine” phenomenon.  By that I mean the seeming need for winemakers to try and produce huge red wines with searing tannins that can age for years and cost $40 – $50 (and more; one winery was selling wines in the $70 range).

Now, I don’t have a problem with big, ageworthy wines (I have lots of Chateauneuf du Papes and Barolos in my cellar).  And I don’t mind paying for quality (relatively speaking, of course).  But the problem with too many of the big reds I tasted last week was simple — there was nowhere near enough fruit in most of them to give me any comfort that the aging process will do anything except result in a tired mouthful of  “trees and shrubs” i.e. oak and herbs.  I got so frustrated that I asked — politely — one winemaker what the track record was for his wines i.e. did he know that in 7, 10, 15 years, the tannins would resolve and the fruit would still be there?  He kind of looked sideways and said “not with these wines, but my past experience says they will”. 

Well, that is a pretty risky investment if you ask me; shell out $50+ and hope it will taste great over time?  And the bottom line is, if you can’t taste the fruit now, it isn’t going to get any better, because you are stuck with what you have in the bottle. More details on some specific wineries showing this problem in the future.

4. The Ongoing Battle of the Price Point

Last, but certainly not least, there is mixed news on the price problem for B.C. wines.  The good news is wineries with some very good wines held the line on price this year (i.e. either stayed the same or increased prices by a dollar).  But others didn’t (the most recent Nota Bene is $53 at the winery!) and far too many wines are way overpriced. I have talked to a number of people about this — including winemakers and restauranteurs — and there seem to be a number of reasons.  Stay tuned for more on this contentious topic in a future blog.

Overall, a fabulous trip with a number of new discoveries.  I look forward to sharing more details in future blogs.



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