Posts Tagged ‘Similkameen’


September 28, 2016

It’s Fall, and many people will be visiting wine country for festivals and to taste wines! So here are a few tips before you go…and some recommendations on where to go if you are visiting wineries in BC.

1. Remember it is harvest season – seems simple, but it is important…as much as wineries welcome you at this time of year, they are also getting ready – or even starting – to harvest this year’s vintage! That makes it very busy and stressful at all wineries. Keep that in mind if you get the sense your hosts have other things on their minds!

2. Fewer is better – whether it is the number of wineries or wines (or both), go for quality, not quality. No matter how good a taster you are, “palate fatigue” can set in pretty quickly. So pick the wineries you want to see in advance, and even the specific wines you want to taste. That will lead to a better experience.

3. Spit if you can – I know some people think it is gross, but spitting will really help you taste better – and more – wines. All wineries will have spittoons, and those leading tastings will actually be thankful if you spit.

4. Only buy if you really want to – unless you have unlimited resources, it’s okay to be choosey what you buy (if anything). Wineries won’t be insulted, particularly these days as most of them charge a tasting fee anyway. If you like it and can afford it, then buy it. Otherwise, don’t worry about it!

5. Taste and move on – finally, whether you are visiting wineries or going to a big tasting, don’t linger in the tasting line! Taste, maybe ask a question, but then move…you can always come back to taste more wines. One of the things that drives me and many “winos” crazy is people who just stand there for 10 or more minutes talking to the host or each other. That just backs up the line and gets people mad. So move it!

And as for tasting here in BC? Here is a short list of wineries to visit (or whose wines to taste) from our main regions:

1. Penticton/Naramata – La Frenz, Howling Bluff, Nichol, Marichel, Kettle Valley, Moraine
2. Similkameen – Eau Vivre, Orofino
3. Okanagan Falls – Blue Mountain
4. Southern Okanagan – Burrowing Owl, Nk Mip, Quinta Ferreira, Church & State, Moon Curser
5. Vancouver Island – Averill Creek, Rocky Creek, Vignetti Zanatta
6. Fraser Valley – Mt. Lehman, Vista d’Oro, Domaine de Chaberton

Enjoy the Fall!



The Okanagan Wineries you REALLY Want to Visit

April 13, 2016

Okay, that time of the year again. Spring, which means wineries are putting out new releases and opening up their tasting rooms!

It also means the so called wine experts are starting to write about “where to go” to taste wine. And, as usual in BC, for some reason some of the best wineries are getting left off that list!

So here you go…based on my experience tasting BC wines since the breakthrough 1998 vintage, these are the Okanagan wineries that you want to go to, and the wines you want to taste there!

1. Naramata

Start here or finish here, doesn’t matter…this is the best wine region not only in the Okanagan, but in BC. Once there, you should check out:
* La Frenz (for all wines, as it is the best winery in Canada)
* Kettle Valley (for Pinot Noirs)
* Nichol (for Syrah)
* Marichel (for Syrah)
* Moraine (for Syrah, Pinot Noir and Riesling)
* Howling Bluff (for Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir)

2. Similkameen

Still a bit unknown, and not a lot of wineries, but do check out Eau Vivre (world class Pinot Noir, plus Malbec) and Orofino (amazing Cali style Syrah, plus Pinot Noir and Riesling).

3. South Okanagan

The Osoyoos/Oliver region is the area most well known, and the one the big critics like. But it doesn’t have the best wineries. There are some very good ones, however, so check out:
* Blue Mountain (actually in Okanagan Falls, but worth the trip, as with Kettle Valley, the best Pinot Noirs in BC)
* Church and State (Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)
* Burrowing Owl (Syrah)
* Moon Curser (Syrah, Bordeaux blend)
* Cassini Cellars (Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay)
* Nk Mip (Pinot Noir, Syrah)

There you go…you can do these wineries in 2 days if you like. My wine guide can show you how!


To VQA or not VQA – is that the Question?

August 15, 2013

Back from a week or so off, and during that time I read an interesting article in one of the newspapers about the sale of VQA wines in BC, which are apparently declining. For those outside the province, VQA stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, and is a program that was brought in a number of years ago to increase the standards of wine in Canada. There are strict regulations involved in making a “VQA” wine, as well as costs to the wineries to participate.

The story was more about the costs and whether they were worth it…but I am not going to get into that! Instead, I thought I would look at what I consider to be the best BC wines and see which are VQA and which aren’t. That might give some indication about whether VQA and quality go hand in hand.

When I wrote them all down, the results were a bit amazing!

My favorite overall winery – La Frenz – doesn’t make any VQA wines – white, red, rose or sweet (all 18 of them). And, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I think they make both the highest quality and best value wines in BC.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, three of my favorites – Blue Mountain Reserve, Kettle Valley Hayman and Kettle Valley – are also not VQA, and I consider them to be the best Pinots in BC. However, three relative newcomers – Eau Vivre from the Similkameen Valley, Howling Bluff from Naramata and Averill Creek from Vancouver Island, are all VQA (with the wines of the first two being multiple Lieutenant Governor Award Winners).

A similar situation exists for Syrah. My favourite Syrah – from Nichol Vineyards – isn’t VQA. But other very good Syrahs from the Okanagan (Burrowing Owl, Church and State, Cassini Cellars, Hillside, Marichel and Moon Curser) are VQA, as is the one from Mt. Lehman in Abbotsford.

Finally, while La Frenz’s white wines are not VQA, many others I consider to be very good are, including the Semillon/Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from Howling Bluff, the Chardonnay from Cassini Cellars, the “Afraid of the Dark” Rhone blend from Moon Curser and the Viognier from Mt. Lehman.

So what does this tell us about the relationship between quality and the VQA designation?

Well, I can’t see anything conclusive here; quality can be found on both sides of the argument. It does seem interesting, however, that what I consider to be the absolute best wines in BC – the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and white wines from La Frenz; Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir; Hayman and Reserve Pinot Noir from Kettle Valley; and Syrah from Nichol – are not VQA. So that certainly seems to point to the fact that you don’t need to be VQA to be of the highest quality!

Conversely, it also seems to point out that VQA should not be seen as some kind of guarantee of a great wine.

So my final advice on this is to taste and make up your mind – and not let any designation influence what you think is good!



June 5, 2013

As you leave Penticton to visit the southern Okanagan wineries in Oliver and Osoyoos, most people take Highway 97 as that is the most direct route. However, a couple of years ago I tried out Highway 3a so I could go through the Similkameen Valley. And not only was it a beautiful drive, I found – for me – a new wine region, with some fabulous up and coming wineries! There are, literally, only a handful, so you can taste at almost all of them if you want. But if you are limited for time, check out three for sure that are making some of the best wine in BC.

1. Eau Vivre

What a revelation Eau Vivre was! Like all wineries in the Similkameen, it is small and the tasting room the front room of the proprietor’s house, but the wines are good to amazing (the latter being the Pinot Noir) and the prices ridiculously low for the quality.

For whites, Eau Vivre has Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, and both are worth tasting. The latter, in particular, is nice, made in a classic Alsatian style. But it is the reds that I come for! They have a Bordeaux blend (called “Bhuddaful) and, the piece de la resistance, the Pinot Noir (which last year one a Lieutenant Governor’s Award). It is a beauty – a mix of California and Burgundy, with ripe but not jammy red cherry fruit and spice. I’m not sure of the aging potential yet, as there are only three vintages, but the ’08 is still drinking nicely. And only $19!!!

2. Orofino

If you are have time to stop at another Similkameen winery, definitely make it Orofino. It is bigger than Eau Vivre with a more elaborate tasting room, but some of the wines are just as good.

For whites, there is Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, with my favourite being the Riesling. It is made in a Alsatian style, full bodied and super ripe. Also, Orofino makes a vintage sparkling Muscat (called Moscato Frizzante) that is quite amazing! For reds, I like the Syrah and Pinot Noir the best. The former is French in style, the latter a cross between Burgundy and California.

3. Robin Ridge

This is the definition of an unobtrusive little winery! You turn into a driveway with vines on both sides, and pull up to a regular house. Inside is the tasting room, where you will find some solid – and good value – red and white wines.

For the whites, its Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, with the former being my favourite – made in the Alsatian style, with nice lychee aromas and medium body. For reds there is Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gamay, and I particularly like the last two. The Pinot Noir, while not as outstanding as the Eau Vivre (and a couple of bucks more), is still a great buy. It is a Cali/Burgundy cross with ripe red cherries, earth and spice, and enough tannin to age and develop for a year or two.

So there you have it…a wine trip through the Similkameen Valley. Enjoy!


Why a “Signature Grape” for BC Doesn’t Make Sense

February 15, 2013

There has been some media coverage in Vancouver recently regarding a debate that is apparently going on between local “wine geeks” about whether British Columbia has – or should have – a “signature wine grape.” But lost amidst the “Pinot Noir vs Syrah vs etc.” has been the fact that, in my opinion, this is a silly question to begin with!

Are there grapes that grow better in BC than elsewhere? Of course there are! But there is also significant climate variation here, not only between our main wine regions (the Okanagan, Similkameen, Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley) but also within those same regions. Anyone who has driven from Kelowna down to Osoyoos can see – and feel – that. As a result, grapes that grow well in one area may not in another.

But even that is the main reason I think this is a silly question. Because, the fact is, even if you have perfectly ripe grapes, a winemaker still has to make the wine. And that’s where both expertise – and style – come into play.

Interestingly, from my perspective, style is actually a bigger factor. There are lots of well-educated, experienced winemakers working in BC right now. Give them ripe fruit, and they have shown the ability to make technically sound wine just about everywhere.

But style? That’s where it gets interesting – and why a “signature grape” doesn’t make sense.

One example is Pinot Noir.

It is grown in just about all regions, but the style and quality can vary significantly. In the hands of some winemakers, it can be leafy, herbal and woody. From others, you get a classic California style wine with rich, ripe, red cherries and strawberries, a touch of spice and just the right amount of oak. Leading examples include Blue Mountain (in Okanagan Falls), Eau Vivre (in the Similkameen) and Kettle Valley (their Reserve and regular Pinot Noir from Naramata). Finally, a few – very few – make a “Burgundian” style Pinot Noir – with darker cherry fruit, still ripe, but with fascinating secondary flavours and aromas of earth and mushrooms. The best example is Kettle Valley’s Hayman Vineyard – a truly extraordinary wine!

And what bout Syrah? At Nichol in Naramata, they make a wine in the true Rhone style, with peppery, earthy black cherries that are ripe but not jammy and which can age for 8 – 10 years. Yet only a few miles down the road, Marichel makes another gorgeous wine that is closer in style to a Shiraz than a Syrah. And La Frenz actually makes a Shiraz!

Finally, there is Cabernet Sauvignon. Hard to get ripe anywhere in BC, it is often made into a tannic, woody, herbal – and expensive – monster. And yet, La Frenz manages to make a ripe, fruit-forward, California style wine for under $30, as well as a more Bordeaux-style that still has more fruit than wood for a few bucks more.

With this kind of variety in style – and I have only talked about the red wines, even though it applies to whites as well – I don’t know how you could pick a “signature” grape for BC. Because, by doing so, it would imply that grape turns out wines of similar style and quality all across the province. And that is obviously not the case.

So why don’t we forget about this debate and instead focus on what is important – finding the style of wine you like and the winemakers who make it best?