Some wine countries are developed as you might expect–all the amenities and much more. Other wine countries lack and ‘…only if they had more restaurants… more resorts, spas and stores.’ But each wine country is different and it would be dull if they were exactly the same. Clearly all wine countries are on their own trajectory. And that is okay as that helps to define character. Many wine countries have potential—and many if not all work hard to stay where they are and develop further.
Kelowna is at the centre of Okanagan Lake–a pristine lake that is much larger than what you might see in a picture – 135 kilometers (84 miles) length and 5 kilometers wide (3.1 miles) at it’s maximum. But it is more than just metrics–it is a scenic beauty that is graspable and appreciable–unspoiled and a clear ambiance of beauty and having all of the amenities I crave and need. I was in Kelowna in June of this year (2013) and I was so looking forward to my visit and I told people around me and each was surprised that Canada had a wine country. I replied that Okanagan Valley is one of two major wine countries in Canada. Most people thought it was too cold for Vitis vinifera.
Okanagan Valley and the lake chains (Okanagan, Skaha and Osoyoos Lake) and the desert (most northern tip of the Sonoran dessert) enter into Canada. Each of these geographic features set the stage for the right circumstances and conditions for wine grape growing. The lakes moderate temperate–not too hot, not too cold. Like other wine countries often a valley is another great condition–can optimise temperature and depending on their formation have some ideal soil types. The only downside might be lesser acres/hectares available to grow wine grapes while others would argue this is exactly what is needed.
My excursions to Kelowna was to start off at Summerhill Pyramid Winery founded in 1991 by Stephen Cipes. The winery is located in Kelowna facing west and proximate to Okanagan Lake. The Cipes family is quite involved with their winery from leadership to dynamics and permaculture. I began my tour from the stunning lake view side–the June sun bright and splendidly warm on my face. I listened to Ezra Cipes talk about the winery’s organic, biodynamic and permaculture approach to their winemaking. And walked up the hill to the Pyramid with winemaker/viticulturist Eric von Krosigk –I was excited to see the interior of the pyramid which is 1:8 ratio of the smaller of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Unlike the Egyptian pyramid you can see the full interior (i.e. the Egyptian pyramids are a stone structure outside and in). The geometry allows for a small amount of outdoor light–is made of wood and concrete and this great Pyramid of Summerhill has copper along it’s central support beams.
I then enjoyed a meal at the Sunset Organic Bistro prepared by Chef Jesse Croy. The five course meal was paired with Summerhill wines. In my expectation for good not great food–locally sourced, beautiful prepared and plated and matching quite nicely with Summerhill wines. I was surprised to see so many local items plated so early—the strawberries were gorgeous. And this was my first time to taste Elk–much more mild than I would have expected—very nice. A misconception on my part is that there is a later ripening seasons for fruit and vegetables.
Here are the courses and wines paired with each:
Shoots & Roots – Radish, Sprouts, Beans and Quinoa
Cipes Brut NV
Scallops & Grilled Okanagan Valley Strawberries
Summerhill Syrah Rosé 2010
British Columbia Salmon
Summerhill Riesling 2012
Summerhill Cabernet Franc 2009
Chocolate Gelato Ice Wine Float & Raspberry Dark Sacher Cake
Summerhill Estate Riesling Icewine
The lingering sun going down much later than my usual northern California sunset was a great way to close the evening–orange sunset accented by deep blue colours from Okanagan Lake and with backdrop of the mountainside.
I stayed at the Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel and Villas –nicely situated on the lakefront. Staying in a Villa is a great option if you want to stay in a place that you are centrally located to downtown Kelowna and wineries. I liked the full kitchen including washer and dryer, comfortable bedrooms, garage, and living room–ideal for a family but good for a couple as well.
The next day I visited Tantalus Vineyards–a gorgeous and clear day and warm and gentle June sunlight warming the vineyard. Tantalus is the mythological figure who was near fruit and yet it evaded him when he reached out–surrounded by water but each reach for a drink of water flowed away. Tantalus is a gorgeous site of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay situated on gentle hillside facing west in nine blocks. There are old vines of Riesling which some may find surprising given that Vitis vinifera has only recently been planted in mass.
Breakfast is a necessary meal but rarely do I ever find it to be a stellar meal until my breakfast at Tantalus Vineyards prepared by Chef Mark Filatow. Mark Filatow’s restaurant is Waterfront in Kelowna is focused on superbly fresh, perfectly prepared, local ingredients. My breakfast was a waffle, house made yogurt, fresh fruit, honey, granola, potatoes, and house cured bacon was something I still dream about today. This set the stage for an ideal breakfast–easily in my top ten of all time–wonderful view and paired with Tantalus sparkling wine, Riesling and Pinot Noir–thought it was morning it felt so natural and welcoming to take a few sips of Tantalus superb wines.
After breakfast Tantalus winemaker David Paterson gave a wonderful tour of the vineyard site. The old vine Riesling was planted in 1976; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier was planted in 1985 and more recent planting of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was planted between 2005 and 2009. Walking down slightly on the hillside we stopped to see beehives tended by Helen Kennedy of Arlo’s Honey Farm. Tasting fresh honeycomb and hearing Helen’s love for bees and beekeeping was a special treat. This visit to Tantalus was a total senses experience of Kelowna, Okanagan Valley and Canada. I recommend a visit to this pristine site; superbly nice staff and outstanding wines. Tantalus shows a full capability of growing it’s grapes to create and sculpt gorgeous wines–the sparkling wines, rosé, Pinot Noir and Riesling show how Okanagan Valley creates world class wines.
The next stop stop I made was to visit CedarCreek Estate Winery to taste Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Ehrenfelser, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from the estate. Syrah, Merlot, Shiraz Cabernet, Cabernet Merlot, and Meritage are sourced from the southern Okanagan Valley in Osoyoos. CedarCreek is divided in two labels CedarCreek and the Platinum Series. CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker gave a tour of the estate. Darryl has a full pedigree of experience in New Zealand, Ontario, and Australia. Darryl talked about the totality of vineyard management, the people who care and pick the grapes workers from Mexico to the soil profile, clonal expression and favorable growing conditions. The winemaking approach is to create wines that are fully in touch with Kelowna and Osoyoos and letting the fruit craft what Okanagan Valley does best. Ehrenfelser is the curiosity grape that is a combination of Riesling and Silvaner developed by Dr. Heinrich Birk; Okanagan Valley is the only place beyond Germany where you will find this grape. This grape was created to handle shorter growing period–Darryl says the result is that Ehrenfelser ripens at the same pace as Riesling. Regardless it is a delightful wine; one to certainly pair with seafood or to start any drinks party and this wines name will certainly be a conversation starter.
While the climb at the CedarCreek Estate was steep there was a reward of appetizer paired with Platinum Series Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; outstanding vistas and wondrous nibbles. Then another reward of walk down to outdoor seating terrace to enjoy pulled pork sliders with CedarCreek Merlot and Cabernet Shiraz both 2011 vintage.
Kelowna’s food and wine experience was a perfect way to start my wine tour of Okanagan Valley. Outstanding wines, food, and people who are deeply committed to producing wines of any worldly palette. A compelling landscape supporting ideal growing conditions, climate that is optimum and finally felt to put to rest this land “is too cold”–rather this land is rich to support a great variation in wine grapes, fruit and vegetables. A land that confirms great accommodation and all of the amenities any sophisticated traveler might want. I give a hearty recommendation to visit.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery (www.summerhill.bc.ca)
Tantalus Vineyards (www.tantalus.ca)
Tourism Kelowna (www.tourismkelowna.com)
Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel & Villas (www.manteo.com)
About Arlo’s Honey Farm (www.arloshoneyfarm.com)
Cedar Creek Estate Winery (www.cedarcreek.bc.ca)
Waterfront Restaurant (www.waterfrontrestaurant.ca)
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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