I’ve finally returned to the Okanagan after a 10 year absence. Customers and wineries alike have told me that the Okanagan has matured, improved and needs to be rediscovered by as many people as possible, including me. So when the opportunity arose I took it.
While the spring and early summer in the Okanagan was rather cold and ripeness of fruit was delayed by several weeks, August and September have been great to get the fruit to the quality it is now. The Fall Wine Festival is about the begin (September 28th), and it seems that the harvest will be delayed by several days, if not weeks. I arrived under a cool and rainy day on September 26th. Luckily the rain did not last and by Tuesday, the sun was beaming behind the clouds, dissipating the moisture and creating a beautiful fall sunny day.
On Tuesday, September 27th, I visited two well known wineries; Gray Monk Estate and Ex Nihilo (which means “out of nothing”). Both wineries are well represented in Alberta and their products are available at Vines. Stephen Heiss, of Gray Monk, was there to show me around and allowed me to taste the just arrived Pinot Meunier grapes sourced from St. Hubertus for their Odyssey Rosé Brut. Stephen mentioned that even with delay in fruit ripeness, he is extremely confident in the quality of the harvest. As per usual, after the tour, I finished with a tasting of several wines in their tasting room.
Of all the wines I tasted, I have some favourites. Gray Monk is perhaps one of the best producers of Pinot Auxerrois in the Okanagan. Their 2010 vintage follows this trend. I also enjoyed their Rotberger, which is actually more like a rosé than a red but it is fully fermented with skin contact and barrel aged. And finally, one cannot dismiss their Odyssey Brut, made with a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling, thus creating pleasant aromatic flavours of tropical fruits with touches of citrus apple. I actually had this wine for dinner at their famous Grapevine Restaurant and it paired wonderfully well with Salmon in a White Wine sauce served with Dill Gnocchi.
My afternoon program included a tour and tasting at a new winery of Lake Country, called Ex Nihilo. Jeff Harder and Jay Paulson, owners, saw the opportunity of building a winery in the Lake Country area and the winery is now regarded as a “diamond in the rough” with superb potential. My charming hostess was Decoa Harder, Jeff’s wife. Decoa led us through a history of the winery and presented their portfolio. While the 2010 Riesling (which is currently in the market) had wonderful balance in regards to acidity, fruit and richness, I had the opportunity of tasting their 2006 which offers the wonderful freshness of acidity but with added complexity and touches of that typical kerosene/petroleum nose. As usual Ex Nihilo’s Pinot Gris is outstanding, which demonstrates how great this grape variety can be here in the Okanagan. Additionally, the winery architecture is reminiscent of Napa and a delight to see in the Okanagan.
I am now in West Kelowna relaxing and ready to attack another set of wineries on the West Bank. Tomorrow I am off to Mount Boucherie Winery and Cedar Creek, while on Friday, (the 30th) I will be visiting Mission Hill and Quail’s Gate. All four wineries are well known and represented in Alberta and at Vines.
Stay tuned for my next special report.