British Columbia Wineries
In an astonishingly short amount of time, British Columbia has gone from a wine backwater with a few local producers creating subpar offerings to a wine destination boasting more than 200 wineries – most located in the Okanagan Valley, where the desert climate is particularly well suited to growing grapes. Not only does BC produce a surprisingly diverse selection of varietals – from light, fruity Pinot Noirs that can almost rival those from Sonoma Valley, to rich Syrahs and crisp Chardonnays – many are attracting the attention of the international wine community and are placing high at competition.
Even though it may feel like a distant dream, summer is almost upon us, as are the long, languid days sipping white wine while soaking up the sun. While we quite enjoy BC’s single varietal wines – specifically Burrowing Owl’s signature Merlot, Sandhill’s Malbec and Moon Curser’s Tempranillo – these are typically priced too high to be a consideration for everyday and are best saved for special occasions. Luckily the region also produces an excellent, and varied, selection of blends that are complex, aromatic and infinitely drinkable. Here are a few 2011 releases from our favourite vineyards that are destined to make our 2013 summer drinking list.
Stoneboat Vineyards (Oliver, BC): Chorus 2011
Whenever we pass through the Okanagan Valley, stopping at Stoneboat Vineyards on the Black Sage Bench is a must-do. This unassuming winery, which has retained the small town charm and mom-and-pop feel that many of its contemporaries have recently abandoned, is extremely pleasant to visit and the knowledgeable staff provide tasting notes without overwhelming you with too much information or a hard sell. While the winery is younger than many of the more popular vineyards in the region, Stoneboat continues to impress and seems to only improve with each season. Their 2011 Chorus – an unusual blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Schoenburger – is light and crisp, the ideal summer drink. The flavour composition is more complex than some of the other blends available which can be attributed to pitting the conventional Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc against the more obscure Germanic varietals. It’s an ambitious blend that is quite expertly prepared. At $17.90 this wine is a steal though it’s difficult to get your hands on it outside of the vineyard.
Blasted Church Vineyards (Okanagan Falls, BC): Mixed Blessings 2011
If we were to buy wine based on bottle design alone, Blasted Church’s cheeky and charming graphics would put the label at the top of our list. While we may have been initially attracted to the vineyard due to aesthetics, we were quickly won over by the quality of their offerings and consider both their red and white blends to be our house wines. The quaint tasting room, with spectacular, panoramic views of Skaha Lake, is housed in the winery’s namesake church and the atmosphere is as irreverent and fun as Blasted Church’s branding. Although the extremely popular Hatfield’s Fuse is the most obvious choice, we prefer their slightly dryer Mixed Blessings. A simple blend of Viognier and Chardonnay Musqué, the two varietals are made separately and combined only a few weeks before bottling. This is a multifaceted drink that is fruity and fragrant without being too sweet; a dangerously drinkable wine, it’s far too easy to knock back two glasses before you even realize what’s happened.
Road 13 Vineyards (Oliver, BC): Stemwinder 2011
The Road 13 Vineyard is perhaps the most unusual of the wineries we’ve visited in the Okanagan. With one building reminiscent of a fairytale castle and the other a minimalist, glass cellar, the overall visual composition is quite jarring. Nonetheless, the atmosphere inside the tasting room is jovial and inviting, and the winery – which now focuses predominantly on blends – has been consistently producing a unique and appealing selection of wines over the past few years. Their releases under the Honest John’s label are excellent composites at a very reasonable price point, yet we gravitate towards their tasty Stemwinder (a mix of Chardonnay, Chardonnay Musqué, Viognier and Roussanne), named after the soil found in their Home Vineyard. A more complex flavour profile than the Honest John’s White, the Stemwinder has a fruity, citrus bouquet with a crisp, clean finish. This wine pairs perfectly with fish and is also ideal for patio sipping.
See Ya Later Ranch (Okanagan Falls): Jimmy My Pal, 2011
With an expansive outdoor space in which to sample their varietals and a beautifully restored heritage stone home that functions as the shop and tasting room, See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls is one of the most developed of the smaller vineyards in the region. While they are best known for their signature Gewürztraminer – the winery boasts the largest planting of the grape in North America – we’ve always found that varietal a tad too sweet for our palette and instead opt for some of their interesting blends. Jimmy My Pal, a very reasonably priced mixture of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling, is one of our go-to summer drinks and having just tasted the 2011 edition we’re happy to report that it is just as delectable as past releases. With strong apple and pear notes and a lingering, surprisingly complex finish, Jimmy My Pal is an extremely pleasant and versatile wine that pairs well with almost anything.