Posts Tagged ‘Harry McWatters’

Tee off for a round of golf & wine at Rockway Vineyards

Posted by Susan

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
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Savvy Selections wine of the month club 
Featuring Rockway Vineyards

– September 2014 –

 

If your passion is golf and you love to spend the 19th hole with a fine glass of wine paired with a delicious lunch, Rockway Vineyards is the place for you. This property has a fascinating history that starts with founder Bruce Strongman’s love of golf and wine.

Enter the entrepreneur…

Bruce started making paint in his family-run paint store in Toronto, and built the business into the largest paint and wallpaper chain in Canada – Colour Your World. Bruce had time for more golf when the company was sold, and like many entrepreneurs, he followed his dream. It wasn’t just about shooting a perfect round, his dream included owning a golf course.

Take one golf enthusiast…

Rockway VineyardsYears of travelling to his golf course through vineyards along the Niagara Wine Route, which was increasing in popularity, led Bruce and his son Reid to hatch the idea of establishing a golf course associated with a vineyard and winery. The current property – originally a Concord grape vineyard – was purchased and construction of the course began in 1982, with the official opening in 1984. The father and son team were convinced that many of the 25,000 golfers coming to the Niagara region would too be interested in purchasing a bottle or two of wine.

Buy grape juice…

In 2000, they set the wheels in motion, purchasing juice from Reif Estate Winery and gaining the helpful winemaking expertise of Klaus Reif.  Right from the get go, it paid off as their first ice wine was selected as the ‘best of the best’ on the menu at Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Now that is impressive!

Planting of the vines began on a 50-acre vineyard adjacent to the winery.

And last but not least, purchase the vineyard!

wine-hero1When the vineyard across the street was for sale, Bruce purchased it to provide a total of 150 acres. The rapidly growing business became the only 18-hole championship golf course with a fully functional estate winery in Ontario. Bruce is now 92, and can still be seen out at Rockway for his weekly golf game, followed by lunch and a glass of wine in the restaurant. Reid continues to be involved in the business, as are several other family members.

We’re delighted to have this opportunity to offer to you a collection of Rockway Vineyards wines, crafted by winemaker David Stasiuk’s signature ‘minimalist touch’.

In your Savvy Selections, you will find:

Small Lot Block 12-110 Wild Ferment Chardonnay VQA 2013 – a well-balanced wine with complex nose & flavours.  You are the first to receive this wine as it is not yet released at the winery.

‘The Outcast’ VQA 2011– a red Rhône-style blend that will intrigue you as it is Syrah blended with Riesling. Daring, peppery and flavourful

Small Lot Block 11-140 Cabernet Franc VQA 2011 – perfectly well-ripened, smooth, sauve & showcasing all that Cab Franc can be.

If you’re an avid golfer like our Savvy Sommelier Susan Desjardins, after visiting Rockway for both the winery and the golfing – you will make this a regular stop when you visit Niagara. Be sure to make time for a round, wines tasting, lunch or dinner at the excellent restaurant, then take a stroll through the Rockway museum, that includes a selection of authentic French winemaking antiques.

Cheers & Enjoy!

Debbie & Savvy Team 

Introducing…
Rockway Vineyards

Presented by Savvy Sommelier Susan Desjardins

 

Rockway Vineyards family photoAs I talked to Bryce Carruthers (far right in photo) – Rockway’s Sales Manager as well as Bruce’s nephew – he emphasized the recent transition that has taken place at Rockway. With tee off bookings at the golf course being steady and the banquet hall is regularly booked with weddings and golf tournaments, the family wanted to shift the focus to growing the winery and the creation of distinctive wines.

In 2009, the name was changed to Rockway Vineyards, and Bruce (centre with white shirt) instructed his then-wine consultant to find the best possible winemaker in the region. “If it’s not the best wine we can make, we’re not going to bottle it!”

Enter David Stasiuk . . . and the accolades keep coming. (David is middle of left group in photo)

David’s excitement at his role is palpable. A graduate of the Niagara College Winery & Viticulture program, he came to winemaking through the hospitality industry. “In the various roles I held in the restaurant industry, I met many winemakers, attended tastings and played a role in the selection and management of wines for the restaurants. I quickly realized that my passion for wine was too great to play second fiddle to opening a restaurant!”

Attracted to the practical components of the Niagara College program, he initiated his studies in 2007, soon realizing that the scope of a winemaker’s duties is broad.  At Rockway, David is a grower, a chemist, a taster, a people manager, a marketer, a media relations agent and, as he says, a life-long student.

Hands-on experience across Canada & beyond

During and after the College program, he ventured to gain hands on experience locally and around the world. At Le Clos Jordanne (in Niagara), he worked with Thomas Bachelder, learning the importance of site and terroir and how that translates into each wine. “Thomas was a great mentor. I learned so much—that passion for winegrowing is a must and plays a key part in the impression left on every wine crafted; the methods of wild yeast fermentation, barrel program design and so much more—I could go on forever”, explained David.

He wanted to experience winemaking in Canada’s other major winegrowing region, and was able to secure a position at Sumac Ridge. What better place for David to cut his teeth in the industry, than at this seminal Okanagan property, where Harry McWatters established his first vineyard by planting vines on what were the first few holes of his golf course! Through this experience, David worked with Sumac Ridge’s signature product –  sparkling wine – as well as still wines and developed an understanding of the BC wine industry.

Next, David moved on to Australia and New Zealand, staying true to his cool-climate roots, working at Moët Chandon in Australia’s Yarra Valley and with Villa Maria Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. Here, he worked with grapes varieties such as Pinot Noir and Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay – all highly relevant to the Ontario wine industry.

Europe was his next destination, yet life and his wife’s career intervened, so he headed to BC to work with Darryl Brooker at Cedar Creek, before moving back to Niagara. “Darryl’s approached to winemaking really affected how I look at things—always a focus on the highest quality with an honest hands-off approach, and the determination to go the distance to achieve the best results, no matter what”, tells David. 

5 years and counting…

David Stasiuk - taken by Savvy CompanyWhen David joined Rockway Vineyards 5 years ago, he combined his love for food and golf with his passion for wine.

He was given a clean slate and the opportunity to re-define the style of Rockway wines. Asked what he feels gives his wines their unique style, he focuses on two keys factors: the site and state-of-the-art equipment.

“We are located on the furthest eastern border of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-apellation. We are farther away from the lake than the bench wineries (winespeak: wineries along the Beamsville Bench), yet still benefit from the lake-effect wind and temperature modulation. Because of the way the escarpment wraps around our site, we tend to have funneling winds that promote good air flow through the grapevine canopies.” David continues, “we have diverse soils and are on a gradual slope that, with the winds, helps reduce the risk of settling frosts. Most of our vines were planted 10-30 years ago, so we have some mature vines and are focused on Chardonnay and Riesling, as well as Cabernet Franc and Syrah.”

With the winery onsite, there is minimal time from picking to processing and the winemaking equipment includes state-of-the-art cooling tanks and processing equipment.

Making wines he likes

When I asked about his philosophy and the type of experience he would like you to have when you taste his wines, David is poetic. “We try to preserve the flavours developed in our vineyards by being gentle with the fruit and not obscuring the taste of the vineyard by over oaking. I want people who taste our wines to have the same experience I look for in a wine”. David shares his personal impression, “I want to be intrigued at the first smell from the glass. I want to sense depth and layers of aromas. Then I want the wine to have life on the palate. I want it to be fresh and approachable but firm, with a distinct personality.”

Let me ask you…what more could YOU want!?!

Cheers & Enjoy your Savvy Selections!

 

~ SAVVY SOMMELIER TASTING NOTES ~


‘Small Lot Block 12-110’ Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2013 VQA, $32.00

The fruit for this wine was hand harvested, a portion of the juice placed in a warm room to start a natural inoculant, then was tasted and added back to the barrels. The wine was aged in French oak for 7 months.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Attractive notes of butter, vanilla and toasted nut mingle with aromas of ripe orchard fruit. This dry, medium-bodied wine offers a tantalizing taste experience, showing complexity & verve with sound fruit flavours, good structure and a pleasant touch of buttery toast on the finish.

Suggested Food Pairing:  Enjoy the creamy texture  & lively acidity of this wine with roast chicken, pork or grilled salmon.

Cellaring: Drinking well now or cellar 2-3 years.

 

‘The Outcast’ 2011 VQA, $19.95

Move over Shiraz/Viognier blends, David is introducing his own creation: Syrah/Riesling. It’s common practice in Australia to add 5% Viognier to Shiraz for aromatics and minerality. David in turn, is adding 5% Riesling to this northern Rhône-style Syrah for the subtle acidity and residual sugar it brings to the texture.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:Dry, medium bodied, this unique blend has a firm structure and fresh texture, with a peppery nose, spicy floral notes and lovely red & black fruit.The spicy peppery notes mingle with a hint of earthiness and juicy ripe fruit, while a subtle note of coffee bean (resulting from the Syrah juice that spent 18 months in oak) lingers on the finish.

Suggested Food Pairing:Lamb is a classic pairing or enjoy with other roast meat are a perfect match.

Cellaring: This wine will cellar a further 2-3 years.

 

‘Small Lot Block 11-140’ Cabernet Franc 2011 VQA $24.95

The fruit for this wine benefited from ideal ripening conditions – warm days and cool nights heading into harvest, assuring depth of flavor and smooth tannins. Fermented with a native Bordeaux yeast, then aged 18 months in French barrels.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: Here’s a well-ripened Cabernet Franc offering a fine nose of spicy chocolate, lavender, dried herbs, ripe berry and plum. Dry, medium-full bodied, it has great presence on the palate, a fresh yet rich texture, well-defined structure and flavourful fruit flavours. Attractive peppery notes & a hint of mocha persist on the finish.

Suggested Food Pairing:  Serve with Beef Bourguignon, Coq au Vin or leg of lamb.

Cellaring:  Ready now, it will cellar 3-5 years.

 

~ RECIPES TO ENJOY WITH YOUR SAVVY SELECTIONS ~


With Rockway Wild Ferment Chardonnay…

Salmon with Lemon Quinoa & Corn Salsa

From Radius Café, Hamilton Ontario
Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups dried quinoa
2 lemons
6 Tbsp olive oil
½ C chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cobs corn
½ red pepper, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cracked black pepper
4 portions fresh Atlantic salmon

Method

In 2 litres of boiling water, cook quinoa until tender, 8-10 minutes. Strain in a colander & transfer to large bowl. While it’s still hot, add zest & juice of 2 lemons & 2 Tbsp olive oil. Stir & let cool in refrigerator. Once cool, add 2 Tbsp parsley & set aside.

Husk corn & grill on high, rotating cobs until nicely charred on the outside. Stand corn upright on cutting board & run knife along cob to remove kernels. (alternatively, do the same process by boiling corn)

Transfer kernels to bowl. Add red pepper, shallot, remaining olive oil, white wine vinegar & remaining parsley. Season this corn salsa with half the salt & pepper & set aside.

Season salmon with remaining salt & pepper & brush lightly with oil. On hot grill, cook salmon for about 6 minutes per side or until moist & flakey.

Make a bed of quinoa on each plate. Lay grilled salmon on it & top with corn salsa. 


With Rockway ‘The Outcast’

Leg of Lamb with Syrah Marinade

Adapted from Cooking with BC Wine Cookbook, T & C-L Townsin
Serves 6

Ingredients

1 leg of lamb
1 cup Syrah
2 tsp minced horseradish
2 cup ketchup
2 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp shallots, minced
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped

Method

David Stasiuk in cellar - taken by Savvy CompanyCombine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl or plastic container. Trim excess fat from lamb and marinate overnight for best results. There should be extra marinade to be saved for later.

Preheat oven to 350F. Remove lamb from marinade and sear on all sides in pan over medium high heat.

Transfer lamb to ovenproof dish, cover and roast for 45 minutes for rare or 1 hour for well done. Or grill on barbeque. Serve with baby roast potatoes and seasonal fall vegetables.

 

 

What a treat! David gave us a barrel tasting of his 2012 red wines of Syrah & Cabernet Franc. Not ready just yet, but they will be worth the wait!

 

With Rockway Cabernet Franc…

Grilled Hanger Steak with Smoky Corn & Tomato Salsa

From The Flavour Principle Cookbook, L. Waverman, B. Crosariol
Serves 6

Ingredients for Steak

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbp chopped garlic
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp honey
¼ cup olive oil
one 2 lb. hanger steak
salt & freshly ground pepper

Ingredients for Salsa

3 ears corn, shucked
3 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 red pepper, cut in quarters
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper
¾ cup chopped red onion

Ingredients for Dressing

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp coriander seeds
¾ tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

 

Method for Steak

Combine mustard, vinegar, thyme, garlic, chili powder & honey in a small bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Pour marinade over steak & marinate in refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. Remove steak from refrigerator 1 hour before grilling to bring it to room temperature.

Preheat grill to high. Season steak with salt & pepper & grill for 4-6 minutes per side for medium-rare (depending on thickness) or until desired degree of doneness.

Remove from grill & let rest for 5 minutes. Slice against grain & serve with Smoky Corn & Tomato Salsa.

Method for Salsa 

Preheat grill to high. Brush corn, tomatoes & red pepper with oil. Season with salt & pepper.

Grill corn for about 3 minutes per side or until kernels are golden. Also grill tomatoes until skin is shriveled and flesh is soft, about 2 minutes per side. Peel charred skin from tomatoes & discard; then grill peppers for about 4 minutes per side or until skin is blackened. Set aside & cool. Peel skin from pepper & discard. Dice pepper & transfer to medium bowl.

Slice corn from cobs & add to pepper with red onion.

Place tomatoes in food processor with oil, lemon juice, coriander seeds & paprika. Process until smooth. Stir in cilantro. Toss vegetables with dressing.

 

Enjoy your Savvy Selections!

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Fresh Starts & Fine Wines in the Okanagan Valley

Posted by Susan

Monday, March 17th, 2014
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Each trip to B.C.’s Okanagan Valley is a new adventure – tasting wines from a new vintage, visiting old friends at existing wineries, or talking to individuals who have decided to turn their minds, hearts and hands to the cultivation of grapes and the vinification of unique wines. My recent visit was no exception, providing an exceptional opportunity to take an extensive tour of the Triggs’ family new venture, Culmina Family Estate Winery on the Golden Mile, and to visit Platinum Bench Estate Winery on the Black Sage Bench as well as Spierhead Winery in southeast Kelowna.

Culmina Winery

Donal TriggsThe Golden Mile bench in the south Okanagan, between Oliver and Osoyoos, is legendary, named not so much for the quality of the soil for tree fruits and grape vines, but rather for the gold mines that were worked in the area in the late 1800s. Don Triggs greeted us when we arrived, brimming with energy and enthusiasm for this new project.  After the sale of Vincor (which included Jackson-Triggs, co-founded by Triggs) in 2006, Don took a year off – ‘but I got bored, so I talked to Elaine and the family about starting a new winery. My youngest daughter Sara said she’d be interested, so here we are . . .’. In 2007, the Triggs family purchased an existing property which included some established vines.

Reaching for the peak

Don had a very clear notion of what he wanted to achieve: ‘Culmina means summit, and our goal is to reach for the peak in Bordeaux-style wines, producing premium wines that are the best that can be achieved from our estate. Culmina is also the root of the word culmination, and this winery is the ultimate expression of our family and its values in the wine business.’  The estate honors members of the Triggs family, the principle 48-acre vineyard named ‘Arise’ after the estate of an ancestor of Don’s who was awarded 10 acres in Barbados in the late 1600’s by the British monarch after serving as a ship’s purser. Margaret’s bench, a 10-acre vineyard which has to be one of the highest on the Golden Mile, is named after Don’s mother, while Stan’s bench, also 10 acres, is named after Elaine’s father.

 Taking the tour

Our tour of the property made it clear that the latest in technology has guided and continues to support the Triggs family’s focus on outstanding quality in its vineyards and wines. Don discussed the research that went into selecting and then assessing the site; how numerous soil test pits were dug in the vineyards, how water retention in the soils was measured, to the extent that the Arise vineyard is subdivided into 1.25 acre micro-sites, each planted with unique root stocks and clones of Syrah and the Bordeaux varieties. Degree days were measured, once again to ensure that the appropriate grape varieties were planted in the optimal temperature zones. The Arise vineyard has the highest overall number of degree days at 1500, Margaret’s bench, the lowest at 1280-1350 (look for Riesling, Chardonnay and Grüner on this property), while Stan’s bench offers an interesting dichotomy – a south-facing rock wall along a reach of this vineyard retains heat and drives up degree days to as much as 1800 (you’ll find the Malbec, Petit Verdot and Viognier here), while the part of the vineyard without the rock wall has degree days half way between the Arise vineyard and Margaret’s bench.

It’s all in the sun & the shade

Okanagan vineyard in fallSatellite imaging was used to assess the extent and impact of the afternoon shadows that slip down the mountain and across the vineyard, determining where the Merlot would be planted so that it benefits from the cooling effects of the afternoon shade. Small solar panels dot the vineyards, powering batteries that feed the environmental monitoring systems measuring soil moisture, temperature and other data.  Interested in the technology? Sara Triggs is not only a partner in this venture, but an outstanding tasting room hostess, and the brains behind the Culmina website, where you can find maps and diagrams of the ‘vineyard mapping’ undertaken by the family.

 Ever heard of dry-land farming?

Don has.  Recognizing the risk of water shortages in the coming decades, he has also initiated an experimental planting of dry-land farmed vines. Grafted to vigorous, drought-resistant rootstock that will send their roots up to 30 metres down in search of water, the 1000 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah have been planted 2×2 metres apart on a steep slope without disturbing the natural vegetation. Drip irrigation will be used for the first 3 years, with the intent to eliminate watering once the vines reach that stage. At maturity, the vines will be pruned to the goblet, or ‘bush vine’ shape to enhance their survivability in this desert landscape.

 Arts & Science at Culmina

culmina winery logoThe family’s prior experience and their appreciation of the arts and sciences manifests itself in all aspects of Culmina. The winery graphic is a fine and unique representation of the old bush vines found in such dry, windy climates as the east coast of Spain and the south of France. Displaying clean, modern lines and materials, the winery tasting room and outdoor patio is architecturally inviting and warm. The environmental monitoring system is the first major installation of this type in Canada. The initial research was extensive, and the data collection continues, providing an ongoing record that can be used to adjust and adapt as required. The technology is married to age-hold practices of hand-planting, hand-pruning and hand-picking the fruit. And there is a strong emphasis on sustainability, manifested in the cover crops between the rows, designed to attract beneficial insect populations and to manage the vigor of the vines, sourcing of local cow manure as fertilizer, the use of hand-split cedar posts or galvanized steel to eliminate chemical leaching, use of under-canopy irrigation to minimize water usage, as well as construction of the winery to optimize solar gain and energy efficiency.

 Drawing on expertise from Bordeaux

To produce his iconic wines, Don Triggs turned to Alain Sutre and Pascal Madevon, both sons of Bordeaux, whom he worked with in the early days of the Osoyoos-Larose joint venture. Pascal joined Culmina as winemaker in January of this year and, in this, his first vintage at the winery, was hovering between the sorting table and the de-stemmer as the Merlot made its way from vine to fermentation tank in the gravity-flow winery. As we talked about Culmina, he spoke passionately about this new venture and the potential of the fruit coming off the vineyards.

Taste the real fruit

The Triggs’ family have a flavour profile in mind for their wines. Says Don, ‘Let the fruit be uninterfered with as possible’. The fruit from each block goes into its own tank and goes through extended fermentation to soften the tannins. Fermentation is held to lower temperatures to ensure the sustainability of the aromatics. Grapes and fermenting wine are tasted, the wine created to match the desired profile. French oak is used in aging, the barrels specified by Alain Sutre, purchased from 5 coopers who use a mix of barrel staves from four renowned French oak forests. Literally no stone is left unturned, no detail too small to be addressed.

 Striving for perfection

To quote the Triggs family, their focus is on ‘three fundamental principles: first, their love and appreciation for art and design; second their understanding that by applying scientific principles, it’s possible to reach high calibre results; third, that only in striving for perfection is there the possibility of achieving excellence.’

 Tasting wines at Culmina…a Dilemma

Culmina opened in late August, 2013, offering tasting and sale of their initial vintage, 2011 Dilemma (Chardonnay) and Hypothesis (Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), as well as their 2012 Saignée Rosé (Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay). The wines deliver on the promise: the rosé a fine balance of lovely red fruit, floral notes and clean acidity, offering a silky yet crisp texture; Dilemma, produced from the original 20-year vines on the estate (after waiting 3 years to taste his own Chardonnay grapes at maturity, Don made the decision – it was a dilemma, says he – to tear out the old vines), fermented in new French oak and aged partly in barrel, partly in stainless, very expressive, with attractive minerality, hints of toasted nut, orchard fruit and tropical notes, showing an outstanding integration of oak and a creamy yet fresh texture; Hypothesis, the icon, described by Don as offering Cab Franc on the nose, Merlot through the mid-palate, with Cab Sauv securing the long finish, is an elegant yet full-bodied cellar-worthy wine with complex aromas and flavours—floral notes, earth, berries, spice and toast—with the lovely tension of clean acidity and fine-grained tannins married to well-ripened fruit.

Where to buy? Head to BC!

Alas, the wines are available only at Culmina or through the wine club, but we can look forward to on-line ordering in the future, perhaps when the 2013 vintage is released. Based on the conditions of the vintage and the fruit at harvest, Don is expecting ripe, elegant wines – the summer heat brought the sugars to an ideal level, then the cooler weather in September allowed the tannins to ripen, and October again brought warm temperature, allowing the fruit to mature.

If you travel to the Okanagan, don’t miss the opportunity to reserve your own tour and tasting at Culmina! Or get on Sara’s mailing list so that you’re the first to know about direct ordering from Culmina.

 

Platinum Bench Estate Winery

Pickers are in the vineyard and the warm scent of fresh-baked bread is drifting through the doorway as I arrive at Platinum Bench Estate Winery. Fiona Duncan is up to her elbows in flour and bread dough, a timer always in her pocket or on the counter – ‘If you can wait 5 minutes, the bread will be out of the oven and we can do a tasting’.

cheeses1I browse the wines, and the tiny fridge, which advertises artisanal cheeses from Poplar Grove and Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company (their Alpindon is a favorite). A young couple hangs out on the deck overlooking the hills behind the Black Sage bench, waiting for their soprasata and swiss cheese mini-loaf. They’re heading home to Vancouver, and couldn’t resist just one more taste of Fiona’s unique bread with their Platinum Estate Cab Sauv, once they get home, of course.

Outgoing and friendly, Fiona and her husband are the team that makes Platinum Bench work. He’s in the vineyard, she’s in the small kitchen, baking bread, and in the tasting room, insisting you try the entire flight of wines, with the bread, of course, and perhaps a taste of local cheeses. Their philosophy: ‘to achieve a great wine, one must first approach the land and vines with meticulous care, cropping, and respect . . .’

The winery & the bakery go hand in hand at Platinum

Originally from Vancouver via Winnipeg, Fiona decided a few years ago that she wanted to become an expert croissant maker. After a year and a half of experimenting, with mixed but generally satisfying results, she decided to formally enroll in a course. But she had to complete her ‘bread level’s first; consequently she became a qualified baker as well as a croissant expert! So when the couple decided they wanted to buy a vineyard and make wine in the Okanagan, the germ of an idea was born. How about a winery that is also an artisanal bakery, featuring local cheeses? And, then Fiona came up with these uniquely flavoured breads to taste with the wine:  Double cream brie and pear is paired with the whites; soprasata and swiss generally pairs with the lighter reds; gorgonzola and fig is reserved for the heavier reds.

 Taste the real fruit

Platinum Bench wineryWith the help of Harry McWatters, the couple patiently waited for a vineyard suitable for the style of wine they wanted to produce to come on the market. The property they eventually purchased is one of the first planted on the Black Sage Bench, with vines that are now almost 20 years old. They moved out to the Okanagan in 2011, after the purchase of the property. Says Fiona, ‘We were lucky, as the site had 15 acres under vine, as well as a winery building and a small apartment where the former vineyard manager lived. We moved right in and immediately started taking viticulture and viniculture courses. Our focus is really on quality fruit – we still sell some grapes, as well as producing our own wine.’

In between the beeps of the timer (I admit to having arrived right at opening), Fiona offers a tasting of their first vintage, as well as her delicious breads (they’re shaped like a chain of tiny stuffed buns). The 2011 Chardonnay was blended from wines aged in stainless, new French oak and neutral French oak. Showcasing a clean crisp texture, it offers lovely flavours of orchard fruit, a touch of spice and delicious honeyed butterscotch.

Due to the late bud break, the 2011 Merlot was cropped early, providing a better opportunity for the sugars to concentrate in the grapes, then the long warm autumn allowed the tannins to soften, creating a nicely balanced wine. Dry, medium bodied, there’s the lovely tang of red fruits, subtle oaky notes and a touch of pepper on the finish.

The 2011 Cabernet Franc offers attractive floral and herbal aromas, hints of roasted red pepper, ripe berries and a touch of peppery spice. The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is firmly structured, spicy, toasty, showcasing blackberry and red berry, finishing tangy and clean.

The 2011 Platinum Bench Red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (35%) and Gamay (5%), displaying attractive floral notes, rich fruit aromas and a nicely balanced structure. Dry, medium bodied, the fine-grained tannins balance a rush of fresh, well-ripened fruit. Platinum Bench also releases two styles of  Gamay, one in the spring, described by Fiona as a white wine on steroids (unfortunately, it was sold out), and a fall version that’s small-batch fermented and aged 10 months in new French oak, described by Fiona as fuller, rounder, and very smooth. If you want the ultimate in on-site food and wine pairing, make tracks for Platinum Bench!

Spierhead Estate Winery

 Before catching my flight out of Kelowna, I headed to Spierhead Estate Winery, located above the lakeshore southeast of the city. The winery was established six years ago on an abandoned hiilside apple orchard that used to be part of the Turton family estate. The vines are now 4 years old, covering 20.4 acres and the winery has won numerous accolades: best winery in B.C. in 2012;  best Pinot Noir for their 2010 (a first vintage) at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards; double gold for their Pinot Noir Rosé at the 2013 All Canadian Wine Championships; and gold for their Pinot Gris (unfortunately sold out) at the recent Okanagan fall wine festival.

wineryEstablished by a partnership of 3 individuals, including an Okanagan-based winery photographer, the estate is situated on sandy, rocky soil, produces about 3000 cases of wine and grows its own Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. For its Pursuit and Vanguard Bordeaux-style blends, Spierhead sources its grapes from a south-Okanagan vineyard owned and overseen by one of the modern Okanagan wine industry’s best-known pioneers, Harry McWatters.

The 2011 Riesling has a lovely delicate nose of flowers, fruit and mineral, with a lively crisp lemon-lime texture. The 2011 Chardonnay is only slightly oaked (20% of the fruit spent 10 months in French oak), showcasing stone fruit, floral notes, mineral and a touch of passionfruit. It’s dry, fresh and tangy, balancing flavours of orchard fruit and citrus with a refined note of toasted nut.

The 2012 Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Reserve were released 2 days before my visit (what luck!), both aged 10 months in oak, the latter crafted from select barrels. The Pinot Noir is light-medium bodied, tangy in texture, showcasing mineral, red berry and a touch of toast, while the Reserve is medium-full bodied, rich and silky in texture, perfumed with red and black fruits, spice and a hint of toast, finishing long and smooth.

okanagan red grapesThe 2011 Pursuit is primarily an equal blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash of Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in oak. Dry, medium-full bodied, it offers complex lifted aromas, subtle structure and a clean texture, a basket of ripe red and black fruits garnished with notes of spice, herbs and red peppers.

The 2011 Vanguard is primarily Merlot, blended with equal shares of the Cabernets. There’s a subtle nose of black cherry and berries, vanilla and cedar. It’s dry, firm, full bodied, with a nice balance of fine-grained tannins, fresh acidity and ripe plum, cherry and berry mingling with notes of peppery spice. Spierhead wines are available at the winery, but may also be ordered directly through the wine club.

Enjoy these wonderful new BC wines!

Susan

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