Wine Tripping in British Columbia through the Okanagan & Similkameen


Each trip to the Okanagan is an opportunity to further explore the valley, as well as the Similkameen Valley, and to taste some new wines, or revisit previously savoured ones.

This visit took me to Tantalus Winery, as well as Sandhill, in Kelowna, then on to Poplar Grove Winery on the Naramata Bench and to Kraze Legz, a new winery in the hamlet of Kaleden.  I traveled to the Similkameen to visit old friends, stopping in at Forbidden Fruit Winery as well as Clos du Soleil.

Tantalus Winery, originally known as Pioneer Vineyards and first planted to grapes in 1927, sits high on a hillside overlooking Kelowna. Fortunately for the new owners, the prior owner planted Riesling in the late 1970s as well as some French and German clones of Pinot Noir in 1985. He can still be seen riding around the vineyard helping to tend the vines. The site has been transformed, with the tasting room and winery housed in a dramatic modern LEED-certified structure overlooking the hillside vineyards. 

Tantalus is reputed for its Riesling, and has a new program devoted to Pinot Noir. The 2008 vintage offered two Pinots, one from the younger vines, which was light-medium bodied, fresh and earthy, with bright red fruit flavours and racy acidity. The second, produced from the French and German clones planted in the 1980s, was medium-bodied, maintaining the earthy character but with deep spicy red fruit flavours, fine acidity, a silky texture and great persistence on the finish. The 2009 Riesling, from a very hot vintage and produced from a blend of older and newer vines, had very fragrant aromatics of stone fruit and sweet citrus with a whiff of tropical fruit. The flavours recurred on the palate, nicely balanced with tangy acidity and an extended lemon-lime finish. The 2008 Old Vines Riesling, being held for release in 2011, displays petrol notes, orchard fruit, bright citrus and minerality, with mouthwatering nervy acidity and a lengthy crisp finish. This is definitely a wine for aging. I also had the opportunity to taste one of the few remaining bottles of their inaugural sparkling wine, the vintage Blanc de Noir 2004, crafted from an equal blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Produced by méthode traditionelle, this lovely sparkling wine had high-toned aromas of orchard fruit and lees with a fine mousse and a medley of orchard and citrus fruit on the palate. Alas, it was only produced in 2004, but their sparkling Riesling is available.

Sandhill is a virtual winery housed in the Calona Vineyards tasting and winemaking facility located in Kelowna. Howard Soon works with carefully selected fruit, often from unusual varietals, from select Okanagan vineyards that have unique characteristics to create Sandhill wines. The Small Lots program showcases wines crafted from unique varietals or distinctive barrels designated by the winemaker for special attention. The Small Lots Barbera is aged in French and American oak for 18 months and has alluring aromas of spicy cherry fruit, vanilla and toast. It’s dry, medium bodied, smooth and supple, with delicate acidity, fine-grained tannins and lovely flavours of red berry, black cherry, cinnamon toast and pepper. That smooth velvety texture lingers on the palate. Sandhill’s Small Lots One came through LCBO Vintages earlier this year. Small Lots Two is a blend of Bordeaux varietals (the Cabernets and Merlot) with seductive aromas of cassis, cedar, vanilla and roasted herbs. It’s full bodied, robust and complex, with firm tannins underpinning dark fruit, dark chocolate and toasty notes. There’s warmth on the finish, with a punch of espresso roast. Small Lots Three is an IGT-type blend of Barbera, Sangiovese and Merlot. It’s fragrant and floral, with aromas of spicy fruit, cedar and smoke. Medium-full bodied, the flavours are rich, the texture is supple and there’s fine acidity balancing the ripe spicy, peppery fruit. Watch for Two and Three in an upcoming 2011 LCBO Vintages release.

Poplar Grove Winery, on the Naramata Bench just north of Penticton, was established by Ian Sutherland with the goal of producing premium wines from estate-grown fruit. In 2007, Sutherland entered a partnership with Tony Holler and Barrie Sali which provided access the 100-acre Holler estate vineyards in the south Okanagan. The 2008 Gewurztraminer is highly aromatic, fragrant with rose petal, lychee, tropical and stone fruit. Dry and spicy, medium bodied and lively, the wine is very flavourful and displays a long fresh spicy finish. The 2009 Pinot Gris, just released in October, has a subtle nose of orchard and tropical fruit and a fresh fruity mouthful of citrus and orchard fruit. It’s light-medium bodied with bright notes of lemon, lime and grapefruit that linger on the zesty finish. The winery is known in the valley for holding its red wines in bottle for as much as 2 years prior to release. The 2006 Poplar Grove Merlot was aged in French oak for 18 months, then rested in bottle for 14 months. It’s perfumed with floral, plum and black fruit aromas, as well as a slightly sweet herbal note. Medium-full bodied, its complex and elegant, with a silky texture, well-integrated tannins and lovely black fruit, espresso and herbal flavours. The lengthy aftertaste is of dark chocolate winter fruit bark. The 2005 Legacy is a blend of Merlot, the Cabernets and Malbec, and spent 24 months in French oak followed by 18 months in bottle. Mahogany in color, it has subtle aromas of dried fruit, earth, mushrooms and leather. This is a structured wine with velvety tannins, fresh acidity and depth of flavour – spiced black and red berries, toast and pepper. The finish is long and lingering.

Kraze Legz is Kalenden’s first winery, although grapes are grown for other Okanagan wineries in this small hamlet just south of Penticton. We first discovered Kaleden when we headed down its steep main road in search of access to a hiking trail. While we never found the trail, we discovered Linden Gardens and the Frog City Café. This fantastic garden is the property of long-time fruit growers who grew tired of the straight rows of trees and decided to convert their property to a public garden. We visited in the spring, and the meandering paths, gently whispering lindens, water features and fragrant blooms and plants were a delight. Then there are the homemade treats to be enjoyed in the airy café. . . Don’t miss it! Then, wander across the way to Kraze Legz, owned by Gerry and Sue Thygesen. Of their 14 acres, 9 were planted to vines 4 years ago. While living in the U.S., they had tried to sell this steep property, fortunately without success! They’re now delighted to have the opportunity to establish their own winery, although Sue confesses that it has been and continues to challenging, as the two of them are doing most of the work themselves. They have a delightful newly constructed tasting room, decked out in a Prohibition-era theme. Available for tasting were 2 whites and a rosé, with plans for a couple of reds once the vines are of age. Their 2009 ‘Bees Knees’ Pinot Blanc won a silver at the Wine Access awards. It’s silky yet racy, with birght citrus, pear and apple aromas and flavours with a pithy bite on the finish. The 2009 ‘Charleston’ Chardonnay, while unoaked, comes in with a hefty 14.6% alcohol and is all about rich creamy texture, stone and tropical fruits with lively acidity that keeps it nicely balanced. The ‘Speakeasy’ Rosé was a favorite. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer is a delightful salmon color and offers sweet silky red fruity on entry, followed by bright acidity and a spicy note that carries through on the fresh fruity finish.

On a day trip to the Similkameen, I stopped in to visit Steve and Kim at their organic property, Forbidden Fruit Winery. Memories of his exotic award-winning ‘Caught’ Apricot Mistelle drew me back. This wine has incredible true-to-the-fruit flavours and a fabulous texture and balance. Due to popular demand, Steve has also begun making wines from vinifera grapes. His ‘Earth Series’ includes a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc.

My last stop was at Clos du Soleil, where I had the opportunity to discuss the plans for a new winery building and to purchase the 2008 Clos Signature Merlot-dominant red blend, a rich powerful nicely balanced wine. This is the first vintage of the wine produced by renowned winemaker Ann Sperling, who is also producing wines from her historic family property, Sperling Vineyards. Wines from both the Clos du Soleil and Sperling Vineyards were featured in Savvy Company’s BC wine tasting, held in August, and are available to be ordered in Ontario through Savvy Company.

Enjoy visiting some of these wineries on your next trip to the Okanagan. 



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,