Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Grapes in the Okanagan

The May long weekend beckons, and I'm thinking what a great time to take a grape roadtrip. By that, I mean a lovely wine tour in the Naramata Bench region near Penticton, BC. I'm a bit of a wino, having wine toured twice in South Africa, New Zealand, and Napa Valley. My friend Maxine was recently in Naramata, and she brought back a couple of bottles from one of my favourite wineries, Therapy Vineyards. It reminded me of a trip Rob and I took to the Naramata a few years ago. We still regularly order from the wineries we visited, as well as those from Oliver and Osoyoos. Many are home-grown operations with limited yields, so we make sure we are on their mailing list. Most of the good stuff never makes it to the liquor stores. We feel the wine tastes that much better when you've been to the place of origin, and you have a feel for the winery, the winemakers, and the history.

The region is beautiful wine country, complete with gentle hills, farmsteads, and fruit orchards. Naramata has developed into a gourmet foodie destination, and I highly recommend staying there versus Kelowna. I'm not a big fan of the large scale wineries anyhow, and I find the people and stories behind the smaller places so much more intriguing.

I've put together my Great Grapes List below, which outlines my favourite wineries in Naramata Bench, as well as some of the neigbouring Oliver and Osoyoos. Don't forget to pack a picnic basket so you can enjoy your finds with some bread and cheese.

Lake Breeze: Located on a beautiful viewpoint over Okanagan Lake, I love this winery for their fabulous whites like the Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. I even love their Seven Poplar Chardonnay - incredible considering how much I dislike America's favourite grape. Plus, their patio restaurant serves the best food in Bench.

Above: Lunch on the sun-drenched patio of Lake Breeze.

Therapy Vineyards: This plot of land formerly grew grapes for Red Rooster, and luckily for us, it's now Therapy Vineyards. Freudian Sip is a wonderful summer sipper, as lighthearted as the colourful label. With names like Super Ego and Pink Freud, I'll take this kind of Therapy anyday. Oh, and did I mention they have a luxurious guesthouse B&B too? Heaven.

Black Hills Estate Winery: Sleek and sophisticated, Black Hills in Oliver is well known for its Nota Bene Bordeaux style red that packs a bold punch AND it sold out in 47 minutes (I grabbed a half case for the 2nd year in a row). If you want the best of hand-crafted, small lot wine, this is the place to be. Didn't make the wine club list this year? Sign up or go on their private tour, which will guarantee exclusivity and an intimate setting.

Burrowing Owl: Possibly the only wine estate in the area that gave me an old-world feeling. The setting is breathtaking. There's something in that hot Oliver soil that keeps producing juicy big reds, and Burrowing Owl is no exception. Take your pic of Merlot, Cab Sauv or Meritage, they won't disappoint.

Above: Wine and Cheese at Burrowing Owl.

Poplar Grove: Not so much for their wines, but I'm here for their cheese. Double cream camembert, tiger blue (nice bite) and the creamy Naramata Bench blue. You can pick these up at better fromage places around town but isn't it more fun getting it there?

Laughing Stock: Created by former stock brokers looking for a greater passion, Laughing Stock is a clever little enterprise that happens to make great reds. Specifically, look for the Porfolio which has picked up its fair share of awards. The tasting room (a small but sleek room) is open by-appointment only, so call ahead.


Anonymous said...

Not for their wines?! That's a big miss.

Anonymous said...

Ditto for the "miss" on Poplar Grove. Good stuff there. But if really know your bench wines, then you'll already have boughten your allocations from La Frenz, Kettle Valley and Nichol. These blow Freud and the Owl out of the water. You gotta dig deep for the real gold! Oh, best food in the Okanagan is the Heritage Inn. Ask any chef, they know.

Livie said...

@anonymous x2 - i disagree with the poplar grove - i wasn't impressed with the wine tasting there but that's the beauty of wines - we all have different tastes.

yes, La Frenz is on my list (have some bottles from there, great whites) as is Nichol but I did not include them as my list was getting a bit long!

Not keen on Kettle Valley at all. In fact, that was my worst wine tasting experience.

haven't been to the Heritage Inn but looks lovely.

Emz said...

That looks gorgeous! I really want to go on a wine trail sometime!

Livie said...

@emz - you totally should - you'd have a great time.

to follow up - i opened up two bottles from Naramata last night. A La Frenz 2006 Cab Sauv and a Burrowing Owl Syrah (I think it was also 2006 or 2005).

La Frenz - everyone loved it, but I thought it was a bit heavy on the oaky side. Still nice though.

Loved the Syrah, nice and spicy.