It was by far the most welcome meeting I had in my office last week. Jay Drysdale, the coproprietor and winemaker at Naramata’s Bella Wines in the Okanagan Valley, was in town, sharing his latest releases with various sommeliers and retailers. During recent years, Jay and his partner, Wendy Rose, have been increasing their profile among local fans of sparkling wine; in fact, it’s the only style of wine produced at Bella.
The array of labels they produce, however, almost dwarfs that of other local producers of similar volume (fewer than 3,000 cases annually).
Drysdale likes to play around with the fruit he sources from single vineyards throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, making wine primarily from Chardonnay and Gamay. Although only sparkling is produced from just two varieties, the current crop of 2018 wines about to be released is a mighty dozen(!), which doesn’t include reserve labels from previous vintages yet to be released.
Many splashes of the figurative rainbow of wine Drysdale poured for me were made in the traditional method, à la Champagne, where a dose of sugar and yeast is added to a finished still wine that is then capped, so resulting carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle during this second fermentation, creating pressurized fizz. The remainder were of an increasingly trendy, yet pretty old-school, method known as pét-nat, or méthode ancestrale, where a still wine is still fermenting for the first time in the bottle, and capped before that initial carbon dioxide has a chance to be released. Each of his selections had its own identity and charisma, all of them way more welcome than the invoicing and other administration I’d had on my office to-do list that morning.
The Bella home vineyard in Naramata is farmed organically, and visiting the tasting room, which reopens Easter weekend, often involves stepping around pigs and chickens that are running around the property.
Their wines hit the spirit of this sunnier season well; it’s no accident they’re hitting store shelves like those of Liberty Wines’ Commercial Drive location and Legacy Liquor Store in Olympic Village over the next week or so. They’re all released in small batches, so sparkling fans will want to hit stores or jump to Bella’s website (bellawines.ca/) beginning April 1, when this new flock of fizz will be available for purchase online. They go fast; in fact, when it comes to the tasting room, they usually close up shop by midsummer.
Here are my favourites from our tasting. Prices listed are winery-direct; expect 'em to be a few bucks more by the time they get to local retail outlets.
Bella B2 Buddha’s Blend ($27) is one of the few multivineyard wines Drysdale makes, this one done in the traditional method and composed of 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Gamay. There’s plenty of tangy blood orange on the palate, along with ripe peaches so juicy they’re the kind you have to eat over the sink. It still finishes dry, however, with exotic notes of guava and lemongrass carrying the finish.
Bella Keremeos Vineyard Traditional Method ($28) is made entirely from Gamay, which spends four to six hours on the skins, giving it a lovely salmon-pink hue. Fresh red currants explode out of the glass, then they’re quickly lapped up by distinct gulps of scrumpy apple cider. If you like your wine a little on the wild side, you’ll drink this one up quick.
Bella Mariani Vineyards Pét-Nat Clone 509 ($40) is Naramata Gamay that spends five days with the skins and, per the style, finishes its fermentation in the sealed bottle. Cracking the cap unleashes fresh scents familiar to those who like to tromp through vineyards and wineries. On the palate, think toasty gingerbread with a dollop of raspberry jam and a squeeze or two of fresh pink grapefruit, giving things a little extra zing.
Bella Mariani Vineyards Pét-Nat Clone 787 ($40) is a trip! Like I said, the guy likes to play around, and having this side by side with the Clone 509 above allows us all to get our geek on. So we’re talking Gamay, but a different clone of the grape, grown in the same vineyard, but this one only with a few hours on the skins. It’s much less intense than the bold-flavoured 509. Here we have yellow pears, apples, and maybe a yellow jujube or two in there as well. It’s the only Bella wine I’ve had that finishes with a kiss of sweetness, making it suitable for Thai curries, hot wings, or any other spicy fare.
The Bella wines are all about vineyard expression and authenticity when it comes to the final product. In fact, it’s one of the only local wineries where you’ll see ingredients listed, so you know what’s in your glass isn’t bolstered by needless chemicals or trickery. For me, that’s certainly worthy of a toast.