This edition of the Georgia Straight has partnered with the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country so readers can get to know its wineries and their respective stories a little more intimately.
Over here at the Bottle, it’s prompted me to reflect on the region and my personal experiences there through various sips and travels.
This week, in no particular order, I’ve listed my 10 favourite things about British Columbia’s Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country.
1. It’s a desert
I cannot tell you how much I love it when skeptics think that Canada, of all places, wouldn’t have the capability to properly ripen red grapes, and then I get to drop the truth-bomb that the Southern Okanagan is literally a desert, with scrubby sagebrush, cacti, rattlesnakes, and the whole nine yards. During the summer months, the region’s hotter than California’s Napa Valley. True story!
2. Chenin Blanc vines at Road 13 Vineyards
Some of the oldest vines in the Okanagan Valley, the Old Vines Chenin Blanc vineyard at Road 13 was planted in 1968 and constantly produces one of my favourite wines of any region. The current 2014 vintage is as good as any, with plenty of pear, brioche, honey, and mineral notes and a fresh squeeze of lime. A steal at $27.
3. Tucking in at Miradoro
The wines of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards have been consistently enjoyable for over two decades now, from their tropically refreshing Gewürztraminer to their Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc, loaded with red berry, cocoa, and spice. While those two wines alone make Tinhorn Creek a destination worth visiting, it’s an absolute must when in the area to grab a table at the winery’s Miradoro Restaurant. Chef Jeff Van Geest’s celebration of local fare with slight stylistic nods to the Mediterranean is always on point, and the epic view from the restaurant’s perch can’t be beat.
4. The adventurous spirit of Chris and Beata Tolley
Hey, I love South Okanagan Syrahs and Cabernet Francs as much as anyone, but I always enjoy when winemakers break the mould, particularly when they do it so well. Chris and Beata Tolley of Moon Curser Vineyards toil with things like Touriga Nacional, more commonly known as a Portuguese port wine grape, and Arneis, a white, flinty and citrusy variety that usually calls Piedmont, Italy, home. Their wines are generally made in small batches, so grab them when you can.
5. Shaking hands with Chris Jentsch
Long-time Okanagan farmer Chris Jentsch is the guy behind C.C. Jentsch Cellars, a gentle giant of a man whose strong, enveloping handshake exudes decades of hearty farming experience and makes my own handshake seem downright dainty. A warm, humble gentleman, he and his wife, Betty, allow (kick-ass) winemaker Amber Pratt to shepherd their family’s fruit into laudable bottlings, including a much-acclaimed Syrah, which has acquired a good pile of medals.
6. Stoneboat’s stones
A simple stroll among the vines of Stoneboat Vineyards will have you noticing smooth, rounded rocks with chunks of white calcium carbonate covering various parts of the surface. That calcium carbonate, also known as limestone, adds some stellar minerality to its wines, particularly the Pinot Noir, which is consistently one of my favourite British Columbian wines. At $24.90, it also offers tremendous value.
7. Michael Bartier’s deep roots
One of B.C.’s most renowned winemakers, Bartier over the years has been a part of putting Township 7, Road 13 Vineyards, and Okanagan Crush Pad on the map, along with assisting Meyer Family Vineyards and Painted Rock Estate Winery get established in their early years via his in-demand consulting services. Born and raised in the region, he’s put down further roots by establishing his own winery, Bartier Bros., which means we needn’t worry about him moving on to other, faraway ventures. The guy also gets extra points for his affinity for the woefully unsung Sémillon variety.
8. White Rhône–inspired blends
Wineries like Le Vieux Pin and Church & State Wines have been drawing much-deserved attention to the Rhône’s Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne varieties, all of which harness the Okanagan’s sunshine, mineral-rich soils, and natural acidity quite well. I love that we’re seeing more and more wineries play around with these opulent, fruity, nutty, charismatic grapes.
9. Culmina’s Unicus
I’ve long been a fan of Austria’s Grüner Veltliner variety because of its bracing acidity, prismatic citrus character, and handiness with mineral expression. Why it’s taken this long for someone in the Okanagan to make wine from it is anybody’s guess, but boy, am I stoked with Culmina Family Estate Winery’s take on the grape, dubbed Unicus. It’s everything I’d hoped Okanagan Grüner could be.
10. Bill Eggert of Fairview Cellars
Okanagan winemaking veteran Bill Eggert is known for well-structured, broad-shouldered red wines that aren’t shy. They’re a good reflection of the man himself, a shoot-from-the-hip guy who tells it like it is and has been a proponent for many political aspects of the industry, particularly truth in labelling.