By Colleen Ross
Wine tasting season is not dead. I recently returned from a lovely weekend on Naramata Bench and everyone was in full action. The last of the grapes were being harvested, the crush pads were flowing with juice and the leaves were changing color. I don’t know what was more beautiful -- the wine or the views.
A three-hour drive from Rossland, Penticton and Naramata Bench are easily accessible. The area is brimming with wine bars, micro breweries, roasters and restaurants to please any foodie. From Penticton, the Naramata Bench is a pedal bike ride from Penticton along a well-maintained trail (or a designated-driver car ride) and two afternoons is all one needs to explore. There are so many great wineries on the Bench; the Naramata Bench Wineries Association has a list of them all. The Association’s site is worth exploring ahead of time to determine who is open and which ones require appointments. Most tasting costs are waived with a wine purchase and are between $10-$50 depending on whether you want the tasting bar, a tour or a more intimate tasting experience. Here are a few that I visited:
1. Poplar Grove
Go for the view first and the wine is a lovely added bonus. This is one of the first wineries you’ll come to on your way out of Penticton and it is one of the original wineries on the bench. You may want to make this a lunch stop; their restaurant showcases local foods and their wines. They make a wide range of wines from Pinot Gris to red blends. I left with the Provencal styled Rose (glass topper and all) which is the perfect wine to keep on hand for those charcuterie nights. Purchase the Flagship Tasting at $15/person but if you’re there on a weekend the $10 tasting is just enough to experience their wines. You’ll be taking photos of the scenic Okanagan Valley from their tasting room.
2. Deep Roots Winery
I was working as a wine server at the Lieutenant Governor Awards last month where this family-run winery was awarded the BC Wine of the Year for their 2017 Syrah. I hung out with Mr. and Mrs. Hardman whose family has owned the land for almost 100 years. Their son, Will, was busy in the crush pad and their dogs Bulay and Kenya were busy greeting guests. Of course their 2017 Syrah was sold out but that’s one of many wines they can be proud of. The rest of their wines are also delicious and for those Italian food nights with tomato sauce, open their 2017 Reserve Gamay. It has just the right amount of acidity balanced with red fruits and a finish that lingers long enough to keep you from shoveling more spaghetti into your mouth too fast. Savour this one as it’s made with a lot of passion and love. Contact them before showing up to make sure someone will be there.
3. Laughing Stock Vineyards
Want something fun, a little upbeat and on trend? Book an appointment for a $10 tasting . What an interesting story they have, and they make incredible wines on top of it. Founded by formerly financial-career-oriented David and Cynthia Enns, who left their offices and stockbroking lives to follow their dreams in the vineyards. Though their friends on Bay and Wall street thought they’d become a “laughing stock”, the Enns are having the last laugh now. Each bottle is wrapped in ticker tape with the stock close outs for the date it was bottled and inside is an impressive wine. I ended up getting a mixed case but my favorite was their orange wine, Amphora VRM. Orange wine is a tribute to how wine was made in ancient times and is becoming quite the thing in the wine world. Their blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne is a conversation piece with sediment still in the bottle. It’s golden amber in color with dried apricot and tropical fruit flavors. The complexity and textured finish can be attributed to it being aged for 65 days on the skins in clay terracotta Amphorae. Only 210 cases were made, so hurry up!
4. Little Engine Wines
A newer winery to the area, this was a random stop yet most impressive. The branding was on point, their ambassador, Don, was extremely knowledgeable, and their wines were exactly what I’ve experienced in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Their winemaker, Scott Robinson, has a respectable portfolio and it shows in his wines. I spent the most time here because I wanted to try everything and it just kept getting better. I would highly recommend any of their Pinot Noirs or Chardonnays (they do one that reminded me of Chablis as well as oaked). If you were to purchase one wine only, buy something from their Platinum selection. I purchased the 2017 Platinum Pinot Noir since it’s hunting season and Pinot Noir, wild mushrooms and venison are best friends. You will not recycle their platinum bottles since the metal plated label is worth displaying. Reserve their 50 minute Collectors’ tasting for $18. Be prepared to buy the whole lot.
And, close to home:
Can’t get away, or don’t feel like driving very far? Don’t overlook the opportunity to taste great grapes in our backyard. Columbia Gardens Vineyard and Winery on Station Road in Trail makes a complex and lively Foch that’s worth showing off to your friends. I keep their DeJager’s Port Style Dessert Wine on hand for those dinner nights where the last course needs to impress and I really like my dinner company.
Don’t even want to leave Rossland? Rossland’s well educated, fun and inspiring sommelier Michel Valiquette will be hosting Rossland Museum’s inaugural annual fundraising event on November 16th -- an evening of food and wine that I’m sure will take you away to fine destinations without leaving town. The wine line-up looks fantastic and who doesn’t want Mountain Nugget Chocolate, so I’ll see you there! https://www.rosslandmuseum.ca/new-blog/vintner2019
Author Colleen Ross is a Rossland resident and wine enthusiast and holds her WSET 3. She is currently studying Wine Business Management at Sonoma State and working on research for school looking at consumer preferences in wine producing locations. If you have five minutes, give her your opinion at https://www.colleenaross.com/research.