A few weeks ago I had an amazing wine adventure which included 4 days tasting through the Okanagan Valley wine country in British Columbia, and realized it is much more than the land of icewine. having heard many pros and cons Iwas eager to taste and understand what was going on in Canadian wine country. We were hosted by our friend Terry David Mulligan, host of “The Tasting Room” radio show and webcast. Terry is a connoisseur of Canadian wine, and movies, which made him our ideal host. The wineries we went to were family owned, small production operations, many of which had the wine makers pouring our tastings.
In 1988 there were 1,000 acres of land being farmed as vineyards. In 2009 there were about 10,000 acres of vineyards. The region is stunning, with vineyards flowing into orchards, down into Okanagan Lake, a big influence on the terrior for the region. The wine is good, and for the quality, very well priced. Most selections were priced under $50 Canadian. Unfortunately many can’t be found in Texas. In the mean time, if you find yourself in Vancouver, Toronto or any of our US/Canada boarder states keep an eye out for them, you won’t be disappointed.
La Frenz Chardonnay – Over the course our trip I had an opportunity to taste the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Chardonnay from La Frenz. All were good with slight differences. La Frenz was started by Australian native Jeff Martin and his wife Niva in 1999. The 2010 vintage was Jeff’s 27th in both Australia and Okanagan on the Naramata Bench. With 8000 total cases of La Frenz being produced the winery is best known for their Merlot, but I really fell for their Chardonnay. The 2009 was a bit young, similar to other Chardonnays from the region, showing that they really do need to rest in the bottle for about a year prior to consumption, but the 2008 was light and crisp with lots of mineral and herbal notes with apples and pears on the finish. The 2007 was my favorite as that additional bit of age had the same profile of herbal and mineral notes, but was richer with hints of honeysuckle and stone fruit.
Road 13 2006 Fifth Element – Started in 1998 as The Golden Mile Cellars, and purchased by Pam and Mick Luckhurst in 2003. In 2008 they were petitioned by the region to rename their winery so a subregion could be created named The Golden Mile. It is all about the dirt at Road 13, maintaining the firm belief that great wine starts in the vineyard. The Fifth Element is a Bordeaux style blend of predominantly Merlot, then Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Malbec and Petit Verdot. I saw this same profile in several blends in the region, with Merlot being the dominant grape, then often Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon used in smaller blending percentages. The result, a very smooth, balanced wine with good floral and green notes from the Cab Franc with weight coming from the Cab Sauv. A solid representation of blends of the region.
Dunham & Froese Estate Winery and Covert Farms – One thing that was really special about visiting this region was the attention to using local ingredients, utilizing farmers markets and embracing the whole slow food movement. This was evident at Covert Farms, a 600 acre organic farm of which 400 acres are planted with fruits and veggies, and about 150 are planted with vineyards creating Dunham and Froese Estate Winery. With California farming roots, they are currently producing about 2500 cases of wine organically and bio-dynamically with owners Gene & Shelly Covert and Kirby & Crystal Froese being hands on from vine to bottle. The 2008 Merlot was filled with chocolate, bright red cherry and blueberry. A well structured wine which is unfined and minimally filtered to allow the fruit to really shine. This is an excellent example of Okanagan Merlot, with a focus not only on environmental growing practices, but also the region.
Laughingstock Winery 2008 Blind Trust – Begun in 2003 by David and Cynthia Enns, both of which formerly held positions within the investment industry, who turned in their stock tickers to follow their passion and start a winery. Following a passion does not always result in a profit, something for investment types to worry about, however when you marry a beautiful, mineral rich plot of land on the Naramata Bench, with great wine making and smart varietals for the region, a passion can indeed become a healthy investment. The 2008 Blind Trust Red is a blend of 73% Merlot, 13% Malbec and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 17 months in French oak barrels this is an earthy wine with morello and black cherry and smoky chocolate. Next year the blend could be different, that is where The Blind Trust that it will be good comes in.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by all the wine we tasted, though we were particular in our destinations. I am not saying all the wine is great, but all the wine isn’t great in Napa or Sonoma either. The region is still developing withmany of the wineries just a few years old. Merlot is big in the region, as are blends with Merlot bases. Whites also shine, though I didn’t write about them specifically there were several white blends, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc that were really excellent from La Frenz, Le Vieux Pin, Road 13 and Nk’Mip Cellars. The region is about a 4 hour drive through beautiful Canada from Vancouver and should continue to get better and better as the wineries get a bit older. Cheers!