Some British Columbia Wineries

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GregT
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Some British Columbia Wineries

#1 Post by GregT » July 31st, 2019, 3:54 pm

I don't recall reading much about this region, so while I usually don't post much about wine trips or wine tasting, this area seemed to be overlooked, so I'll give it a shot.

More or less on a whim my wife and I decided to visit British Columbia. Since we flew to Washington, we visited a few places there too. There is an awesome bakery in Spokane where we got talking to the girl selling bread, so she served me this thing that I thought was a kind of Parmesan cheese foam. In fact it was fermented cashew whip, which was definitely weird, but also pretty good. So cheese-like that even if you're a strict vegan, you can still enjoy the taste of cheese, unless of course, self-abegnation is central to your philosophy.

Anyhow, we visited a few WA wineries that we liked and a few that we didn't end up liking so much and we headed up to Canada.

The Okanagan Valley is the northern part of the Sonoran desert, which to someone from the east coast is not apparent. Sonora is supposed to be southwest, hot, and dry, and some of us think British Columbia is all wet and forested and full of grizzly bears. Apparently that's not entirely off the mark because out of four or five days, it rained for three, and one winery had a Great Pyrenee that was all wet from the rain and slept right next to the tiny tasting bar, tired because earlier that morning he had run a bear out of the vineyard. So having confirmed my beliefs about the region, we set about tasting as much wine as we could.

Actually the region is much like N. California or Washington - it's fairly dry since the mountains protect it from the western Pacific breezes. It gets the same hours of sunlight that we do in CA, but it's distributed differently, with longer days in July and shorter days in the spring and fall, similar to what happens in Washington. The temperatures can get pretty hot, especially in the valley, where they hit the high 90s frequently. The surrounding area is still pretty rural and undeveloped and beautiful.

We didn't have much time so decided to stay in the the Oliver/Osooyos area, which is the most southern part of the valley. We didn't get north into Penicton and beyond, even though it was only a short distance. But that will have to be a later trip. There are some good wineries up there. But we managed to get to Adega on 45th, Black Hills, Burrowing Owl, Covert Farms, Castoro de Oro, Checkmate, Church and State, Culmina, Desert Hills, Gehringer Brothers, Gold Hill, Here's the Thing, Hester Creek, Jackson-Triggs/Inniskillin, Lariana, Le Vieux Pin, Maverick, Moon Curser, Nk'Mip Cellars, Platinum Bench, River Stone, Road 13, Tinhorn Creek, Young and Wyse, and a few others I really can't recall at the moment.

The problem is that most of them only open around 11 and they close at 5, but thank God they're pretty close to each other. You just drive up the road and there are wineries on either side, so you don't need to do a lot of searching or asking Google for directions. The first day we got there late so only got to two wineries. Figure that the wineries are usually pouring a minimum of five wines, but we usually got through some ten or twelve when we started talking and they wanted to show something special. We usually picked up a bottle or two of something we liked so we'd have something good for dinner, and something good to take back home.

One of the places I really wanted to go was Nk'Mip Cellars, which is owned by the Indians in the area. I liked the concept of it. They're smart folks since they have quite a bit of property on which they built a golf course, shops, hiking and horseback trails, high-end restaurant, winery, and time-shares. It's a pretty expensive place all in all. I was dubious about the wines, but wanted to try them anyway. They were not overly expensive at all and much to our delight, they were pretty good. They could have easily produced some plonk and made their money on the tourism activities, but they actually worked hard to put out some good wine at reasonable prices. And a word about the restaurant - the chef came from Toronto and was given a first-class restaurant to run. It had been French, Italian, Continental, and whatever else. He had the idea of using the native cooking elements, which for me was a first. So I ordered pasta made from chestnut flour, which was common before chestnut blight, with foraged mushrooms and wild hare and sumac and other local herbs and spices. My wife had bison basted with spruce and some root vegetable that I can't recall at the moment. And it paired really well with their Syrah. I think that restaurant would do well in any spot, and it was nice to find there.

Wherever we were, we asked the wine makers who we should visit and mostly we took their recommendations, but that didn't mean we couldn't stop at every place along the way.

Gehringer and Gold Hill both made Cab Franc that I wanted to try. It was fair. Desert Hills had a Zin and a Gamay I wanted to try, and those are probably not things I'd hunt for too hard. Moon Curser had a Tannat and a Tempranillo but they weren't pouring the Tannat when I got there. It was late and they told us to come back the next day and they'd open it for us. All in all their wines weren't bad. We kind of unwittingly interrupted a special private tasting that some girls had scheduled but the winemaker ended up talking to us about his vines and wines and the girls didn't seem to care too much.

We were told that Burrowing Owl is quite proud of themselves. It turns out with good reason. Their wines are quite nice and the help was too. No pretense, just good wines. When one of them was corked, I pointed it out and the pourer opened another one. His boss showed up and pulled him aside to ask what was happening. There was some conversation and the boss poured some of the wine and shook his head. The kid pouring was smart though - he poured some of the good bottle into a second glass and gave that to the boss man for comparison purposes. You could see the light go on in the boss man's head and as he walked away I could have sworn his head was illuminating the room. But maybe it was just that the rain was finally stopping and the sun coming out.

There's some guy named John Schreiner who reviews BC wines and has written a few books on Canadian wines. Everyone was touting any score they received from him that was over 90. Of course I had no clue who he was so didn't really care too much about his opinion, but I like his approach. If you think about it, he's smart. He's not trying to cover the whole world. He's been tasting those BC wines for many years and knows the wine makers and the history. If you don't know where to start, he may well be someone to pay attention to. I planned to taste every wine I could, but I understand that some people prefer not to taste dozens of wines every day, especially when many of them won't be very good. Turns out that Schreiner wasn't that bad either - a lot of his calls were very reasonable, although in a few cases I thought he was doing some cheerleading. In any event, if you are going in blind and you'd prefer some recs, you may want to look him up. Besides, it's my mother's maiden name and I know she had an uncle who moved to the northwest US back in the 1940s, so he may even be family.

The one thing I did agree with Schreiner about was Checkmate. He gave one of their wines 100 points and everyone talked about it, so We headed up to see for ourselves. It's kind of an isolated thing on a hill.

First thing I noticed was that while almost all of the other wineries save one or two had perfectly good Riedel glasses, these guys went for Gabriel Glas. One of the girls was a bit surprised that I had any idea what Gabriel Glas even was. We started talking and it turns out she'd gone through one of the wine courses - WSET or something like that, so she knew a bit about wine even though she wasn't the wine maker. I was happy and figured we'd end the day there - hilltop view, attractive girls who were smart, friendly, and liked wine. What more could you want?

Maybe good wine?

And they came through like champs. The Checkmate wines were some of the best we tried. They make a series of Chardonnays and these were crisp, clean, lightly oaked and quite delicious. I would love to put them into a blind tasting with some Chablis. Classy wines for sure. Their reds were OK too, but the Chardonnays were top notch.

Overall there were a lot of good wines and the prices were great when compared to what you get from places like Napa or even Sonoma. The region focuses on the Bordeaux varieties, which I understand because that's what people buy, but I think they could do more more diverse grapes.

Many of them agree - there's interest in Tempranillo, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Gamay, Cab Franc, and others. It's still a learning curve for many of those and maybe some will never be anything to write home about but you don't know until you try.

There's also plenty of Pinot Noir, but I didn't find any that stood out. I think it's an over-rated grape anyway but I'm willing to taste as many as I can because sometimes it's quite good. Overall though, maybe the best wines were Syrah. There seemed to be a lot of it, perhaps because I was looking, but because the valley is so dramatically sloped, with a valley floor and steep mountains to either side, you can find all kinds of really interesting micro climates to plant a specific variety. The same vineyard may have wildly varying temperatures and diurnal temperature swings, and whether you're on the east or west of the valley will determine your sun exposure.

The Okanagan is truly a beautiful and dramatic place and I have every intention of going back. There's talk of making a national park there, and some stiff opposition from the wineries. That was a surprise to me until I talked to some of them about their thinking. The place is beautiful right now and still very rural. Nobody is trying to build hotels or golf courses. But they're concerned that the park will restrict their vineyards and until that's sorted out, there is likely to be some contention, so my advice is to avoid discussing the issue.

Since we only had one twelve pack shipper, I only brought back twelve wines. We didn't go farther north, which is going to be the next trip. I want to go to Laughing Stock, which makes one of the best Bordeaux blends in the region, and by then the Osoyoos Larose tasting room should be open as well.

Here are a few pics.

Checkmate
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A Checkmate Chardonnay
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A decent Gruner Veltliner (look at the ABV)
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Magnificent bread - these folks did a bread and wine tasting. They made bread on site every morning and it was usually sold out by early afternoon. Worth going just for the bread, but the wines aren't bad either. And once it was sold out, the only way to get any was to do the tasting.
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[i]"the incorrect overuse of apostrophes is staggering these days. I wonder if half the adults these days have any idea what they are for." Chris Seiber, 5/14/19[/i]

Jordan D
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#2 Post by Jordan D » August 1st, 2019, 11:59 am

I’m sitting on the beach right now as I read your post Greg, and I think your post was spot on in all respects. I was really impressed with the Checkmate chards as well, and their new building structure will be very impressive when finished

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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#3 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » August 1st, 2019, 1:13 pm

I like Nk'Mip and Burrowing Owl based on bottles I have been given in the past. Looking forward to further explorations this fall.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#4 Post by GregT » August 1st, 2019, 1:36 pm

Are you heading up there? You might want to try Laughing Stock and Osoyoos Larose.

Laughing Stock was a pet project of a couple in the financial industry. They took their money and started a boutique winery and they were off. It wasn't considered a brilliant investment, hence the name. But the wines were good and they expanded production to around 6000 cases or so.

Osoyoos Larose was a joint venture between Vincor Canada, which is Constellation, and the corporation that owns Château Gruaud Larose. Started in 2001, the Gruaud Larose people bought out Constellation's share in 2003 and since then have been in full control.

The owners of Laughing Stock OTOH, in 2017 were at capacity and were heading into harvest with more grapes coming in than they could handle, so they decided to sell. The new owners are the current iteration of Vincor Canada, called Arterra, which is now owned by Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. But they've left things alone to a large degree, although they brought in a wine maker who went to school and trained in Bordeaux. I haven't had the most recent wines, but I understand she's quite good. And the founders are still involved.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#5 Post by Mike Grammer » August 1st, 2019, 2:55 pm

I tipped my hat to you a bit on the parallel thread, Greg, but kudos for a terrific write-up here. I seemingly need to find some Checkmate to try.

Schreiner is very much listened to out there, and from what I've seen of his notes, I respect his palate.

Moon Curser has some of my favourite wines for the non-usual varietals, espec their tannat and tempranillo.

I've been encouraged by the ticking up of quality, especially from some smaller operations that are not trying to make everything for everyone. For me, the region has followed much the track of Ontario, just about a decade behind--and catching up fairly quickly. Because of the different microclimates, I do believe there is actually the potential to be, overall, a more intriguing region than Ontario.

And agreed--I have yet to find a BC pinot (including Burrowing Owl or Cedar Creek) that moves me...but I searched a long, long time before I found one in Ontario that does that too.

Le Vieux Pin makes a *great* Sauv Blanc most years.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#6 Post by Ron Slye » August 1st, 2019, 3:32 pm

On Pinots, the Financial Times had a very strong write up (I am pretty sure it was Jancis) on a Mission Hill Pinot -- I tried it and was not that impressed.

Checkmate, by the way, is owned by the same owner of Mission Hill. They have a third winery which is very hard to get into (according to one of the servers at Checkmate who told me about it). I can't remember the name. I will try to dig it up unless someone here chimes in with it.

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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#7 Post by Mark Y » August 1st, 2019, 3:35 pm

Does anyone like Blue Mountain pinot? i thought it's decently quaffable.. which is better than most Pinots made there?

Also Foxtrot Pinot is actually quite good.. brought it to a Seattle tasting group in a blind Pinot of the world tasting, and it came in 1st.
which... basically means it probablys lacks burgundian complexity but is approachable and high enough quality to be tasty/good. ;)
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#8 Post by Chris Seiber » August 1st, 2019, 4:05 pm

The best Canadian wine I’ve tried is the Black Hills Nota Bene, a claret from Okanagan. I’d be quite interested to try some of their other wines.

The Wild Goose Riesling Stony Slope was pretty good.

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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#9 Post by Chris Seiber » August 1st, 2019, 4:10 pm

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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#10 Post by Matt M . » August 1st, 2019, 4:12 pm

Chris Seiber wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 4:05 pm
The best Canadian wine I’ve tried is the Black Hills Nota Bene, a claret from Okanagan. I’d be quite interested to try some of their other wines.

The Wild Goose Riesling Stony Slope was pretty good.
100% agree... got a case of the 2014 as a gift, and down to my last two bottles. Would be a fun one to insert into a blind tasting of Washington State BDX Blends.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#11 Post by bob parsons alberta » August 1st, 2019, 4:21 pm

I have some experience of BC wines so nice thread here. Burrowing Owl wines are not as good as they were and friends had a terrible tasting room experience earlier this year. Wild Goose is top drawer especially their P Gris.

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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#12 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » August 1st, 2019, 4:28 pm

GregT wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 1:36 pm
Are you heading up there? You might want to try Laughing Stock and Osoyoos Larose.
Not going to get as far down as Osoyoos. We’re coming from Golden, so Penticton is as far south as we’ll get, before we have to head back east.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#13 Post by GregT » August 1st, 2019, 6:38 pm

So Laughing Stock is a few minutes north of Penticton. You're going to be coming down a beautiful route. I assume you're taking the 1 through Glacier National Park? Many years since I've been up there but I recall it as being pretty phenomenal.

Bob - did the wines change when they changed wine makers? They don't charge a tasting fee but instead ask that you make $5 donation to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society. I kind of liked that. And the help was really decent - we ended up being taken care of by a young guy who was going away to school in the fall and was working as a summer job. He was chatty, friendly, and smart.

I think the original wine maker was one of the brothers who founded Burrowing Owl, Steve Wyse. He left to start his own winery, Young and Wyse. That place is literally next to the US customs station at the border, which is on the other side of the fence to their vineyard. But we didn't find their wines quite as good as Burrowing Owl's.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#14 Post by Jordan D » August 1st, 2019, 9:15 pm

Mark Y wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 3:35 pm
Does anyone like Blue Mountain pinot? i thought it's decently quaffable.. which is better than most Pinots made there?

Also Foxtrot Pinot is actually quite good.. brought it to a Seattle tasting group in a blind Pinot of the world tasting, and it came in 1st.
which... basically means it probablys lacks burgundian complexity but is approachable and high enough quality to be tasty/good. ;)
My favourite Pinot producer in BC is Meyer Family, they are in OK Falls close to Blue Mountain. Their single vineyard bottling are very good at the price point.

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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#15 Post by Mike Grammer » August 2nd, 2019, 9:55 am

I wanted to get to Meyer but just ran out of time. OK, Jordan, I'll try to keep it on the radar to try a PN from there.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#16 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » August 2nd, 2019, 10:07 am

GregT wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 6:38 pm
So Laughing Stock is a few minutes north of Penticton. You're going to be coming down a beautiful route. I assume you're taking the 1 through Glacier National Park? Many years since I've been up there but I recall it as being pretty phenomenal.
Yup. We helicopter out of the back country on the BC/AB border, then hop in the car in Golden to head down 1 through Glacier. Been to the Rockies 13 times. Never get sick of it.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#17 Post by GregT » August 2nd, 2019, 10:35 am

Not possible. You can never tire of it. That was the last trip my Mother made. She loved it. Have a good trip!
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#18 Post by GregT » August 13th, 2019, 6:28 pm

https://www.pentictonwesternnews.com/ne ... y-pioneer/

BC wine lost a pioneer a few days ago.
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Re: Some British Columbia Wineries

#19 Post by Mike Grammer » August 13th, 2019, 7:04 pm

A shame---he is very well known and was indeed a pioneer out there and for Canadian wine in general.
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