This summer Jamie Goode and I converged on the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in British Columbia and spent a week there touring wine country together. The trip then culminated in a few additional days serving as International Judges for the annual National Wine Awards of Canada.
Combining the two events – touring some of British Columbia wine and the National Wine Awards judging – gave a great opportunity to both dig deep into the local region’s wines and then get an overview on the state of Canadian wine as well. There were so many great people along the way I even felt home sick after leaving. It’s a special and strange thing to feel right at home with people so easily.
Okanagan and Similkameen really impressed me. Parts of both valleys are so beautiful it is almost shocking. About half way through the trip, for example, I woke up in the middle of the night of a full moon. I was turned towards the open windows and awoke to a full panorama of the moon lighting up Okanagan Falls – an incredible valley largely undisturbed by industry, carved on each of four sides by young mountain peaks. It was overwhelming to go from full sleep to that scene at first view. What a treat.
Though far smaller than the Okanagan, Similkameen too hosts a range of beauties. It’s one of those regions that feels like suddenly falling back in time to something closer to frontier explorations just by driving around one last corner and popping into the valley. It also hosts the highest concentration of organic farming in the entire country of Canada. A couple hours into our day there we even got interrupted by cowboys driving their cattle up the highway. It’s one of those things that in a movie or television show would look far too staged to believe but in real life reminds you of the incredible diversity of this planet.
One of the other special moments came in meeting Justin Hall, assistant winemaker at Nk’Mp also in charge of the white wine program, the first aboriginally owned winery in North America. Justin is also the first indigenous winemaker in North America, and I’m the first Alaska Native/Native American wine writer. Justin and I had so much fun chatting and laughed a lot about contemporary realities of Native life. Later when I tried to recount parts of the conversation to some non-Natives they had no sense of what I was talking about whereas when I called my mom a couple days later and recounted the conversation to her she couldn’t stop laughing. Indian humor. Whatya gonna do?
The wines from the region cover a real range. It’s a relatively young region with vitis vinifera really only taking hold in the late 1980s, though modern planting started in the 1960s and 1970s. (First vineyards arrived in the Okanagan as early as the 1850s, earmarked for sacramental wine but the region went through a massive replant to European varieties towards the end of the 1900s.) With a relatively young modern wine industry the quality and stylistic interests of the region are profoundly diverse – younger regions tend to show a wider expanse of style as people experiment with what grows best and makes the best wines. Those wines that rise to the top from the area are special. There are some distinct and beautiful wines coming from the region with a few people really devoting themselves to understanding the unique conditions of their home and what it means to make wine of that place. I’ll get into some of those projects more in a future post but in the meantime here’s a look back at my Instagram collection from the trip that will give you a taste for how very much is happening in the Okanagan and Similkameen for wine.
Wonderful wonderful Syrah grown along the shores of the Okanagan in the cool northern portions of the lake. The @quailsgate 2014 Syrah is a delicious cool climate expression of the variety – mouthwatering length, notes of wild low bush blueberry kissed by frost. To be released sometime next year with lots of time in the bottle to age. From the range of Quail’s Gate wines across multiple varieties + vintages this is a favorite. #bcwine
Too much fun chatting the history of Okanagan wine, the challenges of raising geese in winter, what it means to have a good vineyard dog + how to support a vineyard by working as an award winning hairdresser w Trudy + George Heiss at Gray Monk, one of the founding wineries of the Okanagan + the first to bring Pinot Gris to Canada. #bcwine
Based on principles of sacred geometry Summerhill ages their biodynamically farmed wines inside a four-sided pyramid (shown here looking to the top of the pyramid) w angles matching the Great Pyramids of Giza + the north wall facing true north w no metal forming the structure of the building. Tonight for the Summer Solstice the pyramid will host a meditation circle. Asked what they believe the pyramid does, the Summerhill team explained they believe the pyramid accentuates + clarifies whatever is there. For aging wines, then, they are careful to make sure the wines that go into the pyramid are essentially free of flaws. In their view, in the pyramid flawed wines become more flawed. Good wines get better. In the Mission of east Kelowna overlooking the shores of Lake Okanagan. #bcwine
Fascinating to home in on the varied expressions of Pinot Noir in the subzones of Lake Okanagan’s northern sections. From the more structured tenacity in the furthest north to the mouthwatering zest through Kelowna + here in Okanagan Falls silky tannin and mouthfeel. The Liquidity 2014 Pinot noir silken + mouthwatering w elegant length. #bcwine
Haywire winery became the first to import + use concrete fermenters in British Columbia in 2011 + now rely predominantly on concrete w some stainless steel, using no oak for any of their wines. In the winery the Haywire team uses minimal sulfur + all ambient yeast fermentation. Winemaker Matt Dumayne explained that now relying entirely on organic farming in the vineyards he has healthier vines that offer greater flavor development at lower brix meaning he can pick earlier and get lower pH, higher acidity + fresher wines. They also operate the first designed-for custom crush winery in Canada. In the Summerland district of Okanagan Valley. #bcwine
Standing at the top of Pozza Vineyard w John + Aaron of Orofino @orofino_winery, Alishan of Little Farm @littlefarmwine, @drjamiegoode + @laurakittmer, a 3-acre northeastern facing slope of Cabernet franc, a cooler climate site of the variety in the Similkameen Valley utterly surrounded by highly aromatic sage + rugged mountain desert. Standing here I am surrounded by the smell of sage. A new site for Orofino winery. #bcwine
Great time hanging w Justin Hall, Osoyoos Indian Band member and Assistant Winemaker of Nk’Mip, the first Aboriginal winery in North America. We’re Native – we talked about food, hunting, how we like to cook big game leg bones, our families, the land + super secret inside joke Indian humor. As we would. #bcwine
The Harker family’s 100-yr old snow apple tree produces 3500-lbs of fruit every other year. With it they started their Rustic Roots winery + make the fresh + delicious Fameus sparkling wine + a crisp dry cider. They’ve lived on their property in the Similkameen now for 5 generations since the 1880s. #bcwine
A genuine pleasure to taste + judge the top wines of Canada w the @winealign team + these four in particular. A really thoughtful, insightful team to hone + learn w too. #Repost @trevering ・・・ Finals. 🏆 Looking at 32 of Canada’s best Pinot Noir with Crew Blue #NWAC16 @bradroyale @bensigurdson @curlyluddite @hawk_wakawaka @winealign
It’s been a historic year for the National Wine Awards of Canada. After several days of intensive screening a round of Malbec has advanced to the finals for the first time in 16 years of the Awards. Yesterday an orange wine made it into the finals for the first time as well. #NWAC16 #BDTFY Go team blue! @trevering @curlyluddite @bensigurdson @bradroyale
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