If you follow me on Instagram at all (which you should if not yet!), you already know that I was back in Vancouver, Canada for a good 10 days in early July.
The trip was mostly visiting family and relatives that I have not seen since I was last there in summer 2014. However I did manage to persuade my aunt, uncle and underage cousin to come along with for a quick last minute day trip to Kelowna, B.C. to visit some vineyards.
After a 4 hour drive smokey drive through some hazy areas affected by forest fires, we found ourselves in Kelowna, B.C. — a few degrees hotter inland west of Vancouver. A quick intro to Okanagan terroir: most vineyard sites are found around the Okanagan Lake, stretching from Kelowna to the north to Penticton, Oliver and Osoyoos at the border with Washington state, U.S. It is incredibly dry and hot in the mainland, much of the wind and rain found in Vancouver area are shielded by the Canadian Rockies. A huge variety is grown in the area, from your big Cab blend trifecta grapes to Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and even crazily enough Tempranillo in Osoyoos accordingly to the guide at Mission Hill.
Since we only planned for a day trip, I had to narrow down the visits to only a few strategic wineries: Mission Hill Winery, Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Tantalus Vineyards.
Mission Hill Winery
Arguable the biggest and most famous of B.C. wineries. This estate was visited famously last year by Will and Kate of UK royalty. It was started in the early 80s by Anthony von Mandl, Vancouver-born but of Austrian descent, who also runs Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits. The winery itself is beautiful and well thought out — a real big Bordeaux estate not unlike the Châteaus.
They have vineyards all along the valley around Okanagan, including East and West Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Oliver and Osoyoos, covering a whole range with different grapes growing in different regions.
I joined their "Taste of the Estate" tour in which we were led by sommelier through the vineyards of the main estate in West Kelowna and talking through their process. They are ambitious and high tech, using the latest sorting equipment to pick the best grapes and experimenting with different oaks and tanks for fermentation. They however are not expanding their holdings as there is simply not enough good enough real estate — apparently most land in the area are being sold to build private homes. Everyone wants to be close to lake and that is where the grapes want to be as well. They are however making the best of what they have and what they can grow.
I tasted their pinot noir: quite fine but not enough depth or complexity as I would like. Although not cheap with a $60 CAD sticker price, I would have drank better Burgundy village from Denis Mortet and François Bertheau. Their Sauvignon Blanc however is surprisingly nice, crisp with great smokiness and minerality.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery
A quick google online told me that this was a biodynamic vineyard to visit that is in the Kelowna area. SO DISAPPOINTING. Maybe that's why I fainted here — yes this is place where I had a sunstroke and passed out. My tip to prevent this next time: wear a hat and drink lots of water between tastings! This super commercial site is a big pit stop for a lot of tourists on their tour of B.C. province. Not a fun place to be. Skip.
This was a place I was quite looking forward to most. Their wines are well rated in this Steven Spurrier review of British Columbian wines on Decanter. The winery itself is very small and their holdings not very big but it was incredibly modern and clean. The building was completed only in 2010 and certified LEED.
Incredibly the vineyard was first established as Pioneer Vineyards by JW Hughes, with old vine plantings of 1978 Riesling and 1985 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More plantings commenced in 2005 after the 2004 acquisition by Eric Savics into Tantalus. To this day, they are most well known for Riseling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are indeed breathtaking and do not lose at all to Burgundies. The relatively affordable price tag is a huge plus and I was tempted to buy a full case myself, alas I could only bring a maximum of 2 bottles out of the country.
Overall, I think B.C. does have good varied terroir that will support a variety of grapes. They should keep at it and be ambitious along with their newer North American counterparts in Washington State and Oregon. I look forward to my next trip to Okanagan, which hopefully will explore the full reach of the area including Penticton, Oliver and Osoyoos. Good things await.