The Wines of Kelowna

Photos by Ron Siddle 

An interest in wine and golf led us to southern British Columbia to explore the delights of Kelowna and

Kelowna skyline

Kelowna skyline

surrounding areas that boast of their numerous wineries and challenging golf courses, an abundance of lakes and a nearby ski resort.  While nine rounds of golf in six days topped our itinerary, we found time to explore one of Kelowna’s wine trails, tasting some very nice releases and discovering several new varietals.

With nearly 180,000 permanent residents, Kelowna is the warmest and driest part of British Columbia, making it a great destination for summer water sports on Okanagan Lake, voted “#2 Best Beaches in Canada” by the 2011 Trip Advisor Readers Choice Awards. There are eighteen championship golf courses in Kelowna and many more majestic mountain lakes north in Vernon.  In the winter months, Big White Ski Resort, less than an hour from town, is known for great powder and available rentals.

The view from Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna British Columbia, looking towards Lake Okanagan. RON SIDDLE/Valley Press

The view from Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna British Columbia.

In addition to vineyards, Kelowna also produces wonderful organic fruits in acres of orchards and is Canada’s’ major producer of goat cheese.  Locally, around the lake, there are five distinct wine trails and over thirty wineries. We began our exploration along the western shore of Okanagan Lake, among hillside vineyards, beautiful vistas and beaches, at one of the pioneer wine producers of the region.

Established in 1987 and twice recognized as Canada’s Winery of the Year, Cedar Creek Winery is a magnificent property with nineteen current releases on their menu. Most of them were

Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser

Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser

available for tasting including an 100% ehrenfelser that, outside of Germany, is produced primarily in Kelowna and sparsely in Washington State.  A grape with lineage to riesling and silvander, the 2014 Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser ($17) is a fresh white wine that expresses stone fruits on the nose and multi-layered ripe fruit flavors on the palate.  Others preferred the 2014 Cedar Creek Pinot Gris ($18) that is slightly more acidic with less residual sugar.  Aged in French oak for 35 days, the pinot gris, common to the Pacific Northwest, revealed ”floral fruit” and melon flavors. A Gold Medal Winner at he 2015 All Canadian Wine Championships, the sweeter 2014 Cedar Creek Gewürztraminer ($16) added aromas of ginger and anise to the mid-palate flavors.

Fermented three separate ways, in stainless steel, large foudre casks and traditional oak barrels, the Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek Platinum M

Cedar Creek Platinum M

Estate Chardonnay ($17), the first of a flight, conveyed soft tropical fruit flavors with a buttery nut finish.  The second wine, the 2014 Cedar Creek Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay ($28) expressed strong hints of green apple on the nose and palate with a nice minerality on the finish. The last wine of the flight, the 2010 Cedar Creek Platinum M ($53) is clearly a sweet dessert wine with over 70% residual sugar.  Fortified with spirits, small amounts of chardonnay are placed in miniature casks and baked in the sun for five years resulting in rich, concentrated fruit flavors.

Onward to the red wines, beginning with two pinot noir releases.

Surprisingly, pinot noir grows well in Cedar Creek’s estate vineyards, mostly those near the water.  To achieve rich, fuller flavors, the vines are thinned during the growing season, eliminating all but the best clusters.  As a result, the small production 2013 Cedar Creek Estate Pinot Noir($23) has classic mushroom and cherry aromas with more hints of strawberry on the palate.  From the vineyards best spot, the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir ($56) is more muscular with aromas and flavors of spice and mocha throughout.

Cedar Creek has eleven acres of vineyards in nearby Osoyoos with rocky, well draining soil that force the vines to struggle during the growing period.  There is something about these “tough love” soils that push the vines to greatness.  This is the case with the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot ($37) that

Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage

Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage

expresses spicy aromas, rich dark berry flavors with nuances of coffee on the finish.  For my palate, this is an extraordinary merlot that would stand up nicely to blue cheese. From the same Osoyoos vineyard, the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage ($40) is a Bordeaux blend of 58% cabernet sauvignon, 22% cabernet franc, 14% merlot and 6% malbec that is fruit driven with all the structure necessary for a good wine.  It will pair well with a big, juicy steak.

Cedar Creek Winery is an impressive property suitable for fancy picnicking, sortable events and further exploration through vineyard tours.  We were very excited about tasting their wines and recommend it as a “must stop” when in Kelowna.

The view from St. Hubertus

The view from St. Hubertus

Historical, with first vine plantings in 1928, a stable 30-year ownership and sustainable farming practices all describe the St. Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Winery, our next stop along the wine trail. The grounds of St. Hubertus are more rustic than Cedar Creek, but quaint and charming, suitable for picnics and gatherings.  The wines are low production and estate grown with attention to detail at every step of the process.

To begin, I enjoyed my first taste of the popular Swiss grape, chasselas.  The 2014 St. Hubertus Chasselas ($20) is light and crisp with very accessible flavors and a nice lemon zest finish.  A perfectSt-Hubertus-Riesling pair with Swiss raclette cheese or sushi.  Aside from the floral aromas, the major characteristic of the 2013 St. Hubertus Riesling ($17) is the nicely balanced green apple flavors, not overpowering, but forever present.

Still surprised to see the pinot noir varietal in British Columbia, we had to taste the 2012 Oak Bay Pinot Noir ($20).  It’s hard to compare it with the opulent pinot noir from Sonoma County or Oregon, but I found this wine to be a nice well-structured, medium-bodied pinot with classic vanilla and cherry aromas and flavors.  Continuing to experience varietals rare to the United States, the 2012 Oak Bay Marechal Foch ($22), with dark ruby color, was the biggest and boldest wine of the day.  Marechal Foch is a varietal mostly grown in the Loire Valley of France, with some plantings in Oregon’s

Oak Bay Marechal Foch

Oak Bay Marechal Foch

Willamette Valley. This vintage was rich and jammy with dark fruit, plum, spice and hints of tobacco everywhere.  The winery suggests pairing marechal foch with Coffee and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs, a sign of its power.  A small amount of chamboucin, a readily available French-American hybrid grape, is blended to enhance the characteristics of marechal foch.

Our last stop was the relatively new Ancient Hill Winery, a rural property located near the Kelowna Airport. There were vineyards on the property in the 1950s and 1960s that were converted to orchards.  The current

The vineyards at Ancient Hill Winery

The vineyards at Ancient Hill Winery

owners migrated to this region from the Netherlands in 2005 and re-planted vines on the property.  Today, they produce many varietals uncommon to California and the Pacific Northwest, not the case with our first tasting.

Fine pinot gris releases are common, especially in Oregon and we found that wineries in Kelowna produce very good ones at sensible prices.  The 2014 Ancient Hill Pinot Gris ($16) had a rich mouthfeel and spice flavors that followed fragrant floral aromas with hints of peaches and papaya, a good value at $16.

Having avoided rose’ thus far, I found the 2014 Ancient Hill Rose’ ($15)  too intriguing to pass up. Comprised of nearly 75% zweigelt with added gewürztraminer, baco noir and pinot noir, this rose’ has a vibrant color with complex spice and berry flavors, fruity, but not overly sweet.

A rare blend of two popular Austrian grapes, Zweigelt and Lemberger, the 2011 Ancient Hill “Lazerus” ($15)

 Ancient Hill Winery

Ancient Hill Winery

is a light red wine, aged entirely in stainless steel, that reveals the dark cherry and spice flavors of each varietal.  The blend changes each vintage, but the 2011 can be enjoyed by itself or with a light cheese.  Producing only 220 cases,  the 2012 Ancient Hill Pinot Noir ($17) is a lighter wine with some tannins that delivers nice spice and dark berry flavors mid-palate.

Abandoned by the French, the muscular baco noir varietal can now be mostly found in Canada and Washington State.  The bold 2012 Ancient Hill Baco Noir ($22) has become their flagship red delivering rich flavors of black cherry and plum with spice and hints of chocolate on the finish.  Aged in oak, this moderately price wine would stand up to any lamb and beef dish.

The Okanagan Valley wine region has much to offer any wine tourist, an abundance of wineries, great venues, different micro-climates that produces unique varietals at reasonable prices.  We barely scratched the surface of viticultural opportunities in the region.  My recommendation is to take advantage of the many wine tour options with pre-determined stops along the five wine trails, all with a designed driver.  Wine lovers must include British Columbia in a future vacation, especially if they enjoy, gorgeous mountains, lakes, food and all the recreational opportunities one can imagine.

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About Lyle W. Norton

Free-lance writer specializing if wine, food, travel and jazz reviews. View all posts by Lyle W. Norton

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