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Make time on your tasting tour for these brand new Okanagan wineries
In the Oliver Osoyoos wine region, grapevines ramble along benches and valleys from North America’s only pocket desert (a stone’s throw from the Washington State border) to the stone-faced McIntyre Bluff. The region is feted for its striking landscape and fertile terroir, where 36 wineries call home, including five new ones. Some of the faces behind these burgeoning ventures are familiar ones – people whose roots run deep here, often for decades. For others, winemaking is a new-found love that’s being cultivated and is often a family affair.
Forget the Napa of the North comparisons: it’s all about the Okanagan terroir and the people who are forging their own route, transforming grapes into award-winning wines. Click through for five new wineries you need to know about now.
Michael Bartier of Bartier Bros. is standing in front of rows of Chardonnay vines, his dust-clad boots firmly planted in the soil and a big grin on his face. “Calcium carbonate; that’s what makes our wine special,” he says. Together with his brother, the award-winning winemaker is building a wine education centre on this land that’s home to the Cerqueira Vineyard.
The wine education room is slated to open in July of this year, but today it’s simply a wooden frame, shielding us from the sun on this uncharacteristically sweltering day. And it’s here that the bottles of Bartier Bros. whites are keeping cool in a large bowl of ice.
Since 2009, Bartier Bros. has been a virtual winery, with all its product bottled at Okanagan Crush Pad. This year, it produced 3,000 cases from the five different grape varieties grown on the property. But what’s most important is the soil, which gives the wine the “chalky, stony, minerality” that Bartier loves. “The wine should evoke that pristine, alive, unspoiled landscape,” he says.
Take the Bartier Bros. Chardonnay, for instance. It’s fermented and aged in neutral barrels, which allows the taste to come from the terroir, not the oak, Bartier says. The 2011 Syrah, similarly is more delicate and elegant than you’d expect. It’s even been compared to a Pinot Noir, he adds. “It’s not a great big fat ponderous Shiraz.”
The minute you step inside the wine lounge at vinPerdu Cellars, it’s obvious that joy lives here. “We’re a family; we love each other,” says Ray Coulombe, the patriarch of the family. He owns vinPerdu Cellars with his wife Wendy and their daughters Catherine and Nathalie, who are pouring wine, sharing tasting notes and serving up one-bite morsels that complement what we’re sipping.
The winery’s French name translates to “lost wine,” a reference to the grapes that have been grown and harvested here over the past 15 years, only to be sold to other wineries. Now the family is making their own wines, in their own way. One of the standouts is its Gamay Noir, made Beaujolais-style, says Ray. It’s aged in French oak for just four months, imparting light tannins and allowing the strawberry flavours to stand out.
You might be surprised to learn that the familiar word “kismet” is Punjabi and translates to the word “destiny.” And sometimes it takes a journey before your true destiny becomes revealed. That’s certainly true of the Dhaliwal family, who have been growing grapes for other award-winning wineries in the area for more than two decades. As their 21st year rolled by, they started putting that grape-growing knowledge into winemaking. When we arrived for a visit, Kismet Winery had barely been open for a month, but its wines were already alluring and ready for drinking.
The Kismet Safed, a white blend, marries 60 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, 22 per cent Semillon and 18 per cent Orange Muscat. Kismet is one of the few area wineries that’s using this aromatic and fruity grape, which makes for a very quaffable wine that pairs nicely with spicy foods.
Looking for a red to drink with that barbecued steak, or maybe cellar for up to seven years? Then stock up on the 2012 Kismet Mantra, a blend of 38 per cent Merlot, 36 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 per cent Cabernet Franc, 6 per cent Malbec and 6 per cent Petit Verdot.
After ambling through rows of grapevines gently sloping downward on the Black Sage Bench, we’ve finally arrived at the spot where the future Time Estate Winery will be open sometime this year. It’s here that Harry McWatters is standing in the sun (along with his daughter and members of his winemaking team), waiting contentedly in the single-most awarded vineyard on the country. The man who launched Sumac Ridge back in the day now has 48 vintages under his belt, and he’s just turned 70. But he’s still game to share his passion and encyclopedic knowledge about the terroir of the Sundial Vineyard, along with a smattering of his lush and complex TIME wines.
TIME received its winery license in 2011, and produced its first vintages in an existing building on site. But the new winery won’t be such a modest affair. Along with the capacity to produce 30,000 cases of wine, the space will include a commercial kitchen that will be pressed into service for food events, along four swanky suites for guests and a lap pool for cooling off during those sizzling Okaganan summers.
“There’s 300 feet of sand here that the grapes grow in,” says McWatters. “We get more hours of sunlight here than anywhere else in North America, more light intensity on this bench than anywhere in the world.”
These factors have a massive influence on the big, complex whites that are grown here, plus they make it the “best spot in the country for drinking Bordeaux reds,” says McWatters, who was an early-adopter of the term “Meritage,” created by Napa winemakers to describe Bordeaux-style blends made outside that region. The 2013 Meritage (white) we’re sampling is a blend of 79 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 21 per cent Semillon, offering tropical notes and hints of apricot. Its red counterpart is composed of 60 per cent Merlot, 29 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 11 per cent Cabernet Franc, a big berry blend with hints of pepper.
Storytelling seems to come naturally to Gary Mission. Maybe that’s because he’s living the dream he worked so hard to build here at Montakarn Estate Winery. First there’s the story of the winery’s moniker – Montakarn – named after his beloved wife. She co-owns the new venture, which she and Gary started in 2003 when they bought a parcel of land, which was primarily peach and apricot orchards. Soon, they started making room for grapes, planting seven varieties of vines.
Then there’s the tale of the curiously named white wine blend – Tippy Toe – which was named for a wobbly colt that was born on the property. The 2013 vintage is a combination of 65 per cent Chardonnay, 26 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 10 per cent Viognier, fermented in stainless steel. Gary has been quietly making his own wines for decades and when the time came to expand beyond his own tastes, he took the winemaking to heart, and even designed the building.