Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 8 - Tantalus

With just one week to go before the 2013 Wine Bloggers' Conference kicks off in Penticton, I've got time for one more stop on my Pre-WBC13 Tour of favourite wineries - and for a Riesling lover, like me, it's killer. There's one big difference between today's winery and all the others I've written about in this series however. I've never actually been to or visited Tantalus Vineyards. It's not that I haven't enjoyed their wines or attended their tastings with the BC Wine Appreciation Society. I even had the pleasure of a "speed date" with Tantalus winemaker, David Paterson, a few years back at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I've just never made it up to the winery itself in Kelowna.

I'm happy to say that this travesty is set to be remedied next week though!

Following that shocking reveal, I might as well start this post by getting another little story out of the way - especially since it's a marketer's dream come true and it'd be remiss of me not to tell it. Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most renowned wine writers has heralded Tantalus on a couple of occasions and one site even quoted her as announcing Tantalus as the "crème de la crème...of Canada." Just this Spring, Ms. Robinson chose Tantalus wines as two of her top three picks for Canadian white wines in a scheduled tasting - the 2008 Old Vines Riesling was her top choice and the 2010 Riesling was third. If that doesn't cause you to stop and take note, I don't know what does.

The winery and vineyard are found a short distance from downtown Kelowna, where Tantalus is part of the Lakeshore Winery Route - along with CedarCreek, Summerhill and St. Hubertus. Their first vintage was only in 2005; however, the vineyard has a storied history. Fifty acres of undulating topography, it was first known as Pioneer Vineyards when, back in 1927, the Tantalus site was one of the first in BC to be planted with grapes. As such, it is now noted as the one of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the province - if not the oldest.

Now, no one in BC was growing vinifera grapes back in the early 1900's; indeed, the grapes were largely being grown as table grapes. So, it's no surprise that the vineyard has undergone change over the years. Ownership has as well. In 1948, the original owner, J.W. Hughes, sold individual vineyards to some of his vineyard managers. Marin Dulic was one of those foremen and three generations of the Dulic family shepherded the property for the next half century. Initial steps were taken to change over some of the hybrid vines in 1978 when Den Dulic started planting Riesling vines. Those experimental vines are still producing - making them some of the oldest in the valley - and the fruit provides the backbone for some of those wines lauded by Jancis Robinson and others. The family also started planting some German clone Pinot Noir vines around 1983.

The Dulics sold all their grapes through the decades until Marin's granddaughter, Susan, took the family operation to another level and opened Pinot Reach winery in 1997. As the name might indicate, Susan's goal was to highlight Pinot varieties. The reality of the vineyard, however, was that Pinot Reach received its highest accolades for its Rieslings. A note that wasn't lost on Vancouver investment dealer, Eric Savics, when he purchased the property and winery from the Dulics in 2004. Savics uprooted some of the lesser hybrid varieties still found on the property, like Bacchus, and focused almost entirely on Riesling.

Photo courtesy of Lakeshore Wineries
The old Pinot Reach building played home to the new winery's first four vintages - made by Matt Holmes, a transplanted Aussie, who was hired as Tantalus' initial winemaker - but the building proved to be too cramped and plans were made to build a new showpiece winery. It's still easy to find pictures online of the designs created by noted Vancouver architect, Bing Thom; however, the financial crash intervened and the decision was made to proceed with a more reserved building. That new building was completed in 2010 and it expanded the old 2,000 square foot winery to a new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, 13,000 square foot production and tasting facility.

As you might expect with the LEED certification of its new building, Tantalus also practices environmental sustainability in the vineyard. Although the vineyard isn't certified, organic farming methods are used as much as possible.

It was around the time of the planning for the new winery that Matt Holmes moved on and was replaced by current winemaker, David Paterson. From day one, Tantalus wines have been particularly terroir-driven but, as part of his job as a winemaker, David strives to capture "the purity of flavours straight from the vineyard." He states that, "If we get it right in the vineyard, I don't have to do a lot of 'winemaking.'" It can only help in the goal of "getting it right" that all of Tantalus' wines are made from estate grown fruit.

Photo Courtesy of Wine Access
Having as much control as possible in the vineyard is of utmost importance, especially since Okanagan weather patterns aren't always going to be a vineyard manager's or a winemaker's best friend. David also advises that "Winemaking in BC can yield some pretty frightening chemistry to start with - definitely not the numbers we are taught to look for in New Zealand." And that's coming from comparisons with New Zealand - another cool climate region.

"Rumour" has it that David was born in Canada but raised in New Zealand. He returned to Canada and the Okanagan in 2009, however, as a particular Canadian lass had caught his eye. Once married, "the Okanagan Valley became very attractive if I wanted to stay in the wine industry and in Canada."

Prior to his return to Canada though, David managed to fit a variety of wine regions onto his resumé. He spent time with Neudorf and Giesen while in New Zealand and he still owns a share in Auburn Wines in Central Otago, managing to travel back every year for harvest. He also spent time with heavy-hitting Aussie producer, Henschke Cellars, with Oregon producer, Archery, and in Burgundy with Domaine Dublère. While each of those wineries was different from the others, David found that "a similar core value of vineyard first ran through all of the cellars."

When it came time to pick a wine to add to The List with this post, I looked for an '09 Riesling that I was supposed to have in our "cellar." It wasn't there and I realized that it must have been the bottle that I took to WBC12 in Portland last year. The conference had an event where all the attendees brought a bottle of their own choosing to be opened for the enjoyment of all. I'd taken a bottle of Tantalus Riesling, feeling that it would be a wonderful ambassador for BC. Funny thing was, Luke Whittal, my bud behind the Wine Country BC blog, had brought the very same bottle. Of all the wines in the world, we both chose the same bottle. It also meant that I had to scramble to find another bottle for this post and that's not necessarily the easiest thing to do. Luckily, some new white wine releases are starting to hit local shelves and, as a result, Boo and I were treated to our first white of the 2012 vintage.

1326.  2012 Tantalus Riesling (VQA Okanagan Valley)

After a slow start, 2012 was a warm and sunny vintage for the Okanagan and that only seemed to help bring riper fruit notes to the resulting wine. High acidity and a "racy citrus" profile have been a hallmark for Tantalus Rieslings and, despite the heat of the season, that zing was still there. Citrus notes just leaped out of the glass at us but the palate was so much more than just lemon and lime. The wine is produced from vines planted in 1985 and 2005. The juice from those 1978 vines goes to the Old Vines Riesling - and recently to the Natural Brut sparkling wine that David is having particular fun making - and I think that's why I don't find this wine to show nearly as much minerality as the Old Vines wine does. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however, particularly when just sipping away. I generally find the "regular" Riesling to be more approachable to most palates.

I know that there definitely wasn't enough wine in the bottle that we opened though. Too bad Luke hadn't dropped by with a second bottle again.

After Riesling, Pinot Noir sees the largest production at Tantalus and there is a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier (used in the Rosé) grown as well but total production is definitely limited. I'm not sure of current totals but I read that only 4,500 cases were produced in 2011. I believe that, with the new facilities, the hope is that the winery might eventually hit the 10,000 case mark.

I've got to admit, as well, that I've always found Tantalus to have the most striking labels. Each of the wines features a First Nations mask that was carved by Tlingit artist, Dempsey Bob. Simple. Elegant. Stunning. If you ask me.

Photo courtesy of 
Despite just having returned from harvest in New Zealand and having to jump head first into the new season's winery activities here, David took the time to respond to a few additional email questions I had forwarded. I wondered about whether he sees any foreseeable trends happening in BC wine and what his take might be on the debate around BC's needing or not needing a signature grape or grapes. As for trends, he believes the bigger producers will continue to get bigger and that a lot of the "ma and pop" operations are going to struggle unless they have deep pockets.

Despite the fact that the Okanagan Valley isn't that big, he also sees more and more regional focus happening down the road and an even further reduced presence of the old hybrid varieties. He knows that, unless global warming kicks into overdrive, the Tantalus vineyard isn't capable of fully ripening Cab Sauv or Merlot. He advised that he'd love to work with Syrah - and the vineyard does have a tiny plot - but the best he's been able to attempt so far is an icewine version as the vineyard is just too cool to fully ripen the Syrah. On the other hand though, he figures that Pinot Noir in the south of the Valley tends to get too high in sugar before flavour ripeness occurs, resulting in big, heavy Pinots that resemble Syrah more than they do varietal Pinots. He posits that, as more growers and owners understand the terroir of their vineyards, there will be an increasing spread between what is planted in the southern and northern parts of the Valley and will be fewer wineries trying to produce a wide variety of wines to appease all palates.

Even with all the history behind the Tantalus vineyard, David points out that the Okanagan is still a young wine region. He notes, however, that it is "coming on in leaps and bounds." Many of the region's more interesting vineyards still haven't been planted for even ten years. He states, "if you like what we are all doing here in BC now, just wait and see what we will be producing in another ten years."

When asked about the roll of social media in Tantalus' game plan, David notes that it "is imperative to the success of our company and will have more and more weight as the world turns to social media as a primary source of communication." He is particularly glad, however, that Stephanie Mosley, the winery's social media/jill of all trades is excellent at it and he can leave it in her capable hands - even though he tries to understand it as best he can. Their website can be found at and you can follow them on Twitter at @tantaluswine.

On a final note, if he could, David would love an opportunity for all of the WBC13 delegates to have a chance to try their Old Vines Riesling. They "make very little from our best parcel of fruit every year and it is the best lens into our vineyard and winemaking philosophy of site and vintage expression being paramount." I'm certainly hoping that opportunity arises. You likely should as well - because, if it does, you should jump at it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 7 - Nk'Mip Cellars

I confess to having missed a couple of weeks on my pre-Wine Bloggers' Conference Road Trip. Some might well argue that an actual "get-in-the-car-and-drive" road trip hardly trumps or pre-empts a virtual road trip; however, I'm afraid I could only handle one at a time. Despite some lofty hopes of keeping up with the blog - and posting some more pre-WBC13 winery visits - the reality of taking a stab at the Life of Riley proved a little too time-consuming to sit and blog with the laptop.

I think that might be a good thing though. If I ever get caught up and write a bit about our vacation (after all, lots of wine was sacrificed to fuel our trip), I'll check back with you to see what you think.

It's about time I returned to my pre-Conference tour of some of my favourite BC wineries though and, this time around, I'm going to visit Nk'mip Cellars - North America's first aboriginal owned and operated winery. The winery is located just outside of Osoyoos and is owned by the Osoyoos Band - one of the seven bands that make up the Okanagan Nation.

I find the Nk'mip story to be both interesting and inspiring. It began in the 1960's with the planting of vineyards on Band lands found a little ways up the Okanagan Valley - closer to Oliver - in what is now known as the Inkameep Vineyard. No one in the Valley was planting vinifera grapes at that time but the Band sold its hybrid grapes to the wineries of the day and eventually began replanting the vineyards with vinifera grapes. The Band's Riesling vines are now some of the oldest in the valley. Much of the credit for those original vineyard operations is given to Sam Baptiste, the Band Chief at the time. Upon retiring as Chief, he continued his involvement with the operations he helped create and he is now the vineyard manager.

Current Chief, Clarence Louie, was first elected in 1985 and he has continued to move the Band's presence forward in the winemaking business as the industry continued to develop in the Valley. The Band's achievements with him at the helm have earned Chief Louie many business awards - including Aboriginal Business Leader of the Year - All Nations Development Corporation in 1999 and the 2000 CANDO Award for Economic Developer of the Year. During these years, Chief Louie has also shepherded the Band's vineyard operations into a full-fledged winery. Nk'mip Cellars was opened in 2002 - with state of the art facilities - as a joint venture with Vincor, one of the biggest wine corporations in Canada (and now part of the global Constellation Brand).

Randy Picton was brought on board as winemaker in 2002 and has been with Nk'mip ever since. Although not a Band member himself, Picton has mentored Band member, Justin Hall, who started with the winery in 2004 and has worked his way up from cellar hand to assistant winemaker. Aaron Crey, a member of the Sto:lo Band from outside Vancouver, has also taken up residence with the winery and is now the cellar supervisor. Both Hall and Crey have completed winemaking programs at Okanagan University College and have respectively worked on vintages in Western Australia and New Zealand to further their abilities and knowledge.

Not only is the winery a testament to the Band's dedication to creating a culture of self reliance, but it makes a comprehensive range of award-winning, tasty wines - to the extent that Nk'mip is continually named one of the top wineries in Canada in past Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards - including Top BC Winery in last year's edition.

1323.  2006 Nk'mip - Qwam Qwmt Syrah ( VQA Okanagan Valley)

The winery produces two levels of wines - the introductory Winemaker's label and the premium Qwam Qwmt series. In the local Okanagan language, "Qwam Qwmt" means "achieving excellence" and this latest wine to be added to The List was a dark-fruited, spicy bit of excellence by our take.

The winery now has the capacity to produce 16,000 cases annually of its range of reds and whites (there were around 950 cases of the '06 Syrah made) and all of the grapes used by Nk'mip are grown by the Band - either in the vineyard immediately surrounding the winery or in the Inkameep Vineyard. These lands in the southernmost part of the Okanagan Valley are actually the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert - the desert that runs all the way up the West Coast from Mexico - and is Canada's only pocket desert. The region boasts long, hot summer days and cool nights and allows the Band to both ripen big red grape varieties and maintain good acidity levels.

And there's no mistaking the fact that the winery is found in desert country. We made a quick drive up to the Okanagan to take in some of the sagebrush spotted landscape (and wines) during the summer of 2003 when our bud, Merlot Boy, was visiting from Australia. Under somewhat surreal circumstances, we sipped back on a glass of Nk'mip wine on their new patio as we watched water bombers dip into Osoyoos Lake to collect water to fight small outbreaks of fire in the surrounding hills. Think Nero playing the fiddle while he watched Rome burn. The fires around us weren't that intimidating at the time; however, they were all part in parcel of the wild fire that threatened to ravage much of Okanagan wine country that summer.

Although not the most active participant among BC wineries, Nk'mip does have a Twitter presence and came be followed at @nkmipcellars. You can also learn more about additional Band operations like the Nk'mip Desert Cultural Centre, Resort and Gold Course at both the winery website and the Band website. I find Nk'mip's story to be both intriguing and inspiring - and it certainly doesn't hurt that the wines are enjoyable as well. Hopefully, WBC13 participants will get an opportunity to discover Nk'mip themselves.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Milestone During the Road Trip

Sometimes the timing of our wine consumption doesn't necessarily lend itself to adequate celebration of "landmark" bottles on The List - which is, after all, the primary raison d'être of this blog. The last bottle added to The List was #1299 and it was part of my Wine Wednesday lead up to this year's Wine Blogger's Conference. I knew we'd open #1300 at some point on this road trip but I wasn't quite sure when or where. Had I known a more precise time for the celebratory bottle, I might have been able to plan something a tad more lavish. As it was, I guess I should just be glad it wasn't the bottle we had in Coos Bay.

As much as there wasn't anything holding our attention in Coos Bay, our start to the day - and the drive ahead of us - didn't see quite as early a start as we might have liked. Accordingly, we tried to make up as much time as we could to reach the day's destination: Mendocino. As much as we wanted to arrive at a reasonable hour, we also needed to avoid those deadly Pacific Highway speed traps. We saw three other cars, going slightly faster than us, get pulled over. So, I suppose we might have been a little bit lucky, but it meant we didn't arrive until close to sundown.

We'd passed through Mendocino for a day some 16 years ago but we've always had fond memories of that short visit. Unfortunately, we were only going to be able to stay the one night again but we arrived in time to take a bit of a wander down the quaint main street and to the cliffside walk - martini in hand - before sunset.

It's easy to see how the city passed for New England in the old Murder She Wrote TV series. We fell in love with it all over again.

Funny thing is, we never opened a bottle of wine to add to The List. We dined at the highly recommended, local Irish pub and had a brew. However, we did stay at the most wonderful B&B - the Blue Door Inn. It was as delightful a B&B as we've ever stayed in. If we didn't have reservations the next night in Sonoma, we'd have tried our darnedest to stay a second night. It was that comfortable and luxurious. It would have been a marvellous spot to celebrate #1300.

But, as sad as our having to leave was, we needed to make tracks in the morning. No wine but an awesome time all the same.

Before we'd left Vancouver, I'd asked the Twitterverse for some suggestions of wineries to visit on our tour. Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek in our Okanagan Valley responded, "I only have six words, Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley." Our chef that morning at the Blue Door Inn was an accredited sommelier (as well as a delightful chef); so, we asked her for some tips and she was incredibly helpful. I'm rather sure we wouldn't have made the stops that we did without her.

The first of those stops was the (small "c") champagne house, Roederer Estate. Building upon its 200 year existence in (capital "C") Champagne, Roederer set up shop in Anderson Valley to take advantage of the valley's cooler climate and proximity to the ocean. The days are still warm but the nights are cooler, allowing for a slower maturity of the grapes and a more optimum balance of sugar and acidity needed for classic sparkling wines. They may not produce a bubbly with the cachet or pedigree - yet - of their Cristal Champagne but, then again, their French operations have been at it a tad longer. Who knows what they'll be producing here in another century or two?

The grapes are all estate grown and all the wines are made entirely from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir. Approximately 80% of Roederer's production is their Multi Vintage Brut but they also make a Multi vintage Brut Rosé, a vintage reserve L'Ermitage and vintage reserve L'Ermitage Rosé. The Roederer bubblies are all made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise and the tasting room appeared to be a very popular stop for folks passing through the Anderson Valley.

Just down the road a bit was Toulouse Vineyards - a small family owned and operated winery that produces give or take 5,000 cases annually. Were it not for our B&B tip, we would never have stumbled upon Toulouse. Of that, I'm sure. It was a treat that we did, however. Being a small operation, our tasting was actually with Rita, the assistant winemaker, and we ended up chatting with owner/winemaker Vern Boltz as well as he was passing by and was within earshot of our incessant questions. We tried all eight of the wines they had to offer: three Pinot Noirs, a Rosé and four whites, being Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and a blend. The Pinot Noirs are Toulouse's stars though and a vast majority of their vines planted are Pinot Noir.

The estate was bare land when the Boltz's purchased the property in 1997 and their first wines produced hailed from the 2002 vintage. So, my guess is that there's plenty more to come. You'd never mistake Toulouse's rustic building and tasting room for the sophistication and money behind Roederer but their friendly demeanour was equally as welcoming.

We had time to make one last stop. We just hadn't expected to settle in for a healthy break and a taste of the Life of Riley at Goldeneye. I wasn't aware of Goldeneye before we stopped in but I have crossed paths with sister wineries Paraduxx and Duckhorn as they've attended the Vancouver International Wine Festival over the years and, no doubt, some of the California Wine Fairs that have come to town.

If Toulouse was rustic and Roederer was sophisticated, Goldeneye combined the best aspects of both. The tasting room was stylish enough itself but we were afforded the opportunity to leisurely taste our way through their Pinot line-up while relaxing on the patio with a light lunch and a marvelous view of the vineyard. We lapped that up - both the patio repose and the wines. These were not inconsequential Pinots - not in the least - and I'd have been more than happy to plant myself there indefinitely sipping away but, after an hour and a half, I could definitely hear Sonoma calling out to us.

Unfortunately, lack of trunk space (and the $80 price tag, on average) prevented us from taking much of that Goldeneye experience with us. Should we ever make it back to Mendocino - or the Anderson Valley - we'll be sure to fit in a more comprehensive visit with some Goldeneye wines. With some inspired planning, we might even be able to coincide a visit with the annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Goldeneye was hosting this year's festival but it was still three weeks away and as welcoming as the winery was, a three week stay was somewhat out of the question.

Luckily, the rest of the road trip still had some treats in store - even if not a Pinot festival. And Sonoma was the start of it. We managed to arrive in time to check in and grab a well deserved sip before heading out on a quest to find a sports bar that would be willing to show the Canucks - San Jose playoff off on at least one of its screens.

1300.  N.V. Roederer Brut (Anderson Valley - California)

Seeing as how this is a landmark bottle on The List, I thought it was entirely appropriate to celebrate with a bottle of bubbly that we picked up earlier in the day. Our plastic, travel flutes may not have been the finest crystal for enjoying bubbles and delivering mousse but I was glad that we'd brought them along because they certainly livened up to the occasion - particularly when kicking back and resting up in a vintage hotel room.

In a 2012 column, Eric Asimov of the New York Times referred to Roederer Estate as "as gold standard for California sparkling wine." Other writers have been similarly generous with praise, naming the Non-Vintage Brut as a Top Value and one of the best around in its price range.

Having just visited the winery, it didn't really matter what anyone else thought of the wine. Limited trunk space or not, we'd made room to fit a bottle - and were all the happier for it.

Unfortunately, we couldn't toast a Canucks playoff win with the Roederer. We managed to find our sports bar and, surprisingly, the bartender was a hockey fan and was happy to show the game on one of the bigger screens. The only folks in the bar turning their gaze to the game, however, were all Sharks fans and they took more than a little pleasure in ribbing us as the Canucks blew a last minute lead and then lost it in overtime.

Good thing the rest of the day went a whole lot better.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Looking Ahead to WBC13 - Week 6 - Orofino

Many of the participants planning to attend the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference wouldn't be able to raise their hand if asked "How many of you have ever finished off a bottle of BC wine?" I'm willing to bet a couple bottles of that wine that even more of those hands would have to stay down if the question were to be phrased as "How many of you have tried a bottle of wine from the Similkameen Valley?"

Yes, there is more to BC wine than just the Okanagan Valley.

The Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys may be neighbours - just like Napa and Sonoma - however, the Okanagan has a much higher profile for its wines. That may not be entirely surprising, given that the Okanagan has been home to the majority of BC wineries since the modern era of the BC wine industry started in earnest in the 1980's. The Similkameen has long been known for its agricultural bounty though and many of the grapes that were grown over the last three decades were destined for Okanagan wineries.

In recent years, many of those grapes have been staying in the valley as the Similkameen has seen a burgeoning of wineries in its own right. Indeed, a few years back, the Similkameen Valley was named by enRoute Magazine as "one of the world's 5 best wine regions you've never heard of." That sentiment was echoed more recently in Vines magazine when the Valley was lauded as "one of the 6 most underrated wine regions in the world."

I figured I'd use this stop on my pre-WBC13 tour to introduce everyone to one of our favourite Similkameen wineries - Orofino Vineyards.

John and Virginia Weber started Orofino after they'd decided to change up their respective lives as a teacher and a nurse back in Saskatchewan. Thoughts of operating a greenhouse turned to growing grapes - the latter being far more "romantic" especially when you hail from Saskatchewan - when they discovered two properties were available, the first being one in Okanagan Falls and the second a six-acre vineyard in the Similkameen. They drove all night, on a Thanksgiving weekend, across the prairies and through mountain passes, to the thriving metropolis of Cawston (pop. 900-1000) and immediately "fell in love" with the Similkameen vineyard. It certainly didn't hurt that the vineyard had been planted with grapes in 1989 and the vines were already well-established. A deal was struck and the Webers then simply needed to learn something about grape growing and winemaking.

That was in 2001 and, at the time, the Similkameen wasn't known as a wine-producing region. The "frontier feeling" of the industry appealed to the Webers and they saw "a great opportunity to build something." However, they realized that participating in a new industry can be problematic as well. The small size of the industry makes it expensive to get the equipment and barrels needed to make top wine. Weather in the Similkameen can be challenging as well as the region is "really on the edge of where vinifera can survive and prosper." The weather is always going to be a concern but John feels that the local weather may also play a part in helping make BC wines as good as they can be. The prohibitively high cost of land doesn't help either - unless you're backed by deep pockets.

Realizing they were taking on a challenge, John figured he might need to supplement his experiences of pulling beer taps in England and making beer at a Saskatchewan brew pub, John took a wide-ranging collection of courses at Okanagan University College - covering farming, winemaking and marketing aspects of the industry. For the first so many years, the Webers sold their grapes, finally releasing their first vintage of Orofino wines in 2005.

Photo from Scout magazine
The wines were definitely well received from the start and it didn't hurt that the Webers had an interesting story to catch people's attention with in the early days. A healthy amount of press was garnered by the fact that Orofino was the first (and possibly still the only) winery in Canada made from straw bales. The construction method is not only environmentally friendly, its 21-inch thick walls gives the winery wonderfully high insulation properties, creating ideal conditions for maintaining constant barrel room temperatures and keeping the buildings cool in the summer, desert heat. John's sense of community building was evident when, in June 2004, they built the accompanying tasting room. A 5-day educational workshop was designed to allow 22 people the opportunity to participate in a hands-on experience of learning the dynamics of straw bale construction.

Photo from Orofino website
The Weber's innovation and commitment to environmental self-sufficiency didn't stop with the straw bales either. More recently, John was involved in the design of and installation of new "hybrid solar photovaltaic and solar thermal heating" systems. I'm not going to pretend to understand what all that means but Orofino is the first winery to this install new technology and it allows the tasting room to operate pretty much "off the grid." John has been quoted as foreseeing the application of this technology to other BC wineries that could benefit from the economic savings as well as significantly reduce the winery's energy footprint.

When asked for his view on the whole "signature grape for BC" debate, John responded that he felt "we are too young of an industry to determine that. Our market is predominantly provincial...and to ask BC consumers to love our Pinot Blanc or Cab Franc or Merlot because that is what we do best would turn our business plans upside down and we would all need to look for an export market. We should capitalize on our local/tourist market and produce a variety of wines to satisfy and keep their interest. I like making a number of wines and I am not sure which I would choose if you ask me to pick just one. That would be no fun and would stunt the growth and experimentation of what does well. Look at what Syrah has down here in the past 5 years! What's next?"

Accordingly, you might not be surprised to see that Orofino produces a healthy range of whites and reds - and even a new Moscato Frizzante bubble that has proved to be very popular. The wines are largely vineyard specific and are a combination of estate grown and locally sourced grapes.

1299.  2008 Orofino Red Bridge Red (BC)

When choosing an Orofino wine to add to The List in this post, I grabbed this bottle of Red Bridge Red as it is consistently one of our favourite BC Merlots. It was only after I'd opened the bottle that I realized that, of course, I'd chosen the one wine that Orofino makes that isn't made from Similkameen grapes. Silly me. I could have gone back and opened a different bottle to highlight the local terroir but I decided that, if the grapes are good enough for John to continually buy them as his only non-Similkameen grapes, the wine is good enough for this post.

The Red Bridge Red (now called Red Bridge Merlot) is named for a local landmark, is 100% Merlot and is a single vineyard wine from the Oak Knoll Vineyard in Kaleden - a 25 minute drive from Orofino. The wine is unfined and unfiltered and is intense with dark fruit. Production is limited to under 1000 cases and I'm a fan.

If you read through this blog, you'll also see that we've knocked back our fair share of vintages of Orofino's Riesling as well. John is particularly found of making Riesling and I'm particularly fond of drinking them. I'm really looking forward to orchestrating a side-by-side tasting of the three single vineyard Rieslings he produced for the 2012 vintage as this is a first for Orofino. All of the grapes were grown in the Similkameen - either on the home estate or at near by vineyards - and John was excited to experiment with barrel ferments and wild yeast ferments in making the wines. They aren't available yet but I'll be watching for them.

A couple of years back, I was fortunate enough to participate in a memorable luncheon at Orofino during the 2011 BC Wine Appreciation Society's Fall Bus Tour but John and Virginia also host an annual event that I've never been able to attend - but would dearly love to. The 100-mile diet took BC by storm a couple of years back but this special winery evening takes locavore dining to a new level, its being a fundraising, five course dinner that features only foods provided by artisan producers from within a 1.6 mile radius of the winery. I read that, one year, the dinner even featured butter and ricotta that was made from Orofino's own dairy cow. I'm hoping that they'll keep hosting the dinner and that, one of these years, we'll be able to fit it into our calendar.

Not to say that John's a stereotypical example of the adage, "it takes a lot of beer to make a good wine," John is a fan of craft beer and both he and Virginia would be willing to pop more Champagne corks (if only the wallets were more willing) as they do love their bubble. As mentioned, Orofino currently produces its Moscato Frizzante, but John's not adverse to trying his hand at playing with some traditional method sparkling wine down the road.

While John understands the reach of social media and tries to "use it to stay in the game," he, somewhat sheepishly, admits that Orofino's presence on Facebook and Twitter is limited as "we were really dragged into it as neither Virginia nor myself are really keen to get involved." You can follow their Twitter handle, @OrofinoWinery, though and catch some of their latest news. I'll be watching for the release of those 2012 Rieslings.

If anyone attending WBC13 is flying into Vancouver, you should consider renting a car and driving the Southern route to the Okanagan. The Hope-Princeton is one of the nicest drives in Canada and the continuation of Hwy 3 through the Similkameen just makes the journey all the more enjoyable. The Similkameen Valley is a favourite of our's and, now that wineries like Orofino - and Herder and Seven Stones and Forbidden Fruit and Clos du Soleil and others - are integral parts of the Valley, it's even more enjoyable than it already was.

And, it'd be a first hand introduction to the fact that, as wonderful as the Okanagan can be, there's lots more to be discovered when it comes to BC wine.