Sunday, September 15, 2013

2013 BCWAS Bus Tour Begins

One of the perks of sharing a suite for the Annual BCWAS Bus Tour with Shelback and Chewbacca is that they coordinate breakfast so that we're well prepped to take in a day of wine tasting. Having Chef Boy KC in the suite with us made things even easier this year. He was so omnipresent in the kitchen that all I had to do was worry about OJ and coffee. A task that is not beyond me - even early in the morning.

Chef KC's treats were offered to Dolce & Gabbana (otherwise known as Gloushan - in honour of the great couple names like Brangelina or Klaine), Mr. Technicolour, Haley and Cockney Queen. With Mr. T. joining us, the "Sabering of the Breakfast Bubble" became a must event for all future Bus Tours - even if some attempts to sabre were less successful than others.

1421.  2006 Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs (Okanagan Valley)

As far as starts to the morning go, this special vintage Blue Mountain brut is hard to match. I can't speak for the others, but there was NO OJ being mixed with this baby in my glass. Made in the Méthode Traditionelle, this 100% Chardonnay brut was aged sur-lie for five years before being disgorged, finished off with dosage and aged for an additional nine months before release. This was anything but an easy bottle to find; so, it was a very generous bubble to be shared with our  assembled gang - especially before 8.00 a.m.

1422.  2008 Steller's Jay Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

It's a whole lot easier to find a bottle of the Sumac Ridge stalwart but Steller's Jay is a treat in itself. Sabering a bottle of Jay seems entirely appropriate to the Bus Tour as well - seeing as how Sumac Ridge is on tomorrow's itinerary. I also recall that my first attempt at sabering some bubbly was a bottle of Steller's Jay while on the BCWAS Bus Tour two years ago.

The Steller's Jay is also made in the traditional Champenoise method; however, Sumac Ridge adds a component of Pinot Blanc to the classic Champagne grapes - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Serving up both of these lauded BC bubbles was just the kick we needed to get us started for our first day on the bus. A true breakfast of champions, I'd say.

Our first stop with the entire BCWAS gang was Upper Bench Estate Winery - the new-ish winery found at the start of the Naramata Bench. 2013 will be only the third vintage for Upper Bench and winemaker/proprietor, Gavin Miller. Gavin and his wife, cheesemaker Shana, purchased the winery from part of the Lang/Holman bankruptcy a few years back. Accordingly, they are still working primarily with the grapes planted by the previous owners. Gavin is working on revamping the vineyard and is transitioning to organic farming.

They currently offer four whites, three reds and a rosé and our tasting was a first introduction to the winery for most of the folks on the bus. The accompanying cheese tasting was equally eye-opening to the crowd. I'd dropped in on Upper Bench during a previous visit to the Naramata Bench because I'd heard that Shana used to be the assistant cheesemaker at Poplar Grove. That asterisk on her resumé and the fact that Gavin had previously been part of the winemaking team at Painted Rock made them folks to be contended with in my book.

If part of the reason for the Bus Tour is to introduce our members to new facets of the BC wine scene. I think a check mark was earned with Upper Bench.

My fave of the tasting was the 2012 Chardonnay and, yes, despite the No Buy Leash, I did pick up a bottle of that Chardy to add to The List in due course (as well as two of Shana's tasty cheeses).

Our next stop was just up the road at Poplar Grove. I doubt anyone on the Bus Tour was unfamiliar with Poplar Grove - long a star producer in the Okanagan. This was the first time, however, that I'd been on a tour of their facilities and a first chance for an extensive tasting in the winery's new showcase, reserve tasting room. The unveiling of the general tasting room a couple of seasons back was incredible enough, but there's just a touch more cachet to a private group tasting being led by Poplar Grove's founding winemaker Ian Sutherland. He was particularly engrossing when talking about the process behind the design and construction of the new showcase winery. Ian talked of his years of travelling the world - something that allowed him to, fortuitously, co-opt some of the best ideas he'd encountered in wineries visited along the way.

The wines are always impressive at Poplar Grove but, during our tour, I admit I was immediately drawn to Maxine, a 40 foot tank used to blend the red wines. The tank is so big that it holds the contents of four smaller tanks and thereby allows all of the finished wine to be the same blend - instead of a "mostly the same" blend. The shipping behind this baby was a story in itself.

Picking a favourite wine at Poplar Grove is like choosing a favourite child. I will say, however, that I was particularly taken with the 2012 Viognier during our tasting. That might well be because it's a limited production wine that is generally only available to Poplar Grove's wine club members. Lucky them.

And, lucky us, not only because we got to try the Viognier but because lunch had been arranged at the winery's on-site restaurant, Vanilla Pod. Sitting out on the patio - with a commanding view of Penticton and Okanagan Lake, we had a superb lunch. I'm hard pressed to come up with a memory of ever having tasted a better tomato salad. Each of the myriad of heirloom tomatoes was better tasting than the last and combination of those tomatoes, high end olive oil and balsamic and a delectable fresh burrata was sublime. They could have served me another three of those salads and I'd have been good for the rest of the day.

There was more food - and wine - to come though; so we moved on to our next stop on the tour - Township 7.

Brad Cooper, winemaker at Township 7 - and all-around funny guy - arranged for all of us bus folk to get involved in an inter-active blending exercise. Soon, Brad was going to need to start work on the winery's flagship blend, their Reserve 7. He thought it would be an interesting exercise for us to break into groups - and work with the same component wines that he'd have to work with - to come up with our own blend. He led us through a tasting of each of the separately aged wines and spoke of what he saw as their most compelling traits. We then tried a team approach at creating a wine worthy of impressing Brad and the buying public.

Working with Dolce & Gabbana and R-Ball, I'm sure there was little doubt that our take on the classic Bordeaux blend was the "winning" blend. I will say that, in all honesty, even Brad said that he was impressed with our finished wine. Now, he might have said that to everyone, but we gave him our systematic breakdown all the same so that he could re-produce it for the winery. We agreed that no credit or consultancy fee would be necessary, but that we'd be more than happy to take a case of the finished product.

There were additional wines to try in the tasting room but, after a couple, I opted to take a glass of red and plop down in the sun (and shade) for a bit - because, of course, blending and tasting a winning wine is hard work.

Our last stop on the Tour for Day One was Red Rooster. Anyone familiar with this blog knows that Boo and I are very well-acquainted with the gang at Red Rooster since we've been long time participants in the winery's Adopt-A-Row program. The winery was in full motion during our visit. Not only was winemaker, Karen Gillis, off-site tending to early harvest concerns but General Manager Blair Dufty was busy tending to all the parents and kids that had shown up for the local Fire Department interaction and appreciation day.

I'll admit that I missed a bit of the very extensive tasting of the winery's portfolio. I knew I'd tried most of the wines already (and probably had most of them at home in our "cellar") but I wanted to check out how our Adopt-A-Row babies were doing and, naturally, to chat up a fireman or two. Our Malbec grapes were coming along nicely and so were the firemen and their hoses. Being the intimate that I was with Red Rooster, I was even made a Junior Fire Chief.

Try and top that one.

I will give Mr. Technicolour his due though when he cracked up the gang by announcing that "the big difference between Bob and Charles' row and all the others is that their Malbec is much fruitier."

And on that happy note, we all got back on the bus and headed home for a brief respite before dinner.

Dinner was at the resort's Local Lounge and Grill and they didn't hold back anything in an attempt to add a little wow factor. Dinner featured a combination of wines from Tom DiBello and Van Westen Vineyards. Tom's is a well known name among Okanagan winemakers as he steered the way for many years at CedarCreek. He left CedarCreek a few years back and now spends his time consulting and producing a very limited 300 cases of his own Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. Originally basing his wine production at Okanagan Crush Pad, he has just relocated to Van Westen Vineyards.

1423.  2011 Van Westen Vineyards VD Pinot Noir (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

I don't generally add a bottle to The List from wine dinners but tonight's extravagance calls out for one. I think my favourite pairing of the evening (before everything just got to be a little bit too much for one sitting) was the VD Pinot Noir with the bison tartare. This has to be one of the most interesting choices in wine marketing that I've ever come across. For those not familiar with Van Westen Vineyards, all of their wines have proprietary names that start with the letter "V." This Pinot is a co-effort between Rob Van Westen and Tom and, wisely or not, they took the first letter from both of their names and came up with "VD" since the wine was being released on Valentine's Day.

I'm not so sure that everyone will want to offer up a glass of VD to their sweetie on Valentine's Day but I was okay with it tonight.

Plenty of food. Plenty of wine. And a bunch of plumbed tuckered BCWAS folks. If there was any effort in taking the party a little further into the night, it did so without me. I definitely needed a little beauty sleep before doing it all over again the following day.

1 comment:

  1. Hope you had a good journey. Of course, you haven't come far yet - I'm the first stop on the Bus Blog Tour. Although maybe you have come a long way to join the tour. travel