Friday, September 30, 2011

Mitchell - A New Take on GSM

One of the last things I need, having just recently returned from the annual BC Wine Appreciation Society Bus Tour, is a wine tasting. Notice of an impromptu opportunity to meet with the proprietors of Mitchell winery in the Clare Valley proved a little too tempting though. Attendance was limited to a dozen people and it was being held at Everything Wine. AWAS had never met at this location before and I knew nothing about Mitchell.

Jane and Andrew Mitchell established the boutique winery in 1975 and pre-eminent Aussie wine writer, James Halliday, calls them "one of the stalwarts of the Clare Valley." Mr. and Mrs. met with us and recounted many intriguing stories about their experiences and about winemaking in the Clare Valley. Plus, they walked us through four of their wines that are now being offered in the Vancouver market.

The Clare Valley is a narrow, 40 kilometer valley located a couple of hours North of Adelaide. It's home to more than 40 wineries and is probably best known for dry, crisp Rieslings. Mitchell definitely has its Riesling; however, they complete their limited production with plantings of Semillon, Shiraz, Merlot, Grenache and Cab Sauv. Mitchell's vineyards are totally organic or biodynamic and are in the process of being certified. The grapes are all dry-grown and, therefore, vine yields are low. Jane was particularly happy to announce that it's taken six years; however, the vineyard soils are now laden with worms. As the group continued to talk about the idiosyncracies of biodynamics, Jane confessed that when she started life as a winery owner, she never envisioned spending a good part of her Sunday's "shovelling cowshit to make compost sprays."

It's no mistake that Jane heads up the marketing and brand promotion aspects of the winery. She can weave a story with the best of them.

Everything Wine's delivery schedule hadn't worked out as planned. So, there was a limited selection of wines available for purchase (probably a good thing for both Boo and I), but I did grab a couple of bottles and thought I better let Boo try one right away so that he wouldn't be too upset with me having picked up the bottles that I did.

935. 2007 Mitchell GSM (Clare Valley - Australia)

GSM wines are well-known as Aussie Rhone-like blends of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre and they're chock-a-block in South Australia. The "S" in Mitchell's GSM doesn't stand for Shiraz, however. Rather, it's an "S" as in Sangiovese. Before, the Mitchells started producing this GSM, they had only made a straight Grenache varietal. When they decided to try a blend, they found that the Shiraz overwhelmed the softness that was their cooler climate Grenache. So, they experimented with a small percentage of Sangiovese with the Mourvèdre.

Like Jane, I found it to be enjoyably soft with a bit of spice to it. Jane says that she even chills it and serves it like a Rosé during the hot summers. As opposed to the bigger Barossa GSM's, she finds it to be more Spanish in its taste. They are continually told that people say that this isn't a wine that they'd expect to come from Australia.

Production of all their wines is limited. They might be able to totally max out at 25,000 cases; however, it's more usual to see a vintage of 12,000 cases. With 70% of Mitchell's output staying behind in Oz, it doesn't leave an awful lot of wine to make its way around the world. I'm glad to see that Vancouver is now going to be getting a share. I look forward to trying the couple varietal wines that I was able to grab as well.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mexican Cat Dance Redux

We've been living in our current neighbourhood long enough to know that, come September, our neighbour, GatuBela, will throw her annual "Mexican Cat Dance." It never ceases to amaze me how she get all those cats to wear little sombreros and dance in unison to Latin beats. I find it difficult enough to deal with cats in the English language - let alone Spanish. Amazing.

The image of dancing cats may be a bit mind-boggling (even if outrageously false) but GatuBela has been holding the fundraiser for some years now and she uses all the funds that she raises to help save street cats and dogs around her vacation home in Mexico. She tries to find homes for the cats and dogs and has them neutered. It's somewhat of a neverending battle but her passion for the cause can be infectious and make for a fun evening.

For the last so many years, the dance has been held at Casa Verde, a small restaurant in the hood that has a reception hall attached. Together with Mr. Principal and Nature Boy, Boo and I decided to have dinner at Casa Verde prior to joining the rest of dance crowd. Dinner was better than expected and we easily managed to polish off a couple bottles of wine to add to The List.

933. N.V. Aveleda Casal Garcia Vinho Verde (D.O. Vinho Verde - Portugal)

It's been some time since I've had a bottle of Casal Garcia - but it's a wine that I remember from back in the 70's and 80's as a practical wine for struggling students - particularly as a summer sipper. Aveleda is one of the biggest wine producers in Portugal and may be the biggest in the Vinho Verde region itself. The Casal Garcia name dates back to 1939 and was one of the first table wines in Portugal to take on more modernized production standards. The winery tells of how farmers and winemakers in the region always used to publicly question the new and crazy methods that were being adopted at Aveleda - including the trellising of vines more in line with French viticulture. Those innovations seemed to have served the winery well as the wine sells around the world by the millions.

The Casal Garcia is made from four Portugese varietals - Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal Branco - and is typical of the fresh and vibrant, slightly effervescent wines that are Vinho Verde. The name "vinho verde" itself translate as "green wine" but that is a reference to the youth of the wine rather than the colour. The wine is meant to drunk young and isn't even bottled with vintage years on the label. We all thought it matched up nicely with Boo's calamari - which he declared to possibly be the best that he's had in years.

934. 2009 Cantine Co.Pro.Vi - Le Contrade Sangiovese Montepulicano Merlot (Italy)

Finding out about the red wine we chose was a little more difficult. Not so much about the producer Cantine Co.Pro.Vi. It is a cooperative that formed in the Velletri district, a commune in the province of Rome, as a means for local growers to give their wine a brand identity. The cooperative started in 1950 with 70 growers and it now consists of over a thousand associates.

Although this wine is a 2009 vintage, my guess is that it is a newer product or it is wine produced for particular markets because it doesn't appear on the producer's website. There is a red Le Contrade on the site but it is called "Castelli Romani" and is made from Sangiovese, Cilliogiolo, Merlot and Cesanese varietals - no mention of Montepulciano. Too bad I can't confirm this is the make up of this wine because I could have added the Cilliogiolo and Cesanese to my Wine Century Club list of varietals.

Regardless of the heritage, this is an easy drinker and the price for a litre makes it a decent house wine. It certainly didn't detract from my flaming weenie or from the bountiful roast chicken that filled the table.

By the time we'd finished dinner (and our wine), we were in fine spirits to join up with some of the other neighbours at the dance. Baby Mama and Red had "ditched" the guys for the night and were ready to do some Mexican cat (or hat) dancing - since the actual dancing cats never materialized. How predictable of cats not to show.

GatuBela tried a new method of raising funds with her myriad of prize packages and Boo and I weren't nearly as successful as we might normally might have been at her past silent auctions. I did, however, win the chance to add a couple of new varietals to my membership with the Wine Century Club (even without those red varietals).

Hopefully, GatuBela saw the evening a big success and raised big bucks for her Mexican babies.

A Rustic Gewurtz

Last weekend was of course my little jaunt up to the Okanagan for the BCWAS Bus Tour. I'd arrived a day before the Tour actually kicked in and, as otherwise reported in this blog, the Wine Grrrlz and I did a little pre-emptive tasting on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Road between Oliver and Osoyoos. We drove back and forth a couple times along Hwy 97 that day and we continually saw a collection of roadside signs announcing, "The Zin is In!"

Now, Zinfandel is not exactly one of the more common varietals grown in Okanagan. So, on my way back to Osoyoos, I thought I'd pay a visit to Rustico Farm & Cellars and see what all the zin was about. In spite of the fact that I'd arrived only ten minutes before the scheduled closing, proprietor, Bruce Fuller, gave me as warm a welcome and "Howdy" as I've ever received at a winery.

As soon as you've driven on the Rustico property, it's not hard to grasp that there's going to be something different about this winery. If the clothesline - featuring petticoats and long johns - remaining from an old movie shoot isn't enough of a hint, the Wild West entry and ubiquitous folk art has to be.

Oh yeah, Bruce's full moustache, cowboy hat and overalls tend to play into the initial impression as well.

In creating his vision for the winery, Bruce decided to celebrate the characters and the richness of the region's ranching, mining and agricultural history. The Tasting Saloon, yes that's correct, you're visiting a "Saloon," is actually part of a heritage log cabin that was originally a silver mine bunkhouse from the late 1800's. The bunkhouse was purchased by the vineyard's original owner and moved to its present location in the 1960's, a couple of logs at a time, from the old Sally Mine that was located on Anarchist Mountain - about a two to three hours drive full of steep, winding roads.

932. 2008 Rustico Farm & Cellars - Farmer's Daughter Gewurztraminer (Golden Mile - Okanagan Valley)

The thematics of the winery carry right through the labels and wine names as well. Bruce was telling me that he aims to produce an aromatic, well-bodied Gewurtz that he wants people to get real cozy with - just like the farmer's daughter that is central to so many jokes of old. Since Bruce likes his Gewurtz particularly dry, he reckons this one's bracing acidity leads to "her" being a "bit of a tart."

Despite my late arrival, I was served up all seven of the wines that Rustico now offers - including one of the few Zins in the Valley. Although Bruce only opened the doors to his Tasting Saloon in September 2009, the vineyard actually has some of the oldest vines around - including one of the few blocks of the Chancellor varietal that remain in the Okanagan - and has been producing grapes for many of the neighbouring wineries for years. I ended up leaving with three or four bottles (including the Zin but remembering, of course, that I was on my No Buy Leash) and this is the first of those bottles that Boo and I have opened.

As a rule, I don't buy bottles of Gewurtz in big numbers; so, the fact that I picked one up at Rustico is a pretty good indication that I rather liked the Farmer's Daughter myself.

And there is no doubt that I enjoyed my chat with Bruce. I have a feeling that he might give Bill Eggert, of Fairview Cellars up the road, a bit of a run for his money when it comes to who's the wine industry's biggest character in the Southern Okanagan. It'll take some time for Bruce to have as wide a selection of wine stories to keep up with Bill, but he's off to a good start.

One of those stories involves the fact that Rustico is likely the only winery in the Okanagan that has a hitching post outside the tasting room so that folks riding on the near-by horse trail can leave their steed outside while they sample a bit of wine before galloping away. Funny thing is that Bruce really does get some visitors arriving at the winery on horseback.

I think it will be interesting to see how the winery does over the next so many years. The theme behind the winery will likely act as a draw for many but it may prove to bit a bit gimmicky for some.

In the mean time, I just say "yeee haaaw."

Chef Meets Grape - Again

Chef Meets Grape is one of the tasting events that I most look forward to every year. 2011 marked the 7th annual "celebration of the Wines of BC and local food" and the crowd in attendance was treated to a showcase of wines and tasting plates from over 70 BC wineries and from the 10 chefs representing a selection of Vancouver, Whistler and Okanagan restaurants.

With only a couple of hours available to try and pack in as many tastes as you could, there was no chance of sampling much more than a handful of the treats available - particularly considering some of the lines that formed for most of the intriguing plates.

Boo and I worked hard to try and get a taste from each of the 10 chefs. It took some creative efforts on our parts to manipulate and minimize the amount of time spent standing in line, but I think we managed to try most of the dishes served up. Indeed, some of the tastes could easily have prompted an immediate return to the end of the line for a second helping; however, there was plenty of wine to be tried as well. There is an "official" competition between the chefs for the favourite dish of the night, but our favourite never seems to co-incide with the actual winner. Case in point, Boo and I loved Ned Bell and Yew Restaurant's 3-way salmon, but it was O'Doul's Pinot Noir cured salmon with chanterelle and bacon salad that won the judges' top prize. Yew matched their salmon with a Painted Rock Chardonnay while O'Doul's dish was paired with a Garry Oaks Pinot Noir.

The other two dishes that stood out the most for me were Cibo Trattoria's potato and goat cheese ravioli in a red wine butter and the Vancouver Convention Centre's lamb duo of braised lamb neck and sweetbread "popcorn." It certainly didn't hurt that Adrian Cassini, of Cassini Cellars, recognized me from last weekend's BCWAS Bus Tour and he graciously filled our glasses with his Maximus blend while we were waiting in the long line for the Cibo pasta his wine was paired with.

Due to the number of wineries participating, we tried to concentrate on some producers that we maybe didn't know as well - except when I thought Boo might like to try some of the wines that I'd picked up on the Bus Tour. I was still in the dog house for my lack of control in buying wines over the weekend and I felt he needed to see that he was really going to enjoy the wines that I'd brought home.

Over the course of the evening, we barely scratched the surface but we did uncover a few wines - particularly from JoieFarm and Howling Bluff - that even Boo will let me pick up should I run across them in the local stores.

Following the event, I took a look at some of the wineries and wines that were being poured and I could only lament the fact that we couldn't take advantage of the opportunity to try them all. This is definitely one of the top events to discover what's currently available in BC wines - and it always just leaves me wanting for more.

A Scary Possibility with La Frenz

I had a bit of a scare on the BCWAS Bus Tour last weekend (and not just the scare of retribution for having maybe purchased a few more bottles than I was "permitted" under the brief loosening of the No Buy Leash).

No, the real scare was that, at one of the tasting events, I was party to a conversation where folks had recently tried some older La Frenz wines - and they'd concluded that the wines hadn't aged well at all. In fact, the comments were more along the lines of "they weren't even worth drinking."

Knowing that Boo and I still have a number of "older" La Frenz wines hanging around, I figured I'd better open one ASAP to see if we were going to be stuck with a bunch of dead wines.

931. 2005 La Frenz Cabernet Sauvignon (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

This Cab was the first one that I grabbed. I realize that a 2005 isn't what you'd normally think of as an older vintage, but it is getting on a bit for BC wines. With such a recent history to the wine industry here, most juries are still out on the ageability of our wines. All the same, La Frenz winemaker and owner, Jeff Martin, even states on the back label of this bottle that he figures it should age at least ten years. I was pretty sure that the conversation I was party to was talking about Cab though; so,it seemed to make sense to open one.

I was either going to be extremely disappointed or greatly relieved.

I'm pleased to say that our bottle was still in fine form. No signs of oxidation. Plenty of fruit (although not as much as it might have had earlier in its life). And enough tannins and acidity to give the wine a good balance on the palate. There was certainly still enough wine there to leave you wanting some food to go with it. The glass packed enough punch that you likely wouldn't want to stand around all night long, drinking this bottle just by itself.

I'm not exactly sure how many more bottles of La Frenz we have lying around, but, at least, I'm not going to worry so much that they all have to be opened immediately.

Not that I ever mind opening a bottle of La Frenz.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Few Stops on the Way Home

The 2011 BCWAS Bus Tour is officially over. All the bottles have been packed into various nooks and crannies of vehicles heading off in all directions and I've bid "adieu" to the Wine Grrrlz. Unfortunately, Boo was right in his fear that I'd end up finding a way to fit three cases into the Miata - and I'm pretty sure he'll easily discover the Orofino box that's being delivered on its own.

The bad news for him - unless he should take a "good news" viewpoint like I do - is that even the Miata has a few of those aforementioned nooks and crannies. And I'm hoping to take in a few wineries that weren't otherwise on the Bus Tour. The real goal is to venture up to Painted Rock for a quick visit and the winery is located just outside of Penticton - half way up the Valley. So, I'm going to have to drive by a whole lot of wineries in order to get there.

The good news for Boo is that I'll only stop at a few wineries that I haven't been to in some time. Of course, he might not like the fact that I'm stopping because I know there are at least a couple of bottles that I'm hoping to pick up. There are times when you just have to seize the opportunity - and this is one of them. After all, I haven't stopped in at any of the Southern Okanagan wineries for some years.

I won't go into any detail with the various tastings today. Since I had the long drive back to Vancouver, I was being a very good boy and spitting and, since there was no actual downing of a bottle, there's no wine to add to The List. I can, however, grace the blog with some of the spectacular views that greeted me along the Wine Route.

The large shot at the top was looking back over Osoyoos. Since Boo's and my previous journeys through Osoyoos were often in the Winter or Spring, I don't always get such a clear and outstanding view. Once I'd committed to taking the scenic shot, it only made sense to stop in at Nk'Mip as I had to drive right by it. Plus, I was hoping to taste the winery's new premium Meritage, Mer'r'iym, as it wasn't available at Passa Tempo (the Nk'Mip Resort restaurant) the other night when I was there with the Wine Grrrlz. I got the chance, but did a self-serving tug on the No Buy Leash due to the $50 price tag. There aren't that many BC wines that I want to shell out $50 for - yet. Particularly when compared to the Qwam Qwmt Meritage that is $20 moin cher.

After Nk'Mip, I headed North. Took a quick stop below Burrowing Owl to take a shot of the iconic barn and valley floor. Remember this Valley is the Northern tip of the Sonoran Desert that starts down in Mexico and extends all the way up to the Okanagan. I then stopped by some of the wineries in OK Falls - some of the very stops that the 2012 BCWAS Bus Tour may take in. I'd heard that there were still some bottles of the Lieutenant Governor's Award winning Pinot Blanc at Wild Gooses and I hoped to grab one if there were any left. Generally the LG Award winners fly off the shelves within days of the awards being announced. I wonder if this is a statement, by the wine drinking public, about their love of (or lack thereof) Pinot Blanc? As luck would have it, I also had a quick chat with Roland Kruger of the winery. He was in the back office during my tasting and, ultimately, felt compelled to come out and answer a couple of the questions that I was throwing at the woman at the tasting bar. I'll be looking forward to trying both the Pinot Blanc and a rare botrytis affected Riesling that I picked up.

Since Tangled Vines is literally across the street from Wild Goose, I dropped in to see if winemaker Craig McKenzie was anywhere around. I'd known Craig from university days when he was in a rival fraternity and I enjoy taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to see what he's up to. Again, luck held out and Craig had just returned to the winery from some errands. Enjoying his take on the state of the wine world, I hope to get an opportunity to organize a more extensive visit some time down the road.

Next up was Blue Mountain; however, I didn't have an appointment. No worries. My how times have changed. After all the years of grief that the winery took for not always being available for or welcoming of unannounced drop-in visitors, Blue Mountain's tasting room is now open for regular hours on a daily basis. I knew that before I showed up though. After all the jokes about the big 2003 fire stopping before it hit Blue Mountain's vineyards - the fire hadn't phoned in advance for an appointment - I was glad to be able to stop by just because I was in the neighbourhood. Anyone who's had a bottle of Blue Mountain and looked at the label should recognize this shot of the landscape as you approach the winery.

There was one more quick stop to made at Blasted Church before I reached my actual destination. The winery was obviously having a successful season because more than a couple of the wines I'd specifically hoped to try were long sold out. At least three other groups of tasters came to the tasting room while I was there and the young gal running the counter had only started at the winery a couple of weeks ago. So, this wasn't the most expansive tasting session to be had - either with the wines or the information provided. I did, however, get to take a thorough look at all of the new avatar-esque labels that the winery has introduced. I may be old school but I've yet to decide whether I like them or not.

Finally, it was time for Painted Rock - the winery that gained almost instant "cult status," taking BC wine circles by storm a couple of years ago with their introduction of a limited line up of wines - but one that managed to win two LG Wine Awards with its initial vintage. This was one of the wineries I'd most wanted to visit - especially after this Spring's BCWAS gala wine dinner that paired Painted Rock wines with dinner at Raincity Grill.

I'm not sure that this little shack was what I'd expected after tasting such premium wines. Far from a destination winery and tasting room, BC's Best New Winery at the 2009 Okanagan Fall Wine Festival primary interface with the public is a temporary shack (that's been spruced up mind you) that used to be a lunch room for winery workers. It sits by its lonesome overlooking the vineyards and the lake in the background and I had wonder about the daily excitement (or grind as the case may be) the young lady at the tasting bar must run across regularly.

She was pleasant and very welcoming though. It probably doesn't hurt that she has a premium product to serve and talk about either. I'd hoped to maybe bump into owner, John Skinner, but I didn't call in advance and I rather needed to get on the road back to Vancouver. It was already mid-afternoon and I still wanted to hit the produce stands in Cawston and Keremeos.

So, with a final few bottles coaxed into the trunk, I set off on the road home. If nothing else, the Bus Tour - and side trips - showed that there's plenty happening with BC wine. But, beyond that, it was a novel way to take in some of what the BC interior has to offer. I can't wait for the next little adventure up here - and for some tasty reminders of this trip once some of my newest purchases are opened.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BCWAS Bus Tour Day 2 - Similkameen Valley

There was an offer of a Blue Mountain Brut mimosa to accompany Chewbacca's special Eggs à la Honey C, but, surprisingly, there were no takers. I suppose even the most ardent wine lovers can take a pass at 7.30 a.m. Sunday morning. Besides it wasn't as if we'd have to wait long for our first glass on the day's journey.

Today, the bus made a right turn out of Osoyoos instead of driving straight up Hwy 97. Our destination - the Similkameen Valley - has long been recognized for its agricultural products. Indeed, with 40% of its farms being organic, the region is thought to have one of the highest concentrations of organic farmers in the world. It has, however, largely remained in the shadow of the Okanagan Valley when it comes to wine. Grapes from the Similkameen have journeyed over the local hills and into Okanagan wines for years; however, many of those grapes are now being kept at home and made into wine by the dozen or so wineries that have recently set up shop.

Awhile back, enRoute magazine named the Similkameen Valley one of the "world's 5 best wine regions you've never of" and, for many in our gang, today's trip into the Similkameen was going to a be first. Boo and I are pretty familiar with interior BC's other wine valley due to all the drives we've made through the region to get to the Kootenays. This was going to be the most thorough visit I've ever experienced though since we've usually only had an hour or so at most during our previous outings.

The tour's first stop on Day 2 was Robin Ridge - and this was a first time for me. We were greeted by owner/winemaker, Tim Cottrill, and the balance of his family, including the "guard" turkey, as this was definitely a family-run affair. Tim guided us through four of his wines and advised that their 10 acre vineyard grows both table grapes and enough fruit to produce about 1500 cases. He doesn't see the winery growing much more in production as he's reached the conclusion that, to keep afloat in the BC wine industry, you either have to be small or commit to large-scale production.

One of the more intriguing wines that Tim poured was his Robin's Return, an easy drinking red. What piqued my interest was that the wine was blend of Pinot Noir and Rougeon - the latter being anything but a classic varietal and one that definitely hasn't been added to my Wine Century Club list. It's going to be soon.

Herder Winery & Vineyards wasn't too far up the road and it was our second stop of the day. The bus was split into our three groups again as Lawrence Herder took each group for a tour of the winery facilities and a barrel tasting, Sharon Herder led the groups through a tasting of their current releases and a third component of the visit was a bit of "down time" that allowed us to wander about and try out our swing on Lawrence's pitch & putt.

Herder Winery & Vineyards wasn't too far up the road and it was our second stop of the day. The bus was split into our three groups again as Lawrence Herder took each group for a tour of the winery facilities and a barrel tasting, Sharon Herder led the groups through a tasting our their current releases and a third component of "down time" allowed us to wander about and try our hand at Lawrence's hillside pitch and putt.

This was my first visit to the new Herder winery. Five years ago or so, Boo and I had been to the original vineyard and tasting room that was located further along the valley. These new premises have to be close to, if not "the," envy of the Similkameen. A combination of dream home and working winery, the setting and facilities are impressive. Now nestled against rock cliffs on the valley's upper bench, Lawrence advised that the cliffs act as a heat sink and that his vineyard can be 5 degrees hotter than properties less than a mile away.

Lawrence's explanations of blending and tasting techniques, barrel ratings and tricks of trying to marry the right wood with the different blocks of grapes was the stuff wine geeks live for. I thoroughly enjoyed our stop there and found it interesting that Lawrence doesn't expect to see a whole lot more expansion in the Similkameen. Winter kill and frost issues are still big threats in the valley. Accordingly, he doesn't see that there's much land that's still available and suitable for vineyard planting. If anything, he thinks some current growers may even switch back from grapes to apples.

The No Buy Leash may have prevented any extensive purchases on my part, but I did sign up for their newsletter.

If there's any Similkameen winery that I am familiar with, it's going to be Orofino. I was first introduced to John and Virginia Weber and Orofino about five or six years ago at a BCWAS tasting that featured Similkameen wines for the first time - and their wines have been a regular purchase for me ever since. Indeed, I featured Orofino wines on the blog for one of the 2010 Canucks playoff rounds (unfortunately, not even the wines could propel the Canucks to a series win over the Blackhawks) and The List already has more than a dozen Orofino wines on it. Likely one of the biggest number of wines for any one winery - particularly when you consider Orofino's limited production. And there are plenty more to be added - I've just been waiting for some of the bigger reds to truly hit their stride.

There was plenty of opportunity for Q&A as we toured the vineyard and barrel room. For those that hadn't been here before, the story about the building of and reasoning behind the straw bale construction for the winery was particularly novel.

We also lucked out with the weather and the setting for our lunch that was provided, at the vineyard, by Joy Road Catering - another one of the big culinary names in the Okanagan. Matched up with Orofino's Riesling and Red Bridge Merlot - and the company of the Marvelous Mavens, four sisters and regulars on the Bus Tour - it was a great lunch.

Despite my extensive efforts to resist, I fought through the tug of the No Buy Leash and ended up buying a full case of John's wines. I'm blaming it on his willingness to ship the case back to Vancouver so that I wouldn't have to take any with me. The transaction was long finished before the Wine Grrrlz found out. As such, they were unable to assist Boo in curbing my extravagances. They did try to "punish" me somewhat by bending me over a barrel for a spanking. The picture looks more like they were preparing for a bit a grab rather than a smack down though. Good thing Boo loves Orofino as well.

Next up was Seven Stones and George and Vivianne Hanson. The view of the valley, at the top of the post, was taken from just outside the tasting room. It gives you an idea of the beauty that is the Similkameen. George (to the right of erstwhile BCWAS President Brian) first purchased the 20 acres that now form the vineyard in 1999 when it was still a hay field. Since then, he's been planting and nurturing the vines that produce for his, largely, big reds.

Although the winery/tasting room has only been open for business since 2007, Seven Stones already garnered its share of medals (as have most of the wineries we've visited) including a nomination of its 2006 Meritage as a finalist for Red Wine of the Year at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards.

Quite the personality, George walked us through a tasting of the seven wines he currently had available - including his premium Meritage 2009 Legend. He chose the best barrels of his Bordeaux varietals to make only 100 cases of Legend - and, to top it off, he was only releasing the wine today - in honour of our visit.

By the time we made it to Forbidden Fruit, our final stop on the Tour, it was clear that a forest fire was blazing - and not too far away. There weren't a whole lot of details about the fire to be had, but the powers that be obviously didn't think that it posed enough of a threat to put the kaibosh on our tasting. The gathering smoke caused a few problems for some of our bus mates though. Our host, Steve Brind'Amour started his presentation by telling us they had 146 acres under production - at least they did before the start of the fire. He was also quick to point, as well, out that we could all just jump into the river if the necessity arose.

Between concerns over the fire, the length of the day and a windy outdoor setting, the attentiveness of our gang was getting a tad suspect for this tasting - and it was another extensive one. Like Orofino, I've been fully aware of Forbidden Fruit over the years. Regular readers of the blog know that I'm a sucker for dessert wines and Forbidden Fruit has an extensive selection of particularly tasty ones. My only problem is that I continue to pick up an assortment when I taste them but I rarely open them once I get them home. I suppose I'll have to work on that.

A number of Forbidden Fruit wines have made it to The List, however, so I won't go over the winery's history in the region again. If you've seen one of the stylish Forbidden Fruit wine labels, you'll know that it's based on Adam and Eve and the Garden of Paradise. Steve recounted that Forbidden Fruit became the theme behind the winery not only for the idyllic setting, but because tree fruit is often thought of as being a forbidden source for quality wine and because the Brind'Amour's early pioneering of organic farming in the Similkameen was also somewhat "forbidden" when they started farming.

One of the wines that we tried was new to me - the winery has released its first sparkling wine. It's made with freestone peaches in the traditional methode champenoise and was initially made as a special wine for Steve and Kim's daughter's wedding. It is called Flirt and I naturally had to pick up a bottle to add to The List down the road.

It was soon time to gather back on the bus and head back to the resort though. There'd still be a bit of mingling in the evening for those who were up to it - and there was plenty of sorting out wines that had been purchased - but the winery visits were now officially over. I'd love to know how many boxes of wine were ultimately purchased by our little gang. I have no doubt that our two days of visits generated a substantial share of sales for the participating wineries. If I were a BC winery, I'd lobby to get my winery on next year's itinerary.

In fact, plans are already under way for the 2012 Tour. A straw vote was held on the bus as we made our way back to Osoyoos. There were votes for the Naramata Bench, for the North Okanagan/Lake Country region and even for Vancouver Island; however, the clear winner was to take the bus and hit the Okanagan Falls wineries. Considering the grand time I had on this year's tour, I think I see a little Blue Mountain, Painted Rock and Wild Goose - just to name a few - in my future. I'll just have to try and empty our cellar a bit between now and then so that the No Buy Leash isn't quite as tight.

All in all, this year's BCWAS Bus Tour has to be considered a great success. I'm certainly glad that I've finally been able to make the Tour. Big thanks are in store for all the organizers and winery principals - and to the Wine Grrrlz for finally making me see the error of my ways in not having jumped on bus previously. The promised cuddles may not have happened but I think we still managed a few laughs and good times.

If nothing else, I'm certainly going to look forward to drinking my way through all the wines I picked up (not that Boo will ever be made aware of which wines are which).

Dinner at Miradoro

Lest you think that this BCWAS Bus Tour is nothing but hitting as many wineries and sampling as many wines as possible in a day, rest assured that we were given some opportunity to just sit back and enjoy an extended winery visit as well. After all, it was Saturday night and this crowd loves its food - as well as its wine.

We were lucky enough to be welcomed to Tinhorn Creek's new restaurant, Miradoro, by none other than Tinhorn's Sandra Oldfield. Sandra is now not only a part owner, the winemaker and newly named CEO, she's likely the head bottle-washer as well. Despite being somewhat under the weather, Sandra greeted us and took us for an initial tasting in the winery's barrel room - where they were storing 1100 barrels, some filled with the 2010 reds, some empty waiting for the next wines to be aged.

Sandra then joined us for dinner at Mirodoro. Although the restaurant was only opened this Spring, it has already been named by Wine Access magazine as one of the world's best winery restaurants. A joint venture between Tinhorn Creek and Manuel Ferreira (of Vancouver's noted Le Gavroche restaurant), the restaurant offers a sweeping view of the winery and the South Okanagan Valley - fitting since the name is a rough translation of Spanish and Portugese for "golden view."

Miradoro's chef is Jeff Van Geest - no slouch, himself, when it comes to pedigrees. Recently transplanted from Vancouver, Chef Van Geest made a name for himself as a sous chef at Bishop's and then as owner and chef at Aurora Bistro. He's been quoted as saying that the move to the Okanagan was prompted by a desire for a more relaxed approach to life than the big city offers. I don't know how relaxing the launch of a new restaurant can be, but his goal at Miradoro is to create Mediterranean influenced dishes from seasonal, local ingredients.

Our menu consisted of stuffed, grilled squid, an onion soup (that had everyone crying out for more - or at least a recipe), local beef bresola and a three-way lamb dish. Top notch.

Oh, and there was a bit of wine as well.

929. 2008 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

930. 2009 Tinhorn Creek Merlot (VQA Okanagan Valley)

Sandra may be particularly well known for her tales on the trials and tribulations of Cab Franc and the varietal's growing reputation in the Okanagan Valley but her Merlot has tempted more than a few taste buds over the years - including mine. I'll be honest though, there are no such things as tasting notes on tonight's dinner wines. For me, it was all about the atmosphere and experience. Tasting notes, meh, all I know is that the Oldfield Series with lamb chorizo is a pairing worthy of a re-enactment at home.

We had the opportunity to taste some Tinhorn's Pinot Gris, a barrel sample Syrah (if I remember correctly), Cab Franc and a rare Kerner Icewine as well, but I chose the Merlots to add to The List because the Oldfield was my favourite of the night and the refills were plentiful and easily obtained.

On a different note, Sandra was the only person, during the entire weekend, who mentioned that she thought it was going to be rough getting the late-ripening varietals, like Cab Franc, to fully ripen for this year's harvest in the Valley. When I mentioned that fact to her, her reply was that she doesn't see any reason to hold punches about a rough season in the vineyards. The vintage will be what it is and people are going to know the reality of the vintage once they try the wines. Her job, as winemaker, is to make the best wine from whatever fruit the season delivers. Honestly like that is virtue in my book.

I hope the Cab Franc ripens though.

Between the people behind the winery and restaurant and the wonderful setting, I don't think it's difficult, at all, to see why Miradoro has become a dining darling in the Okanagan. The hours flew by and it was time to head back to Walnut Beach before we knew it. Something tells me it was an enjoyable evening for the gang overall - that is, if spontaneous eruptions of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" in the back of the bus are any indication. Talk about bringing those summer campfire singalongs of yore to an entirely different level.

Now, to get enough sleep to be back on the bus in the morning.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BCWAS Bus Tour - Day 1 - Oliver & Environs

An 8.30 bus boarding comes pretty early but it's a sacrifice you'd best be willing to make when the alternative is to be the one holding back just shy of 50 wine lovers from their day of discovery. The Grrrlz and I managed to arrive on time - barely - however, our timing left little choice but to sit near the back of the bus.

Our itinerary for the day included four wineries with a lunch being held at one of the newest - and highly acclaimed - winery restaurants in the Oliver region.

First up was Cassini, a winery that I didn't know a whole lot about. I'd seen and tried a couple of their wines at tastings here or there, but this would be my first opportunity to see the winery and find out a little info in detail. Upon arriving at the winery, you first enter an impressive tasting and sales room. Indeed, the primary tasting bar can accommodate a couple dozen visitors.

Our visit, however, was handled more like a cocktail party with some introductory notes to each of the wines. Our party was hosted by owner Adrian Cassini - and that, in itself, was probably an indication of the access that our little bus tour was going to have to the real information that is available on BC wines. After all, how many times do you arrive at a winery and have the owner greet you, walk you through all his current wines and answers as many questions as you might like to throw at him?

I love a good back story to a winery and Adrian emigrated to Canada from Romania in 1990, following the fall of the Communist regime in his old country. Although he has legitimate wine roots coursing through his blood - his family owns a vineyard in Romania - John Schreiner reports that Adrian's appreciation of wine "developed in the years when he worked in restaurants."

The vineyard attached to the winery used to be an old lavender farm that was located on the Golden Mile about half way between Osoyoos and Oliver. It hadn't dawned on me that the old lavender farm I remembered was gone, but I do recall stories of locals being upset with the removal of the lavender for even more grapes in the Valley.

Adrian was very proud to announce that his winery - that still only produces around 4500 cases of wine a year - won Best New Winery in 2010 at the BC Wine Awards. Individual wines have also garnered the winery plenty of medals at various competitions. The 2008 Syrah won Gold medals at three different competitions and the Meritage blend, Maximus, has won a Gold medal with every vintage that's been released so far.

We tried six wines as Cassini and, if our first stop was going to be any indication, I was going to need the Grrrlz to tug on the leash on a regular basis.

Next up was Hester Creek. I guess I didn't pay enough attention to our itinerary because I'd actually come by and done a full tasting yesterday afternoon. It quickly became apparent that today's visit was going to be ever so more interesting and informative. Our group was split into three smaller teams - and it was clear that the "back of the bus" gang, Group C, would not be denied its place of prominence.

I found the Hester Creek tour to be absolutely top flight. Group C's guide was Wine Shop Manager, Kathy Mercier, and she took us for a quick visit to the vineyard and regaled us with some of the storied history of Hester Creek and of its new facilities, completed in 2008 - all the while we were sipping on a crisp Pinot Blanc. The vineyard exploration was followed by a tour of the winery and a tasting with winemaker, Rob Summers.

Rob walked us through another five wines, including a barrel tasting of the '09 vintage of his premium blend The Judge. The wine is only about half way through its journey before it will be available for sale. A true Meritage/Bordeaux blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Cab Sauv, some of the components are still undergoing separate aging. The wine won't be finalized until it's bottled in 2012 and it won't be released until 2013. I'll have to be on the lookout for a bottle when it's released eventually. Even the barrel is aging in was a special barrel that was made of alternating staves of both French and American oak. It was made by a master cooper in Oliver and was made for the local Banée celebration.

928. 2010 Hester Creek Pinot Gris (VQA Okanagan Valley)

The gang was privileged to complete our Hester Creek visit with lunch in their new restaurant, Terrafina. I'm taking the liberty of adding the bottle of Pinot Gris we finished off to The List. There was red wine to be had as well, but it was the white that matched up particularly well to our antipasti and pasta. The fruit for the wine came from both the estate vineyard and from the bench on the opposite side of the valley on Black Sage Road. Their description of a crisp, easy drinking wine with notes of pear and minerality seemed pretty much bang on during our lunch.

All in all, I found it to be a superb visit - very reminiscent of the full deal tours you get in Italy or Argentina. This was why I was on the tour. But we still had two more wineries to hit this afternoon and, since we were starting to fall behind schedule, a gentle nudging was applied to our gang.

Church & State was our third stop. Our host was John Pullen, Sales & Marketing Director, and son of winery owner Kim Pullen. John did his dad proud as he walked us through a full slate of Church & State's wines. I've visited the old Vancouver Island winery in Saanich; however, I've never been to this new - and quite stunning - Okanagan tasting room.

Church & State is developing quite the reputation for big reds and this Coyote Bowl site (as they've named the vineyard area) is delivering. In fact, Boo and I picked their 2005 Coyote Bowl Syrah as the big red to serve at our 10 year anniversary party. The wines have only been getting bigger as the vines mature. Big reds aside, I have to say that I really enjoyed the 2009 Chardonnay that we tasted - and regular readers will remember that I'm not usually the first to reach for a Chardy. I took a re-pour of this one however.

I was intrigued to hear that the winery intends to keep operating the Vancouver Island property; however, they intend to use the Saanich fruit to produce sparkling wines. That should be an interesting project for the island.

An employee emergency (leading to a staff shortage) and the popularity of the wines (and resulting sales) left us even further behind on our schedule, but I suspect I won't regret the extra time spent in line as we enjoy the new wines down the road. (Sorry Boo but the Grrrlz didn't realize that they needed to grab the Leash before it was too late.)

Our final stop for the afternoon was Black Hills Estate Winery. Anyone familiar with iconic BC wines will know that Black Hills produces two of the biggest - their Nota Bene red has been one of the most sought after BC wines for years and Alibi, the white blend, has seen a past vintage called possibly the best white wine ever produced in BC up to that time.

Like the other wineries we visited today, Black Hills is home to a new winery and tasting room of its own. Long know for the old quonset hut that was Black Hills' trademark, 2007 saw the unveiling of its architectural award winery on Black Sage Road.

I noted, in one of my last posts, that Burrowing Owl may have lost a bit of its lustre with me in recent years. I suppose I should say that I no longer sit by the computer waiting for notices that Black Hills is releasing a new wine either. The winery once sold out a vintage of Nota Bene in 46 minutes - and I was one of the lucky folks that grabbed a case - but I can't say that I've felt so compelled lately.

I was still glad to be part of the visit to the new facility however - and I picked up a bottle of their first vintage of Syrah ever. I know I'll be back with more Black Hills wines down the road; so, I think I'll end the post for now.

If the rest of Bus Tour continues in the same vein, I'm going to regret having missed all the earlier years.

A Friday BCWAS Happy Hour

After a full day of pre-bus tour training, I could have easily flopped down in front of the TV or hit the hot tub and simply begged off the rest of the evening. The BCWAS gang had pretty much arrived at Walnut Beach by now, however, and a little unofficial meet and greet for fellow "Tourers" had been planned.

It was a good thing that I drag my tired self down the hallway because there was a fine spread of nibblies and wines to be had - and it was a grand opportunity to put some names to some of the approximately 50 folks that I'd be spending the weekend with. Regular BCWAS tastings don't necessarily offer the best of opportunities to chat with and get to know your neighbour - or you tend mingle with the folks that you already know.

This was my first Bus Tour and it was a bit surprising to find out the high percentage of tour veterans that were in attendance. Indeed, one of the returning members, Donnell, had won a grand 3L bottle at last year's Tour of the Naramata Bench. He was gracious enough to bring it and open it up for this year's busmates.

925. 2008 Naramata Bench Spring Release Red Blend (Okanagan Valley)

If I got the story correct, this is a wine that you can't buy at any store or winery. The special wine is a collaboration between a collection of winemakers from Bench winemakers and it has only been produced a couple of times for use at fundraising and promotional events. I'm told it's a Bordeaux/Meritage blend and four or five of the Bench's winemakers contribute the various components. There weren't many other details to be had however. I'd love to have an entire tasting to discuss and dissect the wine with all those winemakers (and their egos). I can only imagine the discussions and multiple tastings that must have gone into the wine.

I may not have gotten to try much of the wine, but I'll be darned if I don't add such a unique bottle to The List when the opportunity arises.

926. 2077 Van Westen Vineyard Vrancenstein (Okanagan Valley)

Although the Vrancenstein looks somewhat dwarfed by the Spring Release bottle in the picture, it's a super-sized magnum itself and it sports its own intriguing history. Van Westen owner and winemaker, Rob Van Westen, received a special Christmas present from the girls in his life - a 5L handpainted bottle. His task, however, was to fill the bottle with some of his favourite wine and try to raise as much money as possible for charity.

Since the bottle was to be auctioned off around Halloween, he chose to fill it with his Cab Franc - made from grapes picked on Halloween 2007. Sticking to their tradition of giving all of their wines names that start with the letter "V," they chose Vrancenstein.

When bottling that 5L bottle, he also bottled a limited number of magnums and donated the proceeds from all sales to the BC Children's Hospital.

I hadn't heard of the winery's efforts on this front but I heartily approve and I was glad to be able to sample some of this special bottle as well.

927. 2009 Laughing Stock Syrah (Okanagan Valley)

The third addition to The List tonight is no slouch in its own right. The 2009 bottling was only the second vintage of Syrah that Laughing Stock has produced and they've taken a very Northern Rhone-like approach to the wine in that they've blended the Syrah with 8% Viognier. This was at least a bottle that you could buy; however, you'll notice the tense on "was." The vintage is sold out at the winery already.

This Laughing Stock was served at the BCWAS Syrah/Shiraz tasting back in June, but darned if I could find any notes from the evening. I'd love to see what I thought of the wine that evening because I could have kept filling up my glass tonight.

There were plenty more bottles opened through the evening, but I played it fairly tame since I knew we had a full day - involving plenty o' bus riding - and it was scheduled to start in the not too distant future. I rather gathered, however, that if you judge your company by the wines they serve up, I was in with some pretty impressive folk. As fine of a time that I might have been having with the Naramata Bench tonight, Oliver and environs was calling.

Bus Tour Preliminaries

It's the Friday before the BC Wine Appreciation's Annual Bus Tour kicks into gear and the Wine Grrrlz and I have the day to do a little training - and, much to Boo's dismay, maybe even a little pre-buying. The Grrrlz spent all of yesterday purchasing wine for the BCWAS cellars and they still had a few wineries that they needed to hit today on the Golden Mile and Black Sage Road. They asked me if I wanted to tag along - an offer I readily accepted since the wineries scheduled for the morning were already on my list of "I'd like to get to" destinations.

Today's tour isn't going to result in my being able to add many wines to The List right away, but there are definitely a few that were picked up today that will make it on The List soon.

Boo's last words as I left for the Okanagan were "Remember you're on a leash." Regular readers will know that I have a penchant for buying wines a little faster than we drink them and Boo has devised the "No Buy Leash" that is regularly tugged on to remind me of this unfortunate fact of life. I responded that "I'm driving a sports car; how much wine could I possible fit?" He'd already considered this and tersely exclaimed that "I see two cases in the trunk and one on the passenger seat. We don't need anywhere near that!"

I reminded the Grrrlz that Boo gave them full permission to tug on the leash if need be.

First stop on our tour was Fairview Cellars. Open since 2000, I've wanted to visit the winery but was never able to find it. Owner/winemaker, Bill Eggert, has never posted a directional sign on the local highway and I just never had the skill or time to fully search it out. Without a doubt, Bill is one of the Valley's most colourful personalities. He can pull out a story to fit any occasion and his wry sense of humour and self-effacement is enough to captivate anyone.

Thing is, he makes wines that earn accolades from virtually everyone that tastes them. I recall the first time that I'd heard of his new ventures. It was another Okanagan winemaker at a group tasting and he advised that "Bill Eggert was a winemaker's winemaker" and highly recommended that we try his wines.

I've no intention to go into tasting notes on all the wines that we tried but I will say that I can't wait to open a bottle of The Wrath. The story behind this one-off wine is definitely worth telling and the Amarone-like red just adds to Bill's reputation as a maker of big wines.

I will, however, always have to chuckle to myself about "strong coconut notes on the nose" of all his wines. For further clarification, you'll have to ask Cockney Queen about her evocative sunscreen.

Our next stops were the sister wineries of La Stella and Le Vieux Pin. On the scene now for five years, I haven't really run across their wines much except to see them in local stores. That is, until a tasting earlier this Spring when the La Stella wines knocked my socks off. I definitely wanted to make this first visit before heading back to Vancouver.

If you haven't run across either winery yourself, the owners, Saeedeh and Sean Salem, decided to set up separate wineries so that one could concentrate on an Italian style while the other strived to make wines with a French flair. Take a guess which winery matches up to each style.

There are two physical wineries and tasting rooms as well despite the fact that neither winery produces more than 3000 to 3500 cases. The two operations "share" the grapes from seven different plots; however, they try to produce single vineyard wines as much as possible. They also virtually dry farm the vineyards and this minimal irrigation leads to very low levels of cropping and to intense flavour profiles. We were advised that La Stella's iconic Maestoso is harvested at only 0.7 tons of grapes per acre. I generally look at 2-3 tons as being low yielding. Such limited production comes at a cost though - and Maestoso clocks in at $90 a bottle, making it one of the most expensive BC wines on the market. Good thing for Boo that the winery sold out of the current vintage the week before I arrived.

Considering the Grrrlz and I just walked into the tasting room like any other tourist, I was impressed by the time and knowledge that our hostess had to spare for us.

Our visit to Le Vieux Pin was equally intriguing. We were invited to take a look out back since their crush pad was about to start work on this year's Muscat harvest. After such a late start to the 2011 growing season, it was both surprising and welcoming to hear that the late summer heat had put most of this year's harvest back on schedule. This was the first picking of Okanagan grapes that I'd seen any sign of. I'll also admit that the grapes I tried were very tasty.

I'll be interested to watch Le Vieux Pin's future vintages. We were advised that their intent is to produce more Rhone-based wines as their vines mature. As it was, I bought one of the last bottles of Pinot Noir they intend to produce and one of their initial vintage bottles of Syrah.

One of my favourite stories from the day was the explanation of the chicken coop out back. These were some fancy looking chicks and we asked about their purpose. Turns out, the chickens play a rather novel role at the winery (at least as far as I've run across) where they are allowed to wander the vineyard rows as the grapes reach a certain degree of ripeness. The chickens attract local hawks and other raptors that, in turn, scare off the smaller birds that come by to eat the grapes. With such low yields, the winery doesn't want to lose an inordinate amount of fruit to the snacking birds.

And speaking of "snacking," our morning tastings (and spittings) had now extended until well past noon. We decided to visit near-by Burrowing Owl, grab some lunch at their acclaimed restaurant, The Sonoran Room, and have a sit down to finish a full glass of wine or two.

924. 2008 Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir (VQA Okanagan Valley)

If the early years of quality wine production in BC saw the development of a cult status for Burrowing Owl wines, I was a willing devotée. Not so much anymore. There's no doubt that, for years, I was a fervent member of the Church of Burrowing Owl. In fact, there are over a dozen of their wines that have been added to The List - with still more to come. My rapture for the winery, however, has diminished as much of the local industry has caught up to their early standards. The days of my buying a couple of cases a year are pretty much behind me now - and it's not just because of the No Buy Leash.

This isn't to say that I no longer find or enjoy any Burrowing Owl wines. That's definitely not the case. In fact, we enjoyed the Pinot Noir enough at lunch to order a second bottle and the restaurant meal was delicious. The wine drank true for the varietal and had a nice complexity to the fruit, body and acidity. I found it to be a nice way of capturing some of the Okanagan's signature fruit without pushing any boundary into over the top extraction.

Our little group wasn't nearly as enamoured with the remaining wines that we tried in the tasting room though. Or maybe it was just the tasting room experience itself. Don't get me wrong, Burrowing Owl's tasting room is one of the nicest in the Okanagan; however, I'm thinking that the persona might have become one that's more of a tasting room and less of a winery. The young lady that assisted on our tasting didn't seem to know much about the wines or the production - what little she recited came directly from the tasting notes that were in front of us. I suppose I can forgive that, but she didn't exhibit any desire or interest in finding out anything further either. The other wineries we visited showed a much deeper interest and knowledge in their wines.

And, as trivial as this might seem, I also found it cheeky of the woman at the cash register when she told me that she would have to charge me for one of the 6-pack boxes featuring their logo because I was only buying four bottles. Rather than say that I had donated more than their suggested tasting fee because I like their efforts to assist the burrowing owl's recovery or that I was just about to go to lunch and buy more wine, I simply left with a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth.

Maybe Burrowing Owl has become more of a brand than a winery for me. I'll still give them the benefit of the doubt, but I have to say that they've lost a little of their past lustre.

Love 'em or leave 'em at Burrowing Owl, it was time for the Grrrlz and I to part company. They had a few more BCWAS errands to run and I thought I'd take in a few additional wineries that I didn't think I'd get a chance to visit otherwise. Taking a little loop of Black Sage Road up to Oliver and back down the Golden Mile to Osoyoos, I fit in visits to Stoneboat, Quinta Ferreira, Gehringer Brothers, Hester Creek and a new winery, Rustico. I won't go into any detail about the wineries because they were pretty quick tastings, but I did get at least one bottle from each so that I can post a bit more about them later.

Today's tour didn't exactly result in my being able to add many wines to The List right away, but there are definitely bottles that were picked up and will make it on The List soon.