This year my family decided to take a little getaway to the Okanagan. Although I haven’t spent much time in the Okanagan, I am very familiar with the reputation the area has for being renowned for it’s vineyards and amazing wineries. One day last week my Mom, Dad, partner Brendan and I piled into the car and drove around, to test out a few of the wines. We are all red wine drinkers, so we stuck to what we enjoy. (I know what you are thinking – how did they all have tastings and still drive? My Dad was kind enough to be DD, so the rest could enjoy!)
The first stop was a small winery called Rollingdale. I was a little hesitate to go to this one for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I had never been wine touring before and to get to this wine shop you had to drive down through the vineyard on a dirt path. The wine shop was housed in what looked like an oversized garage. I learned my lesson – don’t ever judge a book by it’s cover. Upon entering the wine shop we were greeted by the owner of the winery – a VERY friendly man, who poured us a tasting of every wine he had available. First we were able to pour our own taste of a white wine that the winery was bottling the following day. What a need experience! White is not my favourite, but it was a good way to start the day. We ended up tasting all of the red wines Rollingdale had to offer and my parents bought a bottle of their Reserve Pinot Noir, which was one of their best wines. It was $25 for the bottle and all four of our tastings were on the house. The hospitality of the owner was something to remember and set the tone of the day.
Next on our tour was Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery. This winery had a full wine shop and wine bar, but great hospitable host, who poured our tastings with expertise. We tried 2009 Pinot Noir, 2007 Zweigelt, 2007 Syrah, 2006 Summit and 2006 Mélange Noir. Nothing really spoke to me directly (not to say that they weren’t good), so I took a pass on buying a bottle, but again my parents bought a bottle of the 2006 Summit. This winery included all of our tastings for free with the purchase of just one bottle!
The third was Quails Gate. This was the first larger, more commercial winery we stopped at. The property was well taken care of and the main wine shop and tasting area overlooked the vineyard and if you allowed your eyes to keep going, you had a gorgeous view of Lake Okanagan. Definitely a stunning view! That said, Quails Gate offered an $8 tour of their winery, which included the tour itself, and a tasting of three wines. We opted out of the tour because for four people it would have cost $32 and we thought we might as well spend that money on a bottle instead of a walk. There were two complimentary wines for tasting, and then you were able to purchaser tastings in flights of three for $5. The most notable was double tasting – we tried the Stewart Family Reserve Old Vines Foch Reserve and the Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch back to back. The Stewart family takes only the best grapes and the best barrels to develop their wine and you could tell! It was smoother and had a better flavour overall. Still though, I wasn’t impressed enough to buy a bottle. (Quails Gate was quite commercial and if you purchased two bottles of wine you received one $5 tasting for free, which was a bit harder to swallow, coming from small wineries that charged $5 for a tasting, but if you bought one bottle you received all of your tastings for free.)
The fourth stop was Mission Hill. I had been to Mission Hill a couple of years before, so although the property itself is breath-taking, I wasn’t super excited for this one. It was the fourth on our list and we didn’t actually end up tasting anything, because it was more expensive than the others. There were two tasting options – a three wine tasting for $5 per person or a three wine tasting for $10 per person. If you purchased two bottles of their wine, you received one tasting for free. After leaving Mission Hill, we all kind of had the same though – it was much too commercial and not as enjoyable as the small, family owned and operated wineries. The smaller operations and winemakers were much more excited about their product because they were proud of what they were producing. Mission Hill was staffed with people that were knowledgeable, but clearly there for a pay cheque and not out of pride.
After Mission Hill we were actually going to head back to our resort, decided to try one more tasting at Little Straw. In retrospect, I am so thrilled we stopped! Little Straw is a family owned and run winery, with a diversity of different wines produced from their own grown grapes. This was our last winery and I still hadn’t tasted a wine that I fell in love with and subsequently hadn’t bought a bottle to take home. The wines were good at Little Straw, not nothing I was absolutely thrilled with UNTIL I tasted the last wine – a 2007 Maréchal Foch. From what I understand, fosh grapes were originally pulled out of most of the crops in the Okanagan in the 70s, but this winery kept a crop and what an amazing wine it makes! It was spicey, with undertones of berry. I fell in love. I bought two bottles for a total of $40 and was able to enjoy one bottle with an awesome steak dinner and took one home to enjoy some time soon….
All in all, I learned that I much prefer the experience (and wine!) a small, family owned winery provides. They seem to be friendlier and more interested in actually sharing the fruits of their labour – hehe. My next adventure is to try some of the wineries here on Vancouver Island. Make sure to keep an eye out for that experience!