The Naramata Bench, on the southeast end of long and narrow Lake Okanagan. — Photo by Steve Delaney/Special to The Telegram
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia includes an actual desert among a collection of varied growing areas. The valley is a narrow, picturesque gap running north-south between the Cascade and Monashee mountains. In the early days, when there were only a few producers growing vinifera grapes, the wines were labelled as B.C. wines.
As the wines improved, and new wineries sprang up in several parts of the province, it became useful to
differentiate by growing region. Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands and Similkameen Valley have been added to the Okanagan as recognized regions. Other areas are likely to be added to this list as pioneers try their hand at growing grapes in new places.
Each area has unique conditions which affect the varietals that can be grown successfully and the style of wines produced. Vancouver Island has a cool and relatively short growing season, but does not suffer hard freezing conditions in the winter. Quick-ripening varieties are key to island growers and tasting rooms are dominated by white wines from strange-sounding grapes such as siegerrebe and schonberger.
In Osoyoos at the southern, desert, end of the Okanagan, there is plenty of heat to ripen most of the neediest grape varieties. Here you will find all of the main reds including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc.
With several decades of growing seasons behind them, grape producers are getting a better understanding of the particular mesoclimates of their vineyards. The Golden Mile has well-drained clay and glacial soils, and enjoys the cooling effect of mountain shadow in the afternoon. Across the valley, the sandy, dry and sun-baked vineyards of the Black Sage Road produce hearty reds and whites.
Further differentiation into sub-regions is certain to follow. One such sub-region is likely to be the Naramata Bench, located on the southeast end of long and narrow Lake Okanagan. The lake is immense, with a surface area of 350 square kilometres, and retains the summer heat to provide a long fall ripening season and some protection from deep winter cold. West facing slopes enjoy the sun from mid-morning to evening.
The narrow band of orchards and vineyards is bisected by the Naramata Road, stretching from Penticton to tiny Naramata village. It seems there is a quality winery every few hundred metres on this path, as well as bed and breakfasts, bistros, pubs and similar establishments, making this the perfect wine tourism destination.
So far I have visited three wineries of the Naramata Bench, each of which is producing about 10,000 cases of wine a year. While all of them use grapes from their own and neighbouring vineyards, they also have vineyards further south in places like Oliver. I have listed my top wine for each winery, from the ones I tasted. They are all white wines this time, but there were several vey good reds, including the Legacy at Poplar Grove.
Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2012 — a sweet tropical fruit nose was matched with beautiful fullness in the mouth and good acidity; this was not a watery aperitif wine. Score : 15.5, Rating: Very Good.
La Frenz Reserve Chardonnay 2011 — rich, heavy fruit, suggests Burgundy, especially in the careful use of oak, but this has New World fruit character. Score: 16, Rating: Very Good.
Hillside Gewurztraminer 2012 — marvelous complex blend of aromas of honeysuckle, grapefruit and ginger; just a wonderful example of the possibilities with this grape; should be spectacular in food pairings. Score: 16, Rating: Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society.
Email him at email@example.com