Day last…the choices we must make.

Another morning…another breakfast…another picture perfect day.  The major difference?  Today is our last as we are starting our return to real life.  As with every good (or even bad) thing in life, there will always come an end.

Fortunately it’s not quite the end of the wine search.  🙂  Our first real day of rounding-up wine for our cellar had taken us to Gray Monk and a couple of others.  Another that I had really wanted to get to was Mission Hill.  However by the time we got there, they were closed.  It was decided we would return on the way home.  I’m glad we did.

My (very personal!!) opinion of Mission Hill wines is that they are somewhat overpriced for what they create.  They have good wine, there is no doubt about that, but given the wines we have tried this time (and numerous times in the past) throughout the Valley, there are many others equivalent or better for less (again, in my opinion).  Having said that, I will also admit to two very positive things about Mission Hill.  First and immediately apparent when you arrive, is they have the most amazing view of their vineyards, the mountains and the lake.  This is all presented to you from an outstanding array of buildings including, but not limited to, their tasting/retail hall and their dining area.

Second, and more important to me (again, personally) is their cellared collection of elderly Chardonnay wines.  Several years ago I had an opportunity to purchase two 6 year old (at the time) Chardonnays.  I thought I had taken a bit of a risk as Chardonnay is not a typically long-lived wine.  I stored them in my own cellar for another 2 years waiting for the right occasions to enjoy them.  I don’t remember the excuse for either but I do remember being totally surprised both times.  Everything you want a Chard to be was there, in spades.  If anything the additional age simply improved the end result.

Two years ago, another trip to the Valley and another 2 were acquired.  The last of those was consumed on my birthday last February.  Ergo I absolutely needed to obtain more.  This time, however, provided a rude shock.  Yes they still had some 2008 available.  However the previous sommelier had been a little too…liberal…with their old cellared stock and as a result there were ~only~ two.  Before it could really register in my mind, my lips were saying ‘I’ll take both, please’.  Now I really have to sit and reflect before I open one…is this really the Best occasion to do this???  Ahhhh….the choices we must make.

This wouldn’t be one of our trips if we also didn’t do at least one bit of shopping that really had little to do with the original purpose.  This time found us at Orchard Park mall (not Orchard Plaza which is pretty much right next door) in Kelowna.  In there we found Olivia’s.  This is the most exceptional store of its kind I have ever visited.  It specializes in flavored (and not) extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  If you love to cook, the next time you are in Kelowna, find this store.  If you want a gift for someone, find this store (or seek them out online).  It is absolutely much more fun to visit as you can taste everything.  Take their Blackberry/Ginger balsamic and mix it with their Blood Orange fused olive oil, to then present to your guests with a sliced Italian loaf…and don’t tell them anything about the combination.  Let their face show you their surprised enjoyment.

To top that, the oils and vinegars were not even the reason we tried to find the store.  A potter that we like does not sell her creations herself or online.  She only sells through a few select wineries and stores. Previous pieces had been purchased at Gray Monk wineries.  We didn’t buy any there this time as we thought we might find something else, somewhere else.  We didn’t.  So it became necessary to either return to Gray Monk or find another of her outlets.  Olivia’s is one of those places and it didn’t disappoint in that regard either.   We found another couple of pieces to enhance our own collection.

Our last stop finds us once more in Golden, B.C.  Spending the night and getting some much needed rest after a long day of driving is now uppermost on the list.  Tomorrow brings closure (regretfully) to a very fulfilling journey.  It’s been rewarding – from the perspective of all that we have experienced and learned.  It has been relaxing (despite the driving involved) – as the stresses of a full-time job were never present.  And it has been fruitful (yep…it’s the groaner of the blog) – as our wine cellar has been revived.  I hope you have enjoyed this little insight into our most delightful trip.

Day five…no shortage.

We awoke to pretty much another perfect day in paradise.  Our host had asked (the night before) what we would like for breakfast in the morning and I said an egg would be great.  ‘No problem…I’m sure I can come up with something’ was her understatement.  A one egg request transformed into 3 perfectly triangular eggs, pan fries, bacon, sliced tomatoes and strawberries and cinnamon/raisin toast.  This was naturally accompanied with her standard fresh coffee, orange AND apple juice.  Between her breakfasts and the wine, I think some intake reduction is going to be more than a little necessary when we get back home.

Some of you may already know about this but I will share it none the less.  Her idea of bacon was to serve it totally flat, not shrunken, crisp, and not greasy.  I like to cook, but I was embarrassed to ask her how she managed such magic.  As it turns out, it is (like many things) very simple indeed.  Use the oven.  🙂  Take a cookie sheet, put down one layer of tin foil (or parchment paper).  Put down another layer of tin foil on top of the first one, but crinkle it up somewhat so there are hundreds of tiny hills and valleys (ridges).  Lay the bacon flat along the top of the ridges.  Bake it for 18 minutes at 425 degrees and don’t bother flipping it.  Voila’!  The fat runs away from the bacon and the result is nirvana.  Clean up is a snap as you just let the fat solidify somewhat, pull the foil off the cookie sheet, fold it up and toss it.  Done.  It also makes it easy to do an entire package at once (should the need arise).  I do love simplicity.  🙂

Our explorations today took us all along the Bottleneck Drive in the immediate Summerland area.  There are 14 possible stops to make but our travels today took us to only 7.  The 8th was closed for renovations, opening again in the fall of 2015 (Greta Ranch).  Another was a vinegar farm that had recently changed hands and was no longer in the same location nor was it open to the general public anymore.  The others we did drive by, but they didn’t quite grab our interest.  Maybe we’re just getting too picky.  Despite the partially limited visitations, we still managed a full case and a half to add to our collection.  There simply is no shortage of marvelous wines in the valley…at all.

A late lunch was spent in a park overlooking the beach at Skaha Lake.  It’s early June so it’s somewhat of a treat to not only find an unoccupied picnic table, but also see there really is grass at our feet and sand just ahead of us.  In a couple of weeks this entire area will be covered with half-naked bodies and at least two-thirds of those should really be covered from head to toe.  But…such is summer in the Valley.

Our wine exposure complete for the day (and almost the trip), we headed over to visit the youngest (which is relative as he is 55!) son of the couple we visited with yesterday.  They have a fabulous view near the upper end of Summerland overlooking a lot of the town and the lake.  He also happens to be a Very good cook.  The rest of the day and a lot of the evening was spent with him and his wife, tasting a bit more wine, eating well and swapping stories of the ‘good ol’ days’.

As he so very aptly put it…do what makes you smile and pay far less attention to the problems around you.  You’re only here for a short time.

Day four…more of the same.

Another great breakfast to start the day (cuz you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach) and off we went.  The morning (for a change) did not actually involve any drinking.  Yes…I know…surprise surprise.  Rather it was spent with some long time dear friends who, several years ago, left the Arctic-like winters of Edmonton for a climate much more comfortable.  I lived with their family for a time during my more…formative…teen-age years.  They were two of four extra ‘parents’ I had and I will never be able to repay any of them for the impact they had on my life.

The wine route today consisted of travel along the Naramata Bench just outside of Penticton.  A drive along this stretch is truly a must for any enjoyer of wine.  Here you will discover a concentration of wineries that embody some of the very best in Canada.  A beginning is made at the south end of the road, driving north to the little village of Naramata and returning along the same stretch.  This makes it very easy to visit all the wineries on the right side of the road in both directions.  Which also means you never have to turn left against sometimes heavy traffic.  A small thing but, in it’s own way, rather handy.

All the wineries visited introduced us to more of the same of what we have come to expect throughout the Okanagan Valley…excellent wines at generally very reasonable prices.  Again, with so many in abundance, it is impossible to investigate them all.  Along with the wines you will try, you’re likely to also learn something totally unexpected.  For instance, the blend known as Meritage.  This is not a French term and is properly pronounced to rhyme with ‘heritage’.  In fact, it is itself a blend of words – merit and heritage.  To qualify the blend must consist of a minimum of 2 of 8 Bordeaux grape varieties and a maximum of 90% of any single variety.  For red wines these are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Gros Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and St. Macaire; and for whites they’re Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and Sémillon.  There are other qualifiers, but that is the biggie.

Another 2 cases have joined our happy family and once again we made our way back to our home away from home.  Along the way we stopped at a local deli in Penticton and grabbed some meat, cheese, crackers and buns…dinner for tonight and lunch for tomorrow.  🙂

We sat on the back porch with our host this evening and talked and listened to the birds, tree frogs and crickets and were never interrupted by a passing truck, fire engine or bus.  The weather was perfect, the relaxation close to total (only ‘close’ cuz I was still conscious) and the surroundings delightful.  We even had a nest of robins above us complete with two babies being fed by mom and dad.  A picture perfect moment?  Pretty much.  🙂


Day Three…no hope.

The day started with a great light breakfast and a quick look at the weather forecast.  It looked like south was the direction of the day as there appeared to be a threat of some thunderstorms in our immediate area.  So off we went.

As we drove the decision was also made to continue right down to Osoyoos and work our way back.  In theory, at least, that seemed reasonable.  However as the vineyards flew past one after another after another, they became a constant reminder of the astounding increase in wineries in the area.   In 2003 there were 83 in the Okanagan Valley – by 2013 there were 214.  Grape acreage went from 5,000 acres to 10,000 acres.  Apparently there is no hope of us doing real justice to all the possibilities.

We don’t give up easily.  🙂

Although we thought we would start in the extreme south end and simply work back, we did find ourselves wandering off the path a little along the way.  After all, the day was hot (especially the more south we drove).  By the time we actually got to Osoyoos, we had our first full case of the day.

Not wishing to accidently find ourselves entering the U.S. border crossing with no way out, we turned around just outside of town and started the return journey.  Again, the choices seemed all but endless.  We had an inkling of this problem prior to starting out so one other decision was helping.  We thought it would be prudent to pick some must-have favorites (of which there is no shortage ), and also seek out a few new potentials.  During the rest of our investigative day, that worked out quite well.

The south of B.C. is still the place to find the better red wines in the valley, due definitely to the climate.  And it is showing in ever-increasing volume and varietals.  Having said that, the whites are certainly holding their own (but they are still stronger in the north).

As much as so many of the new wineries are showing promise with the definitive standards (Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, etc., etc.), many of wineries have stepped outside the beaten path.  A new varietal is making a very strong presence and one that John Q. Public would be wise to take more notice of.  It is…the Blend.  (yeah…ok…technically not a ‘varietal’…sue me.   🙂  )

Many of the wine makers in the area are striving to make something that is truly indicative of their house…a signature wine (or wines).  Becoming very innovative in their blends and creative in their names has now resulted in some remarkable new choices.  ‘Desert Sun’, ‘Trebbiano’ ‘Integrity’ ‘Stemwinder’ are but a very few.  If you find yourself in the valley, grab your must-haves for sure, but definitely seek out the blends.  You may find your must-have list needs to be expanded.

Our return north took somewhat longer as it was not nearly as direct.  The time of year, however, worked to our benefit as there were very few (and sometimes no) other visitors at any of the wineries we visited.  Several stops and two more full cases later and we were back in Summerland.  BTW…we did run into the thunderstorms despite our best efforts.  They were vigorous and the downpours bordering on torrential.  But…thankfully they were also very brief.


Day two…it had to start somewhere…

After breakfast our trip continued in pretty much the same fashion we had left it the night before, great weather and little traffic to impede us.  While no real surprise it was still hard to swallow gas prices soaring to $1.44 in some places.  What was a more pleasant surprise were the improvements in the highway system along the way.  There is a major expenditure going on from Kamloops all the way to the Alberta border.  Basically it is upgrading the whole stretch to a full 4 lanes.  As to be expected this is not an overnight change and there are some…inconveniences along the way.  However, this is really long overdue and certainly will be much appreciated when completed not only by the local inhabitants, but also by the hundreds of thousands of tourists.

Just a little west of the (famous) Enchanted Forest we stopped at a little spot called the Crazy Creek.  After paying our dues (“because it will be a great photo op!”) and after being warned that a bear had been spotted earlier along the path, we made our way up to see the falls.  Ok…photo op not bad after all. Not Niagara mind you, but pretty decent.  And…no bear.

Onward because I hear the wine calling!  And call it did. Our first official stop was at Gray Monk.  This is the oldest family run winery in the Okanagan area and still one of my personal favorites.  It was on this, our very first stop, that we found FREE TASTINGS!  They had 4 ready to pour and some others they had a small charge for (taken off your total if you bought any wine). But the fact they have brought FREE back was a wonderful start to our wine excursion!  And yes…I am driving so I am behaving myself.  I still cannot subscribe to ‘catch and release’ idea, but I only try 2 or 3 during the whole day’s tasting experiences.  And I flatly refuse to waste any of them.

On we went to a new one (to us)…Ex Nihilo.  This turned out to be a most amazing stop that actually had little to do with the wine.  Yes, we did find a couple that were surprising and they are coming back with us.  🙂  However, it was the car in the parking lot that caught MY attention.  A perfectly restored Shelby Cobra 427. This automobile was stunning.  I talked briefly with the owner and his wife.  He bought the frame and then rebuilt the rest.  I should have asked if he got matching s/n’s all throughout, but I didn’t think of it at the time.  However, given the level of detail this vehicle had, I would find it a little hard to believe that it would be anything less than matching numbers.

Down the road to Arrowleaf and another couple of excellent choices found their way into the case in the back of our Venza.  Still further along and Quail’s Gate was waving its grape leaves frantically, trying to capture our attention.  So…what could we do?  We had to stop once again.  Two Stewart Family Reserve’s have now left the fold and joined our (very) happy family.

Finally we have arrived in Summerland, our base for the next few days.  After finding our B&B and unloading the van, we drove down the road and found a great little restaurant for a small, yet very delicious, dinner.  Back to the B&B, unpack a little and enjoy some sit and unwind time.

Tomorrow is the first day of serious wine hunting, but it all had to start somewhere.  Gray Monk (and certainly all that followed today) was everything a great beginning should be.  A partial day and yet…a full case. 🙂

Day one…it begins slowly

Another year and another adventure.  And although this one is somewhat less grandiose than those in prior years, it will be no less fulfilling.

The title says it all…the wine cellar has all but diminished to nothing but a fond memory.  Given there are no across-the-pond visitations this year, and Niagara is a little too removed, the Okanagan Valley beckons.  The two hundred plus wineries, fabulous climate and ease of access has once again pulled us westward.

Previous sojourns have provided much in the way of grape juice tasting (some well-aged and some…not so much).  Numerous cases (over the years) have found a new home in our basement cellar, but always with a bit of trepidation.  As many of you have realized, ~some~ laws in Canada seem rather antiquated.  My personal belief is that the one that forbid interprovincial transportation of wine (by the actual consumer, no less!) has always been in that category.  Finally, that law has been…relaxed…somewhat.  Not repealed totally (at least not that I am aware of), but now it seems more accommodating.

It is a little too early in the year to enjoy the real wine season (which won’t arrive till September/October time frame), but there will still be many, many benefits.  The selection from last year may be less, true enough, but what there will be, should have had the benefit of better aging.  In addition, there should be fewer consumers to fight over what there is to choose from.  The heat of the summer season is not yet present and accommodation rates (in some cases) are also less.

Our first night is in Golden, B.C.  The drive from Edmonton all the way through to Summerland just seemed too pushed given that this is supposed to be a holiday, not a panic-driven speed-trip.  To this point, nothing special has been seen and little has been newly discovered.   However we did find one little gem in Golden.  There is a restaurant called The Turning Point (906 – 11 Ave S) that you really should visit when next you pass through (or stop in) Golden.  They have a good, balanced menu with a Greek theme for most things.  What sets them apart is their French fries.  I will not profess to be the world’s authority on potatoes, prepared in any fashion.  But I will state these are the BEST (let me repeat – BEST) fries I have ever had.  Period.  Fried perfectly (totally crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth inside) is the first part.  The second, and arguably more important part, is the seasoning.  Salt, yes, but ~just~ enough…a hint of lemon and pepper and some other undefinable goodness.  Asking the waitress did not reveal anything as she has not been made privy to ‘the secret’.  So be it…the world is full of secrets and this remains yet one more.  Go there…have them….they are worth the stop.  (BTW…the rest of the fish and chip dinner was Very good as well.  Looking around at what other patrons were enjoying suggested our dinner was not an accident…more the norm.)

The day uneventful with little traffic and much in the way of great weather.  If this is (hopefully) an indication of the trip in general, I should have no complaints.  The truth shall be in the wine! 🙂