Mike with Chris Tolley, winemaker at Moon Curser Vineyard
Our two nights in Osoyoos began a little dramatically with a lightning storm and a large blaze breaking out on the east slope of Osoyoos Lake near the US border. A day’s worth of travel in the Similkameen Valley now complete, we packed the car and began a trek to the Naramata Bench to begin a week’s stay there. On this trip we decided to revisit some friends we’ve got to know over the past year, as well as a couple of folks we’ve known for much longer.
At 10am the gate opened at Moon Curser Vineyards, which is located just 3 minutes out of downtown Osoyoos on Highway 3. It is a venue we highly recommend for any wine traveler in the south Okanagan. Winemaker Chris Tolley and his wife Beata are the proprietors of Moon Curser, and we are grateful for the time we get to spend with them on our visits. While tasting some of their vast portfolio of sublime whites and big reds, 90 minutes passed by talking to Chris about grape clones, building the market for BC wines, and the state of tourism in the south Okanagan.
To his credit, Chris is using the hot temperatures of the south Okanagan to try new varietals. He proudly showed off his ripening rows of Carmenere, Temperanillo and he even just planted Dolcetto. Look for some exciting wines from Moon Curser in the years to come.
Next up we visited Gold Hill Winery, who garnered attention last year by winning the 2012 BC Lieutenant Governor Award for Excellence for their Cabernet Franc wine. Gold Hill Winery was started by brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill, who have been growing fruit in the Okanagan since arriving in Canada from India in the 1980s. Gurbachan’s son Navi is a 20-something wunderkind who has inherited his father and uncle’s passion for growing first rate fruit, for without great fruit you cannot make great wine. Returning to SFU in the fall after a one-year break from business school, in Navi you can see where the next generation of the BC wine business is going. Gold Hill wines all exhibit high quality and good value – be sure to try their lush Viognier, which they pitch as a white wine for red wine lovers.
Running short on time we did a pit stop at Burrowing Owl – which is arguably the most respected winery in BC. Burrowing Owl just won the 2013 LG award for their Cabernet Franc, so I stopped in to pick up two bottles of it, as well as two of their lovely Chardonnays, a Pinot Gris and bottle of their Syrah.
Lastly, we revisited one of our favourite BC wineries – Stoneboat Vineyards. Tim Martiniuk is today general manager of Stoneboat, a true family business started by his parents Lanny and Julie. Stoneboat received – if I haven’t lost count – their third LG award this year for the 2010 Pinot Noir. When Tim is not working hard to keep the Stoneboat operation running smoothly, he is also representing his community as president of the Osoyoos-Oliver Winery Association. It doesn’t take much to coax Tim into conversation about the state of the business, and the future of the region as a result. He expressed cautious optimism about the BC provincial government’s plans to reform our antiquated liquor laws, but he is also aware that many of those rules are there to protect his industry.
Stoneboat has kept their portfolio fairly consistent over the years – which is one of their charms. Recently, they added a Brut style sparkling wine dubbed “Piano”, which is a real winner. Tim took lengths to explain the challenges of making this wine, including importing the unique bottles from a supplier in Italy. Their signature Pinotage wine was a real standout for me during the tasting – so we picked up two bottles of the 2011 vintage. It was also a thrill to taste their Pinotage late harvest wine (apparently the world’s first!).
Stacey and I are delighted to be back at an accommodation on the Naramata Bench. We’ll be taking trips out for the next few days to Okanagan Falls, Summerland, back to the south Okanagan and of course right here in Naramata.