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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 305 (August 23, 2010)

Sunday, August 15: Up at 4:40 am to prepare for the trip to the airport. Deborah and I are catching the 7 am flight to Calgary, en route for Kelowna. At the airport we run into David Lawrason, Steve Thurlow and John Szabo, who will be judging with me at the 10th annual Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards headed by the magazine's editor Anthony Gismondi in Penticton. We are delayed in Toronto about half an hour for the WestJet flight and in Calgary another half hour. The bus that is meant to drive us to Penticton has broken down and we wait in the lounge for an hour for another to arrive. We have an Okanagan Spring Pale Ale in the lounge.

Finally get to the Penticton Lakeside Resort and have a bite to eat in the Hooded Merganser Bar & Grill – hummus and edamame with Lakeside Pinot Blanc 2009. A bus takes all the judges to Road 13. We are greeted by the owners, Mike and Pam Luckhurst, and their two dachshunds, Phil and Meg. (Phil is on the winery label looking up at a tractor.) A gorgeous setting high above the valley, within site of the recent mudslide that wiped out a 30-year-old Chardonnay vineyard as well as taking out six houses.

A long dinner table is set out on the lawn and another table is full of Road 13 wines. We start with Road 13 Home Vineyard Sparking Chenin Blanc 2007 (lovely quince and apple flavours, very well balanced – made from 40-year-old vines). Then I taste the following wines: Road 13 Honest John Rosé 2009 (candied raspberry and orange flavours), Jackpot Riesling 2009 (off-dry), Road 13 Viognier Riesling Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (soft, spicy, melon flavour). Then I taste a series of Golden Mile Cellars wines, the name of the winery before the Luckhursts bought the property – Golden Mile Merlot 2003, Golden Mile Cabernet Franc 2004, Golden Mile Zinfandel 2006, Golden Mile Merlot 2002. Then a large jug of Riesling is brought out by Road 13's winemaker, Michael Bartier, which was made by the previous owner, Peter Servus – it'ss 40 years old and acts its age. The party sits down to dinner of beef ribs, chicken, corn, potato salad, salad and beans followed by tiramisu. A riotous time on the bus back to the hotel with bottles of the sparkling wine being passed around. In bed by 11 pm after a very long day.

Monday, August 16: The first day of judging in the Canadian Wine Awards. There are five tables of three judges. I'm with Stuart Tobe and Brad Royale. Five flights before lunch and four after: 5 Gamay, 10 Pinot Gris/Grigio, 11 Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 Oaked Chardonnay and 11 Red Blends. After lunch of pasta and salad, 9 Sauvignon Blanc, 10 Red Blends, 11 Gewurztramier and 8 Riesling Icewines.

Vineyards can be dangerous

Mission Hill winemaker John Simes

After the tasting we drive in two buses to Mission Hill's Red Barn located in their Vineyard 10 in Oliver. Mission Hill owns 900 acres in the Okanagan. In the evening it is 37°C and John Simes, the winemaker, warns us to make noise as we walked through the vineyard to frighten off the rattlesnakes. This vineyard is really hi-tech with machines that compute the amount of water needed by the drip irrigation system and one that analyzes the stress on the vine by putting a single leaf under pressure and measuring its moisture. We douse our thirst with a bottle of Stanley Park Amber Ale.

Before dinner, a glass of Mission Hill Martin's Lane Riesling 2009 (a wine named for Anthony von Mandl's father and selected by Fritz Hasselbach of Gunderloch, whom we shall be seeing on Saturday at Anthony's belated wedding celebration). While the buffet dinner is served (Angus beef, German butter potato salad, French beans and fennel, corn, Israeli couscous, followed by cheeses and plum flan), we can help ourselves to a series of wines: Mission Hill Viognier 2009, Mission Hill Compendium 2006 and 2007, Mission Hill Quatrain 2007, Mission Hill Shiraz 2008. Back at the hotel by 10:30 pm.

Tuesday, August 17: Today is our our anniversary and we didn't remember it until we got an email from my son Guy. Deborah has rented a car and is going off touring wineries while I taste in the competition. The morning begins with a flight of 13 Viognier, followed by 10 Merlot, 8 White Blends, 11 Pinot Noir and 10 Rieslings before lunch. Lunch is cold cuts and minestrone soup. Then back for flights of 11 Off-Dry Riesling, 12 Merlot, 3 Fruit wines and 4 Iced Apple wines.

In the evening the bus takes us to the Similkameen Valley, where the new 8-memebr winery association is hosting us to a tasting and dinner at Crowsnest Vineyards. There is a real frontier feeling in this valley. The winemakers have that pioneer spirit and although they don't have the sophisticated marketing techniques of the Okanagan they give us a warm welcome and have put out their wines for us to taste. Before the dinner of local products I sample:

  • Orofino Riesling 2009
  • Crowsnest Chardonnay Stahltank 2009
  • Crowsnest Riesling 2009
  • Eau Vivre Chardonnay 2007
  • Eau Vivre Gewurztraminer 2008
  • Robin Ridge Chardonnay 2008
  • Cerelia Pinot Gris 2009
  • Forbidden Fruit Sauvignon Blanc 2009
  • Cerelia Unoaked Chardonnay 2009
  • Orofino Pinot Noir 2008
  • Robin Ridge Pinot Noir 2008
  • Orofino Petit Verdot 2008
  • Seven Stones Pinot Noir 2008
  • Seven Stones Row 128 Merlot 2008
  • Seven Stones The Legend 2008
  • Seven Stones Pinot Noir 2008
  • Crowsnest Pinot Noir 2008
  • Seven Stones Cabernet Frank 2008

Crowsnest vines, Similkameen Valley

With the dinner of pork, sauerkraut, potato salad, tomato salad I drink beer.

Veronique Rivest and Sid Cross post-Merlot

Wednesday, August 18: This morning is the competition's Silver or Gold medal round – wines that scored 88 or better. A change of panel today; my fellow judges are Sid Cross, Veronique Rivest, Ben MacPhee Sigurdson and Janet Dorozynski. The first flight is a Mixed Varietal Red, 8 wines in all. This is followed by 7 Pinot Noir and 9 Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris. For lunch we are given a boxed lunch of chicken and salad. We return to 9 Merlot, another flight of 9 Merlot (by this time our tongues are black and we are suffering from tannin overload). Next a flight of 5 Single Varietal Whites, then 9 Red Blends.

For dinner we're invited to Greata Ranch, a property on the slopes of the west bank of the Okanagan Lake near Summerland. We're having dinner on their beach and all the local winemakers have been invited. They have all brought their wines, which are set out on two tables for us to try. I have a brief sip and spit of the following wines:

  • Black Hills Viognier 2009
  • Black Hills Alibi 2009
  • Laughing Stock Viognier 2009
  • Tantalus Riesling 2009
  • Red Rooster Rosé 2009
  • Poplar Grove Viognier Pinot Gris 2009
  • Black Widow Oasis 2009
  • Township 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2008
  • Stag's Hollow Con-Fusion 2009
  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench White 2009
  • Therapy Freudian Sip 2009
  • Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2006
  • Burrowing Owl Syrah 2007
  • D'Angelo Tempranillo 2007
  • D'Angelo Pinot Noir 2006
  • Township 7 Merlot 2006
  • Clos du Soleil Siegerrebe 2008
  • Desert Hills Gamay 2009
  • Haywire Pinot Gris 2009 (Chriss Coletta's new winery's first wine)
  • Church & States Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

And with dinner Church & State Chardonnay 2008.

Tasting at Greata Ranch

Great to spend time with the winemakers. Dinner is a buffet of pork and swordfish, corn, couscous and salad. Back at the hotel by 10:30 pm.

John Skinner, owner of Painted Rock

Painted Rock Chardonnay 2009

Thursday, August 19: Today we are picking the trophy wines. All the judges are at a large U-shaped table. We start with 6 Unoaked Chardonnay, then 10 Cabernet Franc. 9 Riesling, 11 Shiraz/Syrah (the best flight of the competition), 8 Aromatic White Blends, 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 Gewurztraminer. Lunch is lasagna and salad. After lunch, 5 Best Sparkling wines, 11 Best Whites, 15 Best Reds, 5 Best Fruit wines and 5 Best Sweet wines.

The bus takes us to Painted Rock winery above Skaha Lake. The proprietor, John Skinner, has planted 25 acres on what was formerly the largest apricot orchard in the British Empire. We taste barrel samples of 2008 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the 2008 blend of Icon Red, which will be bottled in two weeks. John gives our group a tour of the property, including the tiny, perfect tasting room. Then we try Painted Rock Chardonnay 2009 with a series of appetizers prepared by Chef Cameron Smith and his team from Joy Road Catering: Organic red haven peaches wrapped with Canadian-made prosciutto and basil leaf, dried apple and hazelnut toasts with duck liver mousse, tomato and nectarine bruschetta with Amelia olive oil and basil, and tarte flambée.

A long table has been set in the tank room with liberal quantities of Painted Rock Syrah 2007 and Painted Rock Icon Red 2007. The menu: Dana's Homemade bread with olive oil, Caprese Salad with heirloom tomatoes from Tim, arugula and confit squash with toasted hazelnuts, balsamic and shaved pecorino, corked corn (the handles are corks with nails driven lengthwise through them – ingenious), Niçoise style salad, porketta with roasted cippolini chutney and truffled aioli. For dessert: peach Melba with raspberry sauce and arlettes.

Corked corn

On the bus home we play a hilarious game of Porn Star Name. Combine the name of your first pet with the name of the first street you lived on. Mine turned out to be Shan Dorchester. Won't go far with that. A final beer on the terrace to say goodbye to my fellow judges, who will be leaving in the morning.

Friday, August 20: This is the first day I can spend with Deborah. After a breakfast at The Elite, a diner on Penticton's Main Street, we drive south to visit La Stella, where I taste La Stella Leggiero Unoaked Chardonnay 2009, La Stella Vivace Pinot Grigio 2009, La Stella Allegretto Merlot 2007 and the amazing La Stella Maestoso Merlot 2007.

Penticton street art

Then we drive in search of Donald Triggs's Arise Vineyard. We find it above Antelope Ridge (which used to be Domaine Combret but the family changed the name because they kept being confused with Domaine de Chaberton in the Fraser Valley). We stop in at Antelope Ridge and taste Antelope Ridge Old Vine Chardonnay 2005, Antelope Ridge Merlot 2006, Antelope Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and Antelope Ridge Cabernet Franc 2007 (very Bourgueil in style).

Then to lunch at Burrowing Owl, where we sit on the verandah overlooking the swimming pool. Deborah and I share a plate of charcuterie and a spinach salad with a half litre of Joie Rosé 2009. After lunch, and a chat with Chris Wyse, Jim's winemaker son, we go in search of Fairview Cellars, which we eventually find. Bill Eggert is the same old comical curmudgeon. He has a wine called 2 Hoots because he says he doesn't care two hoots what wine writers have to say about his wines (which are very good). In his log cabin tasting room Deborah and I taste Fairview Cellars Merlot 2008, Fairview Cellars 2 Hoots 2007, Fairview Cellars Madcap 2007, Fairview Cellars The Bear 2007, Fairview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and Fairview Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. I buy a bottle of The Bear and Bill gives me a trade discount, in spite of the fact that I'm a wine writer.

Bill Eggert

Popcorn maker at Tickleberry's

On the way back to Penticton we make the obligatory stop at Tickleberry's ice cream parlour in Okanagan Falls. Dinner at Hillside Estate's Bistro in Naramata, on the terrace overlooking the lake. Magnificent sunset. We order a bottle of Hillside Estate Viognier 2007. I have mussels to start, followed by coq au vin. Deborah orders a salad and grilled Pacific salmon. Back at the hotel we drop into the Casino and lose $30 in as many minutes.

Saturday, August 21: Pack to leave Penticton and drive to Kelowna. In the grounds of the hotel there is a collection of vintage cars; there must be about 50 of them, all restored and beautifully maintained. On a transporter I see a bumper sticker that reads, "Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him."

A classic De Soto

On the way to Kelowna we stop at Silkscarf, a small winery that's a member of the Bottleneck Drive 10-winery route in Summerland. The winery is owned by an Israeli, Roie Manoff, who came to the Okanagan in 2003 and fell in love with the wine industry. He was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force and called his winery after the scarves the British volunteer pilots in the 1948 War of Independence wore. He now farms 10 acres. I taste Silkscarf Viognier 2009, Silkscarf Pinot Noir 2007, Silkscarf Pinot Noir 2006, Silkscarf Shiraz Viognier 2008 and Silkscarf Shiraz Reserve 2007.

We check in to the Best Western Wine Country Inn in West Kelowna (formerly the town of Westbank) and drop off the rental car. Lunch in the hotel room with a Domino's pizza and a bottle of Mission Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. At 5:15 pm we are picked up by a taxi to take us to Mission Hill winery to celebrate the wedding of Anthony von Mandl and Debra. I first met Anthony in 1976 in the cellars of Roederer in Reims and we have been friends ever since. The 260 guests have all been asked to dress in white. The staff are all dressed in black. We are greeted at the entrance to the winery with Lanson Champagne served from jeroboams. At various points around the winery – that looks like a temple to Dionysus – are hors d'oeuvres tables with matching wines: green pea shooters with Mission Hill Pinot Blanc Reserve, alder smoked tuna with Mission Hill Select Lot Collection Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2007 and grilled scallop with Mission Hill Martin's Lane Riesling 2009. This wine was made by John Simes and Fritz Hasselbach of Gunderloch in Rheinhessen. We are seated at table in a huge tent with Fritz and his wife Agnus, Jurgen and Kate and Ingo and Paddy Grady.

The wedding tent at Mission Hill

The menu:

Cross Orchards corn & vanilla panna cotta, patty pan squash, Gellatly Farm hazelnuts and butter poached pheasant breast served with Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay 2008

Canadian maple brined arctic char, braised green croft leek, spearmint, Walla Walla onion tart and beet 3 ways, with Mission Hill Pinot Noir Reserve 2008

Sidney Island venison loin, truffle bread pudding, cocoa jus, with Mission Hill Oculus 2006

The meal was beautifully prepared by Chef Matthew Batey.

Anthony and Debra von Mandl

Then we all repair to the amphitheatre for a performance by Carol Welsman and her trio. (She had sung here three days after 9/11). Anthony and Debra introduce her, telling us the hilarious story of how they got married in Uruguay and all the bureaucratic hurdles they had to overcome. Following Carol Welsman we are entertained by an energetic Cuban group who get us all dancing on the grass. Then down to the wine cellar for an array of desserts prepared by Chocolatier and Pastry Chef Thomas Haas. We leave at 12:30 am on a bus to our hotel. A spectacular party.

Sunday, August 22: Awoken at 7:30 am by a phone call from a friend of Deborah's from Toronto, half an hour before our alarm call. Fly back to Toronto via Vancouver.




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