La Dolce Vita: A night at Naramata’s D’Angelo Estate Winery

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Sal D’Angelo

“Honey, I’m home.” That was my text message, not to my wife, but to Naramata winery owner Sal D’Angelo recently. For years we have stayed at the bed and breakfast at D’Angelo Estate Winery and I had arrived the evening before, intending to stay one night before heading on to Kelowna the following day. When I got to the winery, there was Sal, sitting at a table in the tasting room, book in hand and glass of wine on the table before him.

“You don’t answer your phone or texts?” he said after we shook hands. I had spent the previous several hours at a nearby winery, tasting my way through the entire wine lineup, and it hadn’t occurred to me that Sal would be planning to make me dinner. I hadn’t given an exact time when I would be arriving. He had already finished his dinner and I took comfort that my stomach would get tended to at a pub soon enough — I had another appointment booked already.

He poured me a wine and we began to catch up. This was my first visit back to the Okanagan since October and the time seemed all the longer because I had twice cancelled planned visits. Weather scrubbed one mission and work got in the way of the other.

Sal first came for a visit to the Okanagan back in 1987 and it made an impression. Years later he sold some real estate and used the cash to purchase property in Naramata — he had fallen in love with the area when he visited on a trip he won when he was named Ontario’s Wine King. He continue to own his first winery, which is located in Amherstberg. His son runs the operation with Sal providing direction by email and texts and phone calls.

As I sat across from him at the bistro table I realized how much I enjoy our chats. I quickly made a decision to stay another night, calculating that my schedule was flexible to accommodate a change. After all, there are few things I enjoy more than a good story, and I was in the company of a master. He said my room was available, poured me a glass of 2007 Sette Coppa (“Double 07, as my friend Bob calls it,” Sal said.) and he launched into a story.

A short while later I extricated myself to get to my next appointment, where a pizza and more good conversation would sustain me. The next day I finished appointments up and returned to me room. At four I sent the text — “Honey, I’m home.” Luckily, he has a sense of humour, and responded that he was in the winery, topping up barrels. I took that as an invitation and soon we were immersed in conversation, tasting barrel samples while he poured wine into oak kegs to replace the angel’s share, the amount claimed by evaporation through the wood. The kegs need to be kept full or oxygen will take over the available space and prematurely age the wine.

Sal makes fewer wines than most operations his size. And he makes them well. I’m a Bordeaux blend fan so I am particularly enamoured of the Sette Coppa (Italian for “seven measures”.) It consists of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc, along with smaller amounts of Petite Verdot and Malbec. The Double 07, as his buddy Bob calls it, is a reserve, and is unfiltered. I love it, and so does Sal.

As many times as I have been the small tasting room, I had never noticed the artwork on the walls. Or maybe the pieces have been hung recently. It doesn’t matter. As Sal launched into a story, he pointed out a framed caricature of himself, being crowned as the Wine King. His friend, the artist Elio Del Col, who had conspired to have the cartoon printed in on the front page of the local paper when Sal was honoured. As he told the story about Del Col, Sal pointed out two linocut prints — beautiful and complex, and clearly made by someone who is very, very good.

Then he pointed to a watercolour that looked strangely familiar. It had been reproduced as a label for some of D’Angelo’s Ontario wines.

Sal had asked Del Col to create a design for a label, and he did. Sal was happy, but the artist insisted on making others, too, so that his friend would be entirely happy with the result. Sal stuck with the first. When he went to pay the agreed $500 fee for the work, Del Col waved him off. “We’ll square up later,” he said. That became a catch phrase with the pair. Sal would do Elio and good turn and refuse immediate compensation, saying, “We’ll square up later.” Eventually, Sal moved to B.C. and established his Naramata winery. He bought Del Col a plane ticket and flew him out to visit, then provided him with a room in the bed and breakfast and a car to drive. He waved off the artist’s attempt to pay. “We’ll square up later.”

That story, and others to follow, took place over a delicious, simple dinner of fish, potatoes and salad, one I watched Sal prepare as we chatted. I would have paid good money for that meal in a restaurant. Sal made dinner, provided the wine and told me stories. My contribution to the evening was to listen. I guess we’ll square up later.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneeckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.

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