The Naramata Bench Winery Association has about two dozen members.

The Naramata Bench Winery Association has about two dozen members.

La Dolce Vita: A very strong bench

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I was writing a story about Naramata wineries for the spring edition of Food and Wine Trails last week and it really hit home about how hard it is to keep up with BC’s continuously changing and expanding wine scene.

There are 19 wineries listed on the Naramata Bench Winery Association website and I remember when 13 of them didn’t exist. A couple more new wineries — Upper Bench Estate Winery and Misconduct Wine Co. — will be added to the list when the association’s new website is rolled out. And I can think of at least three Naramata wineries that aren’t association members — Lang Vineyards, Marichel Vineyard and Ruby Blues Winery.

The latter, I was surprised to learn, was forced to change its name from Ruby Tuesday (“Who could hang a name on you?”) last year after it was threatened with legal action by an American restaurant, which claimed that the Canadian winery’s name would “confuse” its customers. America — land of the brave and home of the, uh, free.

So, with at least 23 wineries (and more in the making) dotting the winding and spectacularly scenic Naramata Road, this lovely little area is now home to more than a tenth of the province’s 203 (at last count) wineries. It is proof that the east side of Okanagan Lake provides a terrific climate for growing grapes and that competition is a good thing.

When we visited the area 20 years ago, we loved dining on the Lake Breeze Vineyard patio, picking up very reasonably priced wines at Lang, visiting Kathleen Nichol in her tiny tasting room and tasting the latest and fast-selling wines made by Ian Sutherland at Poplar Grove. Hillside Estate Winery was a pleasure to visit and it was fun poke around the wine shop at Red Rooster, where the effervescent Prudence Mahrer greeted customers. We never missed a chance to drop in to Kettle Valley Winery, where the owners were always on hand to chat.

Changes were slow but steady and everyone seemed to contribute a piece to the jigsaw puzzle that was becoming the Naramata terroir. Poplar Grove added a cheese-making facility, La Frenz built its own tasting room after selling its early wines at Poplar Grove, Sal D’Angelo relocated from Ontario to weave his wine-making magic down by the lake and the tiny Marichel Vineyard turned out small quantities of luscious Syrahs and Viogniers. Laughing Stock came along with a vision to produce high quality wines and Black Widow proved that family businesses can thrive. Red Rooster built a gorgeous new facility and Therapy arrived, complete with its very funky Rorschach labels.

Over the years, we have come to feel like Naramata is something of a second home. We aren’t able to spend a lot of time there, but it is comfortable and familiar, despite the changes it has undergone.

With the Naramata Bench in mind, I searched my wine cellar and came up with a couple of fine examples of the region’s wines. It is almost embarrassing (almost!) to admit, but it turns out that the Marichel Vineyard 2007 Syrah is a great match with hot dogs. We planned a picnic dinner to go along with watching episodes of Deadwood, so I fried up sliced onions and some smokies, and melted aged white cheddar cheese on buns under the broiler. Some stone ground mustard and a drizzle of ketchup was all that was needed to complete the meal. The dogs were good. The wine was wonderful.

On Sunday, Angela made dinner — bread, sage and onion-stuffed huge Randy and Sheila Meyer Farms chicken, baby potatoes, roasted beets and carrots, and gravy. We forewent to the cranberry sauce in favour of tasty jar of sweet onion jam and opened a bottle of La Frenz Chardonnay. Wow! The Chardonnay tasted like a juicy pear had been freshly picked and stuffed into the bottle and the slight sweetness from the fruit flavor went perfectly with the caramelized vegetables.

We were instantly transported back to La Frenz and that winery’s every-growing number of neighbours, all of which provide great new memories with every visit.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.