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The Harper's Trail vineyard near Kamloops.

The Harper's Trail vineyard near Kamloops.

Getting a new winery up and running is a daunting challenge. But the establishment of Okanagan Crush Pad in the last few years is easing the burden for newbies. The benefits were obvious when we opened a bottle of Harper’s Trail Riesling last week.

Harper’s Trail Estate Winery is home to the first commercial vineyard in the Kamloops area, which is north of what we normally consider to be grape country. The area gets plenty of summer heat and sunshine, though, so a vineyard with the right microclimate and orientation to the sun just might make sense if the right grape varietals are selected. Obviously, the growing season isn’t going to be as long as it in Osoyoos, for instance.

A Kamloops business couple, Ed and Vicki Collett now have 18 acres of limestone-streaked land planted to grapes. Being a first in a new region means a lot of experimentation has to take place.

The first seven acres of plantings included Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir and Cabernet Franc. The following year, a further 11 acres were planted, all Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Three years later, the Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gamay were all pulled out and replaced with more Cabernet Franc.

The bottle of Riesling came to my attention when I went down to the cellar to choose a wine for dinner. On the stove was a pasta pot with linguini on the boil and a covered wok heating a batch of spaghetti sauce I made last summer from our abundant tomato crop (sauté onions, peppers and garlic, add whole unpeeled Roma tomatoes, spice it up, then cook down until the tomatoes break up and the sauce is nice and thick, pour it all in the blender when it cools, then package in plastic zip locks and freeze).

After choosing the wine I laid some thawed filets of sole on top of the simmering sauce, some of which I then ladled over the fish. Back on went the cover until the fish was just cooked through. I took the fish out, drained the linguini, adding maybe a half-cup of pasta water to the sauce as a thickener, then dumped the pasta into the sauce and kept in on the heat for a few minutes to help the sauce be absorbed.

The pasta was plated and the fish laid on top, along with a bit of sauce, and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan finished it off. With a side of mixed greens for a salad, the meal was simple, quick and healthy.

The Harper’s Trail Riesling was a delight. A very nice full body was enhanced with a touch of the oiliness that sets the varietal apart. Apple, peach and honeysuckle notes and a lovely aroma made us instant fans of this version. Kudos to winemaker Michael Bartier, who oversees all the Okanagan Crush Pad wines and says, unequivocally, that “Wine isn’t made; it’s grown.”

Later, as I read about Harper’s Trail Estate Winery (named for a Kamloops pioneer) I was extremely impressed with the website, a clean and information-packed site that is easy to navigate and a very helpful reference. And my thoughts once again turned to what a great asset Okanagan Crush Pad is to the B.C. wine industry. In the case of Ed and Vicki Collett, they have been able to take the harvest from their new vineyard and put into the very capable team at OCP. Bartier is a very talented winemaker and the marketing team headed by Christine Colletta is as canny as they come. Colletta’s associate, Leann Froese, looks after media inquiries, but the website is so thorough that all I had to do was message my Facebook pal and tell her how great the wine was.

In the Kootenays, Nelson’s BC Wine Guys stock Harper’s Trail wines. They are worth checking out.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.