Of the many stops I made on a recent tour through the Okanagan, Church & State Wines was one of the truly memorable ones.
First, about the name. It isn’t as complicated as one might expect: “Symbolizes a balance between the many elements involved in creating the highest quality wine we can produce,” says the literature.
I arrived late one afternoon, without an appointment. The drive to the winery takes one straight into the centre of a huge vineyard on the Black Sage bench, one of the best growing areas in the country. A grey industrial-type building belies what the visit was about to reveal. Over to the north was a huge tent set up on a wood floor. At another winery I had been told that it has served as owner Kim Pullen’s home in recent months. It wasn’t a question I pursued while there, but wine shop manager Trish Lynn told other guests that it could be used for events in the future.
A successful businessman, Pullen founded Church & State on Vancouver Island in 2004 when he purchased a 25-acre estate on the Saanich Peninsula. The existing building was renovated to become a Napa Valley-like destination for visitors and to accommodate events. First, fruit was brought in from contract growers in the Okanagan, and then Pullen purchased a 15-acre parcel on the Golden Mile, where Merlot, Viognier and Malbec now grow.
He then acquired the land that has become Coyote Bowl Vineyard, which is now home to the winemaking facilities and fabulous wine bars and shop. Plantings there include Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Bordeaux, which allow Church & State to make their flagship Bordeaux blend, Quintessential, from grapes grown on site.
Another purchase of property nearby allowed for the planting of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier to produce a Rhone blend, Trebella.
Last year, Coyote Bowl had added to it an outdoor tasting bar, “where guests can sit and enjoy one of the most cutting edge winery experiences in B.C.” Visitors can enjoy wine samples or a glass while looking out from their seats under the awning-covered bar to a remarkable view. Inside the building is a long granite bar with plenty of seats for wine samplers. Behind the bar a glass wall shows off the barrel room behind. Wine writer Anthony Gismondi writes that the winery has “the two best wine bar experiences in the Okanagan.”
When I arrived, hoping to meet with Trish Lynn to do a magazine story interview on Church & State Wines, a couple of small groups were seated, and clearly enjoying what they were tasting. I assured Trish I was not in a hurry and sat back to watch her conduct tastings for a half-dozen women who had arrived in a wine country touring limo. They were out for a day of fun, but they clearly knew plenty about wine, too. They also knew what they liked, as evidenced by the stacked wheeled cart that was used to haul cases out to the limo.
I was at the end of a long day, too tired to do much in the way of sampling, but my sips of Cab Franc and Syrah were over-the-top good. No surprise there, though, because at the outset Pullen set a goal to have one of the top three wineries in BC. In 2009, Quintessential was named Canada’s best red wine in the All-Canadian Wine Championships. In 2011, the 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah was named red wine of the year at the Canadian Wine Awards. The same wine captured the imagination of no less than Jancis Robinson, who this year named it Canada’s best red wine.
Church & State Wines is one of the province’s must-visit experiences for wine tourists, with fabulous wines, incredible location and very knowledgeable staff. An added incentive is that some wines are available exclusively at the Coyote Bowl winery. I can hardly wait for my next trip through the area and I plan to make the time for a more leisurely tasting.
Lorne Eckersley is publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.