La Dolce Vita: No island, no elephant — just amazing wine

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Miranda and Del Halladay of Elephant Island Orchard Wines.

Miranda and Del Halladay of Elephant Island Orchard Wines.

Nestled down near the east shore of Okanagan Lake is a winery that never fails to surprise. And it is one sure to convince all but the most determined of wine snobs that all good things do not come from grapes.

Elephant Island Orchard Wines captured our imaginations on our first visit a decade ago and hasn’t failed to impress since then.

Not having visited the winery for a few years, we were reintroduced to its fruit wines at a Naramata Bench Winery Association tasting in Calgary a few months ago. Guests were presented with a glass of pink bubbly upon arrival and it was a real treat. Murmurs could be heard around the room when it was announced that the Pink Elephant was made from apple, not grape, juice.

Then, on our last trip to Naramata, we were royally entertained at the Naramata Heritage Inn, where the new owners’ grand opening celebrations were kicked off with the sabring of sparkling wine. A series of brave volunteers sharply slid the blade of a sabre along the neck of the bottle, which snaps off the heavy ring of glass at the top. The pressurized contents then shoot the cork and glass ring a considerable distance, and also eject any tiny glass shards. It’s an exciting way to start a celebration, and the wine did nothing to lessen the momentum of the evening.

Elephant Island Orchard Wines was founded in 1999 by Miranda and Del Halladay, in partnership with Miranda’s grandmother, the architect Catherine Chard Wisnicki. Wisnicki had purchased the property against the advice of her husband, who was convinced the investment for retirement would turn into a White Elephant. He referred to the property as his wife’s Eye-land, because of what he perceived as her obsession for the aesthetic.

So visitors shouldn’t be surprised when the road down to the winery doesn’t take them over a bridge and onto an island. It does, though, lead to a remarkable selection of wines, a couple of which are even made from grapes.

First to the Pink Elephant. Fermented from the juice of Granny Smith apples, the wine is made with the methode champenoise, like traditional Champagne from France. Before being corked it gets a dosage of cassis, which lends a beautiful pink colour to the end product. We have served it with the addition of Okanagan Spirits black currant liqueur to make Kir Royals, which, with the addition of a preserved hibiscus flower in the bottom of a glass, results in a very exotic drink that bumps up any celebration a notch.

Another sparkling wine, The Little King, is named in memory of the Halladays’ son, Rex. All proceed to go a pediatric nursing education fund at the BC Children’s Hospital. To date, more than $70,000 has been donated.

Four fruit wines are available, from pears, cherries, blackberries and black currants. The dessert wine lineup includes fortified versions from black currants (cassis), raspberries (framboise), apricot and crabapple wines, and a Port-style wine, too.

Two grape wines, with tongue-in-cheek names, Naysayer (Cabernet Franc) and I Told You So (Viognier), acknowledge that the Halladays can handle fruit from vines, too. In fact, the Viognier (which has a touch of Sauvignon Blanc added for acidity) was named the best in its category in the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, a testament to Del’s skill in the winery.

If Elephant Island was just a novelty among B.C. wineries, it would be a good one. But it’s much more than that. We still smile when we remember reading, on our first ever visit, a newspaper article talking about how someone managed to slip an Elephant Island cherry wine into a Pinot Noir tasting in Vancouver. It won, much to the embarrassment of the judges when the ruse was discovered.

More information can be found on the excellent website, www.elephantislandwine.com.

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.