“I don’t care if we don’t need more white wines,” Angela said after her first sip of Gewürztraminer, “I’m buying another six bottles of this next time.”
The “next time” she was referring to meant another visit to Silver Sage Winery, which has become one of our favourite stops on visits to the Okanagan.
Located on Ryegrass Road, just west of Black Sage Road and only a short hop from Oliver, Silver Sage consists of 25 acres of meticulously cared for vines, a huge collection of rose bushes, winemaking facility and a building that includes a marvelous tasting room, bed and breakfast and a large banquet room, perfect for wedding receptions.
For me, Silver Sage Winery continues to be the subject of odd coincidences. A dozen years ago, Angela and I met Anna Manola at a large fall wine festival in Penticton. We fell in love with the Sage, the wild sage-infused wine that has become a family favourite with turkey dinners. We stopped at the winery on our way home to do a tasting and the following Saturday I was happily sorting the purchases made on our trip. I was kneeling to place bottles on the lower racks of my wine cellar. Angela came downstairs tell me that she had just heard on the radio that Victor Manola and Frank Supernak had died in a tragic accident at the winery. The chills ran down my spine as I looked down at my hand and realized I was holding a bottle of the Sage in my hand.
As I was writing this column on a Thursday morning, a friend dropped into my office for a chat. He mentioned his wife’s favourite winery. “I can’t remember what it’s called but the owner died in a winery accident,” he said. I told him the winery’s name, adding that I was in the midst of writing this column when he sat down by my desk.
In the years since that first visit we have dropped in often, never failing to be astonished at how Anna Manola has carried on. With the support of a loving family, she has kept the dream she and Victor had alive and continues to make wonderful wines.
When we visited a few months ago my intent was only to purchase a case of wine for my sister in Calgary and some bottles of the Sage for us. We were on our way home and I didn’t plan to taste, but Angela decided she would. With each successive sample, she oohed and aahed, inviting me to take a tiny sip.
The white wines are remarkable, consistently different from most other wines in the Okanagan. They are invariably luscious and full-bodied and offer up huge aromatics that leave one’s senses reeling. Even more unique is the way the wines play on the palate. The initial impression, right at the front of the mouth and tongue, is of sweetness. But as the liquid is distributed around the mouth the fruit flavours explode. After the swallow, one realizes that the sweetness is less from residual sugars than from Manola’s ability to keep the intense flavours of the grapes right through the winemaking process and into the bottle. The Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and the Sage all have this characteristic.
Silver Sage Winery is also well known, deservedly, for its dessert wines. One of the province’s must unique wines is the Flame, which has a hot pepper bottled in late harvest Gewürz. Serve it ice cold and be blown away by the heat that soon spreads through your mouth! Each pepper has its own heat level, so it is quite impossible to know what to expect with each bottle. Think of it as a little surprise gift.
On our first visit after the deaths of her husband and friend, Anna told us how the simple act of taking samples of fermenting wine from tall vats had turned into tragedy. Tear-filled eyes could not hide the strength that emanates from within her, though. She and Victor had left their home in Romania in search of a better life in Canada, and her steely determination to continue with their dream was obvious.
What Anna Manola has accomplished in the past 12 years is nothing short of remarkable, and it’s testament to the supportive family around her.
Visitors to the wine room today get not a hint of sadness as they are entertained and amused throughout their tasting. It isn’t unusual to hear howls of laughter as we walk toward the door, admiring the hundreds of rose bushes that were planted in Victor’s memory. Silver Sage Winery is one of the province’s true not-to-be-missed wine tourism experiences.
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.