In all honesty, it was the Bead Trail that took us of Highway 97 and down into Kaleden, with two wineries as our destinations. A current Okanagan business promotion has beads for sale at participating businesses, and my wife is a jewelry hobbyist, so we left the beaten path in chase of a couple more samples.
Our first stop was the new and tiny Top Shelf Winery, which has a distinct hockey theme. From the mural at the front of the property to the memorabilia in the tasting room, it is clear that this is a hockey-mad family. No surprise there, after we learned that winery owners Len and Myrna are parents of former NHL defenceman Joel Kwiatkowski, who now plays professionally in Switzerland.
Myrna is the winemaker, a prairie gal who learned the ropes at Okaganan University College. She and Len first semi-retired from Saskatchewan to the Sunshine Coast, where they operated a lodge. Then they purchased the property in Kaleden and embarked on a winery adventure.
We enjoyed our chat while we tasted our way through Slapshot Chardonnay, Point Shot Pinot Gris and Over the Top Merlot, each nicely made. Myrna insisted on providing samples of Village Cheese with each and we left the winery with bottles and a selection of the Armstrong fromagerie’s products.
Next stop was Kraze Legz. No, not Crazylegs, as in legendary pro footballer Elroy Hirsch, but Kraze Legz, as in the comment that someone made when noting the alcohol “legs” that the wine left inside the glass.
Kraze Legz is the love child of Sue and Gerry Thygesen, who not only make very good wine, but are proving to be extremely accomplished marketers. The names of their new releases, served in what they refer to as their “speakeasy”, are Lindy Hop (a white blend), Whisper Sister (a semi-sweet dessert wine), Speakeasy Rosé, Cake Walk (Merlot) and All That Jazz (a red blend). You might detect a Roaring Twenties theme here, don’t you think?
The aptly named Kaleden is often referred to as a Garden of Eden and its location on Skaha Lake, north of Okanagan Falls, seems to be ideal for vineyards. Kraze Legz’s Charlston Chardonnay, for example, was named one of the two best unoaked Chardonnays by Wine Access in the Canadian Wine Awards, and fruit quality is paramount in any unoaked wine.
I was especially impressed to learn that the Thygesens even created their wine labels (the bottles feature painted, not paper, labels) in house, because they are extremely professional, each carrying the theme nicely. It’s great to visit a winery that has a theme that suits the owners and in this case, it is obvious that Sue and Gerry are having a blast with it.
They refer to their winery as “a throwback to simpler times when the decade was roaring, the music was jazzed and dancing required kraze legs.”
A theme will only take you so far, though, with the real proof being in the bottle. Throughout our tasting I commented that the wines had a consistent style — fresh, clean and with a very pleasant, almost creamy, mouth feel. These are wines that can as easily be quaffed on the patio as they can be matched with food.
As we returned to our Highway 97 route, bottles from Top Shelf and Kraze Legz safely stored in the car’s hatchback and with Angela examining her bead purchases, we agreed that our diversion into Kaleden had been an unexpected treat. Our best memories are often of small wineries where we get to meet and chat with the owners and we hadn’t been at all disappointed with either of our visits.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.