A graffiti-covered VW Microbus provides plenty of colour at Ruby Blues Winery.

La Dolce Vita: Wine touring in the Okanagan

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It occurred to me after the fact that my recent three-day visit to the Okanagan would serve nicely as a travel itinerary for wine enthusiasts. It covered the gamut of small and large, old and new wineries, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend visits to any of them.

My first visit was to Summerhill Pyramid Winery, which for nearly 30 years has been a Kelowna icon. I spent 90 minutes talking with Ezra and Gabe Cipes, two of founder Stephen Cipes’s four sons, learning more about biodynamic farming practices and running through a very pleasant tasting with Ezra. Always known for its sparkling wine, Summerhill is Canada’s most visited winery, and for good reason — a great range of wines and a very fine bistro, too.

Tantalus Vineyards: My first visit to a winery with a well-deserved reputation for both red and whites. Behind the striking black labels that each feature an aboriginal mask are wonderful Pinot Noirs, Rieslings and icewines. Beautiful wine shop and property.

St. Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Winery: The original winery was destroyed in the 2003 summer fire, but owners Leo and Andy Gebert bounced back, making wines only from grapes grown on the estate.

I then headed south from Kelowna toward Penticton and thought about stopping at Great Ranch, until I remembered there was a wine order awaiting pickup in Summerland.

Okanagan Crush Pad Winery is the dream of Christine Coletta, who has had a long association with the wine industry. A branding and public relations master, Coletta and her husband, Steve Lornie, have created a custom winemaking facility that also has house brands like Haywire and Bartier Scholefield, the latter named for OCPs winemaker, Michael Bartier and wine advisor David Scholefield. I walked away pleased that the had managed to keep the descending hoards away from my half-case of The Bub, Haywire’s first pink bubbly. It sold out shortly after its release.

When I stay in Naramata, my usual choice of accommodations is at a bed and breakfast that features incredible views of an immaculate vineyard and Okanagan Lake.

D’Angelo Estate Winery proprietor Sal D’Angelo is one of my favourite wine people, a fountain of knowledge with three decades in the business. He makes a great lineup of red wines that include Pinot Noir, a Bordeaux blend and Temperanillo, as well as Viognier and a number of dessert wines, all from the grapes grown on site. No need to buy wines to put away until they are ready — Sal releases his wines only after they have aged to his high standards.

Ruby Blues Winery: Prudence and Beat Mahrer founded Red Rooster Winery where Therapy Vineyards is now located. Prudence couldn’t stay retired after they sold Red Rooster, so the couple went back into the business with Ruby Tuesday Winery. A letter from an American restaurant with the Ruby Tuesday name forced the name change, but the winery is as fun and funky as it ever was, with murals and a graffiti-covered VW Microbus providing plenty of colour. I had to pick up a bottle of Red Stiletto for my shoe-crazy honorary daughter-in-law, whose named her first daughter Ruby.

Right across the road is Red Rooster Winery. Owned by Peller Estates, the large and beautifully designed buildings include one of the best tasting rooms and wine shops in the province, lots of art and a patio bistro. Well worth a visit to taste some highly acclaimed wines.

Hillside Winery and Bistro: My visit was to do an interview for a magazine story and it occurred to me that — due to timing — it would be the first time ever that I had visited and not dined in the fabulous bistro, where the food is as good as the view from the upper deck patio. Hillside is one of the original farmgate wineries from the 1980s and it has been a force ever since.

Moraine Winery: The congenial owners, Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, bought the property when a group of wineries went into bankruptcy and they are working to put their own mark on the business. With young Kiwi winemaker Jacq Kemp on board, they are well on the way in making the transition. It’s a winery to watch.

Marichel Vineyards: one of my favourite small producers, the warm and accommodating Richard Roskell makes some of the best Syrah and Viognier wines on the Naramata Bench. It’s the perfect place to visit to get and up close and personal winery experience as Richard is usually in the tasting room.

Perseus Winery: On the road that wines upward from Penticton to Naramata a house has been transformed into a winery and tasting room, very modern and welcoming. My visit with sales and marketing director John Pullen was a joy and my small glass of Cabernet Franc after a tasting of other wines was a revelation. Quality is job one at Perseus.

But wait — there’s more! Next week.

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.


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