This week continues my overview of a wine tourist’s trip to the B.C. Interior, seeking out the large and small, old and new.
Before leaving Naramata I also managed a few more stops. With great curb appeal, the new 3 Mile Estate Winery is easy to spot and a delight to enter. A family operation, 3 Mile describes itself as an “all in” family, with sisters Gayle Rahn and Colleen Gunther giving the business a welcome and still-too-rare strong female presence.
Inside the building are a lovely tasting room, guest rooms with good rates, and walls covered with the quirky and colourful art of Janis Blyth, who creates whimsical depictions of the many joys of wine.
Back toward Penticton is a winery/cheese factory that serves as a reminder that one should never travel without a cooler. The cheese has a familiar name. Poplar Grove has been synonymous with Naramata since Ian and Gitta Sutherland started making wines that sold out almost as fast they were released. Ian the winemaker and Gitta the vineyard manager were a great success and Gitta added to the local legend by taking up cheese making.
That was then, though, and this is now. A divorce left Gitta with property and her cheese business, and then she partnered with Nichol Vineyard’s Ross Hackworth to take advantage of the vineyard and location. The result, Clean Slate Wines, is a tongue-in-cheek way of Gitta saying she has a fresh start back into the wine biz. The cheese is beyond good and I was happy to drive away with a couple of my favourites, Tiger Blue and Okanagan Double Cream Camembert.
Cheese fans will also want to stop in at Upper Bench Winery and Creamery, where Gavin and Shana Miller are developing a huge following with their fine products. Shana learned cheese making while working at Poplar Grove and Gavin was a winemaker at other wineries before the couple ventured out with Upper Bench. A visit not to be missed.
One more stop in Penticton before I headed south was the great BC VQA Wine Information Centre. I wanted to pick up bottles of Squeezed, a new label created by Michael, Christina and Nicole Ferreira. Michael is the fine young winemaker who has made a strong impact at Quinta Ferreira and Squeezed is his way of finding different ways to express his winemaking skills. I also picked up a bottle or two of Van Westen Vineyards wines. The Naramata Bench winery keeps pretty irregular open hours, so I didn’t want to pass up the chance to make a purchase.
By coincidence, I started to chat with one of the store’s employees, who pointed out a label I was unfamiliar with. William Adams gestured toward a bottle and said, “I make these.” Tyler Harlton Wines features great labels created by Harlton’s sister, an artist living in Fernie. Adams learned winemaking in New Zealand and at Osoyoos Larose and, judging from our bottle of rosé, made from Cab Franc grapes, this is a small winery to watch. A tasting room is under construction in Summerland.
I tootled along Highway 97 toward Oliver, turning off at Hidden Chapel Winery, where Deborah Wilde and a team of friends and supporters have a very nice little operation going. Nicely made wines, the cute as a button chapel (already on site when she bought the property) and Deborah’s charm make this a great winery to visit.
Entering the drive down into Silver Sage Winery south of Oliver, winding past manicured vines and parking in a lot lined with roses, and with a large pond feature close by, it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of quiet and reflection. Walk into the large tasting room and all that changes, though. Inside there is rarely a dull moment as owner Anna Manola and her sister engage visitors with commentaries that keep them laughing throughout. They are among the truly great characters in the B.C. wine business. An amazing array of wines — reds, whites, dry and dessert, made with grapes and other fruit — ensures there is something to suit every taste. If I had to name the best tasting room experiences I have had, Silver Sage would certainly be near the top.
Church and State, a couple of minutes south, has made a huge impact in wine circles with proprietor Kim Pullen’s clear vision of what he wants to accomplish with the winery. With winemaker Jeff Del Nin making magic with grapes from fabulous vineyards, Church and State offers a terrific visiting experience and superb wines.
By the time I was ready to head back to Creston, I was pretty much “wineried out” and my only other stop along the way to grab a pulled pork sandwich from a wonderful food truck (trailer, actually) parked on the southern edge of Oliver. I highly recommend Hammer’s Hog Heaven!
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.