Okanagan wine trip report continues, as we move towards Kelowna, a stop in Naramata at Little Engine!

After checking out of our suite, we are on our way up to Naramata for the first half of the day, before heading to our hotel in West Kelowna to finish up our trip. First up, an 11 AM bell call at Little Engine!

We have been here several times and their wine is always of outstanding quality. Generally, they have three tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum. There are some other wines that don’t necessarily fit directly into any of those categories as well.

Another winery with a beautiful view, but what are those dark things in the sky? CLOUDS?! Disapproved.

It sprinkles a tiny bit of rain on us, and we aren’t covered on these seats so eventually we move a few feet to a covered area and a huge table.

Terrific wine across the board, as usual. Just imagine how amazing the Platinum level wines are!

Safety score: 10

100% outside, no other guests anywhere near us, no unmasked staff members getting too close. Can’t ask for much more.

Next up: We visit an old friend at Hillside! Stay tuned!

The dark side of BC wine. When plagiarism sullies a new brand.

Small2015Merlot1

Painted Rock’s branding. The logo is understated, elegant, and sophisticated. I like it quite a bit. But even if it doesn’t “wow” you, I bet you would recognize it.

And along comes a new winery…..with a seemingly unlimited budget for building a spectacular, state-of-the-art new facility in Oliver. Years in the planning and building.

And, instead of finding their own branding, they use the same California-based design company. This design company makes this new company sign a waiver stating that if Painted Rock sues them, the design company is held harmless. This is the new winery’s logo and bottle (name of winery blacked out).

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This new company knows, probably, that lawsuits are expensive, and they also probably have enough money backing them to drag it out in court for many years, making it even more costly for Painted Rock to protect their brand.

Just to be clear, nobody at Painted Rock asked me to make this post.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But as long as they use this as their branding, I will not be visiting this winery, will not be reviewing their wines. They are dead to me.

This is appalling.

 

Next up: Back to the Okanagan trip report, as we start our next day at Little Engine!

Day 3 of the Okanagan wine trip wraps up at one of the great wineries in the Okanagan, with one of the best views of the Okanagan, @PaintedRockWine .

Another winery where we had already pre-paid for our experience. As club members, our tasting was complimentary, but we pre-ordered sandwiches and charcuterie for lunch, to enjoy in their beautiful grounds. I’m not sure who enjoyed their time on the grounds more…..us, or the dog. She just loves to accompany us anywhere, and we were successful at ensuring that all the wineries we were visiting today were dog friendly.

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Zoey, AKA “Zo-Zo”, “Dog”, or “Pork Chop”. She spends a tremendous amount of time laying like this. I don’t know how that can be comfortable.

An “all-red” tasting today. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Painted Rock 2015 MerlotPainted Rock 2016 MerlotPainted Rock 2016 Syrah

Painted Rock 2017 SyrahPainted Rock 2016 Red Icon

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The author’s lovely wife, charcuterie, a bottle of their Rosé, and a not-too-shabby view.

Oh, and not related to this trip, consider it a bonus review of a wine we enjoyed back home recently:

Painted Rock 2015 Malbec

The sandwiches were fantastic, the charcuterie was fantastic (half of which went back to the resort with us to enjoy later this evening), the wine was fantastic, the service was fantastic. This was a wonderful day, and it’s tough to imagine finishing our wine tasting anywhere better than this, enjoying a lovely picnic lunch with my incredible wife, accompanied by our crazy dog, overlooking the vineyards and lake. Even in horrific 2020, it’s nice to be able to exhale and just enjoy the great things in life once in a while.

SAFETY SCORE: 10

Although the tasting portion of the day took place inside, the staff members are behind plexiglass. If you’ve ever been to this winery, you know that even inside feels like outside, thanks to the huge glass door that opens, leading you to feel like you are out amongst the vines, even from the tasting room.

Next up: As we transition from Osoyoos to Kelowna, we start tomorrow morning in Naramata, with a tasting at another winery that always delivers, Little Engine!

 

 

Okanagan Trip continues @Road13Vineyards and let me tell you about an upcoming BC wine star…..

Shelby. Remember that name.

In late 2018, a lot of BC wine enthusiasts were shocked when it was announced that the Luckhurst family, owners of Road 13, had sold the winery to the Von Mandl group. It remains to be seen what that will mean for the quality of the wine going forward, but this is the same group that acquired Cedarcreek a few years ago and have not caused any dip in quality there; they have since opened up Checkmate and Martin’s Lane, two premium wine brands… so the future seems bright.

I was a little sad to hear that Joe Luckhurst, the son of founders Mick and Pam Luckhurst,  had recently left the winery. He had stayed on in a consulting role after the sale, but has now moved on to other ventures. During our last visit here, it was Joe that took us through our tasting, and as we got to talking about wine and he realized that we were serious about it, he kept disappearing for a few minutes, only to return with another “special” bottle to taste, directly from his office or the cellar. It was a fantastic experience and I wish him the best with whatever new direction he takes.

We are greeted warmly and taken on a little tour of the vineyards and given a bit of a history of the winery (most of which we already knew, but they wouldn’t know that). After the tour, we are taken to the VIP area (we are not even club members) to taste their wines. We are outside, under a canopy to keep the temperatures cool. Our wines are brought to us in glass vials, so we can control who gets how much of each wine (as my wife is driving today, she tastes less than I do). It’s a COVID-related change, of course, but I kinda like it and hope it stays. There is not a single other group out here tasting today. We had pre-booked and pre-paid for this tasting ($25 each, IIRC).

This is where Shelby comes into our little drama. Bubbly, friendly and knowledgable, she has all the tools to make it in this business. IIRC she is 21 years old, maybe 22. Oh, and she has no prior wine training, and started here on July 1st.

JULY 1st. Today as we are tasting, it’s July 15th.

She has been in the business for all of 2 weeks, literally, and already knows more about her product than half of the employees you will find at your average tasting room. And it’s not just “she learned the script” knowledge, at all. I generally ask a ton of questions at these tastings, and no winery script covers the type of questions I am asking (and it’s VERY easy to tell when someone just knows the script).  She answers all of them, as if she’s been doing this since birth. Very impressive.

During our tasting, their new winemaker, Barclay Robinson, ventures outside to say “hello” and see how we are enjoying our tasting. We mention to him the incredible amount of knowledge that Shelby has given her lack of experience or time in the industry. He smiles, nods, and says, “Yep. She’s a sponge”.

That girl is someone to watch. If she decides she wants to continue her career in the wine industry, wineries should be beating down her door to hire her. Road 13 is incredibly lucky to have her now.

Now, let’s talk about some wine!

First, I’m going to start with a couple wines that will soon disappear from the Road 13 portfolio, as they are still owned by the Luckhursts and were not part of the sale.

Road 13 2017 Blind Creek ChardonnayRoad 13 2016 Blind Creek Petit Verdot

I am sure these wines will continue to be available somewhere, but I would imagine this will be the last time we will see them here.

Road 13 Chip off the Old Block Chenin BlancRoad 13 2019 RoséRoad 13 2018 ViognierRoad 13 2018 RieslingRoad 13 2016 StemwinderRoad 13 2017 Jackpot 5th ElementRoad 13 2017 Syrah

A fantastic tasting, lovely venue, fabulous service. Highly recommended. If I needed to join more wine clubs (spoiler alert: I do not), this is one that would be at the top of the list.

SAFETY SCORE: 10

Absolutely nothing to be afraid of here. Our entire time was spent outside, and no employees even got close to us. I did go inside the castle to order wine and arrange shipping but the employee was a good 8 feet away at all times and the castle is huge. I used the washroom before we left, and it was pristine.

Up next: A trip up to Penticton for a tasting and picnic in the stunning grounds of Painted Rock!

 

As we meander through the Okanagan, it’s time for an early morning visit to @rustwinery!

“Early morning” in the realm of wine tasting, that is. Right at opening, 11 AM.

This was technically another drop-in visit, as they aren’t taking appointments. Having said that, they knew exactly when we were coming, they had an area ready for us, so that’s about as close to an appointment as you can get I suppose.

We are seated in a beautiful semi-private area on the patio, under a gazebo. No other guests anywhere near us (although it doesn’t take long for there to be 3-4 other groups of people tasting outside as well).

And the view doesn’t suck, either.

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To the wine!

Rust Wine Co 2019 GewürztraminerRust Wine Co 2019 RoséRust Wine Co 2019 GamayRust Wine Co 2018 Cabernet FrancRust Wine Co 2017 Golden Mile Bench SyrahRust Wine Co 2014 Cabernet Merlot

Always good wine, good people, it’s always fun to visit.

Safety score: 9.5

Tough to feel unsafe sitting by yourself in the outdoors, with no staff member coming within 10 feet. The only thing keeping this from a 10 is that I had to go into the tasting room to buy and arrange shipping for my wine. Not a huge deal, but if there was going to be any kind of problem here, this is where it would have been.

Next up: Another winery that is quickly becoming a favorite, a little jaunt to the castle and a tasting at Road 13!

 

Okanagan trip moves along with another fantastic tasting @LaStellaWinery

As I mentioned in the Le Vieux Pin report, our concierge, Alex, takes fantastic care of us. This was no exception, as he set up a private tasting with Wade at their sister winery, La Stella.

Their winemaker, Severine, is really quite remarkable. She makes a bunch of terrific wines in a very French-style….then goes down the road and makes a bunch of terrific wines in an Italian-style. That’s not easy, folks. She has a great team around her, for sure.

Wade had arranged for us to have a tasting up in a private room in a tower; a room where no other humans would have been all day, ensuring our total safety. Just one issue: it’s not air conditioned, and it was freaking hot that day….so we decided it was better to sit on their large patio to have our tasting. There were no other groups scheduled for a while, so we’d have the entire patio to ourselves for most of our time there anyway.

To the wine!

La Stella 2019 Vivace

La Stella 2017 Fortissimo

La Stella 2016 Espressivo

La Stella 2016 Maestoso

La Stella 2019 Moscato d'Osoyoos

Those are some excellent wines, and man, if you have the cellar and the patience, a couple of them are going to be SPEC. TAC. U. LAR.

And if wine tasting isn’t enough for you, they have more. If you ask really nicely, I bet they would let you taste their other products.

We have bought the “intensive” Olive Oil many times, and this trip was no exception. We also liked the other one, and bought that too. And that was the best White Balsamic vinegar I have ever had, so I guess we might as well purchase it all!

Safety rating: 10

Nothing to worry about here. We had the patio mostly to ourselves. When other guests arrived, they were seated about 20 feet away. Wade poured our wines at the other end of their large picnic tables and never got close to us. Couldn’t have felt safer.

This was the end of our first full day of tasting, so back to the room to make dinner and relax. We thought about going to the pool but since it was full of children, we decided to hang out on the patio and enjoy our evening.

Next up: An early morning date with another one we try to never miss: Rust Wine Co.!

Okanagan trip continues with an impromptu visit @CassiniCellars!

Our tasting at Checkmate didn’t take as long as expected (this was a theme of the trip, most wineries didn’t really know how long everything would take, so when booking experiences, we were booked for longer than necessary), so we had some time to stop in at an old favorite, without an appointment. I’ve always loved the tasting room here. Huge vaulted ceilings, tons of space, it’s almost majestic. With COVID-19 top of mind, they have made significant changes to the look of the tasting room, without sacrificing the feel of the room.

We entered to an empty tasting room, just one staff member there to greet us. They had a few tasting ‘stations’ set up, all socially distanced, and the staff member poured the wine for us, and slid it across the long tasting bar. We were never close to anyone, and felt perfectly safe the entire time.

To the wine!

Cassini Cellars 2017 Roussanne Marsanne

Cassini Cellars 2019 Mamma Mia!Cassini Cellars 2018 ChardonnayCassini Cellars 2018 Pinot NoirCassini Cellars 2016 Quattro RossoCassini Cellars 2016 The AristocratCassini Cellars 2016 Cabernet FrancCassini Cellars 2016 Maximus

SAFETY SCORE: 9

They’ve done everything they can, but it’s indoors with no special ventilation so there is no doubt guests are more susceptible to other guests not following the rules and getting too close. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a tasting here, however.

Next up, we headed to Le Vieux Pin which I already reported on, out of order, so now we head over to their sister winery, La Stella!

 

 

Okanagan trip continues as we visit an old friend, @LeVieuxPin!

In planning this trip, I E-mailed all the wineries we wanted to visit, explaining to them our risk circumstances and trying to get a feel for what they could offer us, and what their plans were to deal with COVID-19. Almost all of the wineries responded quickly, and with detail, but none with the detail we received from Alex at Le Vieux Pin.

We’ve known Alex for quite some time, as we were members of the Wine Society at Le Vieux Pin and their sister winery, La Stella, for years. Alex handles the wine clubs for both wineries, as well as setting up a lot of tastings at LVP. He’s a good guy, and always takes excellent care of us; in fact, we get treated just like we are still club members. We left the clubs simply because we have so much wine and just couldn’t keep buying so much, but we still get a case here and there of their excellent product. Alex’s detailed response plan to COVID-19 was so thorough, so well thought-out, we knew instantly we were going to be safe, and we planned a visit.

A bit of a bonus: We were going to be able to have this tasting in their cement tank room, where we would be the only guests. As almost all of our tastings were outside (as we wanted it), it was nice to have one inside, away from the summer heat.

As we arrived, we noticed a group of wild horses coming down from the vineyard adjacent to the property. Majestic animals, but apparently quite a nuisance. Although they don’t eat the grapes, I guess they are still quite disruptive.

We tasted a host of their fine wines, so let’s get to it.

Le Vieux Pin 2019 Sauvignon BlancLe Vieux Pin 2018 AvaLe Vieux Pin 2018 Cuvée VioletteLe Vieux Pin 2016 Equinoxe SyrahLe Vieux Pin 2017 RetouchéLe Vieux Pin 2016 Equinoxe Merlot

 

Safety rating: 10

Alex had us set up in the tank room, a large table to ourselves, and he was masked for the entire visit and never got close enough to us for that to matter much anyway. Hand sanitizer was available, individual spittoons, tables sanitized between every visit. Tough to imagine they could do much more. And if you want to sit outside, there is a lot of space for that as well. Highly recommended; but you need to book an appointment, they are not accepting walk-ins.

Up next: Going to go back in time a bit. As I was pulling out my notes on this tasting, I remembered that we had some time between our Checkmate tasting and this one, and in that time we hit up a winery we didn’t have an appointment at (our only drop in visit of the trip), so Cassini Cellars, you’re up!

 

THEME NIGHTS are back, people! Let’s pay a little visit to Germany, and take a bite out of Austria while we are at it.

Ah, COVID-19, the gift that just keeps on taking and taking.

No parties, no family BBQ’s, no leaving the house much, just a wild, wild ride.

I actually can’t remember the last one of these that we had; I would literally have to look it up in previous blog posts. This was originally scheduled for mid-April, but we had to cancel when COVID upended all of our lives.

Now that we know a little bit more about how this virus reacts, and what is dangerous and what is less-so, we rescheduled this event for last weekend. I was the host, in that I prepared the food and supplied the wine, but we are very fortunate to have friends with a huge HUGE backyard, so we had the event there, so that we could all enjoy the evening without getting too close, or spending hours inside. The weather cooperated, and we had a lovely evening.

This was the second time we have featured Germany, but I decided to throw Austria in there as well as it would be challenging to find enough food and wine specific to Austria to use them as a standalone. To be clear, they make TONS of wine in Austria, but it might be tough to source in the current climate, especially being unable to hop down to our PO Box in the USA to pick up bottles we could order online. I had a couple bottles from Austria, and a ton from Germany, already purchased, so the wine supply was in good hands. The pairings were set up by moi, and honestly I mostly just tried to wing it. On to the event!

Course 1

Pickled Beet, Onion and Pepper Salad

Total coincidence, I had pickled some beets, onions and peppers about three weeks ago. I had no idea that I was going to come across this traditional German recipe. It was actually pretty decent, although the vegetables weren’t totally pickled yet – they were still a bit crispy. I think everyone liked it, though.

Today I pickled some more beets and onions, so now I know to wait 6-8 weeks to eat them.

This pairing actually worked quite well, I must say.

Selbach Oster 2017 Pinot Blanc

Course 2

Kielbasa and Cabbage

This was about as traditional a dish as I could serve, I think, and it was pretty good. I am not a huge fan of cooked green cabbage, but others likes this dish more than I did.

Another pretty good pairing.

Weszeli 2016 Langenlois Gruner Veltliner

I must say, the first two wines have made BC wine look really, really good. We just had a Pinot Blanc from BC (Screaming Frenzy – Black Swift) that is much better than the first wine, and the Grüner Veltliner from Culmina Family Winery is miles above this one.

Course 3

Chicken Fricassee & Rice Pilaf

As I was putting this food together (the morning of the event, and in some cases the day before) I said to my wife “with all the work it is making all of these dishes, the star of the show is going to be the freaking RICE PILAF!”. It was that good.

Fortunately, the Fricassee turned out just as good. This was the dish of the night, and it wasn’t close, IMO.

This dish was paired with two wines. The first one, the one I was looking forward to most, as it was the most expensive and well-regarded. The second one was what a lot of people would consider a dessert wine, and only a crazy person would pair that with this dish…but I had a hunch (and noticed a comment by Jancis Robinson that she had paired this wine with a creamy dish).

What a huge disappointment the first one was, and what a great hunch on the second one!

Screenshot 2020-07-28 16.47.30

The second bottle I have previously reviewed, here.  St. Urbans HOF 2007 Spatlese Riesling.  My score remains unchanged, and it was a surprisingly delightful pairing with the creamy chicken dish.

Course 4

German Potato Dumplings

So, this was OK. The flavors were good, but I didn’t care for the gummy consistency. Others disagreed and they thought that was how German dumplings were supposed to be like. The wine was better than the food.

This was paired with a wine that we tasted and enjoyed at the 2020 Vancouver International Wine Festival. At that time, I gave it 92+ points, and I would stick with that. It still has time to improve but was tasty now as well.

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Course 5

Vienna Schnitzel

This was BEYOND BLAND….but not a surprise, I expected that. These were premium veal cutlets but this recipe just didn’t add enough flavor. Some of the guests grabbed some sriracha or mustard to make them better. I just didn’t eat much of mine.

I have a couple cutlets left, this weekend I am going to make the same recipe again, and smother it in an onion gravy. We will see if that does the trick.

This was paired with two wines, the only red wines of the evening. The first was another one that we tasted at VIWF20, and the second was one I just randomly picked up at a BC Liquor store last year.

screenshot-2020-03-21-15.07.03

Thorle 2015 Saulheim Kalkstein Spätburgunder

Course 6

Assorted German Desserts

Friends supplied the desserts, some assorted German pastries and cakes. Delicious.

The first wine is a perennial favorite, and one that is easy to find in most BC Liquor Stores.

Screenshot 2020-07-28 17.07.32

The second one is another from VIWF20, and it’s a beauty that is not so easy to find, but it’s worth seeking out.

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That’s it for now, and it was a real delight to spend an evening with my wife and our great friends, celebrating the food and wine of Germany and Austria. Not sure when the next theme night will be, or what the host country will be, but we have lots to choose from!

Up next: Back to the Okanagan trip report, at Le Vieux Pin!

 

Okanagan trip continues, and there isn’t a much better way to start a day of wine tasting than @checkmatewinery!

After our tastings in the Similkameen, we are off to the Watermark, where we are delighted to discover that our townhouse is ready for us, three hours before the official check-in time. Checking in is easy, the staff is behind plexiglass so we don’t have to get close to any people, and we’re off to our townhouse. We are on the second floor this time, which in theory would give us a great view of the lake, but we are behind a bunch of trees so the view isn’t quite what it could be. No biggie, we are thrilled to be here and are going to have a lovely few days of wine tasting and relaxation.

After a lovely dinner at the resort, we hit the sack early as we are both exhausted, and we have a big day planned tomorrow.

And what a way to start the day……Checkmate Artisanal Winery! If not the best winery in the Okanagan, it’s right up there. They are still in the process of completing their multi-million dollar tasting and event centre, and it is going to be something else. If you have visited Checkmate in the last couple of years, you’ve probably experienced the pop-up tasting room that they had created. That is gone now because, well, because it was in the spot taken up by part of the new tasting room!

If you are not familiar with this winery, they produce only two varietals: Merlot and Chardonnay. And they do them very, very, very well.

We are taken to a spot that they have set up for tastings until the full facility is open (probably this fall). It doesn’t feel “temporary” at all, it’s well set up, the hosts are friendly, knowledgable and respectful of social distancing. We get a total of 7 wines to taste, only 1 of which I had previously tasted and reviewed. We’ll start with that one, at this link:

2014 Little Pawn Chardonnay

Now, we already own several of these wines, being club members, but they are in the cellar and we had not tasted any of them until now. It’s exciting to see what we are going to get!

Checkmate 2014 Fool's Mate ChardonnayCheckmate 2015 Attack ChardonnayCheckmate 2016 Queen Taken Chardonnay

Checkmate 2014 Black Rook MerlotCheckmate 2014 Silent Bishop MerlotCheckmate 2015 Opening Gambit Merlot

Safety rating: 9

Nothing unsafe here at all, but since it was indoors, there is always a tiny bit of risk. We got a bit of a tour at the end and got to see what this building is going to be when it’s done, and it’s going to be incredible. We did encounter a few workmen during that tour. We didn’t get too close to them, of course, but still….

Up next: A small interruption in the Okanagan tour report, as we got together with our wine friends for our first theme night in a long, long time (so long that we actually couldn’t remember the last one). A combination night, this time: Germany/Austria!

The Okanagan report will continue as well, our next stop at another perennial favorite, Le Vieux Pin!

Stay tuned!