Story by Jody Robbins
NARAMATA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — I admit it, I trafficked illegal substances across Canada for years. Fortunately, I was never caught and now Bill C311 amends a Prohibition-era law that said it was a crime for regular folk to transport liquor across provincial lines. Passed into law earlier this year, the new legislation makes my annual pilgrimage to British Columbia to bring wines back to my home in Alberta no longer scandalous. It also allows me to share a few of my favourite wineries without any worry about potential ramifications.
The small but compact region of the Naramata Bench is comprised of 31 wineries located along 13 kilometres of road that snakes its way along the east side of Lake Okanagan in central BC. These white clay cliffs, carved by glaciers, sit above the lake and are home to top viticulturists who produce award-winning wines.
Where to Find Great BC Wine
Drinking and parenting don’t mix, or so we’ve been led to believe. But I was delighted to discover that at Elephant Island taking the tots on a wine tour is perfectly acceptable. At this family-friendly winery, parents can sit back under a canopy of massive maple and oak trees to sniff, swirl and yes, sip, fruit wine on the patio whilst keeping a watchful eye on the kiddies. Bring your own picnic or choose cheese, meat, garden veggies and crackers from the Elephant Island deli, and snack alongside the giant plush teddy bears (who are also picnicking outside). The outdoor play area rivals that of any daycare and you can always let the ankle biters run through the surrounding cherry orchard to burn off excess energy. The Pink Elephant sparkling wine ($24.99), a Granny Smith apple cuvee, tastes like a bottled Kir Royale. It’s crisp, fresh and definitely not to be shared with the babysitter.
We all know that wine and cheese pair perfectly and Upper Bench, Naramata’s only combo of winery and creamery, hits the right spot. This vineyard of nine acres, hand harvests and bottles its seven wines. Though the winery has only been open since May, the Four Seasons in Vancouver has selected Upper Bench’s Pinot Blanc ($18.90) for its menu.
Says winery owner Gavin Miller: “I’ve made expensive wines for years. At Upper Bench, we want to make quality wine that’s approachable, so everyone can enjoy it and pair it with our fantastic cheese.”
As for cheese ($5.50/100 grams), go for Gold, a creamy brine-washed fromage that pairs well with the winery’s Chardonnay ($24.90). And be sure to try King Cole. It’s like a proper English stilton, yet isn’t over powering and goes down fantastically with the Merlot ($28.90).
Moraine is another new kid on the block. This cozy family-owned winery sits atop the exposed clay bluffs and overlooks Lake Okanagan, making it one of the most scenic vineyards to visit in Canada. The hearty Pinot Gris ($21) is made in the traditional French style, undergoing lees stirring before it is bottled. For an easy-drinking red, try Meritage ($23), a blend of the classic five Bordeaux varieties.
Waterfront Restaurant, the award-winning wine bar in Kelowna, lists Nichol, Howling Bluff, La Frenz, Laughing Stock and Red Rooster as a few of its favourites from the Okanagan Valley. “These vineyards produce greats wines consistently year after year,” says Shannon Forgues, Waterfront’s marketing manager.
Winery Tours in the Okanagan Valley
With a wide variety of tours to help you learn the finer points of imbibing, there’s no need to worry about your blood alcohol level. Grape Escapes offers half- and full-day tours ($64.25-$140.25), and a popular TGIF (thank god it’s fermented) program. During TGIF ($25/person), you can join locals every Friday from 5 pm to 7 pm until the end of October to tour three wineries close to downtown Penticton.
Owner Dean Douglas (nicknamed Dino Vino) says TGIF “encourages locals to explore the bounty of their own backyard in a way that’s affordable and quick.”
MORE ABOUT NARAMATA BENCH WINERIES
Location: The Naramata Bench is 14-kilometres long. It takes 5 hours to drive to it if you are heading east from Vancouver and 8 hours if driving west from Calgary. The region is on the southern end of Lake Okanagan, a few kilometres north of Penticton. (See map for detail of four wineries mentioned in the article.)
Wine Association website: naramatabench.com
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Note: Some images courtesy of the Naramata Bench Wine Association.