The past two days in Osoyoos have been much more in tune with what should be a fundamental part of any vacation – good weather. The dull grey above has departed for parts unknown and a strange yellow globe now lends its warmth and candlepower to our surroundings.
Ohhh…right…that’s the sun! We haven’t seen it in so long it was all but totally forgotten.
The area in and around Osoyoos showed us much of what British Columbia offers – great scenery, fabulous orchards and some truly outstanding wines. This brought about the need to stop often to smell the roses…or in many cases (pun intended!), the wines. Mother doesn’t really enjoy the ‘juice of the vine’ the way we do so her sniffing and tasting was limited. A designated driver was a no-brainer so I took one for the team, appreciated many aromas, and left the wine tasting severely curtailed (until after the days excursions were done). However, my wife didn’t have either of those limitations. 🙂
Listing the many wineries we visited, and detailing the offerings we enjoyed, would make this blog quite boring very quickly. As well, given that wine is so intensely subjective to personal tastes, it would also be unfair. Suffice it to say if you have never been to the Okanagan Valley and really enjoy wine, you are missing out on some of the most wonderful wines in the world (and they have the medals to substantiate that comment). If you have been here before, you know why you need to come back.
Driving the short trip north to Penticton takes us deeper into Wine Country. Given the stiff penalty for littering ($2000) the highways are clean, but as in many places around the world, in need of some nip & tuck surgery here and there. However, the greater rainfall this year has brought out the very best in lush landscapes in the hills, in the trees and hanging flower pots around the cities and towns and in the personal expressions covering homeowner’s yards. Beyond the tasting of beverages, there remains much to do and see.
Our new accommodation was another B&B. The picture that now graces the top of my blog is what we had to face each and every morning after climbing out of bed. Not real hard on the eyes. 🙂 We had the lower floor of a two-story house complete with two bedrooms, full bathroom, kitchen, sitting area, living room and an awesome porch (where the picture was taken from). As it turns out, that same porch had its own BBQ which we also made use of.
Fox Ben (the name of our B&B – http://www.naramatabedandbreakfast-foxben.com/) is everything described in their website. Their pictures are a totally accurate view of what we enjoyed. If you are a ‘beach-bum’, their location in the upper Naramata Bench area is a little far from the sand but don’t let that dissuade you. Both water and sand are near enough to not pose any real difficulty in enjoying both. If, on the other hand, you are looking for ‘grape juice’ then you’d be hard pressed (puns abound!) to find a better neighborhood. Their locale aside, it’s a marvelous place to stay. The residence is great, the owners are very personable and breakfast each day was fabulous. AND, they only have room for one set of guests so, privacy reigns. What more do you want??
Breakfast done (upstairs in the main part of the house) we would then jump in the car and set out to wander the day away.
One day was spent touring ‘the bench’. Driving your own vehicle has its benefits – it’s certainly the least expensive way to go. However, the biggest drawback for the driver is the driving. If the driver doesn’t partake of the grape (which is fine) then no biggie. However if, like me, the driver does enjoy wine in all its flavors, then some of the fun is just not there. Now a chauffeur driven limo…THAT solution piques my imagination. One must keep in mind that with convenience, however, there is usually a price. Which could impact the amount of wine purchased (all for purposes of refilling the wine cellar and enjoyment over years, you understand. 😉 ) So it’s a tradeoff. I drove…and just kept telling myself I would enjoy them all at a future date. Much wine was found and into the trunk it went. Fortunately we could store it at the ‘home away from home’ so we didn’t need to jostle it around day after day.
Another day was spent taking a little jaunt up the road to Summerland (which has its own, albeit smaller though no less enjoyable, version of the bench). Later we stopped at a long-time friend’s home where we were treated to lobster tail for dinner. I should be so lucky more often. 🙂 And yes, more liquid in the trunk.
One more day, one more city – Kelowna. This time was more to see what has changed and do a little shopping than anything else. Having said that, from a cellar restoration perspective, it was not a wasted day. 😉
Our last day here was one of final discovery and re-visitation. A couple more wineries new to us were visited and a trip back to Mission Hill (we have been there a few times in the past) was also on the books.
Mission Hill is one of the oldest wineries in the valley. Keeping in mind the palate of one person is not the same as another, our return was not really for the wine. It was more to show mom its grandeur. It is easily one of (if not the most) beautiful wineries in the Okanagan Valley. If you have never been, you really should if you’re already in the area.
It also has a rather unique story behind it.
The lands were purchased in 1981 but it was 1994 when the real excitement began. In 1991 they began looking for a serious, qualified head winemaker. They found one and he started in 1992. His first vintage, a 1992 Chardonnay, was entered in the 1994 International Wine and Spirit competition.
It took Best Chardonnay Overall. That came as somewhat of a shock to the judges in the competition. So much so that it was remarked perhaps a mistake was made and maybe bottles were mixed up. After all, no one knew who Mission Hill was, or where the Okanagan Valley was and besides that, Canada doesn’t really make wine. It was decided, in fairness to all, the judging team would be completely reassembled, all the wines re-poured and the blind tasting would be done once again. Keep in mind this all happened after the competition was finished.
Mission Hill won. Again.
This pretty much helped set Canada and the Okanagan Valley on the world wine whereabouts (the REAL www).
A couple of years ago, my wife and I visited Mission Hill and I will admit I am not their wines biggest fan. At that time I spotted some ‘old’ Chardonnay on their shelves. I picked up two bottles, one six years old and one eight years old. Chardonnay is not typically a wine that ages well. But I am a big fan of oaked Chard and thought I would take the chance. Since then, both have been consumed with great delight. Age did not harm either at all. With that in mind, I thought I would look for more. None was (visibly) available. When I asked whether there were any still around, I was directed to their sommelier.
I told him of my experiences with their elder Chards in the past and my desire to obtain more if possible, but also understood there could easily be none left.
He looked around then quietly asked me to follow him. We left the tasting / retail area and quickly walked outside to another building that was clearly not open to the general public. After using his swipe card to enter, we passed through the outer, then inner double doors to a much more formal display enclave. He then explained this was a room set aside for ‘appointment/invitation only’ guests for private tastings. While showing me some of their older wines, he told me of the competition of ’94 and then pointed to one of the bottles on display – the 1992 Chardonnay that had done them so proud. I could only stand there in mute amazement. I never suggested that purchasing one would be the highlight of my trip, as much as it ran through my head, for a number of obvious reasons. But I certainly was more than a little happy he had chosen to share its story in these, more personal, surroundings.
We then left that room to the ante-room we had just gone through. Here he pushed on half the wall and a door opened.
Behind that door was a few older wines (including about a case or so of the ’92). He pulled out three vintages, all Chardonnay – 2005, 2006 and 2007 and asked if these were what I was looking for. I simply smiled and said yes to all three.
On our way back to the retail area he mentioned that he didn’t offer these to most people…only those that not only expressed an interest, but also displayed some knowledge of what they were trying to acquire. Every once in a while a person needs a pat on the back. I just got mine and remain very appreciative.