Babbling Bottles' road trip to the Oliver/Osoyoos wine region began in the Okanagan's central pivot, Kelowna. The area is Home to a veritable assortment of wineries scattered in a viniferous constellation across the valley from the South Okanagan Bench stretching north to Lake Country to the west to the volcanic soils of Mount Boucherie. the okanagan is teeming with pockets of unique microclimates that form an elemental kaleidoscope of terroir one can inhale, taste, and feel within every glass. Reislings sing a chorus of zesty citrus, granny smith apple and stony mineral finishes that deepen as they age. Pinot Noir finds a lasting harmony in the dry desert climate that allows the tight-knit ripening bunches to hang into the fall without an excessive paranoia of dreaded mould and mildew. It all comes together to work beautifully in the so-called 'California of Canada.'
It was because of this beloved 'heartbreak' grape that Babbling Bottles discovered one of West Kelowna’s few Organic Certified wineries, Kalala - or, 'Miracle Place'. Rolling up to Kalala’s estate vineyard in the heart of West Kelowna's Upper Bench, we were welcomed by a clean cut farmhouse seated at the forefront of a sprawling 17-acre vineyard. Sturdy stacks of American Oak barrels stood as sentries that greeted us as we pulled our Pathfinder into the shallow parking area set into the side of the expansive grounds.
Tanks, de-stemmers and various other pieces of vineyard equipment lay in organized rows down the left side of the yard while the all-important grape press stood front and centre, its faded robin's egg blue exterior artfully accented by a display of lovely orange lilies. The combined effect was similar to the visual comfort of a well-worn leather jacket: the character weathered into it over years of loving use, full of stories just waiting to be told.
I instantly fell for the well-used forklift positioned to the far side of the outdoor cellar area. Rustic charms of long streaks of faded paint heavily scraped from the sides coupled with a remarkably friendly countenance (think back to the adorably personified face of WALL-E). Full of character, the beater sat peering out from its outdoor station, humorously dwarfed by the various tanks surrounding it.
The tasting room consisted of a humble single story garage faced with modest building materials. The door was made of beautifully ornate solid wood and dressed up with two slender bottles of Kalala ice wine as custom handles that opened up an austere, concrete-floored tasting room with a single bar positioned on the far wall. Ice Wine is one of Kalala's specialties, a product for which it is internationally recognized. Last year the Chardonnay Ice Wine took Gold at the Chardonnay du Monde Competition in France.
Dimmed lighting and cooler temperature from the concrete floors added an aura of calm to the surroundings. Cool conditions are crucial in the cellar, and this element only added another layer of authenticity of the place. The tasting area is walled in on the left by tanks currently holding the latest vintage of Zweigelt. The rest of the available wall space was furnished with modern, open shelving housing hundreds of bottles just waiting to be bought and drank by thirsty locals and those who come from around the world to get a taste of the Okanagan's exceptional wine experience.
A lone tasting associate named Victoria greeted us kindly. During the course of our tasting, it became evident that she was more than a pretty face but contained a wealth of knowledge gained from working in the cellar. Originally based out of Niagara, Victoria came to the Okanagan to pursue her education in wine through an internship with Kalala. Her honesty and openness with the wines and her time in the industry added enormously to our experience, supplemented by the fact that we were not competing with dozens of tourists for her attention.
Babbling Bottles Number One Piece of Advice for educational wine tasting: go tasting during the week and go early, preferably before 1 pm. You will have an unparalleled memory of your visit (not one crowded by the throngs of tourists and busy parking lots), and you also have a much greater chance of having a true and intimate wine experience with the people that breathe life into this thriving industry. I cannot stress how much of a difference this makes when one is looking for something other than the wow-factor tourist experience. Take me to the cellar, take me to your dungeons, and show me your dirt, blood, sweat, and tears – so to speak. That is what makes great wine.
I was most curious to ask Victoria about the relationship Kalala has with another one of my favourite wineries, Blind Tiger, which is similarly a Certified Organic Winery from Lake Country. And indeed, Victoria confirmed that the two wineries were thick as thieves, consulting one another, sharing equipment, and aiding each other with the crucial processing of grapes that is heavily dependent on timing. Cooperation amongst wineries is the type of camaraderie that warms my soul and provides the overarching framework for success in the industry. When one winery wins, we all win as a burgeoning wine region gaining attention across the world.
The tasting began with the 2016 Chardonnay from Kalala’s Dostana label. It exuded the classic Chard notes: wood and spices on the nose followed by a full buttery mouth-feel, vanilla and baked pears lingered on the palate. The Dostana label represents the upper echelon of Kalala's portfolio and was created in homage to Kalala's consulting winemaker. Dostana translates as Friendship from Punjabi and is a highly appropriate tribute to celebrate the crucial relationship a winery owner forges with their winemaking partners. The Dostana series focuses in on Kalala's top-tier blocks of 35-year-old vines, creating small-batch wines that are "anything but traditional."
Next was the Dostana label 2015 Reisling, which burst forth with a veritable thrust of wild honey on the nose, followed closely by a soft dessert apple that excels with a pairing of ripe aged Gouda. A soft minerality reminiscent of gravel and loam was detected on the finish that will develop with time in the bottle. Interestingly, the wine is lightly oaked in American barrels for a month, adding a subtle creamy layer reminiscent of key lime pie. Ever an enthusiast for a good Reisling, I knew this was a fine bottle to add to the collection.
The one wine Babbling Bottles was eagerly awaiting was Kalala's 2015 Pinot Noir, a bottle of which I had recently purchased from West Kelowna's best specialty wine store, Cask and Barrel. And believe me, it did not disappoint the second time around! Soft, fragrant spice wafted up and curled around my nostrils. A healthy swirl in the glass released a tantalizing bouquet of black fruit aromas finessed with a refined oak program typical of Pinot styles in the Okanagan. The sip revealed a ripe meatiness of black cherry, licorice and wood spice accompanied by a slightly chewy, tannic finish still waiting to be softened by the timely forces of bottle ageing. This wine has the character of a velveteen dream - warm and elegant.
By the time we exited the unassuming tasting room of Kalala, Babbling Bottles felt we had made friends with this off-the-beaten-path winery. It was a raw, refreshing take on what it means to be a medium scale producer in amongst the veritable 'heavyweights' of the valley, the Mission Hills and Cedar Creeks and so on. With this opening stop, Babbling Bottles' whirlwind wine trip to the South Okanagan was off to a sanguine start.
This experience highlighted exactly what I was after on this trip: raw, real experiences with the people investing their hearts and souls in this industry, pouring their love of wine into every glass. Sure, Babbling Bottles is interested in the taste of the wine, but what’s more interesting is who’s making the wine, why they choose this industry, the methods they practice, and the underlying philosophy behind their work.
Kalala is currently in preparation for their 10th anniversary celebration, taking place the winery grounds July 7th, 2018. They will be releasing some special past vintages as well as give free tastings all week to celebrate! For more information about this event and the winery, visit Kalala's Website.
Next Stop: Hainle Organic Estate Winery and Vineyard!
XO Babbling Bottles