We set off from the Okanagan Mission on a particularly gloomy Wednesday, braving plumes of smoke that reduced visibility to several hundred metres. The smog was worsened by a temperature inversion that had trapped all the smoke at the bottom of the valley for several days. However, our trope of fiery ladies hot in pursuit of some smokin’ new vintages would not be dismayed– but really, what we should have done is popped over to Truck 59 Ciderhouse on the Westside to see if they could put out the flames! …OK, I’ll stop with the fire puns ;)
Driving along the quiet back road leading out from Glenmore it felt as if way too much time had passed since journeying to one of my favourite wine routes. The Lake Country sub-region is known for its lighter-bodied reds like Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot - although it is not uncommon to find bigger reds such as Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons, and so on sourced from the South Okanagan on the tasting menu as well. Estate grown whites are phenomenal aromatic wines bursting with fresh citrus and tropical fruit produced by the cooling effects of a daily mid-evening lake breeze. It was a shame pulling up to what is usually an exceptional view at Arrowleaf Cellars to see the sight blanketed with a thick ominous layer of impenetrable smoke. The sky blending in with the surface of the water produced mirages of sailboats floating in mid-air as various pleasure crafts skipped along a rippled surface of smoke. It was one of those heartbreaking moments when you look around at the crowds gathered, faces smiling, glasses raised in celebration, and realize that this IS the new normal. In fact, I caught myself thinking how lucky we were to have a fairly smoke-free July until the Peachland and Okanagan Mountain Park fires sprang up – among many others.
Despite the apocalyptic tone of the weather, the special company I had with me for a day of touring was more than enough to distract from the fatiguing, throat-scratching weather. I had my lovely sister Virginia, her good friend Miriam from university, and, of course, my better-half Andrew (our lovely photographer). It was less than a year ago that Miriam and myself had the pleasure of taking part in my lovely sister's wedding, and just over a year since we all enjoyed a full day of wine tasting on the Naramata Bench for Virginia’s bachelorette! Oh my, how time has flown. It feels like only a couple months ago we were sipping wine and enjoying the clear blue day on the Bench. It was an especially smoky August last summer in the Okanagan, but the clouds broke into a rainstorm the night before our big day out, giving the valley some relief from the thick drench of suffocating smog.
Reunited for another day of tasting, the four of us were determined to beat the smoke! First on the list was one of my go-to favourites, which I have certainly mentioned in previous posts: Blind Tiger Vineyards. One of my favourite things about this winery is that they are not afraid to hold back vintages until they are ready-to-drink. This especially relates to the reds. Last year we decided on the 2012 Speakeasy Red and let me tell you, it was a heavenly burst of velveteen dark fruits, warm spices and a lengthy textural vanilla finish. This wine gave new meaning to the whimsical definition of Wine: [noun] a hug in a glass.
Blind Tiger has an intriguing name that originates from the days of prohibition. It absolutely gets my history-geek juices flowing! The story goes that back when liquor was made illegal, speakeasy’s developed a code for patrons. People would pay to go see the ‘Blind Tiger,’ but in reality they were paying admission to drink at a secret tavern, usually located in the basements of cafes, restaurants and the like. In most cases, a statue of a tiger or pig would be positioned outside of the establishment. If the blindfold was on, it was safe to enter the speakeasy, as the ‘pigs’ eyes were blind. It was a daringly raucous way to aggravate law officials, who themselves could barely keep up with closing one Blind Tiger before another would pop up. The Blind Tiger website salutes Will Rogers in saying, “Prohibition is better than no liquor at all!”
Despite being a weekday we arrived to find Blind Tiger packed with guests enjoying tastings inside while outside on the patio one could indulge in a refreshing gewürztraminer slushy and woodfire pizza from Marno’s food truck! Inside the tasting room I couldn’t help but get distracted instantly by the selection of Village Cheeses available for purchase – onion and chive, tomato basil Monterey jack… Mmmm. Like so many other foodies in this world, I am a sucker for good cheese!
The portfolio of wines did not disappoint. The creamy texture of the Pinot Gris brought me back to last winter in the wine cellar where one of my daily tasks involved stirring up the lees (dead or dormant yeast cells) that collect in the bottoms of barrels. Regular lees’ stirring imparts richer textures and a creamy element to the wine. This textural element contrasts beautifully with the citrus and stone fruit characteristics of young cool-climate varietals like Pinot Gris and can also make for interesting combinations when used non-traditionally. One example that comes to mind is the Gewurztraminer Revolution of The View that combines barrel ageing and lees stirring to bring out a lovely creamy, spicy characteristic in the wine.
The 2014 Reisling had taken on a few aged hints of minerality and muted citrus aromatics, with the taste of a ripened pear flecked with honey and crushed almond. The 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir was exceptional, full and lush with a velvet finish. I surprised myself and walked away with the 2016 Pinot Gris, more out of seasonal favoritism I suppose, or maybe because here at the house we already have a couple bottles of delicious Blind Tiger Pinot Noir resting in the makeshift basement cellar, just waiting for the opportune moment to present themselves in a moment of undeniable indulgence.
The day was certainly off to a stellar start! We were off to our next winery: The Chase. Stay tuned for Part Two where I get into more about our lovely day of tasting along Lake Country's wine route and examine some significant findings regarding smoke taint in the vineyard from Wesley F. Zandberg of The University of British Columbia.
ALL ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY © AMBER RAE BOUCHARD