Lake Okanagan is the first place in North America that reminds me of the Swiss lakes, On Tuesday we saw it in its full glory and I fell in love. We drove from our cottage just south of Penticton and headed up the east side of Lake Okanagan to the Naramata Bench, a wine growing area of great distinction. First port of call was Township 7 winery where I met with owner, Mike Raffan and winemaker Brad Cooper. Mike was originally a successful restaurateur who owned restaurants in Vancouver but since his early 20s had wanted to own a vineyard. He was finally able to purchase township 7 in 2006 and has created a boutique label with a sister winery in Langley. Brad, the winemaker, learned his trade at the local college and honed it with time in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand and Washington State. When I asked him about his style, predictably he says that he wants to create a style of wine that is true to the region and not try to emulate European or New World although in reality, he draws from both of those styles to create wines that are truly unique.
I had tasted the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc the day before at dinner and was remarkably impressed with it. Full-on fruit with a gorgeous, Pouilly Fume-style nose that had bracing acidity yet balanced structure and a long finish showed that this was a wine of great character. On Tuesday they were bottling the 2010 and I tasted it right from the bottling line. This is from the same pedigree but evidently needs time to settle and "calm down" as at that point it seemed a tad too acidic. They, and everyone else in the valley had challenges in the last two vintages and 2011 is also very much behind where they would like to be because of cool, wet weather.
The 2007 Merlot that I enjoyed later that day is also a very well made wine that again has influences from Right Bank and New World that provide a personality that is unique. Red fruits and a hint of pepper and spice, but not too much make it a perfect food wine and all of Township 7's portfolio is commendable. With prices in Canada being considerably more than the equivalent in USA, their wines are also good value. Owing to some complicated and archaic liquor laws, distribution is a challenge for all Canadian winemakers (a theme we heard repeated many times) and so you are unlikely to find the wine outside of British Columbia which is a shame. However, search it out if you visit as they are distinguished wines that deserve a wider audience.
Further along the Bench is Red Rooster, a winery that looks grander and is larger in scope than many of the other 100 wineries that dot the Okanagan landscape, but is actually still relatively small. The original Swiss owners, Beat and Prudence Mahrer who opened it in 1990 and produced their first vintage in 1997, now own Ruby Tuesday's next door (see below). They recently sold Red Rooster to Andrew Peller and a young local winemaker, Karen Gillis is at the helm producing some fine wines that have won international acclaim. The winery is quirky and features unusual art as well as having incredible views up the valley to the Okanagan Lake.
After buying some Ruby Tuesday wine to take to our dinner hosts, we picnicked on the banks of the lake and breathed in the views. Dinner with step-son's girlfriend's aunt and uncle (!) was at their cottage on the lake. As we sat on the patio and watched the lake and mountains, Ginnie and I dreamed of having our own place here. Such is the magic of the region, the wines and the people who fill it with hospitality and sunshine.