Seeya Later Ranch has a fun name and I had read that they had some incredible views and produced some pretty neat wines from their estate vineyards. The winery is only 5 kilometers from the main road but it is a windy and steep drive up a valley. When we arrived we were greeted by the friendly tasting room staff who were very knowledgable about the wines and allowed us to bring our pooch in (which is technically against the rules, but their logo is a dog and they raise money for the SPCA, so they are doggie tolerant!)
Ginnie enjoyed a tasting of their sparkling wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling that was indeed interesting and got the day off on the right foot. I was particularly impressed with their Gewürztraminer, which is produced from the 65-acres of vines right outside the winery door. This is a LOT of acreage of Gewürztraminer and apparently one of the largest in North America.
After this little diversion we would pass through other regions of the Okanagan Valley as we headed south towards Washington and as the drive was fairly short, I wanted to visit a couple of other wineries in the Oliver and Osoyoos areas.
Silver Sage winery has the kind of small production that I would like to write and know more about. It was started by a Romanian family, the Manolas in 1996, originally making fruit wines and then graduating to grapes. The winery is famous for a white Gewürztraminer wine that is actually fermented with sage plants to produce a semi-dry wine with a distinctive aroma of sage. This is not flavor that is imparted by the soil or the terroir but rather by adding the flavoring during the fermentation process. The lady in the tasting room was friendly as she explained it to me but did not offer a tasting which was a little odd, so I cannot vouch for the quality. It strikes me as more than a little strange and is certainly a unique, some might say criminal thing to be doing with wine. I hope to get hold of a bottle to taste and will report back, although I am not too hopeful that I will like it.
On the other hand, I adore Ice Wine and that made in the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, Canada, has reached incredible heights of quality and can now be seen on some of the best restaurant wine lists in the world. I am particularly impressed with the house of Inniskillin and have listed their Ice Wines in several of the restaurant wine lists that I have run in the past. I have also visited their Niagara winery so I was interested to see what they are doing at their sister estate in Oliver, Okanagan.
This is a much smaller winery than the Ontario one and yet they make some fascinating wines, including Ice Wines. The window of opportunity to pick the frozen grapes is very small, and when the word goes out, everyone associated with the winery shows up at 2:00am to gather them. A few years ago this was on New Year’s Eve and everyone left their parties and headed to the tiny vineyard. The results are half bottles of incredibly sweet, thick, luscious dessert wines made from Riesling and Vidal grapes that rival those from Germany. They are low in alcohol (because the residual sugar is very high) and yet they still maintain enough acidity to prevent them from cloying. In Oliver, they also make a totally unique Ice Wine from the Spanish grape, Tempranillo (they also make a still Tempranillo that is very good).
I was indeed fascinated by this wine which is the only pink Ice Wine I have every seen or heard about. The pink color comes not from any contact of the juice with the skins, as the juice is gently pressed out of the still frozen grapes and is therefore not in contact with the skins at all. Rather, it comes from the ice crystals themselves which have become slightly colored on the skins of the grapes during the freezing and thawing process in the lead up to the harvest. Inniskillin makes but 250 6-pack cases of this wine, which sells for $99.99 per half bottle and are available only from the Oliver winery. I was fortunate to be able to taste this incredible wine and the flavor remained with me for about an hour as we headed out of Canada and crossed the border back into Washington at Osoyoos.
After the extraordinary beauty of the Okanagan Valley, we were a little disappointed as we drove further south in Washington. Although the Columbia Valley is certainly pretty, the area does not become true wine country again until further south. Acres and acres of apple orchards predominate and you can see why Washington is so important to the fruit industry.
The lovely orchards gave way to the uninteresting area of the Columbia Basin and we decided to stop for the night in Moses Lake, ready for an early start the next day to go to Walla Walla.