This summer, we had the opportunity to send Calgary writer Angela Dillon to the Okanagan where she toured a select group of boutique wineries and spent time with the passionate folks behind them.
She returned totally smitten with the region, which was recently featured in New York Magazine in an article entitled “Ditch Napa for the Okanagan Valley.”
Given Angela’s status as writer AND poet, we weren’t surprised at how she chose to tackle this assignment – focussing not only on the people behind B.C.’s flourishing wine industry, but also on the “notes and nuances” of the wines themselves.
The stories behind the wine are ‘the thing.’
And – during a recent tour of several boutique Okanagan vineyards – I hear many tales from the risk-taking visionaries behind the wine.
Take Dwight Sick from Stag’s Hollow. He believes wines are either male or female – a concept that has me searching for love stories every time I take a sip.
A master of creating provocative wines that beguile the palette, Dwight is the Neruda of winemakers.
He describes his 2008 Syrah as something akin to a “ballerina wearing boxing gloves” and I find myself smitten. I want to taste that uppercut and swirl that right jab around till it dances on my tongue.
My chance comes in the coolness of the cellar when he siphons four samples of various wines aging in different casks. The second wine, a merlot-in-the-making, does it for me. I taste a ripe haiku of plums and cherries, simple and poignant and clean.
Dwight isn’t the only one who waxes rhapsodic when describing his wines.
Richard da Silva, of Misconduct Wines Co. says winemaking should be fun and self-deprecating. I love it when he says if wine isn’t doing “some sort of Jackie Chan thing in the cellar,” then it’s in trouble.
He’s humble but edgy and he’s part of a new generation of like-minded winemakers. Not only does he push the limit in the glass, but he also goes the extra mile on the labels he chooses.
The label on his 2009 Chenin Blanc Viognier – with its Tiffany-blue background and shimmering gold embossed Latin – is downright cheeky.
You see what appears to be a family crest, one rampant lion’s paw raised in gesture to the other. Upon closer scrutiny, the raised paw is actually raising a middle finger. This maneuver is, I’m told, the result of a longstanding soccer bet he has with a buddy – another winemaker in the valley.
Impish salutes aside, this wine is delicate and sophisticated, complemented beautifully with a food pairing of lemon basil sorbet and sea salt. Together, they are transcendent.
My last stop of note is the Upper Bench Winery & Creamery – owned and operated by Gavin Miller, the winemaker, and his wife Shana, the cheesemaker.
Gavin is deeply contemplative in a reserved British kind of way. And when he talks about his wine, he has an air of command – like J.F. Kennedy giving a speech.
“We own our creative vintages like you’d own a painting,” he declares.
I ask Shana in a more candid moment if she believes her emotions transfer into the cheese she’s making. She looks at me, incredulously, nodding and smiling, and then she outs herself: she sings to her cheeses.
I’m not surprised, and the silken morsel of Grey Baby blue cheese I pop into my mouth takes on a grander significance.
I imagine it melting into songs sung by Shana – encouraged to harmonics by a lovely sip of Gavin’s 2011 Pinot Gris.
How to describe this wine? Well, I’m starting to flirt with the idea that I’m an expert on these things after only four days of wine-tasting. If you ask me, this wine is crisp like a white dress and tastes of pear, finishing dry.
She’s like the popular debutante. Quite female; quite fantastic.
Note: Our writer was hosted by our partners in tourism. This story was not reviewed or edited by our partners in tourism before publication.