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.
Lovely article. I might just be planning my next summer around it. More from Angela please.
Hi Sebastian- glad that you are inspired to go… hopefully you’ll see more of me on Toque and Canoe 🙂
Bruce MacMillan commented:
Really enjoyed the light crisp palatable approach. Really all about people, nicely written, and researched.
Thanks for the kind words, Bruce. I had an amazing time and was very lucky to have met some incredible people.
Adam Rostis commented:
Loved hearing about boutique wineries in BC from Angela… excellent piece! Wish we could find some of the vintages in other parts of Canada! But, failing that… I’d definitely be up for a visit to them when I’m out that way next.
Sounds like you need to come out and explore the Okanagan!
Julie Kerr commented:
Great article – makes me thirsty!
Monica Mooney commented:
This was so informative and delightfully written. One can tell you really enjoyed the whole experience. I’m hooked and ready to pack my bags.
Kudos for a job well – no excellently – done. You have peaked my interest in trying new wines and you made me fall in love with Okanagan.
David Lee commented:
Following retirement some friends of mine moved to the valley and claim it is heaven. This helps confirm it. Their urgings for me to visit are more compelling today.
I have to say reading this, I am convinced all estate and wine reviews should be done by poets. Brilliantly more sumptuous and lively than the usual catalogue tone. Takes art to describe art I suppose.
Dwight Sick commented:
Angela thank you for the kind words and for so acurately putting to paper my thoughts about the wines we shared in the cellar. I hope we cross paths again one day soon. Nerude? LOL.
Well, Dwight… when you started talking about your wines? You sounded like Neruda talking about his women. Embrace your inner poet! Hope to meet up with you again in the future.
A wonderful article. I feel as though I am intimately connected to the wineries and the people responsible for their magic.
Pascal's Patisserie commented:
Next: the poetry of pastry! Thank you Angela for such a refreshing, poetic take on the art of wine. Your beautiful words made me realize the similarities of a boutique winemaker like Dwight and a boutique pastrymaker like Pascal; we both work with living ingredients to create something – in partnership with nature – grapes in Stag Hollow’s case and in ours wheat and butter and air – that gets interpreted and then celebrated when the moment of finishing arrives. Very sensual stuff! All food writers could to take a page from your book. Merci!
Salut Pascal’s! I must come by and sample- my favourite from when I lived in Jarnac?? Pain au chocolat 🙂
Lotte Sloan commented:
What a beautifully written article. It totally captures the spirit of the winemakers, the wine and the region. What a pleasure to read!
Thanks, Lotte! Much appreciated.
Michael Januska commented:
Now I want to go to there. Checking my Aeroplan miles…
Michael, you would not be disappointed.