With the crush of tourists waning in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, fall is a great time to do some wine country exploring. My advice? Head to Okanagan Falls, a small town located between Penticton and Osoyoos. Visit now before the end of the season or mark down November 19 and 20th for the Holiday Cheer Open House when each of the 14 wineries in the Okanagan Falls Winery Association offering special releases, holiday gift ideas, and food and wine pairings. I recently visited seven of OK Falls wineries. Keep these notes handy, get set, and go.
A complete list and map of Okanagan Falls wineries can be found here.
The name stems from a 1929 incident led by Harley Hatfield, who used dynamite to loosen the nails of a church in the old mining town of Fairview. The wood was scooped up, taken to Okanagan Falls and the building was reassembled—where it remains to this day. The winery pays respect to that initiative and ingenuity in the marketing program, which promotes the story through tongue-in-cheek labels. But, don’t let the lightheartedness fool you; these wines have lovely character and undeniable structure.
You can’t go wrong with the 2015 Hatfield’s Fuse, a jaw-dropping blend of 12 varietals that unite in a tropical extravaganza on the tongue. Or, wrap your arms around Holy Moly, 100 per cent petit verdot, and winner of the Lieutenant Governor's award in 2015.
Ian and Jane Mavety first began growing and supplying grapes to commercial operations before releasing their own label in 1991. After the government’s initiative to replace hybrid grapes with vinifera, the Mavetys focused on noble varietals found in Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace. The second generation of Mavetys now spearhead the operation with son, Matt, as winemaker, and daughter, Christie, in the role of management and marketing.
Matt Mavety practises Burgundian viticulture techniques and sustainable farming methods. Ospreys and bluebirds are brought in for pest control and cover crops provide nutrients to the soil. Lake Vaseux helps to moderate the climate and sandy soil provides good drainage for the vines. High density planting creates competition between the vines and results in a greater concentration in the fruit. The 2015 sauvignon blanc, bursting with citrus and creamy mouth feel, is an impressive result of high density planting and Matt Mavety’s knowledge. This wine should be on everyone’s special occasion dinner tables. Blue Mountain is renowned for spectacular sparkling wines. Buy any of them. Buy them all.
The name reflects the owners’ financial backgrounds as well as the valuables bottled and sold here. It is a modern space with incredible attention to detail. Liquidity’s president, Ian MacDonald, recognized the beauty and the uniqueness of Okanagan Falls and convinced his partners that he needed to only “build a destination and they will come.” He was right.
The whole of Liquidity is a sensory awakening, from the drive up the winding road to the moment you enter the tasting room adorned with evocative, Canadian fine art. The wines, made by Alison Moyes, express integrity of both the process and the land, and are as elegant as the building in which they are housed.
The smells, sights and sounds emanating from the kitchen also evoke the senses. It’s tempting to linger in the bistro as you succumb to the lusciousness of the big, bold Dividends or the elegant 2014 Pinot Noir Estate while dining on local product delivered fresh from farmers each day.
Gerry Thygesen spent almost three decades as a brand builder in B.C. and marketing vice president in Washington State before entering the wine industry. He and his wife, Sue, an equestrian and a photographer, initially purchased the property in Kaleden for equine purposes, but after returning to the Okanagan in 2007, they converted the property to a vineyard and established Krāzē Legz, a winery with “Roaring 20s” theme. The label may be lighthearted, but the wines are all business, having garnered several years of major industry awards. The steep slopes of this vineyard contain shale and fossilized sandstone, an uncommon composition that provide unique characteristics to their wines.
The Skaha Vineyard label was introduced 2014. It shows an elegant black and white drawing of a horse, feathers twisted in its blowing mane. Skaha is the Okanagan indigenous word for horse—fitting, considering Sue Thygesen’s connection to the equestrian world.
Savvy wine seekers know to turn off Highway 97 at Kaleden. Follow them and take home the Skaha Vineyard Rogue, a gorgeous tawny port-style wine that you will want to share only with the closest of friends. The Krāzē Legz Black Bottom Stomp is full of dark cherry, chocolate and plum. It’s easier to find, easier to share, but just as lovely to sip.
Meyer Family Vineyards
Polished, dignified and world-class could describe any of the wines from Meyer Family Vineyards (MFV). President JAK Meyer states, “We focus on a few varietals and do them well.” Chardonnay and pinot noir are the primary varietals grown, with a small planting of gewürztraminer. JAK admits to never liking pinot noir but knew the varietal would grow well in the soils of the McLean Creek Road vineyard. Grow well, it does. It also places well in international competitions. The pinots have been featured six times in Decanter Magazine with the 2013 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir ranking as one of the best pinot noirs made outside of Burgundy.
MFV is one of the few Okanagan wineries that exports its product worldwide—to seven countries, and counting. Marks and Spencer, the UK based chain, carries MFV wines in 169 of their stores. Don’t leave home without a couple of bottles of the 2013 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir and the 2014 McLean Creek Chardonnay.
Like a scene from Narnia, the emerald lake appears past a bend in the road just before the winery. Grape vines and spruce trees mirror themselves in the undisturbed surface of the spring-fed lake. The water is high in alkaline and the surrounding soil abundant in minerals. Winds that blow across the water cool the air in the summer, and moisture that forms in the air protects the land from frost in the winter. The tasting room opened in 2015, but vines have been producing grapes here for over 15 years. Daniel and Christy Bibby, along with friends, David and Melanie Flotten, are the folks behind Nighthawk, the name derived from the little birds that return each spring to nest. The nighthawks provide pest control in the vineyard and are featured front and center on an Arcadianesque label designed by Okanagan artist, Alex Fong.
Nighthawk Vineyards is full of gems, both visual and drinkable. My picks: 2015 gewürztraminer, an elegant, complex elixir with stunning minerality, and the 2012 merlot, a sultry, full-bodied, big jammy beast.
Owners Jim and Lesley D’Andrea returned from Europe in 1998 with big dreams and a lot of optimism. They purchased three and a half acres of land south of Okanagan Falls and began planting noble varietals. The property has now expanded to 18 acres with winemaker Benoit Gauthier at the helm. The accolades are long and weighty and include several medals from the esteemed Chardonnay du Monde competition in France.
The view from Noble Ridge’s patio is cheap therapy. Guests are encouraged to bring their picnic baskets and have lunch on the terrace overlooking Vaseux lake. Cheese and charcuterie is available for sale and is the perfect accompaniment to The One, a sparkling beauty made from pinot noir and chardonnay in the classic French style. Get on its wine club list to receive exclusive offerings and never say no the King’s Ransom. It’s impossible to pick a favourite, but the cabernet sauvignon 2015 vintage tasting from the barrel was spectacular. Look for it in the 2016 Meritage to be released early summer 2017.