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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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British Columbia wineries

Sunset dinner in the vineyard at the Vanilla Pod

IMG_9482.jpgLingering over dinner at Poplar Grove’s Vanilla Pod restaurant during a warm smoky summer sunset is one of those memories to be teased out on a grey January day.

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Summer in a glass.
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Negroni sunset
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Creme brulee with namesake vanilla pod. Tastes even better than it looks…

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Poplar Grove is perfectly positioned for its views of Okanagan Lake.
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Post dinner trip up Munson Mountain to watch the strange sunset.

IMG_9495.jpgThinking of all the evacuees worrying about their houses and their land and the hard working fire crews and wishing for a good soaking rain…

Naramata Cider Company Rest Easy pork chops in a cream sauce

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The secret ingredient — Cider Maker’s Select … Rest Easy from the Naramata Cider Company

Seasoned with garlic cloves and shallots, this easy to make pork chops recipe is elevated into the stratosphere with its apple and blackberry hard cider and velvety cream sauce. Adapted from blogger queen of France’s Mimi Thorisson’s new cookbook, French Country Cooking, the recipe takes less than a half hour to prepare.

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Keeping it local…all the ingredients were sourced in the Okanagan Valley including the Naramata Cider Company Rest Easy, lovely thick pork chops from T-Bones in Penticton, cream from D Dutchman Dairy and vegetables from my garden and the Penticton Farmer’s Market.

Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, 2.5 cm thick
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 2/3 cup Rest Easy Naramata Cider Company apple and blackberry cider
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

IMG_6972.jpgDirections

Preheat oven to 325F

Score the pork chops on both sides and season all over with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes. Add the pork chops and garlic cloves, reduce the heat to medium and cook just until the juices run clear (about 7 minutes per side).

Transfer the pork chops to an ovenproof dish, put the sage leaves on top and spoon the pan drippings over all. Put in the oven to keep warm.

Increase the heat under the pan to high and pour in the cider. Boil for 2 minutes to reduce. Add the heavy cream, stir until thickened and remove from the heat.

Pour the sauce on top of the chops and serve. Pair with the remaining cider!

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Okanagan Noir chocolate sozzled cherry cookies

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I created this recipe to showcase the unveiling of a bespoke Okanagan chocolate. With this trademarked chocolate the Okanagan Valley has put the frosting on its reputation as Canada’s food and wine capital. Chocolate, wine and orchard fruit…yes!

Until you can get your hands on this beautiful chocolate from Okanagan College, the locally-sourced CC Orchards Naramata dried cherries and special Wild Goose Dunkelfelder wine to create the ultimate gooey, chocolatey, tart cookie I will suggest substitutes…

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Okanagan College is the first post-secondary institution outside of Europe and only the second in the world to create its very own chocolate recipes. The exclusive milk and dark chocolate recipes were created by Chef Danny Capadouca and Chef Bernard Casavant last summer when the pair traveled to Paris to the Or NoirTMII tasting laboratories of Cacao Barry, a chocolate company founded in 1842. More on how you design a chocolate in an upcoming post on the blog with an interview from Chef Bernard…It’s tough work right?

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Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces Okanagan Noir chocolate (or 70% cocoa dark chocolate), coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups dried CC Orchards cherries, firmly packed (9 ounces)
  • 1 cup Wild Goose Dunkelfelder (or other fruit-forward red high quality red wine)
  • icing sugar for dusting (optional)
  • further 1/2 cup of Okanagan Noir or other high-quality dark chocolate for drizzling over baked cookies (optional)

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Directions

The night before you want to make your cookies, macerate (soak) the 1 1/2 cups of dried cherries in one cup of red wine overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Strain the cherries reserving the wine to drink! Chop the cherries into two or three pieces; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract; beat until well combined. Add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed, until just combined. Do not overbeat.

With a wooden spoon, fold in Okanagan Noir chocolate and cherries. (Dough can be frozen at this point, wrapped well in plastic, up to 1 month; thaw completely before baking.)
Form balls of dough, each about 1/4 cup; place balls on baking sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake until puffed and cracked, 9 to 11 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Dust with icing sugar and drizzle melted Okanagan Noir over the icing sugar topped cookies for even more chocolatey flavour.

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Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, up to 3 days. Three days? As if that is going to happen…

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Naramata’s Bella sparkles in the Canadian wine scene

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British Columbia’s only winery exclusively dedicated to bubbles and one of a very few in Canada, Bella Sparkling Wines focuses on single vineyard expressions of classic Champagne grape Chardonnay and Gamay Noir, an underdog BC grape that won’t be for long. Bella is special too as the exceptional sparkling wines are made using traditional and ancestral methods.

Newsflash: Making wine, as everyone in the Okanagan Valley knows, is hard work. It’s dependent on the weather and growing conditions that change from year-to-year. It’s about hard physical, unglamorous, labour. It’s about finicky science with art, research, education, knowledge and risk thrown in. Making sparkling wine? Double, triple, quadruple the work. Making traditional and ancestral (natural) sparkling and the work goes off the scale.

 

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Bella Wine Maker/Owner Jay Drysdale showing me how his painstaking work riddling has dislodged particles allowing them to settle out at the mouth of the bottle making it possible to remove the sediment during the discorging step

Found a niche

“I love what I do,” says Bella wine maker/owner Jay Drysdale. “It’s hard to get a true sense of the fruit with so much makeup,” says Jay. “I love to see what the ground gives us with nothing added to hide the flavours or strip the colours.

“It may be hard but we have also found a niche.” After a thoughtful pause, Jay says, “I don’t know how to put this properly but it is amazing to share my science experiments, work at making the wine better and better and share my passion with others.”

Mission accomplished. Bella, now five years in, is selling out of all they produce and is garnering a loyal and effervescent following.

 

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Sur lie aging happening here.

Riddle me this?

How many times does Jay touch a bottle to do a process such as hand riddling  and hand discorging before it’s sold? “About 85 times,” says Jay. “All we do has become the norm and we don’t really think about it anymore but the 2,000 cases we produce is a lot to do by hand.”

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Jay says Bella is about using traditional techniques that are a dying art. Jay likens what he does to the pushback in what’s happening with our food. “Our grandparents used real butter in their food. Our generation went to using margarine and all the stuff that’s put into that. Now we are seeing why our grandparents’ generation were healthier and enjoyed better tasting food.”

Of Bella’s 2,000 cases, 500 of them are natural wine made with ancestral methods. When wine was first made 8,000 years ago, it was not made using packets of yeast, vitamins, enzymes, reverse osmosis, cryoextraction, powdered tannins…among other additives and processed used in winemaking worldwide. Wines were made from crushed grapes that fermented into wine. Full stop.

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Wines getting their sparkle on in riddling racks are a beautiful thing.

Traditional and ancestral methods

Jay explains that his wines made with the traditional method involve a first ferment in a tank. The clear wine on top is then racked or siphoned off the murky lees and sometimes aged in oak barrels during or after this clarification and racking. The second step involves bottling with the addition of yeast and sugar for the second ferment. This is where the riddling comes in. Jay grabs each bottle, giving it a small shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, every day over a period of one to four weeks. The shaking and the twist dislodges particles that have clung to the glass and prevents sediments from caking in one spot. (A Gyropalette is on Jay’s wish list…a computer-automated machine that would reduce his workload enormously.) The final step is discouraging where a small amount of wine is released along with the sediment plug.

Natural wine has only one ferment involved and no added yeast, sugar or sulphur.

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Jay pouring me a flute of Orchard House Gamay, a natural wine made with ancestral methods so I could compare it to a glass of traditional Champagne-style sparkling made with Chardonnay.

We compared Bella’s first vintage of Orchard House Gamay with a glass of their traditional Champagne-style sparkling, B2 (Buddhas Blend), 100 per cent Chardonnay from two vineyards, one in Oliver and one in Kamloops to blend two levels of acidity. (Editor’s note – I love my job.) The traditional style was lovely. To quote Dom Perignon, “I am drinking the stars!” Fresh, dry, citrus notes.

Bella’s Orchard House Gamay, with grapes from a small holding on the Naramata Bench was more flavourful with sherry, apricot and peach notes and it was a lovely pale pink. Made with traditional methods, the sparkling wonderfulness was made with Gamay Noir that remained on the lees for a year in a tank. The lees act as a natural preservative and as long as it stays smelling clean no sulphur is required. As Jay says, each sip tasted a little differently. (Editor’s note – for better or worse re the writing quality – I’m sipping a glass as I write this. Worth a typo or two…)

The lucky students at my Naramata-Blend valentine baking class will be among the first to sample Orchard House Gamay, this special sparkling of only 40 cases that will be released for Valentine’s. There are a few tickets left if you want to learn to bake fancy French pastries with Chef Amanda Perez of The White Apron Co.

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Orchard House Gamay will be a treat for students at the next Naramata-Blend baking class just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Champagne love story

For their first date Jay took Wendy Rose and his dog (Bella) truffle hunting just outside of Portland, Oregon. They had a lot in common including a shared rich culinary background. Jay was a retired chef, currently working in the wine industry and Wendy grew up in a household where her mom was a chef and her dad’s only hobby was wine. Long story short, the couple has been celebrating ever since. Wendy and Jay founded Bella in 2011 on a four-acre Naramata homestead that incorporates vineyard, pigs, chickens, bees, organic gardens and heritage fruit.

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I left Bella with a bottle of sparkling and two dozens freshly laid eggs. I love Naramatians –shirt off their back = wine from their cellar. Their view…winter or summer…is stunning.
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The ultimate oxymoron…Beautiful Bella is located on Gulch Road in Naramata which always brings to mind The Wizard of Oz’s Miss Gulch whose alter-ego was the Wicked Witch.
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Got carried away with photos of the bubbly on the riddling racks. Just so cool after all my visits to traditional Okanagan wineries.

A lullaby to sleeping vines

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Naramata Bench vines lie sleeping under a blanket of snow
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Vineyard workers rest along with the vines
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Insulating snow helps protect the dormant vines
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Bud break is a few months away
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Rare sunny day in winter in the Valley
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Short days as the sun starts to set in the late afternoon over Okanagan Lake

A Calgary Highlander plays a mournful lullaby at Legend Distilling on the Naramata Bench.

The long gleaming farewell

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Old vines with the Naramata Bench in the background

We are into borrowed time now in our gilded season. The low, slanting light that is wonderful for photography and that fleeting feeling, knowing the blue skies and gold light will too quickly fade to our long season of gray are getting me outside every chance I get.

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The light: thick, plush, gold is not something we are imagining. The position of the sun in the sky is changing. That, in turn, alters how we perceive colour and light. In the height of summer, the sun is as far overhead as it gets. But the sun drops and drops after the summer solstice in June — and the change speeds up at the midpoint toward winter, which is the light I’m capturing in these photos.

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This special golden light is also great for photographing people bathing everyone in a warm glow.

The farther from the equator, the more obliquely the sun’s light strikes Earth — that’s the longer, slanted light we are bathed in now, instead of the full-on beams we bask in at high summer.

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Such a great name for the winery where these shots were taken…Blue Mountain… yup.

Winter is coming but not first without this gleaming farewell.This year’s fall colour has been supreme. No hard frosts or strong winds to crash the party early so nature can do its thing and linger in all its golden glory.

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The view from Blue Rock on North Naramata Road yesterday.
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Still nice enough for a sail on Okanagan Lake.

See Spot Run: Spot prawns, Sauv Blanc and the SS Sicamous

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These BC delicacies taste better than any prawn you’ve ever eaten…they should…they cost an astounding $18 a pound.

A sold-out crowd of about 100 wined on 10 Okanagan wineries’ takes on Sauvignon Blanc and dined on three famous local chefs’ versions of spot prawns on a heritage paddle wheeler. I have a wonderfully scribbly, tomato-stained notepad to show for it and a spot or two of my own on my white blouse. OK by me. It was just the right number of people to fill the beautifully-restored SS Sicamous to create a convivial buzz of talk and laughter and the feeling that this was the perfect place to be on a Sunday afternoon in Penticton.

The inaugural Wine Party (Jennifer Schell and Terry Meyer-Stone) spotlight event was designed to focus on a local sampling of a single varietal paired with the BC shellfish that has risen to superstardom in the seafood world. Spot prawns are such a big deal in the culinary world that it’s gotten to the point where it’s very hard to part fisherman from some of their catch before it heads overseas to lucrative markets and if you do, the prices are higher than for lobster. This year’s catch is 50 per cent more than last year’s, partly because Asia’s farm-raised tiger prawn industry has been decimated by a disease.

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The S.S. Sicamous almost stole the show from the spot prawns, Sauv Blanc and the food and wine lovers, wine critiques and wine industry guests at the event.

What’s the big deal about spot prawns? The little critters are large, sweet, firmly fleshed and are harvested sustainably for about 80 days every spring off BC’s coast in the inside waters of  Vancouver Island.

The Spotlight on Sauvignon Blanc and Spot Prawn Festival chefs worked some magic with those already tasty crustaceans.

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Chef Mark Ashton of Lake Breeze’s The Patio created a lime creole cream blackened spot prawn that was my favourite. It was the cream…

 

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Chef John Burke of Penticton’s Front Street Brasserie did his version on a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich. Here is where my scribbles got the best of me…ingredients included spot prawn, lime, pickled carrot, mint and cilantro and pickled green chili peppers. Apologies Chef Burke if I’ve left anything out. These had a delicious and refreshing hit of lime and were unbelievably tasty.
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Chef Ross Derrick of The Table at Codfathers Market in Kelowna got his spot prawns from the market’s fishmonger, Jon. He served his ceviche-style and added in albacore tuna to the spot prawn mix with a super fresh tasting pineapple, lemon and lime juice with a hint of chili and garlic with a tomato pico sauce and some spicy cream fraiche. Yum. This is where it got a bit messy…

I now get what the big deal is about spot prawns. A doggie bag would have been an idea…

“Our Wine Party brand is about education as well as fun and this type of event allows people to experience a range of styles produced here in the Okanagan,” says Jennifer Schell. We are spotlighting the local version of the varietal — many wine drinkers immediately think of New Zealand when they think of Sauv Blanc — so we are aiming to redirect their palates here.”

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Fairview Cellars, located at the north end of the Benches of the Golden Mile, offered a thoroughly enjoyable Sauv Blanc.

Lovely glasses of summer-in-a-glass Sauv Blanc was poured by these fine wineries:

“Can you believe this venue?,” says Jennifer. “I immediately fell in love and couldn’t believe I hadn’t been on it before. That will not be the last Wine Party event on the SS Sicamous.”

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SS Sicamous was built for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1914 and is a landmark at the northwest entry to Penticton on Highway 97.
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The event took place largely in the Ladies Saloon which features a large mirror and electric lights from the early 1900s. The luxury class passenger vessel used to transport passengers and cargo to remote communities along the shores of Okanagan Lake.
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I snuck away from the crowd to savour a glass of Lake Breeze Sauv Blanc in this lovely part of the vessel.  The ship is now operated by the SS Sicamous Marine Heritage Society, with help from the City of Penticton.

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We’ve come a long way baby. I wonder what the crew of the ship would make of the wine and spot prawn party and some of its interesting guests?

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Renée Stewart (Operations & Sales Manager) and her mom, Jeannine Fradelizio are pictured here with Jeannine’s cool invention, Wine Glass Writer. These fantastic pens helped me keep track of my wine glass throughout the event.  Beats a wine charm. Who can ever remember which charm you had?

 

 

Down Bottleneck Drive and into the Summer side of the lake

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It’s rare that you don’t need to enhance your photos by upping the colour saturation…this photo of the view from Summerland’s Thornhaven Estate Winery is untouched but you won’t be if you visit.

Being spoiled for choice of wineries to visit in my own Naramata Bench neighbourhood, we rarely venture down the road to OK Falls or Oliver or across the lake to Summerland which we view from our deck, but we really should get out more. A trip to Thornhaven Estate Winery and some time spent in those red chairs is time perfectly spent. I have a soft spot for anything do with Summerland because any town with “Summer” in it seems like a warm and happy place…add a glass of their Infusion frizzante and the happy metre goes into the red chair zone.

Jan Fraser, who with her husband Jack, started the winery as a “retirement” project says, “There is something special about the wineries in Summerland. I think it has to do with how many of them are family-owned. They are all pretty special out here and their is a lot of pride.” In addition to Jan and Jack, who also run Jackson Height’s vineyard, their son Jason is winemaker and cellarmaster for the estate and oversees three of Thornhaven’s Summerland vineyards. Daughter Cortney heads sales and marketing for the winery and with husband Nick oversees the Elmo’s Vineyard, where the winery grows its unique Orange Muscat.

The family is celebrating the 15 anniversary of Thornhaven in the best way possible with the release of their XV, which is the Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend available just at the winery. If you like pink and bubbles (yup), their Infusion is made from classic Champagne vareitals Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I loved it.

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The two special 15th anniversary releases.

The family has a lot to celebrate. Jan says she is most proud of being around 15 years. Thornhaven was only the third winery in Summerland when they opened. “It’s great to be part of a community of wineries now which makes such as a nice destination for wine touring.” The Bottleneck Drive Winery Association, of which Thornhaven is an active participant and booster,  now has 19 members including a fruit winery and cidery. Among the members are Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Silkscarf Family Boutique Winery, and 8th Generation Vineyard.

IMG_9159.JPGDaughter Cortney says she is most proud of her brother Jason. “We never set out to make award-winning wines. Our goal was to make really good wines but it’s a happy surprise to be recognized and it’s all down to Jason. He has control of the vineyards to the cellar to bottling, until the wine hits the shelves. Have to give it to him. We are already having an award-winning season taking two golds at Spring Wine Festival, for the XV and our 2015 Gewürztraminer. With so many wineries now its such a great surprise that we make really great wines too.”

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Known for it’s killer views of the valley and Okanagan Lake, Thornhaven ratchets it up a notch with free entertainment on the patio on summer weekend afternoons.

Thornhaven has grown from producing 2,800 cases to about 5,600 and the hard work is still engaging, Jan says. “The wine changes every year and we add new things like the frizzante.” Cortney chimes in saying, “It’s dangerously easy drinking.” I can testify to that. It was a good thing the Handyman was driving.

The family is expanding with the addition of Cortney’s three children and it’s looking like the family business may remain so for years to come. “Cortney, our first to reach Kindergarten age, was in class and the kids were working on learning how to set the table. After everything was placed, Cortney says, ‘This is where the wine glasses go.’ I explained to the teacher that we are in the wine business so she didn’t get the wrong idea.” Cortney added that local teachers get a lot of bottles of wine at the end of the year versus I Heart Teachers mugs. I bet they are OK with that.

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You are welcome to bring your own picnic to enjoy on the patio. Light snacks like bruschetta, cheese, charcuterie and crackers are available to buy along with Thornhaven wine by the glass.

If all the other Bottleneck Drive wineries are as warm and welcoming as Thornhaven and their wine as good, I can understand what Jan means about Summerland having a unique vibe. “It’s a pretty great community of like-minded people who know what it takes to get great wine into the bottle,” she says.

Like the movie “Sideways” here is a bit of digression. This little bear cub is peeping in the window of our deck doors as I write this. You know the feeling when you’re back is turned and someone is watching…

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Cheers to the Okanagan.

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