Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


Wineries and distilleries

Harvest with Naramata vineyard pioneer

IMG_3141.jpgWe chat quietly with whomever is closest to us in the row as we bend and search for the attachment points (there is actually a word for these…peduncles) for the gorgeous clusters of Malbec and snip and toss them into the lugs. It’s a glorious 14 degrees with not a cloud in the sky in a beautiful piece of the Naramata Bench called Rock Oven Vineyards perched just above Lake Breeze Winery. If I’m working next to Barry (Irvine), who along with his wife Sue, own the vineyard, I ask him about the grapes we are harvesting, what they will be made into and the Naramata wine industry.


Malbec (sometimes called Côt and Auxxerois) is from France, where it grows in the Sud-Ouest. The thin-skinned grape is a natural cross of two esoteric varieties that are from Montpellier and Gaillac in the Sud-Ouest. Today the majority of France’s Malbec is found in Cahors, a small town on a switchback river that gently flows towards Bordeaux.

Malbec quickly became common as a blending grape in Bordeaux’s top five wine grapes. However, because of the grapes’ poor resistance to weather and pests, it never surfaced as a top French variety. Instead, it found a new home in Mendoza, Argentina where a nostalgic French botanist planted it by order of the mayor in 1868. It also grows well in our increasingly hot and dry Okanagan climate.

Malbec produces an inky, dark, full-bodied red wine. Expect rich flavours of black cherry, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry. Malbec wines typically have an aroma of leather, spice and herbs. As with all wines, the characteristics of Malbec can be unique to the area in which it’s grown, but it typically has medium ripe tannins with rich acidity and a smoky finish.

The lovely tasting Malbec we are picking will go right to Lake Breeze and will become a Rosé. The 2016 varietal was award-winning and has sold out.


Barry and Sue Irvine sat on their deck overlooking Okanagan Lake sipping wine almost three decades ago with the founders of Hillside Cellars, Lang Vineyards and Wildgoose discussing the farmgate proposal they spearheaded together that eventually lead to these small producers being allowed to sell their own wine.

“I remember talking to Premier Bill Vander Zalm who said that all the orchards on the Bench would eventually be replaced by vineyards,” says Barry. “I didn’t believe him at the time.”

The Irvines converted their cherry orchards to vines beginning in 1981.


In more recent years, they have sold off much of their vineyards but are still keeping their hand in with the Malbec we are harvesting and with some unusual Schonberger grapes.


Barry says that the vines from the grapes we are carefully hand-picking today are the result of at least 10 passes through the vineyards.  The careful tending includes hours and hours spent pruning, tucking, thinning and spraying for mildew throughout the growing season. Vineyard management is not for the faint of heart.

Fellow harvester John and Barry (right) ready to go at 8:30 in the morning.
Barry was hard at it long before we arrived lifting the nets that protected the crop from birds, moving the lugs and bins in place and sharpening the pruners.
Bend, snip, repeat and once two lugs are filled lift (bend your knees) and dump into the big bins.


On this perfect late fall day it was impossible not to take small breaks to stretch sore backs and soak in the scenery and the enjoy the sun on our faces.
Views include the Schonberger vines down in the gulley and the hills of the Naramata Bench in one direction…
…and the lake in the other.

IMG_3172.jpgCovered in dirt from sitting on the ground to reach the low-hanging bunches, sticky from the grape juice, tired and sore we all converge on the last row working side-by-side until the vines are bare of fruit and the bins are heaped.


IMG_3161.jpgIt’s hard to romanticize harvesting grapes on the Naramata Bench with all the bending and lifting and all the hard work leading up to it but on a day like this with great company, interesting conversation and views so spectacular they don’t look real, it’s impossible not to.

5 Reasons To Make Your Own Stock

Chef Mike Sonier tells us that making your own cooking stock is not all smoke and mirrors and is worth the effort.

Aromas of the best kitchens

A simmering stock pot filling your kitchen with the rich, deep, complex aromas of chicken beef or vegetable stock flavoured with herbs is reason enough to master this basic cooking art. A conversation with Chef Mike Sonier, owner of Naramata’s Knotweed Restaurant reveals other equally compelling reasons to make your own stock.


  1. Health benefits 

“Take a look at the ingredients in store-bought packaged stock,” says Chef Mike. “You will find MSG, salt and a bunch of other preservatives to make it shelf stable. When you make your own stock there are huge health benefits.”

Stock made from bones is packed with minerals from calcium to magnesium, sulphur to silicon, and things like glucosamine. Basically it contains all the stuff we’re told to buy in expensive synthetic mineral supplement form for joints and arthritis, except it’s cheap, natural food and very easily digested.

If simmered long enough, stock is packed with gelatin. Gelatin supports skin and hair health, digestion, cellulite, tightens loose skin and is awesome for joint pain and inflammation.

  1. Cost effective 

Stock is the cheapest nutrient-dense food per cup.

Chef Mike says stock is an effective way of using materials that don’t have a direct food use without these items going to waste. Bones, chicken carcasses, limp vegetables and wilted herbs can all be used.


  1. Sustainable cooking practices

In addition to saving money, using the bones, scraps, and less than perfect vegetables reduces food waste. As you cook, save those odd carrot heels, the greens not quite fit for a salad, the stems of mushrooms, ribs of kale and collard greens, and pieces of onion Put all of these things, gradually, as you produce them, into a gallon-sized plastic bag and keep it in the freezer. When it’s full, you make vegetable stock. If you also happen to have the carcass of a roast chicken left over, you make chicken stock.


  1. Quality of food, quality of taste

There are few other flavoring components that have such a dramatic impact on the quality of finished dishes, according to Chef Mike. Stocks are the backbone of quality soups, sauces and braising liquids.

  1. Amp up your cooking skills

An understanding of stocks and sauces will take your cooking to the next level and learning to prepare them will help build fundamental culinary skills.

Stock and Stir

Now that we have the why covered; Chef Mike will teach us the how at the next Naramata Blend cooking class. Mike will team up with Legend Distilling Owner Dawn Lennie to offer a cooking/mixology foundation course that will teach us how to make beautiful rich stocks and sauces and a Rosemary Swizzle cocktail.

Participants will enjoy a serving of Salt Spring Island mussels in a cream sauce paired with the special cocktail using Legend Distilling’s Doctor’s Orders Gin and Elephant Island Crabapple dessert wine and take home a recipe package.


Chef Mike honed his skills in his travels around Canada in the Maritimes, Toronto, Ottawa, Banff and British Columbia destinations such as Whistler, Vancouver and the Kootenays. Working with chefs in restaurants and consulting and catering along the way he compiled dishes and techniques to coax the most flavours out of a wide-range of ingredients before opening Knotweed.

Some of Legend’s distilling equipment

Legend Distilling produces unique beautifully hand-crafted spirits with premium locally-sourced ingredients.

Legend Distilling’s killer view

The class will take place at Legend Distilling March 28th and tickets are available at:

Post class I will post about making stock and share some of Mike’s tips.







Down Bottleneck Drive and into the Summer side of the lake

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.

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.”

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.

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…



Cheers to the Okanagan.

Legend Distilling, “I’ve got a bad case of lovin’ you”

IMG_6888No more crinkly paper gowns but the, “take a deep breath in” still happens when you open the door of my former doctor’s office now gloriously morphed into a craft distillery.

Passionate about their art, Dawn and Doug Lennie happily share an hour of spirit making show and tell. The husband and wife team bought the doctor’s office a couple of years ago to distill artisanal vodka and gin in small batches infusing them with fresh BC-grown fruit, nuts and herbs. Their latest addition, Legend Lounge, is helping locals pass time in winter with its cozy fireplace, tapas (onion soup, wild mushroom pate with crackers and house pickles, hot artichoke and kale dip with taco chips…), cocktails (of course) and a selection of Naramata wines and local craft beers.

IMG_6884Captain Nemo-looking gleaming copper and steel stills differentiate a tasting experience at Legend Distilling from a visit to the many Naramata wineries along the Bench. “After our first full season I’m really happy with the traffic and the response from our visitors,” Dawn says. “I think people are finding us a refreshing change.”

IMG_6881On trend, Legend Distilling is one of only a handful of distilleries in the Okanagan and a perfect addition to the Valley’s burgeoning foodie culture and its longer winery history. Fun branding playing on the distillery’s doctor’s office past and its legend’s theme is hitting the right note as are its contemporary and unique flavour profiles.

The couple opened with a few offerings and have gradually added new spirits such as Defender Island Smoked Rosemary Gin and Slowpoke Farmberry and liqueurs like Blasted Brew Spiked Coffee and Manitou Orange Sumac Liqueur to its flights. Next on the horizon…whisky. Doug shows me his coddled whisky aging in different types of barrels a mere two years away from savourability.

IMG_6879A crew is bottling Shadow in the Lake Vodka, one of its original offerings, on the day of my visit. The bottles are so unique that they are worth keeping when the smooth, full-bodied vodka with subtle notes of vanilla and carmel is all gone. Too bad I can’t capture the wonderful aroma of the vodka as its bottled.

Legend Distilling’s setting on Naramata Road is as spectacular as its libations. “During demo of the building Doug took a break and sat outside to watch the sun set. He came home after that saying we had to change all the plans and add on some more space. We needed to move the tasting room to the back of the building to take advantage of the view and access to the patio. We stretched the budget but it was worth it.”

Good call. I took this photo this past Thanksgiving from the patio.

IMG_6440And my sister-in-law Mel, took this one of the tasting room window on her Thanksgiving visit from Toronto.11224397_10153878599347985_2313354585742353493_oWhile our turkey was cooking in our wood-fired oven a five-minute walk away, we spent a perfect hour on the patio with family.IMG_6452 My Legendary Caesar lived up to its name.

To keep our spirits up before the sun returns in full force and we can move to the patio again, Dawn shared her recipe for a favourite hot winter drink:

Manitou Coffee

  • 1 oz Blasted Brew Spiked Coffee
  • 1/2 oz Orange Sumac Liqueur
  • In a pour over, placed over glass add…
    • 5 tablespoons ground coffee
    • 6 oz hot water (3/4 cup)
  • Top with whip cream, a coffee bean and fresh nutmeg

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