A late summer evening on our Naramata, British Columbia deck turned into a two bottles of wine, three-hour bear show and some things that you had to see to believe.
A medium-sized black bear, a three-year-old (neighbourhood regular) claws his way up a 40-foot pine making a hell of a racket. He has my attention. A few minutes later it becomes obvious that a much bigger black bear was the cause of his scramble. So now there are two bears up in the tree.
The vineyard owner from our neighbouring property comes by to explain his theory that it’s a battle over territory…namely his beleaguered vineyard that is now stripped of grapes with half his irrigation system in pieces. The vineyard’s name…. Bad Bear Vineyard. Can’t make this stuff up.
During the three-hours, the bigger bear would close the gap between them and give the smaller guy what for.
A bear fight in a very tall tree must be accomplished carefully with claws firmly clinging to the tree and it is very noisy.
In between battles the bears would rest and make themselves as comfortable as possible among the branches.
The smaller guy further up the tree would occasionally break off branches and drop them on his rival. This is the part that starts to be, “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”
The uppermost bear peed on the lower bear. It was full-on, like out of a fire hose. The big guy looked up to see what was going on and pretty much ignored it being a bear and not overly concerned with hygiene. Although, a few minutes later it did wake him up and spark a new battle, so anthropomorphasizing, maybe it did piss him off.
Just about out of wine, the fight ended when it began to get dark. The bigger bear clumsily scrabbled his way down the tree while I much more lithely ran for the house. A few minutes later the weaponized smaller bear made his way down and sauntered off.
Naramata is world-renowned for taking it slow. Our little village is one of only three Canadian communities with a special status as a “slow city” bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999. We just get better and better and living up to our slow status.
Here is a new and most wonderful way to celebrate life in the slow lane in eight painless steps:
Take your time, decide if you want it neat, with a splash of water to open up the flavours or on ice if it’s a hot day and that’s your jam.
Stroll on out to the patio with the best view in stunning Naramata overlooking vineyards, Okanagan Lake and Giant’s Head mountain.
Pull up an Adirondack and place your tumbler on the arm.
Leisurely contemplate the amber colour of the whisky as the sun lights it up.
Get your nose involved and appreciate the aromas of dried fruits, vanilla and spice.
Take a sip…savour.
It took Legend Owner/Distiller Doug Lennie four years to make this beautiful Wyatt Whisky, we owe it to him to push pause and fully immerse ourselves in the tasting.
“Making whisky is why I wanted to get into distilling in the first place,” says Doug as he talks to me on the sunny patio in early spring about Legend’s inaugural 1,400 bottles of Wyatt Whisky. “It’s special because it’s named after our son. It’s special because it’s made with British Columbia wheat and aged in oak barrels that previously held local wines and ports. It’s special because we are excited about good food and wine and we are making something unique that is full of character.”
Wyatt Whisky joins a growing list of hand-crafted spirits the Naramata distillery is garnering a loyal and enthusiastic following for. It’s best known for its range of legendary gins.
Doug describes his first whisky as very much a Canadian style whisky made from 90 per cent wheat (Red Wheat from Peace River), 10 per cent rye and aged in toasted French oak barrels. The grain is milled, mashed, fermented and distilled at Legend Distilling in its gorgeous copper beauty, the centrepiece of the distillery’s front window.
Wyatt Whisky is 40 per cent alcohol and is non-chill filtered which Doug says makes for a more flavourful, full-bodied whisky. To ensure the first release was amazing, Doug waited a year longer than the three-year cycle many new distilleries are on for their whisky programs.
“The art comes into the blending,” he says. “The whisky is stored in barrels from different cooperages with different char levels.” His Canadian-style,”…is not as aggressive as an American whisky which is aged in barrels with a 1/4 inch of charcoal. My style is more subtle. You taste the wood flavour and the fruity notes from the barrels along with the lovely caramel and wheat flavours of the grains.”
For those still working on acquiring the acquired taste whisky drinkers talk of and aren’t quite ready for a neat or nearly neat taste, Legend Owner and cocktail genius Dawn Lennie came up with her own take on a whisky sour in collaboration with Naramata’s Elephant Island Winery.
ON NARAMATA THYME 2oz Wyatt Whisky 1oz Elephant Island Apricot dessert wine 1/2 oz lemon juice 1/2 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water) 2 sprigs fresh thyme Ice Add all but 1 sprig of thyme to a shaker full of ice and shake shake shake. Strain into coup glass and garnish with fresh thyme.
If I had made a fine whisky that I hovered over for four years it would be a grand Tom Hanks, “I made fire” moment shouted at full volume. Doug Lennie, in his humble, laid-back style says, “I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.” Give it a taste, take your time.
I won a golden ticket to spend the day with owner, founder and Chocolatier Heather Michelle Wilson at the Naramata Chocolate Factory, enveloped in the aromas of warm tempering dark chocolate and raspberry brownies and toffee macadamia nut cookies baking in the oven.
Within five minutes of my arrival, disaster, a tray of truffles awaiting filling slipped off the counter and onto her commercial kitchen’s beautifully clean floor. Always helpful, I gathered chocolate for disposal and it took every ounce of self-discipline I possessed not to take a page out of Lucy’s most famous scene and stuff the broken bits into my mouth. Heather, seeing my pained look, laughed and offered me a just-made truffle from a box. There is nothing better than a new friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.
At a crossroad in her life in Australia last year while on a wine touring holiday, a friend suggested, “You should open a nougat factory.” She replied, “What is that… nouga? He didn’t pronounce the “t” in his Aussie accent. Oh you mean that stuff that goes in Toblerone? Maybe Australians like to eat nougat but nobody wants that. If I were to open a factory it would be a chocolate factory. My life is already devoted to chocolate. I may as well learn how to make it.” Heather was working in the wine industry at the time and was ready to take her business degree and sales acumen and start her own project. When lightening strikes, Heather doesn’t hesitate. She threw herself into studying chocolate making in Melbourne under a prestigious chocolatier and came home and launched her ethical, local, artisan chocolate business and we are all the happier for it.
What the heck is it with people and chocolate?
It’s a thing alright. Here is a crazy fact. Every 10 years or so a typical adult eats their own body weight in chocolate. My husband is not typical. He is on a five-year cycle and it looks like I will be soon catching up to him with my Naramata Chocolate Factory discovery.
There is actually a boat load of chocolate science that has to do with Dr. Feel-Good chemicals the cacao bean contains such as anandamide (similar to anandamide THC). There is also lots of anecdotal evidence that chocoholics live longer. I believe it. Take Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 and ate two pounds of chocolate a week. Scientists and Heather are also saying that chocolate is good for you. It comes from a plant for starters. A British Medical Journal published review found that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 per cent reduction in stroke.
Why artisan chocolate?
If you are going to eat chocolate, eat great chocolate. Mass-produced chocolate in all those chocolate bars at the store like many convenience foods today are full of preservatives, high in sugar and a lot of mystery ingredients such as wax. Heather’s creations are made with the highest quality Belgian chocolate that is certified as ethically sourced and filled with wonderful local ingredients like our raspberries. She avoids plastic packaging and sells her chocolate in cute recycled paper containers and paper bags.
Heather is also making vegan and gluten-free products to cater to these growing markets.
Heather hit the ground running and is now working at 100 per cent capacity with the help of her new assistant manager and cookie baker Deb Staples and several part-time helpers. Her delicious treats can now be found at the Naramata, Penticton and Summerland farmer’s markets, through partnerships with wineries such as Origin which sell her Cherry Noir confection that is a cherry and red wine chocolate made with Origins’ Pinot Noir and at Mile Zero Wine Bar. More winery and restaurant partnerships are in the works as are online sales through her website naramatachocolate.com as well as a subscription box.
“I am a product of a long tradition of makers in my family,” says Heather. My grandparents grew and canned much of what they ate. I love this tradition and feel strongly about shopping local, making things ourselves and I place a lot of value on the art of making something by hand.”
She combines her life-long love affair with chocolate with a pragmatic side that includes her Ontario business degree (where she spent all her free time experimenting with vegan baking, protein-packed baking and just plain old-fashioned tasty baking) and career experience in books and wine sales.
“I am having the most fun,” she says. “I really like seeing results and I love talking to people. How rewarding is it to hear, ‘That is the best brownie I’ve ever had in my entire life,’ which I’ve heard more than once from market customers?”