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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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Naramata

Steep well my friends…how our raspberries become distilled Legends

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Ingredient and end product pictured on our Naramata raspberry farm

Our raspberries are summer captured in juicy jewel bites. When they hang out with Legend Distilling‘s craft vodka along with some BC blueberry and cranberry pals summer is but a pour away, anytime of the year.

IMG_8485.jpgA good portion of our Naramata Carpe Diem berry farm’s raspberries end up at Legend Distilling, a short walk from us. They use them as a cocktail garnish and in their Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka.

Distiller and Legend owner Doug Lennie was pressing off the fruit that had been infusing  into his craft vodka for a secret amount of time when I dropped off this morning’s harvest.

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Doug giving the batch a stir
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The spent fruit goes into a fruit press
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The raspberries have given up their lovely hue to the vodka.
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Fruit press in action
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The pressed juice goes back into the steel tank and the vodka will be bottled and labelled next week.

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The whole operation is closely supervised by distillery dog Roxy

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The vodka has a beautiful colour and Legend’s legendary view is the perfect backdrop. It tastes out of this world but for me the lovely fruity aroma is the best part.
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I can’t think of a better home for our organically-grown raspberries…

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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.

Naramata – Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart

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Old Main Road

Literally at the end of the road lies one of the most unexpectedly delightful places in the world. The temptation is to keep the discovery a secret. Fortunately Naramatians are too sociable and ardent about their home not to share and bloggers can’t keep any secret at all.

A trip along Naramata Road toward the Village is a sensory experience whose end result is an extraordinary sense of well-being. The scientists have gone to work and come up with a formula for scenery that most appeals to people (they study everything right?) and the Naramata Benchlands ticks all the boxes. It’s to do with the proportion of sky, the straight lines of the vineyards and orchards and the expanse of the blue lake grounding it all.

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Travelling through a winescape of row upon row of trellised grapevines dotted with sympathetically designed winery architecture and guest accommodation, the road twists and turns to reveal new vistas. Scientists tells us that we like making discoveries and the “I wonder what’s around the next corner?” feeling we get when heading from Penticton to Naramata fits the bill. The vines and orderly orchards advance across rolling hills that all lead down to the shores of Okanagan Lake and the elevation of Naramata Road lets us appreciate it all.

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Hillside Winery

Once lured in by the scenery it’s what Naramatians have produced from this naturally gifted growing region moderated by the lake that adds the next layer to our pleasure. Naramata’s artisanal products are lovingly produced by people whose lives are devoted to their craft whether it be wine, spirits, fruits and vegetables, pottery or painting and they revel in sharing this passion. Wine and culinary experiences are top-notch and varied but all share a similar philosophy. Skill and a light touch are used to let the ultra-premium, local, in-season ingredients shine.

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Lunch with scenery at Legend Distilling.

The village itself has lost all track of time. No traffic lights, no chain stores, few streetlights to blot out the stars, Naramata is made up of quiet streets with a mix of cottages and modest houses with well-kept gardens. A little church with bells that ring at noon, a general store shaded by elms, artisans and shops sprinkled here and there, cozy restaurants, the world’s best pizza place, a welcoming coffee shop, busy pub… Anchoring the Village, the perfectly in-keeping  Heritage Inn sits and the end of the main street, as it has for more than a century.

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Heritage Inn

Naramata’s quality and human pace of life is internationally recognized. We have been given the designation as a Cittaslow town. Cittaslow towns celebrate life in the slow lane, locally grown products and the slow food movement, in places where people care for the land and for each other.

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View of the Village from the Kettle Valley Railway trail.

Based in the Tuscany region of Italy, the Cittaslow network and accredited communities have a mandate to improve the quality of life. It’s karma that we have this Italian designation. Our town’s founder, John Moore Robinson produced a brochure in 1907 calling Naramata, with its wonderful climate, the Italy of Canada.

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Apple orchards are still a lovely part of the Old Main Estate in the Village.

Naramataslow

As part of the Cittaslow philosophy, I’m working to bring local chefs into the Village to teach us how to use all the lovely produce (like the raspberries from our Carpe Diem berry farm) to bake and cook for our friends, families and the many guests who have come to love our secret place.

The first guest Chef, Dana Ewart of Joy Road Catering is an Okanagan superstar. She is going to show us why we need brioche in our lives. CC Orchards will be providing sweet dried cherries for use as one of our brioche ingredients.

Tickets to the December 10 class are half sold and I’m thrilled with the response from the Village about the new venture. Here’s the link to join in Naramata Blend Cooking Class Series Brioche!  A second class on eclairs and profiteroles is in the works for February…

Guess who’s coming for dinner…the whole darn Village

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Cheers to Naramata and its Naramatians

“Slow down your movin too fast,” is seldom heard in Naramata, an internationally officially-designated slow town.

A Thanksgiving harvest pot-luck at the Naramata Centre beach brought together 182 people who arrived with baskets, platters and bowls filled with locally-grown ingredients crafted into home-made dishes to share at long table under golden-leafed trees by the shores of Okanagan Lake while toasting with Naramata Bench wines. If that sounds a bit too schmaltzy and bucolic, you weren’t there.

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Mel, Yanti and Don provided the perfect sound-track for the event that could well have been a scene from a movie.

The Naramataslow dinner was designed to celebrate Naramata’s special status as slow city bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999. Only three special towns in Canada are Cittaslow. We join Cowichan Bay and Wolfville as places where the pace of life is a bit more human.

To quote from the charmingly translated Italian on the Cittaslow website, “A Cittaslow place is motivated by curious people of a recovered time, where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons, respectful of citizens’ health, the authenticity of products and good food, rich of fascinating craft traditions, of valuable works of art, squares, theatres, shops, cafes and restaurants. These are places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes characterized by spontaneity of religious rites and respect the traditions of the joy of slow and quiet living.”

Slow food or local food of high quality with connection to the local land made into traditional recipes where the community comes together for a shared meal to savour this intrinsic part of life is pretty much the essence of Cittaslow and last evening’s Naramataslow dinner.

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In the midst of a rainy weekend, the sun chose to shine on the 182 diners in one of the most picturesque places in Canada.

Centre stage on the menu for the special dinner was a pit-roasted pig and not just any pig but one that was raised on the bounty of the Village and surroundings. Pig-raiser and Roast-master Jay Drysdale of Bella Wines and his wife Wendy raised this particular pig on mash from Legend Distilling, whey from Upper Bench Winery and Creamery and fruit culls from local orchards.

“I hate to ask but did the pig have a name,” I say. “Yup,” says Wendy, “Chorizo.” Makes sense right and in some strange way makes me feel better than if had been named Babe or Wilbur.

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It’s hard to make meat photogenic but I think I nailed it here…apologies to all the vegetarians out there who had many, many options to choose from at the feast.

Naramataslow organizers had the foresight not to over-plan the event, although committee member Miranda Halliday of Elephant Island Winery says the event was a bit of a “leap of faith. We didn’t have tons of time for preparation and what with harvest being so early this year and all of us small business people being busy it came together rather organically and was actually sold out before we had done much advertising.

“It turned out that the simplicity of it was brilliant. The community came together to pull this off.” As for the weather, Miranda says, “You just can’t script that. What a bonus to have the sunshine on our first harvest dinner so we could eat outside by the lake.”

Tickets to the dinner were a whopping $5 and guests were asked to bring a dish for sharing that celebrates our local bounty. Wow, did we ever step up to the plate. Here are some of the offerings…

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Committee member Dawn Lennie of Legend Distilling dresses her work of art.
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Eat the rainbow.
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Roasted root veggies.
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Still life…salad.
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Yum
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Recipes like the one for these colourful latkes are being collected and will be shared in the coming days.
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Still life #2…Trifle by the lake
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A part of the Naramataslow miracle, Miranda says there was an amazing balance between sweet and savoury items amongst the lovingly prepared recipes with no complicated pre-planning or sign-up sheets.
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Still life #3…apple pie with caramel sauce by the lake.
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This nameless person had the forethought to assemble dessert before tackling that healthy looking main. The raspberry almond tart topping this dessert plate is my contribution and the recipe can found in the link. The last of my fall raspberry crop ended up in the tarts.
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Wine was available by the glass or bottle from a wonderful selection of Naramata Bench Winery Association members. Cheers to them.
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Pass the salt please.
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General conviviality is a Cittaslow prerequisite. Crushed it.
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Miranda says that there was a nice mix of ages at the dinner.  (I like the adult supervisor’s style.)

Miranda says there is a long list of people that help pull off this amazing dinner including the RDOS (regional district), OAP (senior’s group), the Naramata Centre’s Jim, the pig providers Jay and Wendy, the organizing committee (Dawn, Miranda, Jay, Trevor and Nicole and their kids who helped with the set-up, the musicians (Yanti, Don and Mel), Ian  who set up the sound system, Naramata Bench Wineries Association, local photographers Lone Jones and Callum, the poster designer Renee and Chorizo.

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A preserve exchange table was set up. Yeah! I made a lot of grape jelly this year.
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That’ll do, pig. That’ll do. The left-over pork has been frozen and will be used to make soup for community Christmas hampers.
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“It was a bit of a leap of faith,” Miranda says. “There wasn’t time for tons of prep. But we knew it would work. This is Naramata.”

 

“The best of Vintage Erotica” or a weird segue to bears in my yard

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Of the terms in my header…”vintage” is by far the most disturbing. I wrote my university thesis about Marian Engel and her novel, Bear, which is now mouldering in some unforgotten corner of the Mount Allison University library. Vintage? Really?

Engel’s Bear, is outwardly a novel about a sexual relationship a woman has with a bear told in a pretty explicit way. Inwardly, according to my brilliant thesis, it’s about a recurring Canadian literature theme of our complex relationship with nature. Like all Canadians, when we get a bit messed up in our heads,  we find some wilderness to sort out who really are and what matters the most.

The novel won the Governor General Award in 1976 and then sort of fell into obscurity. Along comes 50 Shades of Grey and voila, Bear is re-discovered and an imgur post about it went viral.

A blog reader sent me this link to a series of Bear covers re-imagined. I love this one by Kris Mukai…

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By moving to Naramata I’m living that quintessential Canadian literature dream that began somewhere around 1852 with Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush. I’ve found the nature I’ve always craved and in a full-circle, coincidental,  ‘wee de wee de’ way, a ton of bears in the process, none of which I have gone near enough to touch let alone…

Our property is in the middle of a well-travelled bear super highway. On one side is a large treed acreage and on the other a creek that brings them down from higher country to look for food in late summer and fall.

Here is a small selection of the many photos I’ve taken in our yard.

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This guy was pretty big

 

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Mum climbed a tree to coax her cubs down when they got too scared

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We saw this guy with the burrs almost every day last fall on our wildlife cam

 

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I was talking on the phone on the deck when I felt eyes burning into the back of my head.

Tricklebrook, Poggleswood, Mole End…

IMG_2999How pretentious is it to name your house? Oh, very, so let’s up the ante and choose a latin name.

The Handyman hails from England where house naming is a thing. Think Primrose Cottage, Two Hoots, Crumbledown, Nudgens, Wits End, Tweedledum, or Creeping Snail.

We have neighbours with house names like Ironpost Guest House, Apple D’Or and Fox Ben but they are guest houses with a good reason for a name. Also nearby is Rancho Costa Plenty which has been sale for awhile. Maybe the naming isn’t working out so well for them.

We could have chosen another dead language name like Cave Canem (beware of the dog) but that would have dated us our two pals lived to ripe old ages and are now planted in the garden, or Nessum Dorma (none shall sleep) with the idea of discouraging visitors from overstaying.

A week after our gate and name went up a neighbour pulled his car over to chat and said, “You know, I drive by your gate every day on my way to work and think, seize the day, yup, good idea.”

As hokey as it sounds, it’s become a mantra for our house that is often welcoming visitors with wine, zip lining and evenings on the deck.

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If we lived in England in say, Bognor Regis where we have wonderful relatives I would want a house here and would call it Disturbia.

Back from the brink

A hummingbirds’ high metabolism means a quick end if deprived of sugary food for even a few hours. Before a door was added to the lower cabin of our tree fort, a hummer found her way in but not out.

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Saving this weak female Calliope seemed like childhood efforts to save a litter of baby rabbits with an eyedropper and milk or reviving a floating goldfish with more food. You’ve got to try, right?

 

IMG_0270A solution of sugar water in a plastic lid administered by dipping the little guy’s beak into it was the best we could come up with. Handyman husband donned gloves to help protect her.

IMG_0274Unresponsive at first, her black tongue started flicking at the solution, her eyes opened and within a minute she flew off to a nearby flowering shrub and recovered fully.

The door went on the tree fort cabin the next day and handyman husband adds bird whisperer to his credentials.

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