“October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!”
We 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.
Covered 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.
It’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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
The first recipe from the first crop of our Naramata raspberry farm berries is fittingly by our favourite Chef, Stewart Glynes, the owner of The Bench Market and it’s from my new favourite cookbook, The Butcher, the Baker, the Wine & Cheese Maker in the Okanagan and we are taking them to good Naramata pals’ place for dinner tonight. So much love packed in there that I had to use a run-on sentence…
Mix together flour, butter and salt in a bowl with hands until it is a fine sand-like texture. Add cold water a little at a time, until dough comes together but is not sticky. Form into flat dish shape and chill for about an hour.
In your mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until smooth (about 7 minutes) on medium-high speed. Add almonds and eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add flour and mix on low until just combined.
Preheat oven to 350. (Stewart says this recipe makes about 12 4-inch tarts but my tart rings must have been taller as I only had enough pastry for 6 tarts…) Place dough on floured surface and roll out. Cut a circle slightly larger than your tart rings or tart pans and fold into bottom of shell. Add 5 or 6 raspberries to the bottom of the shell. Add enough almond cream to come even with the top of tart. Press another 5 or 6 raspberries into top of almond cream in whatever design you like.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until top is lightly brown around edge. Top with powdered sugar and some sliced almonds toasted for a short while in the oven and garnish with a sprig of mint.
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.
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?
A 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.
Unresponsive 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.