In the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada

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I am in the Okanagan! David Scholefield (below) and I drove up here yesterday morning. It’s a lovely four-hour drive through some spectacular scenery. Although there’s the possibility of flying from Vancouver to Penticton, the drive is worth it for the views. On the way I got to see my first ever wild moose, and also a peregrine falcon. No bears yet, though.
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We were joined by the other judges for the WineAlign National Wine Awards at the super-cool Okanagan Crush Pad winery in Summerland. This is owned by Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, and David has a role here, too. It’s home to Haywire, which is their wine brand, and also the wines of several clients, who get to use the superb winemaking facilities here, as well as the expertise of winemakers Michael Bartier and Matt Dumayne, and the marketing skills of Christine. The winery, built by Steve, is just a few years old (2011) and is really well kitted out, including some stylish concrete fermenters and Nomblot-style eggs made by Sonoma Cast Stone.
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Michael Bartier addressing thr group in the Switchback vineyard, along with vineyard manager Theo Siemens

Michael Bartier addressing thr group in the Switchback vineyard, along with vineyard manager Theo Siemens

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Alberto Antonini consults here, as does terroir expert Pedro Parra. The home vineyard is the 10 acre Switchback Vineyard, which is planted to a single clone of Pinot Gris. Pedro Parra did an electro conductivity survey of the vineyard, producing map, and on the basis of the map decided to dig 32 different pits to look more closely at the subsoil. He then split the vineyard into five more-or-less homogeneous blocks, which are harvested separately and kept separate in the winery. On the basis of the soil properties Parra was able to predict what each of the wines would be like, and even the final blends, before the wine was made.
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We also visited a new vineyard site, Garnet Valley Ranch (above). It’s a pristine 312 acre ranch at altitude, and previously the only agricultural activity here was a small patch of alfalfa. They have already planted the first 10 acres, to Pinot Noir.
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The vineyard will be run biodynamically, and as well as vines there will be cows and other crops such as hops (five varieties have been planted as a trial). The next plantings will be two clones of Chardonnay and some Riesling. It will top out at around 40 acres when everything is completed. Pedro Parra was involved from the start, and when they were considering this property he was very excited by what was under the ground. As with the rest of the Okanagan, there’s insufficient rainfall here for vines to be grown without irrigation (around 250 mm rain per year), but if you irrigate the right way the roots do go deep enough to interrogate the subsoil.

After this we went back to Crush Pad for a tasting with some other local wineries, followed by some food. It was a really fun evening, and I was excited to be able to start exploring some of the Okanagan wines. More on those to come…

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