The last couple of visits in the Okanagan were really interesting. The first was at Laughing Stock Vineyards on the Naramata Bench. Cynthia and David Enns (above) were financial people who caught the wine bug, and they bought this property in 2003. They were the ninth vineyard on the Bench, and now there are 30. They have 5 acres planted to Bordeaux varieties. However, they found that Cabernet Sauvignon struggles on the Bench, and in 2007 bought a 22 acre vineyard in Osoyoos.
Initially they’d decided that it would be best two own 20% of the vineyards they sourced from, and buy 80% of their grape needs. But they realized that such is the difficulty of doing red viticulture, that they needed to reverse these figures. Currently they buy in 30% of their needs, and most of this is white varieties which are less tricky to farm here. Currently their fruit is 50% Naramata, 50% Osoyoos, and production is 7000 cases.
The winery is gravity fed, and there’s a mix of elevage vessels here, including concrete eggs and a couple of amphora from Tuscany (one lined, one unlined). The wines are pretty good. The Viognier 2015 from Osoyoos is rich (14.9% alchol), but it has lovely texture and tastes quite fresh. The Amphora 2014 is a blend of Roussanne and Viognier that spends 2.5 months on skins, and it’s honeyed, nutty, spicy and broad with some apricot flavours.
I really liked the Pareto’s Blend 2014, which sees a whopping 20% Viognier co-fermented with Syrah, and is a tangerine/orange colour, and flavours of glace cherries and smooth pear and peach fruit. The sleek Syrah 2013 is really nice, the 2013 Blind Trust is supple, smooth and berryish, and the flagship wine Portfolio 2013, a Merlot-led Bordeaux blend, is supple and quite serious with nicely managed tannins.
The second visit was one of the most interesting of the trip. It was at Bella, with Jay Drysdale. ‘I love bubbles,’ says Jay. He started his sparkling-only project in 2011 making just a couple of hundred cases at Okanagan Crush Pad, and three years ago found his current property on the Naramata Bench. The previous owners had been here for 15 years and had never sprayed, and he farms Gamay and Chardonnay here biodynamically.
Since becoming friends with Matthew Sherlock (who makes wine at Nichol, but also has a natural wine import business), Jay has taken his winemaking in a more natural direction. ‘I have the confidence to use less,’ says Jay referring to winemaking additions, ‘and my PetNat programme has been awesome.’
Production is currently 1300 cases, and he’s planning to grow to 3500. Everything is still done by hand. ‘It has been an incredible journey so far,’ he says.
‘I’ve always believed that the Okanagan can be a world class wine region,’ says Jay, ‘but we still chase consumers rather than hunker down and focus on what we are good at. It’s coming.’
We tasted through a wide range of Bella wines. I loved the three Blanc de Blancs in the regular range – the Keremeos Chardonnay 2015, the B2 Blanc de Blancs 2015 (which is half from the Cerqueira Vineyard with its limestone content), and the Orchard House Blanc de Blancs 2015, which has a faint hint of matchstick. Then it is a step up for the 2012 Reserve Brut Nature pair, one of which comes from Oliver westside, ad the other which comes from the Cerqueira Vineyard on Oliver eastside. They are both brilliant. I also really liked Jays’ Pet Nats, with a slight preference for the Ancestrale West Bank Rosé 2015.
Bella is an exciting project, and one of the gems of the Okanagan.