It’s never much fun when you have a tight connecting flight and then get delayed. Yesterday I arrived in Vancouver after a nice flight (6000 words written, a sleep and a Woody Allen movie), only for technical problems to keep us at the gate for 50 minutes before getting off. It’s a horrible feeling as you sit there with your hopes of making your connection slowly fade minute by minute. In the end, I ran, got through immigration quickly, suffered an intensely frustrating delay at security to get airside again, and then managed to get to my gate just in time to fly.
It was worth the hassle, though, because the Okanagan Valley is truly beautiful. On a run this morning through a national park, I stopped and sat by the side of the lake. And I stared, and I thought of all the joys, frustrations, sadnesses, anxieties and highlights of the last nine months. It has been the most complicated, difficult and turbulent nine months I have experienced. But there have also been many beautiful moments. Natural beauty has a way of encouraging contemplation, and the sorts of thoughts that nature elicits always seem to be hopeful, bright and integrating. I need to do a bit of integrating.
For the next few days I will be travelling the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys as a guest of the BC Wine Institute, with fellow wine journalist Elaine Brown as my travelling companion. Elaine and I will then join the WineAlign crowd in Penticton to serve as overseas judges for the National Wine Awards of Canada. It is quite an exciting prospect.
Yesterday afternoon and evening was spent with Quails’ Gate winery in West Kelowna. This is quite a substantial venture owned by the Stewart family, who first started farming here in the 1950s. The Quails’ Gate winery started in 1989, and now draws on around 100 hectares of estate vineyards. Tony Stewart, who hosted us along with winemaker Nikki Callaway, explained that because of the exacting nature of viticulture in the Okanagan with its cool climate, he prefers not to have to rely on growers. Most of their vineyard is in the central Okanagan, with a big chunk of it around the winery. But they also have some vines down south in Oliver.
Tony has decided that their focus as a winery should be on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and I was really impressed by both. The Pinots, as evidenced by tasting the Stewart Family Reserve from 2005, 2006 and 2009, age very well. The Chardonnay used to be quite big and new worldy, but Nikki, who arrived here in 2012, has brought more refinement and a less obvious oak regime to the wines. There’s a similar story with the excellent Syrah: the new vintages are better than the old, and 2014 really impressed.
We also tried a new wine: a Bordeaux-style blend called the Connemara, from the 2014 vintage. This is a superb wine with real elegance and style, and a hint of nice greenness that many new world winemakers are a bit scared of, but which here works so well.
With dinner at the excellent Old Vine restaurant next to the winery, we went through the whites, looking at 2010 and 2015 vintages of each. The Riesling, at $16, is a complete steal. It’s fresh, dry, and delicious, and is ageworthy. Chenin Blanc is interesting. This is quite a cool region for Chenin, and the result is an acid-driven wine of precision and focus. 2015 was really nice, but the 2010 was showing a bit of reduction (it is screwcapped), which I hope it will recover from. Look out, also, for their white blend, which combines Chasselas with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. It’s not complex, but it’s fresh and delicious and great value for money.