Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day Three: August 30th-----Once More With A Twist!

Back To The Future!
Very attractive guide, Trudy Grech, picked us up the next morning at 8:30 to take us to several areas that would be filmable. We got on the rather large bus (there were only two of us going) which sat at least 10 persons and the driver, Trudy, Greg and me went on a jaunt------to Blue Grotto!!!!! This time we got into a boat and went into the illuminous cavern. Greg got a whole new perspective on Zurrieq since he saw the cliffs from the bottom up. This was quite a stroke of luck since we now had two perspectives on the same place.
Marsaxlokk Market
One would not have guessed that this peaceful bay was once the scene of so much activity. About 60 Turkish Galleys appeared and tried to land here in 1614 but were driven away (only to ravage Zejtun). However the Turkish Treat as I call it was an on going problem in those days with the Knights of Malta acting as watchdogs over possible Turkish invasions. The battlements were stronger than they were in 1565 but the threat was always immanent.
Marsaxlokk today is a far cry from those times and this was epitomized by the rather large outdoor market along the shore. Here many fish stands as well as many other selling everything from sunglasses to records and tapes were patronized by crowds of people. Many tourists used this location to get various types of fruit and food to cut down on expenses. Why not? The food is fresh and the products good.
Greg did some filming at the stands as well as some stand up work in front of the camera. It was interesting to see that certain people enjoyed the exposure and just as many did not and refused to be on camera. The ones that we did get however were good.
We also went out to eat at a new and very fine restaurant called "Gente di Mare". The restaurant run by Mauro Azzopardi and Edward Schembri was an oasis in the heat of the day. Its air condition was very much appreciated and its food selection of which there was much seafood, was excellent. Greg went into the kitchen to film the chef cooking swordfish (which Greg ended up having) while I selected a Lampuka or Dolphin Fish (no relation to the mammal by the same name). Trudy had the Bream. It was an entire fish meal could to perfection and served with many Maltese trmmings. That and a bottle of Maltese white wines did the trick.
Hal Tarxien
The temple of Hal Tarxien dates back from about 3100 to 2500 BC. and being only several hundred yards away from the Hypogeum, some authors believe them to be "related" the four "household" partitions. The temple came complete with round smalled rocks (a majority think that these smaller rocks were used to move thirty-five ton rectangular rocks to place), animal and special rock carvings depicting bulls and antelopes, offering bowls and an array of tools and weapons. The Neolithic temple was found to be important since it predates the Pyramids.
Greg and I went there and basically did some filming. We left with plans to come back.
Senglea Point
We then went to Senglea Point---a watch tower that was built as protection from Turkish Invasion. Since the invasions were or seemed to be always immanent, these towers or booths were a common item built into many of the forts. Greg made use of the symbolic carvings: Ears, Eyes and a Feather by which he filmed the "SSH! Quiet! Someone might hear you!" routine.
Boat Ride
Walter was a gregarious friendly and very warm individual who also happens to run a small boat similar to an Italian Gondola but is a Dghajsa. He does a good business but his boat is very demanding. First it's a dying breed of boat. "There are only about one hundred left here now and the trouble is getting young people interested in the work and keeping the old boats going. It takes about 800 Euros a year to keep these boats maintained.
Walter worked in the British Navy and is now retired. He is a wealth of information trivia about Malta and the Knights. He also knows the area and can tell you who did what to whom and when so he knows his stuff. We toured the three cities Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea from the sea.
Walter gives a good ride for the money on this boat and he even allows one to work it. I learned how to row the boat around and you know-------he said he'd hire me!
The group of us then retired back to the bus and went back home or should I say the hotel.
Greg and did the usual and tromped up to the Sliema promenade and had our supper----a Devil Dog from the Hot Devil Food stand.
Then it was back to the hotel to do some serious writing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

DAY 2: August 29th-----Another Day In Malta

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

When people talk about Malta today, they speak of sun, sea, enjoyment, gastronomy, sites, events and wine. However, Malta is much more than that. In a way it is a gatekeeper to the past, present and future for Malta has been around much longer as a civilization than most. In fact, it was a flourishing community two thousand years before much of Europe was "civilized". The Phoenicians were the first to make use of its many naval aspects but when they came here they found a structured and well organized peoples that had been there since Neolithic times.

They settled and eventually gave much of this island its founding Semitic language. Since then, Malta has become the base of many of famous (and some infamous) empires. Greece never occupied Malta but split the Mediterranean with Carthage (Though Greeks (Homer) referred to Malta as the Isle of Calypso which was visited by Ulysses and his men). The occupancy goes to Carthage (some authors suggested that the famous Hannibal was born in Malta) and then Rome, Spain, Germany, Turkish Empire, Knights of St. John, France and Britain all had their stake in this small but very important island. Malta can be said to be a demonstration of the history of the Mediterranean and a portal to the history of the will of man and his efforts to be free----living life to its fullest.

So Malta is today and that is what Greg and I found when we started filming here.
We were on our own on the first day but friends and family members took us around to visit some scenic areas so Greg could start filming. He took us to Marsaxlokk which is a fine harbour for small craft and lovely boats which would compete in colour with the colours of a rainbow. Many had some very interesting names such as religious names and of what could be lovely young ladies (and possibly older ones also).
Here the markets will come with the fresh catches of fish and also other items for sale. We ran across or should I say drove across a just landed fishing boat which was unloading catches of swordfish. The inspector was there weighing the fish to make sure that no under weight young fish were caught. We got that on film and then went on to a very scenic Maltese tradition called Wit Zurrieq which harboured a little cave called the Blue Grotto.
Blue Grotto attracts many tourists because it's luminous algae that fills the water of the cave becomes blue-----reflecting the light of the Sun when it shines on it. The contrast of dark within the cave and the light blue colour iridescence is truly lovely to look at. We didn't go to the grotto but decided to take some great film of the high cliffs around it. Lucky----I'll tell you why later.
After the Wit il Zurrieg we went to the hotel to prepare for a Barbecue to be held at my best friend in Malta's house in Zejtun----a small town in the middle of Malta.
It was around eight in the evening when I got there with Greg. Both of us were picked up by my friend Lorry Farrugia and his son Kenneth who was to suffice as the chef that night also.
Lorry's wife Melda, daughter Daniella, other son C hris (with his beautiful spouse and daughter) were there as well as Kenneth's wife and young daugther, Mariah. The food flowed and Greg filmed as well as did a couple of stints on camera. I was fed and fed until I could burst. If the food didn't get me, the wine almost did. I had a good time and so did Greg and the family was superb.
That ended our first full day in Malta. We went to bed looking forward to the new promotion and fun that we could give to this Island that is forever.
End Of Day Two!

August 27th/28th: The Journey Still Continues: Toronto/Rome/Malta

"Adventures In Wine Country" Co-Hosted by Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

All Flights Lead To Rome
August 27th was one of those days! I still had some lawn to cut, a Gecko to feed, plants to water, filters to change and a limo to catch. The month long Italy/Malta trip was on me already. The limo was supposed to come at 12:30 pm but the fellow was quite efficient and came about fifteen minutes early. I had just finished packing and my flight was to leave at 5:10 om. I hustled my buns and really did not want to see another airport so soon.
I managed to get my gear and this time not forget my computer. The limo was ready, I was almost ready and my gear was ready. Time to leave.
We got to the airport (Pearson, Toronto) very quickly. It was about one thirty pm when we arrived. I walked into the Alitalia counter building and to my surprise, my flight was delayed by two hours. The flight was to leave at 7:15 pm. However, it was a reasonable delay as a person became quite ill and the flight had to wait for the person t0 get help.
Our plane flew off into the sky at the above time and Greg and I settled into a rather long flight but it is a rather long distance of almost 7,300 Kilometres to Rome. The flight was actually quite comfortable and I can't say enough about the Alitalia crew and service. Our North American carriers can learn a lot from these people as they could from the Air Malta Service. I wonder why there is such a disparity between the levels of service between our NA flights and those of these fine carriers?
Our flight landed in Rome without any incidents and with little confusion, Greg and I made our way down the long "In Transit" corridor and to our gate of departure for Malta. We still just had our tickets and no boarding pass so Greg found a courteous Alitalia person who directed him to an equally wonderful Air Malta representative and we were all set. The flight to Malta was a short one but well serviced and again I was so impressed with the quality of service and consideration given the passengers by the crew of the airlines. It leaves a comforting and lasting impression to have such quality in our midst. So if you are travelling, look these airlines up! You're certainly in good hands.
We obtained our baggage at Luqa (Malta International Airport) and were picked up by a representative of the Malta Tourist Authority. A brief car ride and we arrived at the luxurious Fortina Hotel in Sliema. Sliema is a city in Malta that has long had favours with the tourist industry. Its great location and closeness to all types of recreation and gastronomic delights has made it a haven for those interested in having fun and enjoyment as well as relaxation. The hotel is among the best here with excellent room accommodation. The balconied view overlooks the lit patio bar below and offers a great view the surrounding area and buildings. Other rooms offer a magnificent view of the harbour with its many boats and recreational areas.
After a brief respite, Greg and I met and went for a walk along the Sliema promenade. People in Malta love the seashore and when there is a venue such as this: Great weather, calm seas and a fine summer eventing, it is a sounding call to "Walk The Sliema Promenade" and have a quiet during or a nice meal while people watching. The attractive young ladies, interesting joggers, loving families, couples in love-----all walk the promenade near the ever present sea.
Greg enjoyed a "Maltese Wrap" and a Cisk Lager with me while we watched the continuous action of people enjoying their relaxation near the sea.
It did seem that such a tranquil scene came from an island that has also known hardship for had it not been a bastion of strength during two sieges (1565 and 1942) the world might be a very different place today. This little place has time and time again kept the world from imploding by standing up to dictatorial bullies and coming out ahead. But what do they say? One cannot enjoy the fruits of anything without sacrifice? Well the fruits were well enjoyed here tonight.
Tomorrow we begin our work in earnest. We both are looking forward to our stay!
End of First Day

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day Eight: August 9th-------Goodbye B.C.

please scroll down to the begining of this blog to get the best impression and interpretation of this trip! Go to the entry
titled "Exploring British Colombia's Wine Country"

On Our Way
We checked out of the Summerland Water Resort around 8:30 AM and proceeded to go north on HWY 97. Greg took shots as we drove. We made good time but heard that the Toronto area was experiencing some very rough weather.
The agent at the baggage counter mentioned that it was quite bad in Toronto as they were under a severe weather warning but our plane was on time and would leave on time. I wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
We did leave and we did arrive okay though there was some turbulence in the air. While in B.C we were in an area that was having serious drought problems. We were welcomed to Toronto to a deluge of rain and more rain. "Unfair," I thought to myself as the long and lean limousine made its way to Whitby and my home.
I will not soon forget the great B.C. areas of Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys with their lakes, rivers, wineries and wines, towns and most of all the people made this trip so enjoyable. My special thanks goes to:
Alison Scholefield of Coletta & Associates for her capable assistance and patience in dealing with this project.
Sally Sharpe, Manager of Hospitality, Vincor, a Constellation Company, what would we have done without her?! She was invaluable!!!
Kelly Reid, Penticton and Wine Country Tourism, a wealth of information from a truly classy person.
A very special thanks to Del Rollo, National Manager/Director of Hospitality for Vincor, Canada------a Constellation Company for his gracious assistance in getting this project going. Bold
Last but not least, a very special thanks to the many winemakers, guest services managers, boutique managers, chefs, hosts, hotel personnel and the wonderful caring people of the Okanagan area for all their assistance during our stay!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day Seven: August 8th: A Peachy Way To Go!!

The Penticton Market
Penticton didn't seem an enormously large community but what it didn't have in size, it sure made up for in spirit. Apart from the obvious sites and activities which I have been mentioning over the last few days, Penticton has a tremendous community spirit that is exhibited in the way the folks take part. Greg and I were lucky to take part in a several of these activities on this, our final day day in the Okanagan and British Colombia. The first of these was the Farmers Market.
Farmers' Market
From about May to October, some 67 vendors, 57 of which sell primary farm products. gather at the bottom of Main Street (at Lakeshore) to sell their wares at a local Farmers' Market. The products range from vegetables, candies, nuts and meat to soap, arts&crafts, preserves and pet goods.
Market manager Cindy Nelson introduced us to a few of the shop owners. Greg and I interviewed the usual shop owners with their fruit and vegetable stands but there were some other attractions that seemed worth the wait in line for. Dietz's Sausage stand was one of these items which had some "delish" home made bison sausages on a bun. The other was called "The Feathered Frog" whose owner, Shirley Mrau, exhibited her hand crafted luxury soaps.
One couple we ran into were quite familiar. Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart of Joy Road Catering were there selling their baked goods and guess what, they put me to work serving the public. The one major line up was at this booth and no wonder! Their tarts and cinnamon roll were amazing. I found that serving the pubic was good but eating the products of Joy Road Catering was better.
While at the "Market" we kept on being disturbed by what seemed to be loud motorcycle riders going up and down the street. I looked that way and noticed that a crowd had started to gather on both sides of the street so I asked Cam what the goings on were.
"They're getting ready to do the Peach Parade!", he said, not missing a stroke as he plucked a rhubarb tart for one of the waiting customers, "They have it every year and it's fun!"
Greg, was busy munching on a tart of his own when he heard this and I knew where we were going next.
The Penticton Peach Festival and Peach Parade
I kept getting visions of the old Beverly Hillbilly television series where Jed and Granny would try to get a "Possum Parade" evented and have Elly May as the "Possum Queen" however, the Peach Parade was far from that. The parade was a serious and delightful celebration with some of the best and most original floats that I have seen in many years. It put many Christmas Parades in other cities to shame and the colours were magnificent.
The Peach Festival and Parade have been an on going event since 1947 and had special events going on for an entire week. The precision air team, "The Snow Birds" took part as did a myriad of entertainers such as the band "The Tragically Hip." This was a community effort and all took part to make it a success. I remembered when my home town used to do this. It would be nice to see again!
The Parade was a success and yes, there was a Peach Queen who happened to be the 61st Miss Penticton. We also saw some celebs such as MP Stockwell Day riding a "bike vehicle" within the Parade. In all, a very entertaining and pleasant time for all-------including yours truly.
Next on the agenda was a trip to Penticton Beach where Greg wanted to get a couple of segments on film. The beaches of this area are especially clean and reminiscent of the much larger seaside beaches in other world resorts. You can tell that the folks in the Okanagan are very proud of what they have and they do not wish to spoil it. Finally, Greg and I went to the source of the "Tubing" craze that we saw floating down the river when we first came to the area. We went to "Coyote Cruises" and interviewed Jeff Plant about the tubing craze. It seemed that there was a very successful venture with large groups of mainly young adults and teenagers either rented tubes or brought their tubes to be filled with air to begin their two to seven hour journey down the channel. Of course, Gregory Rist, not to be outdone took the tube to task and we have it on film to prove the point. A sign of a true adventurer, he floated down several times just to make sure it looked okay on the film. Great stuff!
We decided to go back to the Waterfront resort and then go out to find a good pizza. We drove to Summerland and were so surprised to see the town almost deserted. Not even a dog trotted down the street. We drove around finally coming to a Pizza Gourmet business and ordered a large. "It will take about 20 minutes," the owner said so we went out for a drive. This is where we found out that we needed to ask more questions about places to go the next time we are anywhere.
We came to this hill and decided to drive up to the summit. We drove in a circular pattern up, up, up, up and up in what seemed to us an endless climb. We passed this woman descending down the hill-----she climbed it regularly for exercise! "You're almost there," she said as she quick stepped down the hill. I looked to my passenger's side and could see the entire area below. One false move and we would be rolling down the hill in quick haste. We did finally get to the summit which was so high up that we could see the whole of Summerland and surrounding area beneath us. I kept on saying to myself, coming up was hard. What about going down?
On the way down we did pass this lady not far from the entry gate. Sad thing! This was one time that Greg did not bring his television camera.
We picked up the pizza and went back to the resort to watch a movie. I opened up a bottle of Jackson-Triggs Cabernet Sauvignon and all was great with the world. Tomorrow, we would leave for Kelowna and Toronto.
End Of Day Seven.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

DAY Six: August 7-----Sites Around Penticton

Breakfast With Kelly
We were out of our rooms and in the lobby by 9 AM. The mornings in this particular part of Lake Okanagan were so serene, it was difficult to walk around without feeling that one was an intrusion. Greg and I were to meet Kelly Reid at the B.C. Wine Information Centre. Kelly was going to show us the cultural and scenic sites around the area and believe me, there were many!
British Colombia Wine Information Centre
The BC Wine Information Centre opened in 1997 and was the first V.Q.A. store in British Colombia. Apart from wine, it displayed and sold gifts, wine accessories, lo cal food items, cooking and wine books. In addition to the above, there was a great deal of information regarding the area and its many travelling destinations. This centre is managed by Laura Kowalchuk. The centre proper was run by the B.C. Wine Information Society.
Kelly was personality plus and made us comfortable very quickly. She certainly had the right temperament for the job. Her agenda was quite full so we were off, first for breakfast and then the tour.
We had breakfast at the foot of Main Street in Penticton and by the water of Lake Okanagan. I believe that the spot where we ate was part of the Lake City Casino. The ambiance was splendid and the day was turning out lovely.
Kelly then drove us to a spacious garden with many lily ponds, varieties of trees and of course flowers. We spent about an hour filming and viewing but then it was off to the Smythe Road Hiking Trail (Skaha Bluffs).
This was rather one of the more humorous parts of the entire B.C. Okanagan tour. It was sunny and warm. Greg, Kelly and I decided to walk up to the bluff area of the trail. We could see the deep blue Skaha Lake below in the distance. Of course, I kept on looking for rattlesnakes at every nook and cranny of the trail (there were many around but they are secretive cusses). Greg filmed us walking up the trail, he and I walking up the trail and a couple of hikers that came along (think that they were from Quebec) made great shots as they hiked and attempted to climb one of the cliffs for Greg while he shot them.
Then came the water bombers. The area north of Penticton and Kelowna was under siege from wild fires. One would not know it here since the most we saw was a slight haze which reminded me of a hot, humid and misty day in Toronto. As a matter of fact, it seemed that the smog in Toronto was worse. However, the planes would come. As soon as Greg got his camera ready, they would disappear. Greg and the planes played hide and seek with each other until he gave up out of frustration. Once he gave up, the planes started coming in droves----one after another. I couldn't help but laugh since this could have been taken right out of an old Warner Brothers Cartoon!
Actually the Skaha Bluffs were a very scenic spot with a vast expanse of hilly country bordered by huge vertical cliffs jutting up into the sky at about 90 degrees. The land was strewn with pines at various stages of growth and there was the desert vegetation also. Then there was the lake below. So blue and lovely. The whole scene viewed as one picture was utterly remarkable. To think that there were other equally if not more beautiful spots in the Okanagan.
Kelly then turned her attention to lunch and the Casabella Princess.
Okanagan Boat Ride on the Casabella Princess
First we went and had a light lunch at a place called Copper Cup Coffee where we had a couple of sandwiches and coffee. We then drove to the Penticton Marina where we were to board the Casabella Princess for a one hour tour. Greg and I got a kick out of a little pooch who was attacking the huge rope that held the boat (more like a ferry) in place. The dog was relentless and would not stop.
Greg and I got aboard and awaited the owners to launch the boat. Andy and Barbara Seifert provided a very entertaining one hour tour. Unlike the famed Gilligan's Island boat, the going wasn't getting rough and the mighty ship did not get lost. We were just entertained to the maximum by the husband and wife duo. One thing that did bug me (no pun intended) was a young 12 or 13 year old kid was capturing wasps in his drink and was having the greatest time torturing the poor creatures----until I couldn't take it any longer and grabbed the container and let them go. I really do not believe that any creature should be put through that. Living creatures are living creatures. I was tempted to give this kid a shove off the boat though!
The boat ride was leisurely and relaxing. Greg and I opted for beer rather than wine this time around. The breeze coming off Lake Okanagan was cooling and comfortable and the guests were great.
Greg and I then went out for a bite to eat and then had a bit of wine and some eats as we watched a movie to end the evening.
End of Day Six

Saturday, August 22, 2009

DAY FIVE: August 6th---Waterland Resort,Sumac Ridge,"Loca"l Restaurant.

Summerland Water Resort

Just ten minutes from Penticton and along a quiet stretch of Lake Okanagan was the Summerland Water Resort. The place was relatively new and the rooms delightfully equipped. Most had a view of the lake and had not only a full kitchen complete with cups, saucers, eating material, fridge/stove but also a living room, dining area and a very comfortable bed room. There was an HD television in the living area plus another one high overhead in the bedroom so as one could watch whiled lying down on a great bed. The quality of room was very high and the weather certainly made it even more so.
Penticton is truly an equally great place with many activities available from tubing (discussed earlier), to hiking, to water sports, cruises, cliff climbing and winery visiting. The close proximity of the many recreation centres and beaches made it very easy to take part in what seemed to be a fairy tale existence.
I felt that this was truly going to be a heck of a lot of fun and I wasn't wrong. Greg and I set off to Sumac Ridge for a day of filming and tasting great wines.
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery
Sumac Ridge is located about twenty minutes North of Penticton (and Summerland Waterfront Resort) off HWY 97 and within the cute town of Summerland. It is yet another winery founded by Harry McWatters. In fact, his daughter, Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, is associated with the winery which is owned by her employer, Vincor Canada. Mr. McWatters founded the winery in 1979 thus making Sumac Ridge the oldest estate winery in British Colombia.
Chef Roger Planiden
Great Estates Of Okanagan Executive Chef, Roger Planiden and Sumac Ridge Sous Chef, Mark Fuller get together to produce some innovative meals at Sumac Ridge's Cellar Door Bistro.
One of the first things that Greg and I did that morning was to go down and visit with Roger so as to film him making one of his artistic creations.
While Greg and Roger were in the kitchen doing their stuff, I was attracted to a fellow doing something to new barrels. He was pumping a liquid into them I believe that the material was liquid sulphurmixed with citric acid in a ten litre solution per barrel which kills all bacteria and harmful products that could damage the wine being put inside the barrels. He also said that there was a gas that could be used but considered it dangerous. The solution is left in the barrels until they are ready to be filled with wine and then the barrels are rinsed to clear out any of the liquid.
Roger had prepared a salad a la Sumac Ridge which we had with Black Sage Sauvignon/Semillion and a Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. Assistant Winemaker Jason James then took us to the Sumac Ridge tasting room and we tasted a SR Gewurztraminer, Black Sage Chardonnay and a Black Sage Merlot. We then went down to the Sumac Ridge Cellar to taste "Bubbly".
We tasted three types of sparkling, the premium Pinacle, the great Steller's Jay Brut and Tribute, which was aimed as a Non Vintage Sparkler done in the classical method and made especially for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Lunch was truly an interesting one. Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond came to meet us, as did Del Rollo (Nation Hospitality Manager) and Jason James. We had a great meal! I had the Soup and Salmon. Greg had a Seafood Pasta and Del/Jason/Christa-Lee had Chicken/Goat Cheese.
Jason ordered a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and lunch was a success.
We made arrangements to visit Christa-Lee and her husband's new restaurant which conveniently happened to be withing ten to twenty feet from our hotel.
The restaurant had a policy of just using local flavours for the dining lounge. The place was thus aptly named "Local"! The restaurant shows excellent choice of location between Summerland Water Hotel. The back view borders on Lake Okanagan which appeared larger than life. From the upper balcony of the restaurant the view is truly terrific and on a clear day---on could see forever.
Dinner, Sumac Ridge
Dinner came quickly.! We drove to Sumac Ridge and went to the Bistro. This time is was just Greg and me. We did notice "Sally Sharpe pitching in" since they were under staffed that night. To see a hospitality manager chip in when times are in need really says something about the calibre of staff that are at Sumac Ridge. Can't say enough good things about that Sally!!!
We did a bit of filming and had a nice dinner then we took our tired little bodies back to the Waterfront Resort and then to bed!
Wines Tasted
Sumac Ridge Reserve Wines:
Gewurztraminer: Floral nose with citrus notes of Mandarin orange, lychee and citrus orange with some garden spice. Crisp finish.
Sauvignon Blanc: Some herbal with citrus on nose. Herbal grass. citrus and honey berry flavour on palate.
Sumac Ridge Black Sage Vineyard Wines
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion (Meritage): Light vanilla, honey melon/citrus on the nose with vanilla spice, creamy melon and citrus lemon on palate. Nice finish.
Chardonnay: Vanilla spice, citrus, pear on nose with citrus. apple and butter/mango on palate. Creamy butter finish.
Merlot: Ripe blackberry/black currant, raspberry nose with plum, black fruit and anise on palate. Full in body and long lingering finish.
Sparkling Wines
Pinacle: Light red fruit nose gives way to pear/peach flavours on the palate. Zesty bubbles.
Steller's Jay Brut: A nice sparkler. Light red berry flavours with toast on the nose. Citrus, strawberry and creamy mousse dominate. Great refreshing finish.
Tribute: A non-vintage sparkler with bread/yeast and citrus on nose with citrus/apple and nice refreshing acid finish.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DAY FOUR:: August 5th, Inniskillin Okanagan, See Ya Later, Penticten's Visitor Centre and A fine Orofinno Dinner!

Good Bye Spirit Ridge: We checked out of our room at Spirit Ridge and made our way to Inniskillin. I truly liked our suite and would have like to learn more about this fine resort.
Seeing Light At Dark Horse Vineyard!!
Greg and I arrived at Inniskillin Okanagan early that morning. When we parked, we noticed these unusual creatures, which looked like ground hogs, up high among the rocks. They turned out to be Marmots and I guess, lived a similar life to ground hogs. Greg attempted and I believe succeeded in getting them on film while they perched over top of us. Interesting Creatures !
Why Inniskillin Okanagan Makes Great Wine!
Inniskillin Okanagan (and many other vineyards for that matter) is located in an area that is at the same latitude as the Rhine Valley in Germany and Champagne. However, it also lies on the most northerly part of the Sonoran Desert which is an extension of the Mexican desert. It is also a great deal drier than either the above two areas and Niagara,cool in winter and warm in summer. The dryness as seen with Osoyoos Larose, helps against disease and similar problems. The extremes are also carried on in the summer with warm days and cool nights which are important facts in the obtaining of adequate sugar (warmth) and acidity (cool evenings).
There are three main vineyards: Dark Horse, Bull Pine and Discovery. We saw the Discovery Vineyard while visiting with Troy just of Hwy 97 at his work depot. Bull Pine Vineyard has a two hundred foot perch over looking Lake Osoyoos at the southern tip of the Okanagan.
The Dark Horse Vineyard is an exceptionally beautiful piece of property at Inniskillin proper.
We met Audrey Silbernagel, Guest Services Supervisor who took us to the Gazebo located at the foot of Dark Horse Vineyard. There we tasted some wines. There was a phenomenal Chenin Blanc and a delicious Rose. Then came the Icewines, which were just great---especially the Tempranillo Ice Wine. The Discovery series of wines is truly amazing and reflects the on going research by Inniskillin into experimenting with new varieties and blends.
Discovery Series
Inniskillin makes some great wines from the flavourful and light Varietal Series, to the fuller and richer Reserve Series, to the Single Vineyard and Disovery Series. The Discovery Series really interests me since it features unknown territory so to speak where varieties that are unexplored are grown in small lots, Pinotage, Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, Marsanne Rousanne and Sangiovese are a few of the grape varieties. I suggested some Portuguese grapes such as Baga, Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional, Castelao and Arinto as a possibility.
As usual, Sally Sharpe was along with coffee and shortly after came Del Rollo and Andrew Cane.
I met Andrew Briefly some time ago but I knew Del well. We met some years ago while he was still the Mnager of the Jackson-Triggs Boutique in Ontario. His electric personality and tremendous energy quickly catapulted him into the light. He was very active with the Hospitality Industry throughout North America and has since risen to become the National Hospitality Director for Vincor, Canada. He continues to progress forward in the business and I wish him all the luck.
Del and I did a little interview walking among the vines at Dark Horse. We chatted about the vineyard and its formative soil aptly called "Ratnip" and consisting of stones, sandy loam and loamy sand. We also chatted about how he got into the business and his future. He also advised me that one of my most favourite people, Donald Triggs had his new vineyard just over the hill. Called Arise Vineyards. I informed Del of some of my ideas regarding new grape varieties that I think would grow well in the Okanagan/Osoyoos areas. Nice Chat. Greg and I continued to film until the time to say See Ya Later!
See Ya Later Ranch
We decided to take the scenic route to See Ya Later Ranch which was a high climb over some very scenic territory. We passed some very interesting and unusual lakes that had a white shoreline but not white like coral sand but white like chemical. It turns out that they are called Alkaline Lakes and the deposit caused by evaporation is the left over minerals. The water is poisonous due to its extreme alkalinity. Beauty in this case can be deadly!
We finally got to See Ya Later where we met the Chista-Lee McWatters-Bond, daughter of former owner and wine icon, Harry McWatters and there also, Sally Sharpe. I began thinking that Sally was actually one of several clones that ran around being Sally Sharpe. Del and Andrew also came for lunch as did Derek Kontkanen and several other winemakers.
We introduced to ranch winemaker Mason Spink who prepared us for a food and wine match and later on another wine tasting of See Ya Later wines. We also discussed the reason for the name over a glass of See Ya Later Brut Sparkling.
The Major
Major Hugh Fraser (1885-1970) was an educated World War One veteran who, after some time in a prisoner of war camp, came to the Okanagan for a visit and ended up staying. He purchased a property on Hawthorne Mountain and lived there becoming a pet philanthropist as well as community organizer. He had a penchant for dogs, allowing them to roam freely around his property. He would bury them when they died-----putting their names, birth and death dates on headstones. These are still there to this day. Later on in life, he became active in the SPCA (Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals). Many of the SYL Ranch wine names are dedicated to the dogs that Fraser knew i.e. Jimmy My Pal, Nellie, Ranch Rover etc.
Just as a point, when we were there filming, a member of the SPCA was there with a lovely dog which took away our hearts. Had we not been some 3500 kilometres from home, I am sure that the dog would have come back with us.
The name "See Ya Later" has a couple of significant meanings. One refers to the fact that his fiance (spouse) came to live at the farm and found life so demanding that she basically said "See Ya Later!" The other and seemingly more factual (not to mention less sad) refers to how he signed off on his favourite past time of writing letters. He said simply, "See Ya Later" and shortened that to SYL.
The ranch name was later changed to "Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards" but later changed back to "See Ya Later". By any name, the property is a splendid piece of work and absolutely dazzling with sheer geographic beauty. It was one of my favourite spots and I do intend to return.
Harry McWatters
One cannot talk about "See Ya Later" or any wines in B.C. without mentioning the name that has become an Icon of B.C. Wine. Harry McWatters founded B.C.'s first estate winery in 1979 and went on to become a living legend in the trade. He has affected all aspects of the B.C. wine trade environment as well as many non wine related issues. His daughter Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, carries on the tradition. Mr. McWatters now works as a consultant with a consulting firm that he founded.
Wines Tasted
On Arrival
See Ya Later Brut: Very refreshing, yeast, apple/citrus on nose with pear/apple/citrus on palate. Very small, lasting bubbles and clean crisp finish. Nice wine at any time!
With Lunch: Cheese and Vegetable Platters
SYL Pinot Gris: Great with both cheese and veggies. Wine had meadow fruit flavours such as peaches, sweet apple and pear. Some vanilla spice and I noted some herbal characteristics with my grilled veggies. I'm not usually a PG fan but I like this one.
SYL Pinot Noir:Nice wine with the meal. Red fruit on nose with a hint of vanilla spice and pleasant red fruit flavours on palate with vanilla wood finish. Some herbal characteristics noted with veggies and cheese but not a predominant taste/flavour.
Wines Tasted In The Vineyard
SYL Jimmy My Pal: A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Semillon (about one third each). On the nose of mangoe, pineapple, apple and pear with similar flavours on the palate. Nice acidity on the finish.
SYL Ranch Rover: A blend of Shiraz and Viognier aged in French and American Oak. Lovely wine for grilled meat and/or that special steak. Nose of Cherry, vanilla and pepper spice with similar flavours including some black fruit.
SYL Nellie: A blend of Gamay, Cabernet and Gewurztraminer, Nellie is a pleasant fruity wine made for summer fun and relaxation. Raspberries, strawberries and melons abound and would be fine either on its own or with light salads, meats and fowl.
Off To Summerland Water Resort and Joy Road Catering
We begrudgingly said "See Ya Later' to SYL Ranch and made our way to Summerland Water Resort in Penticton. The drive as usual was enertaining in sheer beauty of the landscape and lake. We registered and then went to meet Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith for a gourmet dinner under the stars.
We dropped in at the Penticton Visitors' Centre and met Kelly Reid withwhom we were going to go sight seeing the next day. The Visitor's Centre also has examples of most of the Okanagan's fine wines available for purchase. A wealth of information, any visitor to this area must visit this centre prior to any activity or risk missing out on some serious fun!
Sally Sharpe---remember her? Sally left us a couple of bottles of SYL Brut to enjoy on our arrival and of course, Greg made sure that our enjoyment was captured on film. Soon it was time to eat and eat we did. However, I got the surprise of my life!
On coming to B.C. I had in mind to contact a certain John Webber, owner of Orofino Winery. I had tasted a bottle of his Cabernet in 2006 and had to have his winery in my book called "Rendezvous for Dinner" where I matched 50 of my favourite wineries with meals.
You can imagine he surprise I had when he was to be the guest winemaker at this event.
Here is a description of the meal and the accompanying wines.
First Entree: Orofino Riesling with:
Organic beer fed pork on apple chips with green onion and ginger
Peaches withbasil and Canadian prosciutto
Second Entree: Orofino Chardonnay with:
Qualicum bay scallops pan seared in beurre noisette
Corn, cippolini, Pancetta hash with cauliflower puree
Third Entree: Orofino Pinot Noir with:
Homemade venison sausage with heirloom beets, pickled gooseberries and taragon
Main Course: Orofino Beleza with:
Wild boar, charcoal grilled shoulder & roasted leg
Tomato and zucchini gratin with oregano
Olive tapenade aioli
White beans with summer savoury, slivered garlic,
capers and pine nuts
Market greens
Dessert: Late Harvest Muscat with:
Balaton cherries from the lavender farm with chocolate mousse and hazel d'entelles.
The wine and food matches were superb and Greg and I met some very interesting and pleasant people including some fine folks from the Netherlands. Cameron and Dana were lovely people who certainly know how to cook and their business atop of God's Mountain Estate is truly beautiful as a venue for not only having a delicious and relaxing meal but also for the breathtaking view of the lake below.
Wines Tasted At The Joy Catering Dinner
See Ya Later Brut: An excellent way to start any evening! The SYL Sparkling Brut made in the same way as the French Methode Champenoise is the perfect sparkler with fine small bubbles and great flavour. The acidity helps clear the palate for the meal to come and the bubbles serve to provide an atmosphere of fun!
Orofino Riesling: An exceptional wine with orchard/tropical fruit on the nose and the same on the palate. Great spice helps provide further complexity. The wine has a fine developped acidity that refreshes the palate and leaves a long lasting finish.
Orofino Chardonnay: Vanilla, peach, pear some manderin orange on the nose with butterscotch, subtle vanilla wood and mango on the palate. A fine rich acidity with a lingering finish.
Orofino Pinot Noir: Smoke, plum, cherry, wood spice, earth on nose with combined ripe black/red fruit on palate. Medium to full bodied with ever so lingering a finish that I find typical with John Webber's wines.
Orofino Beleza: A block buster of a wine! Black cherry/blackberry, plum, black currant on the nose. It evolves if allowed to develop in the glass to ripe red fruits with coffee, cocao, chocolate. On the palate, full bodied with vanilla wood spice, chocolate, coffee and plenty of dark ripe fruit. Lingering finishes of pepper and ainise. A tremendous wine that knows power. This wine was made for game such as venison, moose, boar, elk and like.
Orofino Late Harvest Muscat: On the nose blossom/floral scents with nutmeg spice. On the palate some lychee nut, mandarin orange and nice acidity.
End Of Day Four

Saturday, August 15, 2009

DAY THREE:August 4th: Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, Osoyoos Larose, Sunrock Vineyards

Off to Jackson Triggs Okanagan
Jackson Triggs Okanagan wasn't far from Spirit Ridge. It was located in Oliver surrounded by some of he most beautiful scenery anywhere this side of Heaven! With desert (true desert) to the south and mountains, lakes, vineyards all around, it isn't hard to imagine why people loved their homes here. Jackson Triggs originally leased over 400 acres of the Osoyoos Lake Bench from the Osoyoos Native Band. The site was divided into two main vineyards: Bull Pine (240 acres) and Bear Cub (186 acres). In 2006, the winery opened its Tasting Gallery.
Both Greg and I were quite impressed with the gallery (especially when Sally Sharpe was there with coffee, muffins and sandwiches on hand) and the wines that went with it. It seemed that on this trip, we were going to experience some great sites and great wines also.
We walked the large glass doors that allowed onlookers to peak at the goodies. We were net by Guest Services Manager, Suzanne Coles. She led us through the nicely decorated wine gallery to the tasting bar. There she had some wines waiting for us.
We tasted three wines, Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc, Jackson Triggs Shiraz and Jackson Triggs Icewine all of which were prize efforts.
Greg and I did some comical routines with the Icewine where we would ask Suzanne to obtain some water or something and then Greg would quickly get the bottle of Icewine and pour himself a glass before she came back. This was all done for the purpose of film comedy of course and it was fun. We paid our respects to Suzanne and were off to our next visit with gregarious and passionate Pascal Madovan of Osoyoos Larose
What can I say about Pascal. He is a passionate and talented wine maker who came to British Colombia from Chateau La Tour Blanche in Bordeaux to make wine. I remember what he said about his first encounter with the grapes at Osoyoos Larose:"I saw the quality of the grapes of the very young vines and I knew immediately that great wine could be made here."
Osoyoos Larose was a joint, 1998 venture between Vincor, Canada (now a part of Constellation) and Group Taillan of Bordeaux, France. It was created with the intent of producing a Canadian wine that was clearly exceeded the quality standards of the Vintners Quality Alliance in Canada. The wine would be made up of Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
No expence was spared in the making of this vineyard/winery. Top consultants were hired in the form of Michel Rolland and Alain Sutre, both of France. Special vine clones were shipped from the Mercier Nursery of Bordeaux and Mr. Sutre personnally designed the special con shaped fermentation tanks. Each grape variety is fermented on its own and produces varietal wine that by itself could be award winning. Only French Oak from top (Sequin, Sylvain, Garnier etc.) barrel makers or coopers. Everything from the grape selection, to the fermentation to the pumping to the aging is done gently and meticulously. One interesting thing was the painting of the barrels with grape must colour----I guess to keep the barrels looking neat in case of spillage.
I had the pleasure of being put to work doing this by Pascal----the perfectionist. He said that I did a good job. At least I did not get the other parts of the barrel and myself painted. Later that day I did find some small red splash marks on my shirt.
We had a great filming at the winery with all the special equipment et all and then made plans to meet Pascal at the vineyard later on that afternoon.
We left Pascal and Osoyoos to meet Troy Osborne, Vineyard Operations Mangager for Jackson Triggs, for a tour of the Sumac Ridge Vineyard. We met him at the Cock and Bull Restaurant in Oliver---a town incorporated in 1921 by a John Oliver as a respite for World War One Veterans. It is called for some reason, the "Wine Capital Of Canada" though there are many Ontario wineries who would disagree!
Troy took us first to his work depot where he showed us the grape harvesting machine that was used to gather grapes. These machines can do the work of a whole crew of people and do it much faster. While expensive, they save money in the long run. He also showed us the Discovery vineyard right next to the depot. Greg took advantage to get this on film and then we were off to Sumac Ridge Black Sage Vineyard just off Highway 97 on Black Sage Road.. Here, high on the vineyard hill we looked out upon vineyards and open country or should I say dessert. It was interesting to see vineyards that were not on great ground as compared to those on better quality drainage. We viewed some more while discussing the wildfire situation in the areas North of Kelowna. Troy actually called in to see how things were. Thus, we ended up expaining why the light smoke was hazing the area. In actual fact, it was not that bad as far as clarity was concerned since a warm, sunny, smoggy day in Toronto was more of an impediment to the clarity distance than the fire was. We then parted ways with Troy after he drove us to our vehicle rental which was parked at the work depot. Then we were off to Osoyoos Larose located between Highway 3 and Highway 97 not far from Oliver.
Osoyoos Larose Vineyard
We arrived at the Osoyoos Larose Vineyard rather quickly and there was Pascal waiting for us. I said to myself, what a nice likeable fellow. His enthusiasm was contagious as he showed us his pride and joy---the vines. I really pulled a blooper, while on the way, I was talking to Greg about Le Clos Jordanne and the significance of the masqueline "Le" as compared to the feminine "Jordanne". I wondered why it was not "La Clos Jordanne". I asked Pascal this and his answer was that the word "Clos" is always masqueline and thus it is Le Clos Jordanne as compared to La Clos Jordanne. It wasn't that important but it allowed me to start thinking Pinot Noir. When I saw the vines and grapes I asked Pascal about the Pinot on the vines. He looked absolutely shocked saying "There is no Pinot Noir here!" I realized my mistake and he immediately started shouting and laughing, "Chuck has a blooper!" Mea Culpa!
The vines were planted according to the dictates of their physiological needs. Merlot, was, for example planted high on the vineyard hill to take advantage of the cooler temps---especially in the afternoon while the Cabernet Sauvignon was planted closer to the bottom nearer Lake Osoyoos in order to get more sun and heat exposure. The vines also were irrigated in a unique way with pipes aiming the water away from the leaves (to prevent disease). Here at Osoyoos disease is not as prevalent as in other wine growing areas since the area is very dry. The only major problem that could be pointed to is leaf hoppers and they themselves did not pose that much of a problem..
Pascal then brought two Riedel glasses and an open bottle of Osoyoos Larose part of which we drank in the vineyard. Great stuff!
Sun Rock Vineyards
We set off to the next visit to Sunrock vineyard and a meeting with Jackson Triggs winemaker D erek Kontkanen. Derek is quite young but firmly established as a reputable winemaker. Sun Rock Vineyard is an exceptionally lovely place whose dominant feature is a large massive rock structure that has vines readiating from it. In the centre there is a Gazebo which overlooks the entire vineyard. One thing, there are also signs warning against rattlesnakes. While we were warned to watch for them, we really never had fear of coming across one. It seems, though that others have and it was best to always be careful.
Derek brought sevcral wines for us to taste at the Gazebo. We tasted a Sun Rock Chardonnay and a Jackson Triggs Rose. The wines tasted magnificent but Iknew very well that a great atmosphere such as this Gazebo midst the sensual setting of vines and sun could have affected my perception. I tasted the wines again in the privacy of my room and guess what! The wines still tasted superb. The day ended quite well with us eating a delicious meal at our suite with the Osoyoos Larose left over from the tasting.
Wines Tasted

Jackson Triggs Okanagan

Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc: Pleasant herbal characteristics with honey-dew melon and some grape fruit citrus.

Jackson Triggs Sun Rock Shiraz: Plum. blueberry,pepper and vanilla wood. On the nose: Dark fruit with black cherry, blackberry and black currant tastes.

Jackson Triggs Icewine (Riesling): Very nice and pleasant sweetness. Not cloying. The wine has aromas of apricots, peaches and nectarines. Lucious consistency and flavour on the palate. Sweet pear/apricot/peach.

Osoyoos Larose

Osoyoos Larose 2006: A truly great wine with ripe red cherry/raspberry, vanilla, chocolate and coffee on the nose and palate. Excellent integrity and tannin structure with a lingering and lasting finish.

Sun Rock Vineyard (Jackson Triggs)

Rose:Pleasant notes of strawberry/raspberry on nose and palate. Crisp refreshing acidity (especially on the Gazebo on a very warm afternoon).

Sun Rock Chardonnay: Yellow gold in colour. Nose: Ripe tropical fruits, apple, wood vanilla and nuts. On the palate: citrus, mango, peach with a touch of butterscotch. Pleasant acidity on the finish.

Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve Caberbet Sauvignon: Black fruit, coffee and spice on nose with black fruit (cherry, blackberry), coffee/chocolate and anise on palate. Full bodied and delicious (tasted later).

Friday, August 14, 2009

DAY TWO-------Nk'Mip and Spirit Ridge-----Time For New Friends, Great Wines and Superb Cooking!!

Early Start
I awoke at 4:30 AM. I wondered why it was so early. Greg and I had retired early and I had the best sleep. Desert air agreed with me. The other thing is that I had washed some of my "T" shirts and hung them up to dry on the balcony. They were bone dry----a benefit from the dry air. I realized that 4:30 AM was actually 7:30 Am in Toronto. B.C. was three hours behind in time. Thus, I calculated that I actually slept in by about one hour. Good sleep indeed!
Greg always got up early and then wandered around the area scanning for shots and film possibilities. Today was no different and I decided to tag along. We decided very early in the journey that it would be great to have a third party to film us. With each passing day, I couldn't agree more. In this case, a third member was necessary if we were to get the best shots of us wandering around and looking at this unique desert scenario. To prove a point, a large Osprey flew over head and in the distance could be heard the voices of little ones. The bird headed toward the sounds and eventually melded with the rock so far above. A third person would have got the whole thing.

Off To Nk'Mip Cellars
Nk'Mip Cellars was first established by the Osoyoos Native Band in 1968 and thus have some of the oldest vines going. The joint venture with Vincor gave impetus to the already existing potential of this winery. Randy Picton the present winemaker, has worked wonders with these superb grapes and makes some dynamite wines full of concentration and flavour.
The inside of the winery was modern, large and fresh. Much cooler than the 40 or so degrees Centigrade outside. To the left was a picture of the person who started it all, "Sam Baptiste" who was an former Chief of the Osoyoos Band and also the Winemaker. His idea and vision brought Nk'Mip to the forefront. Another picture showed the new Chief, Clarence Louie. Two men with two visions and both successful.
I also met Lindsay Anderson, a Intern Guest Services Manager who had her feet firmly implanted in two worlds. Lindsay impressed me with her knowledge, personality, drive and intelligence. Her interest seemed to lay both in her job at Nk'Mip and the Osoyoos Band. I predict that she will go far in both. She later gave an account for the symbolic circle of figures featured in ceramic display on the floor of the winery. Another interesting fact was that her mother's art was featured in a display platform within the winery.
The Guest Services Manager, Jennifer, welcomed us and took us into the office to introduced us to Sally Sharpe, Hospitality Manager for Vincor. Sally was all of five four, very pretty and quite dynamic. She impressed me from the very beginning as being an energy plus person who loved people and her job. She also gave the impression of having a no nonsense attitude about her work and to do what was necessary in order to get her job done. Her job today was to give Gregand me a tour of the building, its cellars and winery. We also did a tasting in various parts of the winery.
Several areas were set up where we tasted Nk'Mip wines. We started with a Riesling in one area; thenQwam Qwmt Merlot in another. We then went to eat on the patio overlooking vines. It was warm! A mister, sprayed minutes amount of water into the air to cool things down. It worked for me. I was informed that Sam Baptiste was on his way to meet us-----us being, Ms. Busmann, Sally Sharpe, Greg and me.
Chef Patrick served us a platter of special treats such as, honey cooked salmon, beef strips, vegetables, corn bread and orange and yellow carrots. The meal was served with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Both wines went very well with the food and vice versa. Of course the wines were Nk'Mip. Our server's name was Tamara, by the way and it seems that everyone who works for Vincor has a great background in wine. Tamara is a Brock University graduate in-----wine making. Guess what she wants to eventually do!!!!!
Sam Baptise came over to join us. For a person who has done so much, Sam was gave one the impression of being a quiet, humble, "matter of fact" person---the type you would go to for advice or if you were in trouble! Sam first and foremost sees himself as winemaker who loves to make wine. This of course is apparent as he started the whole dream around Nk'Mip. He is proud of the wines that he helped create and also of the accomplishments. today, he wanted to talk vines. He spoke about how the vines grow and why they grow so well. "The desert air keeps them healthy. No disease has a chance to become attached since it is so dry. The only enemy is cold and some leaf hoppers but mainly its cold. Last winter, it became quite cold and some vines died. Usually it does not get as cold."
I looked out at the vines as we ate. The contrast between the green vines and the desert mixture of sage, lavender and grass was quite attractive. Lindsay told me that the desert opposite next to and on the other side of the road was protected and that a percentage of the revenues of the wine sold went to the upkeep---or should I say preservation of that area.
I noticed that Sam liked the salmon. So did I and and all of us talked and ate quietly as the afternoon sun wore on and a brief breeze softly blew at our faces.
Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre
Later on that day Greg and I got a tour of the Cultural Centre's Native Village with Charlotte Stringam. The one thing that really impressed me was that while it was about 43 degrees Celcius and very hot, inside the native huts/teepees of the village, it was quite comfortably cool thanks to specially constructed weaved mats that formed the enclosure of the buildings.
The centre is located on the Spirit Ridge Property and is a wealth of information and also has native cultural items for sale at its boutique. The purpose of the centre is to educate. That it does well! Greg and I sat in on a presentation about the native snakes of the area such as the rattlesnake, rubber boa, gopher snakes. Live presentations were shown to both alert the public and yet inform them that these species are there for a purpose. With some careful planning and education both man and reptile can live in the same area together.
Passa Tempo
Down the hallway from the main foyer and located at the end of Spirit Ridge Resorts central building was Passa Tempo, the bistro style restaurant with phenomenal views vineyards mountains and Lake Osoyoos. The patio and indoor parts of Passa Tempo were equally comfortable. The host staff were busy guiding guests to tables, serving them or inventively watching to see if they were needed. The bartender was busy preparing cocktails, getting wines and opening bottles. He also seemed very adept at his job---seeming to enjoy the business.
Owner Paul Lagrange, introduced himself to us and proceeded to tell the bartender to give us a drink. Believe it or not, Both Greg and I had beer. Why? You must keep in mind that we came off a long trip to Portugal where we tasted many wines. We had also had a tasting of four wines that day. So we needed to refresh our palates and beer was exactly the correct choice.
Greg, then went off to film the Chef Chris Van Hooydonk making a meal while I stayed back and enjoyed the scenery. Later, Paul Lagrange took us out to the patio and sat us down next to him. It was warm but the humidity was low and also it was getting cooler as it does in the desert.
Passa Tempo features locally grown food as well as Okanagan Wines. It certainly helped that Paul was a trained Sommelier with twenty seven years of experience in the industry. What also helped was his winning personality and obvious capability.
Greg had filmed the Halibut being cooked so he had that with all the trimmings as his choice while I had the Salmon Fillet. Paul went with a Seafood Platter. They all looked delicious and Greg's certainly looked great. With the meal we had the Qwam Qwmt Merlot which went quite well though many "experts" would have picked either a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. I believed that you got what you felt like and to your taste. The Merlot went fine!
Paul then said, "Let's get dessert." He ordered a platter of various desserts which absolutely spoiled us and along with it, some Nk'Mip Icewine. A match made in Heaven or should I say, Spirit Ridge!
The following wines were tasted today either on their own or with a meal. Here they are in order of tasting!
Nk'Mip Riesling: Brilliant lemon yellow colour. Nose dictated fine citrus mandarin/lemon/lime notes. Palate had crisp, clean citrus with mineral notes with a pebble dry finish.
NK'Mip Qwam Qwmt Merlot Highly concentrated, this wine has excellent fruit (black) with plum/currant/flavours. It is potentially an ageable wine but there is nothing wrong in enjoying it now.
Nk'Mip Pinot Noir: Strawberry nose with cherry fruit, on the palate it has tart cherry flavours with a whisper of plum. The finish is elegant and lasting.
Nk'Mip Chardonnay:Citrus and vanilla on the nose with a citrus, pear, fine wood, toasted oak on the palate.
Nk'Mip Rielsing Icewine: Bouquet of apricots, peaches, apple pie with a flavour of palate for baked spiced apples, honey, peaches and a nice acidity that was gripping but not overly so.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Exploring British Colombia's Wine Country--------the begining!!!!

DAY ONE: August 2nd-----Arrival at Kamloops!

I looked out the window of "WestJet" flight 631 as it was flying over the Rocky Mountains. Viewing the majestic mountains from over top always seemed like a spiritual experience to me. The sheer magnitude of these mountains and the massive tectonic power of the earth to form such splendor did not fail to amaze me. Then again, it was the power of the ice that did the final job on these peaks----carving out the cirques and valleys, making them seem so ominous yet so beautiful. "If this is all I see", I said to myself, "it is worth the trip!"
Yet it was not all I was going to see. I knew that! There was awaiting me a new adventure with the co-host of "Adventures in Wine Country", Greg Rist. where we were about to begin an exciting seven day stay in the Okanagan.
The series that had already taken us to Nova Scotia and Portugal now brought us to the west coast of Canada and the Okanagan Valley. From the air could be seen smoke though it looked like humidity rather than billowing smoke. As the plane descended upon Kelowna, the smoke cleared and appeared like a distant haze. The sun was still shining and when we did emerge from the plane, we could feel the tremendous heat of the day. We were in a heat wave.
That wouldn't have been anything to talk about with the exception at the time, Toronto was in something of a coldwave. The lows that B.C. was experiencing were the highs for Toronto.
Kelowna airport is quite small and it was easy to get our luggage and rent a vehicle that would transport us to our first stop, Osoyoos and the Spirit Ridge Resort/Nk'Mip Cellars (pronounced Inkameep).
Okanagan Valley
It was a very dry and warm summer in the Okanagan. There were fires though we did not see any. The only tell tale indications were a haze the floated down from the North. As I said before, it looked like Toronto on a warm, sunny and hazy day. The area was still breathtakingly beautiful as we cruised down Highway 97 South past small towns, high hills and some of the most enchanting lakes that I have ever seen. Long, blue and very deep. That can be a description used for most of them.
The valley is composed of four areas: Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Osoyoos. An extension of the Sonora Dessert, it is classed as semi arid. This translates to very dry!!! Irrigation makes it possible to grow crops including----grape vines. Grapes grow well here. Why not! 2000 hours of sunshine, dryness to keep diseases at bay and heat in the day to bring up the sugar levels and cool at night to keep the acidity up, that is a ideal climate for grapes. One hitch happened last year when the temperatures descended into dangerous territory (-23 Centigrade). Some vinifera vines died---especially flatter areas pockets of cool settled.
We travelled down along Lake Okanagan, past Penticton and Vernon. Within the limits of Penticton, on Lakeside Drive, there is a river that flows down to Lake Skaha along side Highway 97 South. Here a craze happens that I was not familiar with. it's called "Tubing" and people bring or rent large rubber tube boats and float the distance of about 7 to 10 kilometres down the creek to Lake Skaha. This attracts hundreds of "tubers" dressed in no more than bathing suits and bikinis-----sometimes sans tops----!!! Various pieces of items are taken with the participants including that nice kool one----especially on a hot summer day. As we continued on our way down the 97, we saw famous names that we read about in wine books and magazines: Mission Hill, Burrowing Owl, Quails Gate, Blasted Church. Soon we were close to the Town of Osoyoos and finally, Spirit Ridge and Nk'Mip!
I had pictured Nk'Mip alone-------a large symbolic winery in the middle of nowhere but surrounded by hills. It wasn't exactly that.
Osoyoos was anything but sleepy. It was small but it was also bustling with a large selection of convenience, grocery, liquor and fast food stores. There were touristy placards and Lake Osoyoos was a wealth of activity from swimming (love those bikinis) and boating. We drove down the main street until we came to the sign of Spirit Ridge.
A quick left turn and we headed up the road for about a mile or so until we came to a life size sculpture of a Native Canadian on a horse with hands held high as if to both welcome and pray. On one side of the road that headed up to the statue was natural desert on the other, vines.
Spirit Ridge
This was not what I anticipated. This was not a quiet winery alone in the wilderness. This was a very popular resort and winery. This was not just a hang out for oenophiles and their cronies. This was a cosmopolitan hotel part of which was still being built. There was a four star restaurant, gym, entertainment centre and just left of the resort, a Cultural Information Centre where guest could go and become more knowledgeable about Native Arts and Culture. The Osoyoos Native Band is in charge of the complex and have made it into a very profitable venture, thanks in part to their ingenuity and hard work and in another part to Vincor for assisting them with their winery.
As we walked from the parking lot and along the route to the main office of the resort, I couldn't get over the children playing, diving, splashing in the hotel pool while adults lounged in the Sun. For those who were so inclined, there was a desert horseback riding area as well as other activities that could take place in the town.
Checking in was a breeze, our hosts, Coletta and Associates did their job well. Greg and I were given a suite in one of the newer additions to the Resort. It wasn't anywhere near small. As a matter of fact, it was huge. Main kitchen/living Room with large HD television and a balcony overlooking the back of the Resort (which had a rather tall hill/mountain rising up-up-way up!).
On either side of the kitchen/living Room was a bedroom with its own en suite. My side also had a laundry room. The kitchen had a fridge, stove, cupboards, cups etc. There was a coffee make that made 12 cups----great news for me!
We later went to Nk'Mip winery across the road next door and looked around but since it was getting late, Greg and I decided to purchase a bottle of red---Nk'Mip Merlot and went back to the room where we satiated our lust for wine and food------a great Grandpa Burger from A&W. Burger! A&W? Hey, a great wine goes with any food and burgers are great also!
Nk'Mip Merlot: Great wine with nose of blackfruit, some wood and earth. On the palate it had great red/black fruit (blackberry, plum, black currant) flavours with a touch of anise and vanilla on finish.

END Of First Day

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 11---July 9th-----Deeper In The Douro----Then Good-Bye!!!!

Scroll down to the begining for full story. Begins at June 28th
Upper Douro----Ruggedly Handsome and Unchanging
The upper Douro Valley was a very far cry from the lush Vinho Verde area. Rugged and unwavering, it had, however, a charm and mystique about it. Powerful and beautiful with its high hills and terraced vineyards, there seemed to be a certain peace up there--as I looked down at the valleys below.
Quinta do Portal
Pedro Mansilha Branco was/is a master oeonologist and winemaker. A man of inspiring passion and pride in his work, he could hardly wait to show us his great products. We toured the Quinta and then sat down in the confines of a lovely dining lounge to eat and taste the fruits of his work.
Quinta do Portal was/is located in the Pinhao area at the confluence of the Douro and Pinhao rivers. The Quinta was quite attractive and had a modern winery complete with dining areas and guest houses. There was also a superb looking swimming pool that invited the onlooker to take the plunge.
The wines, like the rest of the upper Douro were fine wines and ports. Three of this Quintas wines that are presently in stock at the LCBO in Ontario.
Portal Lagrima White Port
Produced from Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, and Viosinho. It is a sweet style Port as the Lagrima would note.Great with Creme Brullee.
Mural Tinto 2005
A wine made for hearty meals or soup. Calde Verde (Cabbage Soup) would be great with this light to medium red wine. Nice ripe red fruit flavours with an accent on ripe strawberry with some cherry flavours. Nice with cod also.
Portal Vintage Port, 2003
Ripe black fruit, plums and chocolate accentuate this lovely wine. Dark opaque in colour it is a concentrated blockbuster of a wine but does not deprive itself from elegance because of its size.
I would llike to buy it now and try it in about five more years though it could outlive me!
Our dinner stated with Foe Gras sauteed with a Moscatel jam and white bean cake.With it we had Quinta do Portal Late Harvest 2007 , a nice sweet wine with citrus peel flavours and perfect with the Foie Gras. A melon soup went with Port Wine and Mint was great by itself.
We had a Veal Steak with a Quinta do Portal Grande Reserve 2006, this was a truly magnificent wine in the best Douro tradition. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz and Touriga Franca, this wine exhibited the usual concentrated black fruit flavours of a warm summer and harvest. A powerhouse whose flavours were accentuated by the mushrooms and vegetables. This iwas a true food wine! Finally, Warm scone Chocolate with peach mousse, was enjoyed with a Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003, a combination that would have made Tony Aspler's mouth salivate.
Chef Milton Ferreira had indeed chosen a nice menu for one of our last meals in Portugal.
We tasted, ate and tasted again but time came to be off to our last visit!
Ramos Pinto
After leaving Portal we headed further into the Upper Douro to a small village while we waited for Jorge Rosas who was the Exporting Director (and great grandson) for the company of Ramos Pinto. We met there because Marcio was forewarned that his car would not make it up the road. Now we had gone through some pretty rough territory. For this person to offer to use his vehicle and drive us to his Quinta was a bit unnerving.
We drove and started up the climb/ The road got rougher and rougher as well as higher and higher. "We are on the old Roman road called Via Romana," Jorge said. "There are Roman ruins all over the place and just a bit further up, there are Paleolithic paintings that go back thousands of years. There was to be a dam here covering everything but the historical board and government changed their minds once they saw the historical heritage."The road was so rough I was amazed that there weren't any chariot wrecks here also. I was sure that the vehicle was going to fall apart. We entered the Coa valley and what was now the Coa Valley National Archaeological Park.
After a very bumpy ride, we came to a vineyard that was on a flat level of land that was somewhat depressed in the middle. It was filled with vines but the thing here as with some other vineyards is that the vineyards were pre blended in their plantings. That is to say that the vineyards of mainly Portuguese grapes, were planted in pre-blended blocks of different grape varieties.
We approached Quinta da Ervamoira which took on the appearance of a massive green amphitheatre in the distance. "Our grandfather spent a long time selecting this precious land," Jorge said. Impressive it was. As I watched Greg do the filming, I looked out at the horizon I could see that this area, just a few kilometres from the Spanish border, had changed little over the centuries. I imagined that the view I was seeing was observed by those who made history happen in one way or another. Now it was my turn and , a hundred years or so, someone else would be viewing the same scene in the same way. The people change but not the area which, in a way, is almost immortal.
We then went went to the Quinta and the Museu de Sitio de Evramoira located in the heart of the amphitheatre like depression. I found out that this was the first Quinta to have its vines planted totally vertically.
Here we toured the many artifacts in the museum and enjoyed having a nice meal and tasting on the patio looking out onto the Coa Valley.
The following wines are available through the LCBO in Ontario.
Duas Quintas White: Made from the Viosinho, Rabigato and Arinto grapes, this white wine has a nice fresh appeal with notes of minerality and peach/apricot. Its a nice dry, fruity wine that can be great with fowl and white meats but also great as an aperitif.
Duas Quintas Made from Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz and Touriga Nacional, this wine has an exceptional mouth feel with black berry/currant flavours. The finish is good in length and has a touch of wood.
Duas Quintas Reserva: This wine is cellar able for several years. Dark, black fruit background and flavour, it also has chocolate in the middle and finish. Very long finish.
Duas "Quintas Reserva Especiale: A very big and bold wine with very dark flavours of plum, blackberry, cocao, chocolate. Very long roasted coffee/cocoa finish. A keeper for several years.
Quinta di Bom Retiro20 Year Old Tawney: Very sweet with burnt flavour with apricot and orange peel flavour. Nice wine!
Ramos Pinto Vintage Port 2003; Nice and dark though a little lighter than expected. Lovely tannins and integration. Flavours of earth, black fruit, some ripe reds, figs and plum.
Ramos Pinto was a great example of how to end a journey that took 12 days, 12 beds, 6 wine regions, some 200 wines and 1500 miles to complete. A marathon of a journey but a Marathon of life just the same.
We left Ramos Pintos and sped our way back to the Vila Gale Opera to spend the nigh. On July 10th after a brief visit to downtown Lisbon, we went to Lisbon International Airport and bed farewell to Portugal. It was my second time to this marvellous country. It will not be my last.
End of Days 11 and 12
Journey To Portugal June 28th through July 10, 2009
Watch For Portugal in "Adventures in Wine Country" on CHEX Television in Spring of 2010.