A Summer in the Vines : Part 3

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(A view from the top of the Pinotage Block)

The intensity of the Okanagan summer is beginning to ramp up this time of the season, and our grapes are beginning to benefit from the averages of thirty degree temperatures during the day with big diurnal swings in the evenings. This unique aspect of our climate allows the grapes to produce big fruity flavors while preserving crucial acidity levels that balance the wine and produce flavor profiles that are highly unique to the Okanagan terroir. Today, I was lucky to attend the second session of the BC Wine Institute’s Wine Ambassador program. The session focused on the many micro-climates and the many as of yet unrecognized regional growing designations which range from warm desert subregions, to cool climate sub-regions spanning from the southern O.K. Falls/Similkameen valley all the way up to Lake Country in the north end. The session also highlighted how these micro-climates and the multitude of wines that are able to be produced within them might be complicating factor for B.C’s international wine branding, but that emphasis must be placed on creating official designations for these sub-regions in order so they may be recognized for what they do best, in place of one generic branding of the Okanagan as a whole. I agree that the creation of smaller appellations or designations would be most helpful in pointing people in the right direction while also allowing for specificities that do not blanket over the subtle nuances present within these unique sub-climates. Over all I found the session quite helpful in providing some talking points to bring up in the tasting room that are specific to the Okanagan.

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With the long weekend come and gone  (HAPPY 150 CANADA, EH) and my Canada Day hangover finally fully dissipated, I just now have time to reflect on the more recent developments around the winery and the vineyard. The vineyard blocks are in full swing and seem to be growing by the foot everyday (I exaggerate, slightly), so now is the time to begin wrangling those rambunctious growths by lifting up the support wire and by tucking stray canes into neat rows. I haven’t spent nearly as much time out in the vineyard with the ramping up of tourist season and the long weekend warriors, so for the last six days I have had the pleasure of being part of the never ending waves of bachelorette parties, yoga retreats, and a veritable mixture of foreigners and locals looking for their next glass of Okanagan wine! The diversity of visitors always keeps me on my toes and my wits sharp, but that makes it all the more fun and enjoyable to keep on researching the world of wine.

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(A view of the baby grapes on Block 13 – Pinotage)

As I’ve been studying for the first level WSET one of the more interesting aspects has been the idea of food and wine pairings, and the complicated nature of selecting the right dish for the right wine, or vice versa. Most surprising, for myself at least, was the idea of umami as a difficult pairing that most often needs an added element – salt, acidity, sugar etc – to create a pleasing effect when paired with wine (wine that should be equally rich in flavour and in depth of body). Another surprise was the idea that a sweet dessert can actually enhance the bitterness and tannic levels present in a wine, something I experienced first hand last night as I tossed a mouthful of milk chocolate peanut butter M&M’s then took a sip of my Pinotage Merlot blend, which is usually quite fruity and smooth but with the present of the sweet milk chocolate was quite brutally diminished and replaced with an unpleasant bitter quality paired with a bitingly dry mouthfeel. Needless to say, I taught myself a practical lesson that will most definitely be remembered and applied to future wine pairings!

As the 15th of July (the date of the WSET course) approaches fast all I can think about is the camping trip/wine and cider touring I have planned for next week! It is going to be a beautiful getaway for myself, the boyfriend and the dog as we make our way towards the north of the Okanagan, where I’ve planned several stops along the way including Ex Nihilo in Lake Country, The BX Press in Vernon as well as a couple of small production cool climate wineries in the Enderby area including Larch Hills and Waterside Wines. Next blog post I have planned to be a recap of the trip and any notable places and wines we experienced along the way!

 

Cheers !

xoxo Babbling Bottles

xoxo

 

A Summer in the Vines: Pt 2

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This week has been crazy, not just in the busy sense of the word but also crazy in the way that everything is growing like mad in the vineyard right now! Between finding support bamboo for those raucous rule-breaking baby vines that seem to endlessly send out new shoots where the tractors are bound to run them down, and keeping up with the task of lifting wire to support the massive amount of growth occurring with our more established vines, this is a prime time for learning all that needs to be accomplished and maintained in a well-run vineyard.

The funnest part for me is seeing all the changes occurring in the plants themselves. From the very beginning of the season where I was tasked with tying off the winter-stiffened canes that will provide the support structure for massive canopies of vines housing those precious grape clusters (a high-anxiety effort that had me convinced that our first harvest of Pinot Noir would be hampered by my amazing skills at knocking off those primary buds as they were just beginning to make their spring appearance), to this high point in the early summer where those canes are now absolutely overflowing with fresh green interlopers bursting upwards and onwards with no regards as to their harvesters intentions. Thankfully, after looking in on the Pinot Block, I enjoyed a huge sigh of relief to see that those  poor victims of my amateur efforts managed to spring to life anyway and are thriving in the Okanagan summer that is seemingly on a schedule of its own this year!

 

Early days on the Pinot Noir Block

The work of lifting wire is relatively easier on the back compared to the task of suckering (removing all undesired shoots from the bases and sides of the canes), and is satisfying in the way that the work you’ve accomplished is highly visible – unlike how those darn suckers seem to sprout back overnight which would often lead me to question whether I dreamed of finishing a block of rows only to come back the next morning and see them covered in green growths – growths that reminded me of the days of rapid sprouting Chia Pets (remember those god awful things?!). Anyway, I included a before and after photo of one of the rows I worked on to demonstrate the importance of those handy dandy wires – they really wrangle those vines and whip them into proper shape!

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Before                                         –                                       After

After a hard days work in the outdoors, I decided to indulge a little hump-day delight: a bottle of The View’s Silver Lining Estate Red 2015 (crafted with over 90% of our signature Pinotage blended with Merlot sourced from the Southern Okanagan region and just a pinch, literally, of Baco Noir) and a bag of my FAVORITE POPCORN EVER (YES, caps is necessary !) Queen Bee Buttery Bliss Popcorn – a devilishly delicious pairing that perfectly complements the bewitchingly buttery and ‘berryful’ nose of our Estate Red. This particular blend from The View always surfaces memories of going to the movies where the aromas of fresh popped popcorn and cherry cola have re-imagined themselves and found a new home in an adulterously enjoyable format. Honestly, I could just sit and swirl a glass of this Pinotage blend and be transported to wine heaven – without even taking a sip !

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Now I am off to the sunny southern side of the Okanagan to spend an afternoon giving wine tastings to the fine people of Penticton. Cheers to all, looks like I’ll be searching for my next refreshing glass of Rose later on today if this lovely weather holds up – good thing I’ll be right in the heart of British Columbia’s wine country ! 😉

xo Babbling Bottles

A Summer in the Vines

20170619_092049-01Hello and Good Morning 🙂 After yesterday’s inaugural post of The Shadow is Following You, I thought I would switch gears a bit to take a moment and reflect on my time working for The View winery thus far. This has proven to be an exciting adventure that began early April with an offer to work in the tasting room at one of Kelowna’s most exceptional wineries located in historic East Kelowna. I have been blessed with the opportunity to gain real world experience behind the scenes and have been privileged to be a part of the many sides to running such an impressive operation! From bottling Picker’s Hut and giving tastings to amazingly receptive wine lovers, to running the canning line and working in the front lines of the vineyard, I have been busy learning so much that I haven’t had the adequate time to reflect and appreciate it properly!

One of the most valuable aspects to producing good wine is to produce good fruit, something that The View takes very seriously in their terroir based approach to cultivation. Some of the varieties grown on the property include Gewurztraminer, Erhenfelsner, Riesling, Pino Gris, Baco Noir, and, our signature, Pinotage. The team at The View take measures to ensure that we maximize our efforts at sustainable farming, and utilize drip watering techniques at intervals of up to two weeks in order to promote deep roots that need minimal watering. Near to harvest, the grapes are left to drench in the fall sunshine without watering, which results in a slight shriveling of the skins which translates into maximum flavor and sugar concentration without any watering down of those delicate tasting notes.

While The View does amazing things with varietals such as Riesling and Gew (including our Dry Reserve, a revolutionary take on Gewurztraminer that is definitely not your Gramma’s Gew!) – wines that I will have to feature in an upcoming post – the one I really wanted to focus on at the moment was our 2014 Pinotage Reserve. This particular varietal was not one I was familiar with before joining the team at The View, and I quickly learned that this is because Pinotage is not widely known in the Okanagan, or in North America, for that matter. The grape is considered the national variety of South Africa, and apparently they like to try and keep it within their borders, as a matter of national pride! The more I dug into researching this grape, the more I fell in love with the story of its genesis in the 1920’s (coincidentally the same decade that The View’s historic tasting room was being constructed as an apple packing house under the CanWest Tree Fruits organization).

Pinotage originated in a university garden as a cross between the well-known Pino Noir and the regional variety Cinsault, found in the Hermitage Appellation de’Origine controlle (AOC) of France located in the northern Rhone Valley. After doing some more research I discovered that this particular AOC has strict rules (as they all seem to have) as to which varieties can be grown, which include Syrah as the red varietal and Marsanne and Rousanne as two white varietals. Wine makers in this AOC are allowed to blend Syrah grapes from different areas of the vineyards within the AOC (which is only 130 hectares in size) as well they are permitted up to 15% of Marsanne and Rousanne grapes to be added to their blends, a practice that is not widely utilized however. the wines produced in this region are serious reds with high tannins that often need maturation to realize their full potential. Aging these wines soften them and complexities in texture, taste and smell are all enhanced by this process. A rigorous decanting is often suggested.

The crossing of this serious red grape with the light peppery fruity nature of Pino Noir resulted in what i would deem an exceptionally balanced new varietal of wine. This obscure new variety of grape almost fell into non-existence until it exploded on to the wine scene in the 1980’s-90’s, and since then it has seen a significant improvement in quality thanks to the perseverance of South African producers who wished to preserve the grape’s integrity. Known for its notes of earth, dark cherry, coffee, the Pinotage Reserve produced by the View has some of the most intricate and intriguing aromas that always keep me coming back for more! The immediate aromas of buttery nuttiness that exude from a simple swirl of the glass bring to mind toasted sesame, or perhaps the best buttery movie popcorn you’ve ever tasted, my imagination swims as my mouth continuously waters for another sip of this elusive red. Deep dark cherry and a hint of smoke rounds off the finish with a silky smooth mouth feel brought about by a seamless balance of acid and tannin complemented by aging in New and Neutral French Oak.

I’ve gained a whole new level of appreciation for the Pinotage produced by The View from working in the vineyard, where we began the spring season by ‘tying-off’ the buddless vines to the wires that will support their growth in the coming season. After that job came the task of suckering, where I was amazed with the amount of growths that sprout from all over the vine, from the base all the way up the central branches. Seriously, these vines would be quick to overgrow themselves and produce fruit with less than ideal quality, so it was a hugely important task to thin out the shoots and ensure that the remaining shoots were growing to the sides or upwards toward the sky (I guess the tractors still need to be able to patrol the vines and mow down those treacherously long grasses growing between the rows!) The Pinotage blocks in particular were startling to me because of the sparseness of growth and the amount of compromised or dead plants. Our vineyard manager explained that Pinotage is a tricky variety to grow here in the Okanagan, and is prone to die-offs due to issues with the soil and climate. Currently we are doing testing on our most damaged block of Pinotage to get down to the root of the issue (excuse the terrible pun). After seeing the devastation first-hand, every glass of Pinotage I bring my lips to always brings to mind the delicacies of maintaining the vitality of these finicky grapes! Why is it always that the best things in life are always the most difficult to come by.

Just writing about this incredible varietal has left me looking for a phantom glass that should seemingly be perched beside my laptop, but seeings how its only 11 AM I should probably wait until Wine O’Clock, AKA whenever all the errands and chores are done for the day! 😉 In fact, after teasing myself by writing this post I might even have to go on a mission to our wine shop to grab myself a bottle ! Along with our signature Pinotage Reserve, The View is the only winery in North America that also produce Pinotage Rose (silver winner at the Best of Varietals 2017 in Penticton, and I believe also received silver or gold at the All Canadians 2017) as well as our highly unique blanc de noir, or White Pinotage, another exceptional anomaly in the dismally small North American Pinotage market. I wish I could remember all the awards we recently received, but alas my memory is not so sharp (future post update!). We also produce some delicious Pinotage blends, such as our Silver Lining Estate Red that blends Pinotage with Merlot (sourced from the South Okanagan) as well as a pinch of Baco Noir. This smooooooth blend of dark cherry, buttery smoke and spice notes always get my mouth watering, and at the excellent price point of 15.95 (not including my handy dandy discount!) I’ve found myself indulging in more red wine this spring/summer than ever before!

There is so much to say about this amazing place and the amazing wines produced on site, I could babble until the wine cows come home. Until next time, cheers to all of you who made it through this rambling post  and I hope you’ll keep tuning in to hear more stories about my ongoing adventure into the world of wine!

 

xoxo – Babbling Bottles

The Shadow is Following You: Part I

The following is an excerpt taken from a fictional collective I have been slowly putting together since graduating university last spring. These loosely bound stories will be published as an ongoing serial, and i expect they will involve a veritable selection of themes ranging from mystery, gore, ‘romance’, and perhaps a touch of post-modern existentialism, whatever that means..

Without any more delay; Welcome to the strange world of my totally effed up imagination!

 

A winding dirt road led off into the densely lined forest, and one imagined it slowly climbing up the crumbling peaks that clashed with the boldness of a summer sky defined by crisp cerulean blues and wisps of peach stained cloud. On either side of the ambling road golden wheat stalks stood silent sentry, their bodies swaying perversely in the mocking breeze that only wafted syrupy hot air around. Far below the eroding mountain skyline a young girl with dark bangs stood overlooking the scene, taking in the sorry sight of an aging single story duplex just barely visible among a grove of pines. A voluptuously fruited cherry tree planted in the middle of the modest yard waved up to her in a kind gesture of familiarity. In the distant skies to the south thunderheads billowed menacingly, their plumage growing darker with folds growing more pronounced as the afternoon minutes melted together in the intensity of the heat. The sun still shone fiercely in the west, creating the contrasting dramatics of a living, breathing chiaroscuro landscape. Looking back towards the fields, she noticed the shadow of a hawk as it dipped over the silent figures of wheat. Taking his post at the top of the highest Ponderosa, the hawk silently surveyed the land, his sharp eyes resting momentarily on the figure of the small girl perched serenely on the face of a large boulder looking back at him with an incomprehensibly thoughtful expression on her face.

Plumes of cloud clung tenderly to the mountainside while the thunder began to growl its familiar husky warning and the summer rains broke free from their atmospheric bonds to beat the dusty earth in a relentless violent torrent. The rage of the storm brought J. close to her own sense of rage that simmered far below the surface of her consciousness, brought about by a sense that she had been cheated out of something she thought she had a natural right to. She saw her father far below bringing in logs of firewood for the night, and gazed longingly at the way he fondly handled the wood in his arms. She couldn’t understand why someone who should be most like her was the farthest thing from her, that the relationship they should have had was instead a stiff and unconvincing performance of parental figure. She never saw warmth in those steely grey eyes of his, they were distant apertures whose coldness maintained an inaccessible interiority that always made him appear far away to her. This permanent evasiveness meant no organic relationship could ever form between them, and as such they existed as two separate entities living in proximate adjacency to one another. They had never spent stormy evenings curled up together by the fire exchanging articles of information about their lives, the history of the lands they inhabited or the people they had been borne of, though this was never because of an unwillingness on the part of the youth. J. had badgered and pestered him as a child, always hanging on the words that never escaped his tongue, but once she had grown to a certain age she acquired the intuitive knowledge that that his silence was more than a mere absence of words, that he was actively blocking her connective advances in some strange attempt at preserving something she hated but did not fully understand. The awkward lack of intricacies in their day-to-day interactions only heightened her perception that she was blocked off from something she thought she had a right to be privy to, but no matter what her father seemed determined to keep her at bay, as if he thought his performance was convincing enough to deserve a second act.

J. had always thought of going away from him as soon as she could, if only to repay the favor of psychological neglect that had damaged her so brutally in those vital early years. But her revenge was never to play out in the way she expected, and in that sense she always remained convinced that there was something incomplete about her, something that she continuously chased after only to bring her to agonizing tears of frustration that corroded her ability to see properly the damage she caused to herself and others around her. Over years she honed in on this destructive tendency, until one day J. realized that it had  taken on a life of its own, had morphed into am infectious morbid entity that unleashed its darkness wherever it roamed. The darkness was within her and without, her control over it no longer a limit to its endless ability for destruction. What follows from here is an account of the strange goings-on related to this entity as I can best relay them from first and second hand accounts – and although some may presume them to be inconsequential or a series of unfortunate but unrelated events, reader be warned that you yourself may encounter this shadowy darkness in your own lifetime, as it follows you as much as it haunts me.

Welcome to Babbling Bones, a place of weird and wonderful tales and accounts inspired by the breadth of the Okanagan terroir…

This blog is intended as a creative venue that will follow an exploration of my own backyard, focusing on my experiences and accounts specific to the Okanagan wine and cider industries. As well, I may occasionally pepper in a few of my own weird tales that are, in some cases, inspired by and propelled forward by the consumption of such fine beverages, but mostly stem from my disturbed imagination and sense of curiosity pertaining to the unknowable and unexplained. Follow along as I stumble my way through the inside world of wine and cider, but be prepared to get spooked along the way!