Winter wine festival at Sun Peaks
Photo: Okanagan Wine Festivals Society chair Eric von Krosigk
When the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society launched a winter wine festival 14 years ago, the focus was on Icewine.
As iconic a wine style as that is, it was somewhat limiting. The winter festival quickly opened up to embrace all styles of Okanagan and Similkameen wines. The 27 wineries at Sun Peaks Resort this year were pouring everything – sparkling wine, table wine, fruit wine, port-style wine and, of course, Icewine.
The resort, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, has always been the venue for the winter wine festival. The Wine Festivals Society has resisted pressure to move it to Kelowna or Penticton. There, the wineries would be preaching to converted locals since the Okanagan gets few tourists in winter.
At Sun Peaks, however, the wineries are much more likely to be exposing their products to consumers relatively new to British Columbia wines. Sun Peaks draws both local and international visitors, many of whom take time off from skiing to attend winemaker dinners and other festival events. This interaction extends the brand of British Columbia wines.
The resort is about 45 minutes north of Kamloops (there is a shuttle from the airport). The compact and friendly village nestles at the base of good ski runs. There is a good chance that guests get to ski with long-time resident and Olympic champion Nancy Greene Raine. These days, however, she splits her time between the resort and the Senate in Ottawa.
Sun Peaks has none of the pretentions of Whistler. The restaurants, for example, manage to satisfy without over-the-top wine cellars (and prices).
Of course, Whistler’s Cornucopia each November is a far bigger food and wine festival because it draws on a bigger market and includes imported wines as well as British Columbia wineries. However, it is not a hardship to have to taste only British Columbia wines.
Whereas the big Cornucopia tastings are all in a large conference centre, the major tasting at Sun Peaks encompasses the village. This year, the wineries were spread among 14 locations. Tasters, wine glasses in hand, stomped through the snow from one hotel lobby or shop to another. The experience is both intimate and merry, as groups of tasters exchange recommendations as they pass each other.
To sum it up, this is wine festival manages to be serious at the same time as it is casual and fun. It works for me.
Here are notes on some of the wines I thought noteworthy. I should add that get to every winery’s table, so there certainly are noteworthy wines I missed.
Black Hills Syrah 2009 ($35 for a production of 1,200 cases). This is the first Syrah from Black Hills and seems an obvious companion to Nota Bene. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of pepper, black cherries and game meat. On the palate, the flavours are generous, with flavours of plums and figs and the spiciness of good deli meats. The wine is full, with the textural elegance of ripe tannins. 90.
Cassini Syrah Collector’s Series 2009 ($34). A robust Syrah in the Cassini style, the wine has meaty and dark fruit aromas with flavours of black cherry, plum, fig, liquorice and pepper and an almost earthy finish. 90.
Cassini Viognier 2010 ($19 for a production of 425 cases). With an alcohol of 12.6%, this is probably the lightest wine from Cassini in the vintage. It has pleasant fruit aromas and flavours of apricot, pineapple, pear and lemon. The wine is crisp and tangy with skein of minerality. 88.
Church & State Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($26). Just being released, this wine created something of a buzz among the tasting crowds. Made from grapes grown in Vanessa Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, this is a ripe and elegant wine, tasting of currants, plums and chocolate; a very satisfying drink. 91.
Church & State Quintessential 2008 ($50). This is a blend of five Bordeaux varietals (the percentage of each is not available). Each varietal was aged separately in French oak for 12 months and then, after the wine was blended, it spent another 12 months in French oak. The wine soaked up the wood very well; it does not intrude on the vibrant aromas and flavours of red fruit (raspberry, cherry), with hints of mocha and red liquorice. The fine-grained tannins give the wine a supple, accessible texture. 90.
Church & State Hollenbach Pinot Noir 2009 ($26). Just being released this is a delicious, concentrated wine with lots of black cherry flavours. 88-90.
Ex Nihilo Pinot Noir 2010 ($N.A.). The winery’s first Pinot Noir is a promising start – a wine with concentrated fruit and aromas and flavours of cherries. Still firm, the wine needs another year in the bottle. 88-90.
Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2010 ($18). This wine is made in the broad, rich style of Alsace with flavours of apricot, pear and white peach. There is a honeyed hint of botrytis on the nose and on the finish. The alcohol, at 13.8%, is a little on the bold side for a white wine. I scored this 86 in the spring; time in bottle has raised it to 89.
Fort Berens Meritage 2009 ($28). This is a blend of 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It has the soft, ripe texture of Merlot, with attractive aromas of blueberry and blackberry. The berry flavours echo these aromas. The rich, ripe tannins give the wine an early accessibility and appeal. 90.
Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009 ($26.99). This swaggering red with a perfume that vaulted from the glass caused a significant stir when it was served at a dinner. The fruit flavours just burst with blackberry, raspberry and cherry notes. 92.
Perseus Tempus 2009 ($28.90). This is a chewy Syrah with flavours of plum and black cherry and earthy minerals. 90.
Sonoran Jazz Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($27.90). The smooth texture of this wine reflects the fact that it spent 28 months on oak, 90% of it new. The wine has appealing currant and vanilla flavours. 89.
St. Hubertus Dry Riesling 2009 ($15.75). After squandering its mature Riesling vines for years in an off-dry style, St. Hubertus has started making what Riesling lovers would call a serious Riesling. This has the classic touch of petrol on the nose with citrus flavours. The mineral elements give the wine an excellent structure. The finish is crisp and dry. 90-91.
Stag’s Hollow GVM 2010 ($27.99). This is a novel white blend of Grenache (66%), Viognier (23%) and Marsanne (11%). Grenache is a red variety but in 2010 (and again in 2011), winemaker Dwight Sick judged the grapes not ripe enough for one of his big red blends. So he pressed it as a white grape, producing a complex, barrel-fermented wine with flavours of apples and melons. The rich texture will blossom with a few years of bottle age. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Cabernet Franc 2009 ($27.99). This is the winery’s first varietal Cabernet Franc. Youthfully firm, the wine begins with brambleberry aromas and tastes of blackberries, tobacco and chocolate. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Hart 2010 ($25 for 500 ml bottle; 78 cases released). This is a port-style wine made with very ripe Merlot and fortified to 20%. It has a delicious core of sweet fruit. The wine should be cellared for a few years. 88.
Summerhill Organic Riesling 2009 ($19.95). Winemaker Eric von Krosigk, who is also chair of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, has made a 10.2% Riesling that takes him back to the Mosel, where he learned winemaking. The wine is tangy, with flavours of lime; it also has aromas and flavours of petrol. 90
Summerhill Organic Syrah 2008 ($39.95 for 130 cases). With an alcohol of only 12.5%, this is an elegant red with notes of pepper, chocolate, black cherry and figs on the palate and with an earthy finish. 88.
Tinhorn Creek Kerner Icewine 2010 ($29.99 for 200 ml). By packaging this wine in a small bottle, Tinhorn makes it affordable for those who would like to taste Icewine but balk at the price. This is a wine with exquisite balance of acidity and sweetness, with clean and fresh flavours of pineapple and ripe apricot. 90.