With three days to spend in the Naramata Bench/Penticton area, my husband and I considered several choices for exploring the region. A visit to several of the over 25 wineries (and growing)? Hiking or cycling the Kettle Valley Trail?
We made sure to spend at least one day taking in the local wineries and with that, Top Cat Tours entered our travel radar.
Top Cat offers tours of the Naramata Bench, Summerland, and South Okanagan wine regions of BC’s interior. The tours are priced to include the entire day out, including lunch, hot beverages, tasting fees and gratuities.
Arrangements were made for David Brooks, our guide/driver, to pick us up at Therapy Vineyards Guesthouse, where we staying on this trip.
Including David, there were 10 of us on board the white shuttle, serving as our transport, sherpa, and water base for the day.
We started our Naramata Bench tour at Therapy, tasting a range of whites (Freudian Sip 2010, Pinot Gris 2010, Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Chardonnay 2008, Alterego 2011) as well as reds (Pink Freud 2011, Pinot Noir 2010, Freud’s Ego 2008, Merlot 2009, Super Ego 2008).
I’ve covered our wine tasting experience at Therapy in a separate post.
We then moved on to Elephant Island, the only fruit winery in the area. Founded in 2000, the charming winery and garden is a welcome space to enjoy the bold pours on offer.
Pink Elephant 2009 ($24.99) is prepared using the champagne method. Notes of Granny Smith apple cuvee with cassis, it’s a light sparkling wine full of flavour.
Cherry Wine 2011 ($15.99) contains no tannins or histamines. Instead, we tasted a chocolate richness, with the addition of Naramata cherries, their plumpness very much part of the taste experience.
The Black Currant Wine 2011 ($15.99) is tart at first taste, and smoother with each successive sip. This one really captures the fruit!
Apricot Dessert Wine 2011 ($17.99) works well in martinis of all things, but can pair with a cheesecake or ice cream as well. Elephant Island culls half of their fruit stock per year, leaving a fuller bodied fruit behind. And although half of the product is gone, this method produces an amazing assortment of wine.
Framboise 2010 ($19.99) has raspberry sediment in the glass, really hitting the nose with a tart and rich flavour in the mouth, along with dark chocolate.
Cassis 2011 ($19.99) has a great black currant tartiness to it. It also goes with cheesecake, but more importantly, it’s a wine stocked with Vitamin C and anti-aging properties. A healthy sip, thus.
We finished off our round of tasting with Stellaport ($27.99), the only wine in the Elephant Island collection that’s oaked. The winery uses the Solera method, meaning that each year, the wine gets built up with that year’s vintage. It takes 10 years to create a port here. We tasted the 2001-2010 vintage. The port is fortified with grain alcohol. We tasted deep fruit and chocolate on the palate along with the smokiness from French oak.
Elephant Island is located at 2730 Aikins Loop in Naramata.
Van Westen Vineyards was started in 1999, its first harvest in 2003. All the winery’s whites are grown in rocks, while the reds are grown in clay. Rob Van Westen and team produce Bordeaux style full-bodied wines using French oak in the aging. The winery has 13 acres of grapes along with five acres of cherries, for a total of 28 between the family’s vine stock.
Rob’s a third-generation Dutchie who loves to keep things low-key. He’s also got some fun DIY friends, one of who flew his hobby gyrocopter above the winery while we were there.
The winery is contained in a large garage, with fermentation rooms and barrels in adjoining areas.
We started with Grigio 2010 ($18.90), a wine with cantaloupe, melon, pear, lemon/honey and mineral aromas.
Vivacious 2010 ($18.90) is a Pinot blanc with a splash of Pinot Gris (4%). Golden apple, navel orange, lemon and floral hints make for a light-bodied, versatile wine great for a variety of food pairings.
Viognier 2010 ($24.90) contains grapes grown at Granite Ridge. Rose petal and a nice minerality combine with an oiliness on the finish. No oak is extracted from the wood barrels it sits in. This Viognier pairs nicely with crab, spot prawns, or lobster. Although this varietal has only been entered in a few competitions, it’s won numerous awards and is likely one of Van Westen’s best-sellers.
Vivre La Vie 2009 ($27.90) is 100% Merlot, with jammy fruits and good structure. My palate tasted ripe black cherries, plums, and blueberries.
Voluptuous 2008 ($49.90) contains no sulfites and spends 19 months in French oak. Clove, summer berries, violet and plum make for a sensuous combination of aromas while raspberry, cocoa, plum and pencil shavings form on the palate.
For fun, the growers pick on Halloween (in costume!) to created Vrankenstein, for a charitable cause. With each $110 (1.5 litre) bottle sold, $10 is donated to Children’s Hospital. This wine spends 18 months in French oak and although we weren’t able to taste it, it has sage brush, clove, chocolate liqueur, cherry and violet aromas. This wine is usually donated as an auction item, so look for it at your next charity event.
Van Westen Vineyards is located at 850 Boothe Road in Naramata.
Our lunch stop was at Hillside Winery and Bistro. The bistro features locally-inspired menus from Executive Chef Rob Cordonier, who got his start in the industry while serving as apprentice at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. He’s cooked for many celebrities, including Uma Thurman, Gary Sinise, Sylvestor Stallone and our own Vancouver Canucks.
Chef Cordonier later developed a fond interest in BC wine, moving to the Okanagan to work as chef at Burrowing Owl’s Sonora Room. He joined the Hillside Bistro two years ago and loves to pair the hyper-local wines with his dishes.
We selected from a group menu. I chose the Benchmark Burger, enjoying a well-timed meal break with the lively conversation. The burger was served medium-rare, and delicious with the addition of shaved Berkshire ham and aged white cheddar cheese. A small salad complemented the dish.
I’ll continue with part two of our Top Cat Tour experience next week. Our tour was compliments of the Naramata Bench Winery Association.