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Tasting select B.C. wines from JoieFarm, Tinhorn, Stag’s Hollow, Fort Berens and Sandhill

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OLIVER, B.C. — The beautiful and bountiful Okanagan Valley was our ultimate destination for the family’s annual summer vacation.

Though we started in Alberta, first Calgary, next in Banff for the wedding of a niece, the ultimate goal was to catch up on some sun and relaxation in the tiny lake-side town of Osoyoos.

I love the drive from Banff to Osoyoos. Cutting through the Rocky Mountains is such a spectacular experience, then the drive from the Shuswap to the far south of the Okanagan has its own charm.

I told the family that this was purely a vacation and I didn’t plan much in the way of “official” wine business aside from interviews with Heidi Nobel of JoieFarm and Andrew Moon of Tinhorn Creek for a story I was writing for Tidings Magazine on aromatic white wines.

But once in the Okanagan Valley word seems to get out and all of a sudden I was squeezing in tours with Donald Triggs of his new Culmina Winery, and doing impromptu winery tours with Leeann Froese and Jeannette Montgomery and the odd “we have to stop here for just a taste” drive-by.

I also was able to set the new record for dining at Tinhorn Creek’s spectacular Miradoro restaurant by eating there for lunch with Andrew, dinner that same day with the family and my sister and her partner, and then lunch the following day with Leeann and Jeannette. I virtually ate the menu in three consecutive meals and loved it.


Living in Niagara doesn’t allow to me to visit the Okanagan as much as I used to when we lived in Calgary but I do still get there at least once a year. I am always amazed at how fast it is growing and how good the wines are.

I am fortunate that I am sent a few samples from key wineries on a regular basis and get to taste B.C. wines on a regular basis. It is an important part of the Canadian winescape and I like to keep on top of it.

I dream of the day when the Ontario government will do what’s right and allow the free flow of wine from province to province so we can legally get B.C. wines shipped to us.

As it stands now, Ontario wineries can ship to B.C. but Ontario has not made the necessary legislative changes to allow the opposite to occur. We have to rely on the LCBO to bring these wines to us and, as a result, very few make it to Ontario consumers.

Some wineries in B.C., I’m told, will ship to Ontario consumers if you inquire.

Here are a few B.C. wines I’ve tried and liked recently from JoieFarm (including the new En Famille tier), Tinhorn Creek (including current Oldfield Series wines), Fort Berens, Sandhill and Canada’s first Grenache from Stag’s Hollow.



JoieFarm En Famille Pinot Noir Reserve 2011, Okanagan ($30, 91 points) — A robust and energetic Pinot with juicy cherry fruits, currants, earthy-underbrush and savoury spice notes on the nose. It is assertive on the palate with bold flavours of cherry-raspberry mingling with dark fruits, oak spices, meaty-earthy notes, evident tannic structure and built to age or to enjoy now with duck, smoked pork or cedar plank wild caught salmon.

JoieFarm Pinot Noir 2011 ($24, 88 points) — A floral-violet note is the first impression on the nose with black cherry, cloves, earth, field raspberry and oak spices following closely behind. It’s a palate-friendly Pinot that’s loaded with cherry-berry goodness, a touch of blueberry, spice and all lifted by fresh acidity.

Joie_2011_PTGJoieFarm PTG 2011 ($24, 90 points) — This Burgundian styled “Passe-Tout-Grains” is a classic blend of 50% Pinot Noir and Gamay that Joie has adapted for the Okanagan. It is a delicious and exciting fit in the Joie family of wines that shows bright cherry and raspberry fruit with fresh herbs and savoury notes on the nose. It’s dangerously gulpable with lovely red fruits, spice, bramble, smoky notes. Try with charcuterie, BBQ salmon or game meats.

JoieFarm Gamay 2011 ($24, 88 points) — Made in a fresh style, Joie’s Gamay is, well, a joyful wine with bright red fruits, subtle spice and plum notes. On the palate, look for cherry, blueberry, spice and verve through the finish. JoieFarm En Famille Chardonnay Reserve 2011, Okanagan ($30, 92 points) — This top-tier Chard from Joie shows gorgeous pineapple, apple-pear fruit, toasted vanilla and citrus zest on the nose. It’s complex and textured on the palate with quince fruit, delicate oak spices, a lick of butterscotch cream with a balancing acid lift through the finish. I’d be tempted to lay this down for a couple of years. Try with Oysters, shellfish or miso-rubbed black cod.

Joie Farm En Famille Reserve Gewurztraminer 2011, Okanagan Valley ($28, 92 points) — A highly aromatic Gewurz reminiscent of Grand Cru Alsatian examples. The nose is exotic and exciting with concentrated honey-drizzled grapefruit, lychee, rose petals and nutmeg-musk notes. It is unctuous on the palate with ripe fruit, lavish spice, notably ginger, with enough acidity to nudge this showy beauty into balance.

Tinhorn Creek


Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2010, Okanagan ($35, 91 points) — This is some serious juice here. The nose shows currants, boysenberry, sweet oak spice, white pepper, bramble, plums and roasted meats. It is highly structured with firm, assertive tannins and delivers a wave of dark and meaty fruits with savoury-peppery accents. Try this with BBQ ribs or smoked grilled pork chops.

OS2BenchRed2Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2010, Okanagan ($30, 90 points) — The 2Bench is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The nose shows blackberry, cassis, tobacco leaf, oak spice, kirsch and earth. It’s a big wine on the palate and loaded with tannins to go with bold dark fruits, spice and the stuffing to lay down for a few years while everything comes together.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan ($22, 88 points) — The nose shows funky-earthy, meaty notes to go with red fruits, integrated herbs, violets, anise and spice. It’s a leaner style Pinot with savoury cherry and raspberry fruits, earth, tar and zingy acidity.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2011, Okanagan ($20, 88 points) — Fragrant red berries on the nose with light spice, cigar-box cedar and a cassis-blueberry accent. It’s a likeable Merlot on the palate with rich, smoky cherry and anise fruit, smooth tannins and vibrant acidity.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2009, Okanagan ($30, 90 points) — The nose displays showy red berries, herbs, toasted vanilla and subtle oak-spice undertones. The cherry-strawberry-raspberry fruits are joined by cassis, cloves and spice on the palate with drying tannins through the finish. Ready to drink now.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2011, Okanagan ($22, 89 points) — Textbook Franc from the Okanagan with lovely fresh red fruits, minty herbs, sage, black currants and gob-smacking spices. It has mid-weight on the palate with a balanced attack of fruit and herbs and mellow tannins through the finish.

Stag’s Hollow

grenStag’s Hollow Grenache 2012, Okanagan ($30, 90 points) — I was sent this first Grenache in Canada by winemaker Dwight Sick to open and celebrate on Grenache Day Sept. 20. I happened to be in Muskoka at a boy’s golf weekend but was able to sneak away down to the lake with the bottle in tow.

The weather was on the gloomy side but I unleashed the Vino-lok glass topper and enjoyed a couple of glasses while staring out into Lake Muskoka. It was a surreal experience that I had to share with my golfing buddies, all of whom were impressed with this easy drinking Grenache.

The grapes for this wine were planted by Sick in 2006 and were hand-picked, hard-sorted, destemmed and whole berry fermented in small 1-ton open topped fermenters. After a 72-hour cold soak, the ferment was warmed and inoculated using selected yeast strains. The ferments were punched down by hand 4-6 times daily and then pressed directly into 3rd fill French oak barrels. After malolactic fermentation it was aged for an additional 6 months on lees before being racked, blended and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The nose shows pure raspberry-plum fruits with sweet spices, currants and savoury herbs. It is juicy and soft in the mouth with mid-weight to go with red currants, raspberry-cherry, warm plums, plush tannins and lovely integrated spices. You don’t at all feel the heat of 14.5% alcohol. A nice treat from a winemaker who dares to take chances.

Fort Berens


Fort Berens Chardonnay 2012 ($19, 89 points) — This is the first Chardonnay from grapes grown in the estate vineyard in Lillooet, B.C. The nose displays fresh apple-lemon fruit with peach fuzz and just a pinch of toasted vanilla and spice. On the palate the apple flavours are joined by citrus, pineapple and light spice. The refreshing acidity lifts the wine through the finish. Nice job here.

Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2011 ($26, 90 points) — The grapes for this Franc are from 65% estate fruit with the rest sourced from the Black Sage Vineyard in South Okanagan. The nose shows currants, bramble, anise, stewed herbs, licorice and a basket of red berries and spice. It’s a substantive CF with bold and spicy fruit delivered on a firm tannic backbone with enough acidity to keep it fresh and lively.


Sandhill Cabernet-Merlot 2010 ($20, 87 points) — The nose shows earthy dark fruits, nutmeg and pepper spices with vanilla and cigar box cedar. The attack on the palate combines both red and dark fruits with lavish spices, decent structure and good acidity through the finish.