We still hadn’t had enough of the Okanagan Wine region after a day in Penticton and a day at the Naramata Bench. So, we headed south on a winding country road skirting the eastern shore of Skaha Lake. We were graced with the beauty of a rocky area called Skaha Bluffs. This bluff is where rock climbers come to scale over 50 crags. The beauty of these rocks will make you rethink “The Great White North” that is Canada. Skaha, a mecca for many outdoor adventures: hiking, biking, wakesurfing, kiteboarding, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.
Another equally important draw to this region is the wine. The Skaha region has several ecological zones allowing for a diversity of plants, from desert grasslands and sagebrush to alpine. For this reason, the bluffs offer a unique cooling system for grapes grown in this region. The longer sunshine on the eastern shore offers more heat for the grapes. These two natural components give the grapes a strong terroir and the opportunity to make great wines.
Painted Rock Estate Winery
Painted Rock Winery got its name for two reasons. First, is to honor John’s father who was an avid amateur archaeologist, who took John on many expeditions searching for artifacts. Second is referring to the ancient pictographs that are painted on the rocks behind the vineyard bluffs. According to the First Nation Indians they depict a “spirit walk or a coming of age”.
Housed in temporary quarters when we were there, this winey, located on a spectacular bench overlooking the eastern shore of Skaha Lake hit the ground running. Painted Rock opened their doors in 2005, won tons of awards and has had a hard time keeping up. Painted Rock wines achieved cult status virtually overnight. Plans are in the works for a tasting room this year. It really doesn’t matter where you taste these wines, just that you do.
Turns out their 60-acre vineyards, once an apricot orchard, sat fallow for 17 years after being ravaged by moths. The new owners, John and Trish Skinner, purchased the land from another winery and were able to level the ground and contour the vineyards perfectly to suit the land. With its unique microclimate, they discovered that there was a particular air flow coming down from the Skaha Bluffs coupled with the warm air coming up off the lake that cooled the grapes and kept the vineyards from being stagnant and allowing mold and mildew to grow. Also, being on the east side of the lake allows for longer sunshine to bathe the grapes. The Malbec and Petit Verdot particularly enjoy more light and gain complexity of their fruit.
Currently in their vineyards you will find Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay. Syrah is the latest addition. Current thought is that Syrah will be the “wine of the region”.
Their wines are AMAZING! But don’t just take my word for it, believe the list of prestigious awards their wines have won, including twice winning the British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines.
For more information go to: www.paintedrock.ca
Blasted Church Winery
Birding is one of many things that the Okanagan Valley is known for and Skaha has an incredible diversity of inhabitants. At Blasted Church Winery we were excited to see an Osprey nest at the entrance to the vineyard. During our visit, two parents graced us with their presence, standing guard over their nest. It was too high to see if there were any babies in the nest though. Perhaps it was the one of these two who dipped in front of us while we were floating down the canal, and flew off with a good-sized fish in its talons.
Blasted Church Winery was built with repurposed wood from a church that was successfully demolished by the ingenious use of dynamite. Before you poo-poo this, the story goes that no one could figure out how to take apart the wood from a church that needed to be moved until a contractor had the idea for a “controlled blast” of four dynamite sticks, loosening the nails and leaving the wood intact. As you can imagine, no one thought this was a good idea, but it worked. The wood was virtually undamaged and moved to this winery where it was repurposed and built into a tasting room.
Canadian wineries take their wine seriously, however their senses of humor shine in their winery names and themes. Blasted Church is certainly in the quirky category. The theme of this winery is “old-fashioned rectory”, the staff are called the Congregation. Cartoon characters grace the wine labels, and website; the mad scientist and the experimenting priest. However, their wines are very serious and have won many awards, with 17 awards in 2012 alone. Winemaker Mark Wendenberg has a lot to be proud of.
Blasted Church has two categories of wine: Storytelling Series and Revered Series.
Revered series includes 10th Anniversary Amen, Amen Port-de-Merlot, Holy Moly Petit Verdot, Nothing Sacred Meritage and OMG Sparkling Wines.
Storytelling series has clever names like: Hatfield’s Fuse (Chardonnay), Big Bang Theory – Formerly called Unorthodox Chardonnay, Mixed Blessings (Viognier and Chardonnay Musque), Cabernet Merlot, Merlot and Syrah, to name a few.
The Congregation are dedicated to their customers, very enjoyable to chat with and get to know over the course of our winetasting there. And adept! Wow, could they handle many different people at the bar. They were like ballerinas in motion!
To see their wonderful characters and read more about their pilgrimage, worshipers, believers and congregation, go to www.blastedchurch.com.
I continue to be so impressed with this wine region. After a day in Skaha I was ready to work the harvest just to be able to stay there longer. Heck, I might even consider rock climbing, if we could end the day at Painted Rock Winery.