A peaceful drive down country roads sprinkled with wineries is a fine way to wrap up summer. The Bottleneck Drive, twisting around Giant’s Head Mountain in the sleepy town of Summerland, in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, is just that. Just off the main highway that runs down the valley, the route is easy to get to, and thanks to the frequent road signs and slow pace of traffic, it’s easy to navigate.
Our first stop was at the Saxon Estate Winery, an out of the way, peaceful family-owned winery where most of the grapes are organically grown. Looking at the wineup of wines, it’s clear that owners Jayne and Paul Graydon, working with winemaker Danny Hattingh, aren’t afraid to steer away from the well-trodden path. The Unoaked Merlot 2011 (which we wrote about in our A Tale of Two Merlots piece earlier) and their new VIP port-style wine (in its first vintage) are must tries, and the Gewurztraminer is one of our favorite BC Gewurzes. The Leon Millet Rose is another recommended wine, although the 2011 vintage is now unfortunately sold out.
Thornhaven Estates Winery, with its Santa Fe style tasting room and patio, is perched on the southern slope of Giant’s Head Mountain overlooking the picturesque valley, offering great views of the area. The winery offers a stunning, gold medal winning 2012 Gewurztraminer and the cheekily branded 2012 Tortured Grape, a blend of Orange Muscat, Riesling and Chardonnay was a fun summer sipper. There’s a great deal to be had with the winery’s flagship wine, Evolution, as it will be going through a re-branding and Thornhaven is selling the current 2010 vintage of this Bordeaux-style blend at a nicely reduced price. When we were there, live jazz filled the air and guests were getting comfortable for a lazy afternoon on the patio with wine from the tasting room.
Up next was a whole different experience. Not much more than a stone’s throw or three from Thornhaven, Dirty Laundry Winery is a pocket-sized, sexualized Disneyland for wine lovers. Named after a local laundry of days gone past where things got a little naughty when the owner began to finance his operations by setting up a bordello on the premises, Dirty Laundry offers not only a solid line-up of whites and reds but also unique decor and a thorough and hilarious telling of how the winery got its name.
We were blown away by the now-sold-out Pinot Gris 2012. Also, make sure to try all three of their Gewurztraminers (the Woowoo Vines with its tropical nose and a balanced palate of orchard sweetness and spice making it a favorite of ours as far as sippers go): it’s an interesting exercise in the different directions you can take with a grape.
Not only are there some solid offerings here, the branding is delectable, so it’s not hard leaving here with a few brandalicious bottles.
With local history in mind, this is a good time to point out the train tracks that run behind the Dirty Laundry winery. The Kettle Valley Steam Train is a great way to break up the day of tastings, and this is just what we did. It’s the perfect way to sit back and relax while taking in the valley and listening to yarns about the history of the area.
Silkscarf winery, a humble boutique winery cradled by a grove of peach trees, is almost the anti-thesis of our previous stop, with focus on just the wines. The winery is owned by the Manoff family, who immigrated to the Okanagan Valley from Israel. Winemaker Roie Manoff – who flew Israeli combat jets, which inspired the winery name – makes reds that make you go zoom, and shows remarkable restraint in not bringing wines out too early. These reds have been given time to mature. The Shiraz Viognier (2009) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2009) were favorites that came home with us. See here for our review of the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.
8th Generation Vineyard, named so as the family has made wine for eight generations, was our last stop for tastings this time around. In a more industrial setting by the highway, it’s all business here and the sparkling wines mean serious business indeed, with Confidence Frizzante 2012 (a blend of 30% Merlot / 25% Pinot Noir / 18% Dunkelfelder / 15% Pinot Gris / 12% Viognier) and Integrity Frizzante 2012 (68% Chardonnay / 19% Pinot Gris / 7% Gewürztraminer / 6% Sauvignon Blanc) delivering the goods with an oomph. We also enjoyed the label branding, fantastically simplistic and Marimekko-like in design. What’s not to like!
Further up the Bottleneck Drive (and highway), we enjoyed lunch at Bonitas Winery on the shores of Lake Okanagan. The winery and bistro are at the end of a winding country road barely wide enough for two cars, with the patio overlooking the estate vines and the lake and mountains beyond. Lounging here under the hot August sun with a salad and a glass of wine can make you forget about the rest of the world for a little while.
We didn’t get a chance to stop at all wineries this time around, and we’re looking forward to a return in part two of our Bottleneck Drive tour later this year. We’ll also add more in-depth tasting notes as we open bottles, and would love to hear your experiences on the Drive.
For more information about setting up your own tour, see BottleneckDrive.com.