— Gwendolyn Alley, MA (@ArtPredator) June 10, 2013
For the first time, the Wine Bloggers Conference ended on Saturday night instead of Sunday (after announcing that 2014′s gathering will be in Santa Barbara which is practically in my backyard! So excited about that!!)
This left bloggers up to their own devices, and while many of them headed to flights from Kelowna or drives West to Vancouver or South and West toward Seattle and Portland, others stuck around for a day or two to learn more about wine in BC.
Personally, I knew I wanted to spend time at Tinhorn Creek. I’d met winemaker/CEO Sandra Oldfield in 2011 through Twitter where I also connected with her husband Kenn. I wanted to learn more about what it’s been like for her as a winemaker in this region for 20 years as well as about their sustainable practices–and about how she balances the demands of being a winemaker with being a mom.
But when I went on the excursion “Walk to Wine” where we trekked up a steep mountain and were greeted with a picnic with wine from the OK Falls winery association, and I tasted Painted Rock’s syrah and met owner John Skinner, I knew I had to somehow get there to hike to the painted rock, taste the wines, and learn more about his vision.
It was a beautiful hike to see the Painted Rock: first crossing a creek lined in trees with fresh spring leaves, lots of gray yarrow with white flowers and green bunch grass spread out in meadows below towering vanilla scented Ponderosa pine, warm rocky hillsides with sagebrush. In the cool moist narrow canyon, we saw the rock art on the smooth side of a glaciated rock; when the First Nations people painted these some 500 years ago, they would have been sheltered from the warm sun by dappled sunlight from leafy trees and shrubs with nourishing berries.
— Gwendolyn Alley, MA (@ArtPredator) June 10, 2013
While some might argue that this image depicts a “rocketman” or space traveler, an elder told John it was a person next to fish drying racks with a dog nearby. Fish drying racks are very important around here, especially in the OK Falls area which is a narrow area where the salmon would concentrate to jump the falls. Every year, all would gather there to catch the salmon that they would dry and that would feed the people through the long cold winter. I cannot imagine any activity with much more importance so it is no surprise that it would be featured often in rock art in this area.
These days, salmon in the region have been challenged by “improvements” in the watershed; the fish could get from the coast to Lake Osoyoos, home of the First Nations winery Nk-Mip (my favorite wine of theirs is the cab/syrah blend). And salmon have been planted in Okanagan Lake. One day soon, with the efforts of all, salmon will once again run free.
In the meantime, John Skinner is doing his best to protect the rock art on and near his property (he’s found quite a few places!) as well as the landscape and the watershed by donating a large chunk of land and providing an access road through his extensive property to the Skaha Conservation Area and Skaha Bluffs, a famous climbing area.
Right now, there’s not much there but vines, a big drab building that houses the winery, the old tasting room that has been described as a tool shed, a large construction zone, the owner’s house, and a big field of dreams. The winery and its adjacent restaurant can be nothing less than spectacular: the design is awesome and the views are too. He hopes to have it open sometime in 2013. Down the road, he plans to open a group of guest cottages, and there will be a road down the hill from them to a marina (where I suggested he have a dock for seaplanes!) He also pointed out where he’d like to put an amphitheater.
The landscape of the property is quite dramatic–from the slope, to the dark volcanic rock that retains the heat to help ripen the grapes, to the lake below that offers up cool breezes to cool the grapes off at night and keep the land from getting too cold in the winter time. His property also benefits from a “notch” across Skaha lake that in summertime floods his vineyards with a “flashlight” of sunlight as the sun sets. While I have not seen this effect myself, from his description, I bet it lights up the area where the rock art is, especially around summer solstice. One of these days I hope to experience this!
All of these factors contribute to being a place to grow exceptional fruit. Originally one of the larger apricot farms in the region, when John Skinner bought the property, the trees were long gone. However, when the snow melted he found that the land was covered in stumps. This process also removed most of the top soil, leaving behind the sand. Over the years, he has carefully built up the top soil again with mulch and compost and cover crops.
Because the land is so sandy, the water simply runs off–there is no way you could grow grapes under the “natural” conditions of 9 inches of precipitation a year without irrigation–this is a desert after all. In the case of Painted Rock, there’s drip irrigation which you can see in the image.
As I’m 1000 words into this post and a half dozen images, plus I need to pack to leave BC for LAX on an 8am flight, it’s time to get to the wine!
Painted Rock’s focus is on Bordeaux style wines, and during my visit to the Okanagan region, I was able to taste the syrah at the OK Falls picnic, the merlot at a WBC session on judging, and then his Red Icon blend in the tasting room. I was also able to taste several wines from the barrel.
These are NOT inexpensive wines to make. Everything at Painted Rock is done to produce the highest quality possible, regardless of the expense. Everything is done by hand. No wonder in China they call this the “Diamond Ring” wine!
The resulting wines have received significant accolades and high scores. The Red Icon, for example was, according to the website, WINNER OF A 2012 LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR’S AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN BC WINES and BEST RED BLEND IN CANADA, 2011 at the WINE ACCESS CANADIAN WINE AWARDS .
Not a merlot to turn your nose up about! It’s complex, lean, with a long satisfying finish leaving me wanting more. Cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, black currant, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa powder and sage. Delectable texture.
2010 Syrah $40
This is the wine that drew me to Painted Rock in the first place. Delightfully juicy, blue fruit, plum, cherry, plenty of acid to balance, black pepper, cinnamon spice, cigar box. Vibrant and dynamic yet elegant. A charismatic star.
30% merlot, 29% cab franc, 25% cab sauv, 15% Petit verdot, 1% syrah. I couldn’t leave Canada without a bottle of this wine! As much as I love love love that syrah, I had to have the Icon. The nose reminded me of ponderosa pines–butterscotch and vanilla, caramel apples, kahlua, chocolate covered cherries, dried cranberries in chocolate. On the palate, the richness yet tartness of a blueberry compote on a goat cheese cheesecake with the cinnamon-sage I find characteristic of the region. (Oh and do you see why in China they call it the Diamond Ring?)
Thanks again to John for taking me on such a special adventure and for sharing so many stories with me. I look forward to returning to see your completed tasting room and to experience more of your wines, including your chardonnay!
For Lily Elaine Hawk Wakawaka and Barbara Bain.