Touring the Eastside Kelowna Wine Trail

By Michael Fagin

Winemaker Anthony (Tony) Lewis told us that all you need to enjoy his wine is some music, art and good chemistry. The music came first with the rock band called Storytyme.  Tony and his two brothers played in the band and had a fun seven year run that ended in 2008. The brothers kept the good times flowing as Tony became the winemaker perfecting his skill in chemistry and the art of winemaking. Tony’s brother Phil gives the artistic touch to the wine bottles.  My wife and I are slowly decorating our house with these wonderfully crafted colorful bottles.  Finally the brothers did let some non band members become involved with the business, namely their dad Wyn and mom Marion. The parents are involved with the property called Okanagan Villa which houses the winery.  The 12 acre property includes a beautiful venue which can be rented for weddings or parties.

This family affair has taken the bold move of only making white wines.  The Chardonnay is some of the best that I have had.  I also tasted the Riesling and that was excellent.  We took a bottle home to have with some great tasting halibut filet.   In keeping with Tony’s musical background the label says: “Pairs well with Cat Stevens and some outside time.”

I thanked Tony for the wonderful tour and before I left I did see Tony’s drum set with a bass guitar next to it.  Knowing that I also play the bass, Tony invited me to join him for a quick duet.  But I had four more wineries to visit so reluctantly I bid him a farewell.

The day’s focus was on East Kelowna area so I took the two minute ride to Camelot Vineyards and Estate Winery. Idyllic, peaceful and optimistic are words that describe Camelot.  In asking about the name owner Denise Brass explained that many years ago she met a psychic who told her that he sees “Camelot around her.”   How prophetic!   Coincidentally her father-in-law had previously owned property in West Vancouver that was named Camelot.  The winery uses the sign from the old establishment.
As we began the tasting, Denise poured the Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer.  I was put on the spot when asked to pick my favorite.  I went with the Pinot Blanc as I liked the light pear taste.  Denise agreed with me and told me that it is an award winning wine.

Winemaker Ann Sperling has deep roots in the winemaking tradition.  Ann is from the Casorso family who planted their first vineyard in the Kelowna area in late 1920′s.  These roots must have been well planted as Ann has received great acclaim in the Okanagan, Niagara Peninsula, South Africa and was even named Winemaker of the Year in Ontario.

Next stop was the View Winery.  I really enjoyed the view of the City of Kelowna from the top of their property.  This property has seen five generations in the apple business but that changed in 2007 when wine grapes were planted.  The owner Jennifer Molgat poured her fine wines and the one that stood out was the Distraction Rose which is made of a Pinotage blend (90%). Pinotage is a South African grape that not too many wineries use in North America. The interesting part of this Distraction Rose was indeed a distraction since during the initial fermentation process the winemaker got distracted as the vat almost overflowed but quick action prevented that. They are now on their second vintage of this popular wine.

We then continued to Spierhead Winery where we met owner Brian Sprout.  He started off as a bottling line mechanic and who frequently visited the Napa Valley.  These visits created his interest in wine and winemaking.  His first job in the wine industry was to take his passion for wine and his skill in photography and be rewarded with newspaper assignments to photograph wineries in the Okanagan.
Brian’s partner wife Virginia joined us for lunch in the tasting room – which was beautifully decorated with Brian’s photography.  The Merlot had a nice light taste; the Cabernet Sauvignon had a good rich taste but not overpowering. Finally the Vanguard nicely balances the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  After lunch we took a stroll around the grounds, admiring both the view and the beautiful landscaping.  Virginia is a professional landscaper and the grounds show her talents.  I had one more place to go and I bid Brian and Virginia farewell.

My last stop was the East Kelowna winery, Tantalus Vineyards and this was approached with apprehension.   The reason for is according to Greek mythology Tantalus offended the gods and was condemned to an eternity of hunger and thirst.  Myth has it that he was imprisoned in a pool of water and surrounded by fruit trees and each time he reached out to drink water or eat fruit the water was drained away and the trees moved out of his reach.

I was relieved when I met the production winemaker David Peterson and I was told Tantalus also is the name of a decanter in which the bottle stoppers are firmly clamped.

David explained that their plantings go back to the 1920’s thus it is one of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in British Columbia.  David takes great pride in the sustainable business practices they follow as Tantalus is British Columbia’s first LEED certified winery (Leadership in Environmental Energy Design).

Now it was time for the tasting. The flagship wine is the Riesling which has some strong lime notes.   The Old Vine Riesling is from vines planted in 1978 and I just loved the mineral taste to it with just some light fruit notes of citrus. Along with the Riesling their focus is on Pinot Noir that does very well in the cool climate.  This wine had a great light spice to it and some light fruit taste.

This ended a great wine tour.  The next day we spent experiencing the other activities and sights around Kelowna.