Physical geography defines a bench as: a shelf-like area of rock with steep slopes above and below. Naramata Bench Wine Country, along the eastern shores of Okanagan Lake in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, offers country roads and idyllic charm, but why is a wine region called a bench? Naramata Bench has multiple levels of vineyards that ascend on gently sloping land from Lower to Upper Naramata Bench Roads. Several stepped plateaus have orchards planted on them, with apples, peaches and HUGE cherries.
This idyllic area has a small village feel to it. Life moves slowly, neighbors know each other and regularly sit in their yards conversing, watching the kids play and enjoying the beauty of nature. You could ride your bikes, hike along the Trans-Canada trail, shop at the local Farmer’s Market, stay at a quaint bed and breakfast or go wine-tasting.
The Bench boasts over 20 wineries. Several offer gourmet restaurant experiences, relaxing patios with stunning lake views and avante garde art.
While waiting for a table at the very popular Barrel Room Bistro onsite, we popped into the tasting room to see what all the buzz was about. Hillside has a great reputation for both their wine and their food. They had a large assortment of wines available to taste, so we decided to do both the whites and reds. I’m not usually a fan of Gewürztraminer, but was pleasantly surprised by their 2010 vintage. It is light, fruity and refreshing.
Next we tasted a unique wine, Muscat Ottonel. These estate-grown grapes make a spicy yet floral, refreshing white wine. The flagship wine is their Mosaic, presumably named after the mosaic tile on the front entrance to the winery. The description of this wine says “small pieces coming together to create a work of art.” It is a Bordeaux blend with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Thick and rich, balanced with the Bordeaux characteristics that made me dream of a crown roast of beef.
Just as we were finishing up our tasting we were told by the Bistro personnel that our table was ready. We scored a lovely table at the edge of the patio, overlooking the vineyard, with views all the way to the lake and along the valley. I opted for a light spiced carrot and apple soup, because you can’t just get that anywhere. I chose right! This unique sweet and spicy soup reflects why Chef Rob Cordonier just won the “Best Chef in the Okanagan” award from Eats Magazine. He and his team focus on local, seasonal food, simple yet tasteful.
To visit this winery in the summer is a wonderful experience. It is full of hanging flower baskets overflowing from every possible spot. The bright and cheerful explosion of colors makes you smile, as does their wine and food.
Time permitting, a walk through the wine museum on the property is very interesting. For information and seasonal hours go to: http://hillsidewinery.ca
Red Rooster Winery
Down the street is Red Rooster Winery. It’s all about life in the “coop” at this winery. They encourage their patrons to find out what the crowing is all about. A proud Red Rooster rules the roost, in the winery and on their label.
With spectacular lake views, this 22-year-old winery is a proud patron of the arts. On display is an ever-rotating exhibit of painting and sculptures by local artists. Walking through the grounds you will see a giant steel mermaid floated in the vineyards, a musical sculpture of a bass emitting music and a steel bench depicting life at the lake with a sailboat, quail and the rocks of the Naramata Bench.
The love of art is reflected in the display wall for their wines. Made of wood blocks that jut out unevenly, the winery mascot, the rooster, stands on top of the wines strutting his stuff.
Winemaker Karen Gillis started her professional life as a chef and soon realized that it was winemaking that held her passion. She has crafted a large array of award-winning wines. As is typical in this colder climate, they are strong on white wines, which they refer to as Roosters — Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and a blend called Bantam. They currently feature three red wines; a Cabernet Merlot, Merlot and a Malbec. The wines here are very affordable; most are under $25 Canadian.
The winery has clever tasting cards for each of their wines. An example is the Cabernet Merlot 2010;
“This rooster shows great ‘posture’ as he moves through the flock. This medium- to full-bodied red has soft drying tannins and flavours of ripe blackberry, black tea, sweet spice and oak which linger on the finish.”
Another unique offering at this winery is an “Adopt a Row” of the vineyard. For adopting a row, parents receive a sign labeling their row, a certificate of adoption, discounts on gift purchases and a case of wine. Twice a year the winery hosts an “adoptive parents” event at the winery when the parents can learn more about viticulture and vineyard management. Adoptive parents also get to help in the harvest of their row.
We enjoyed our wine on the beautiful patio facing the lake, with a view of Nature while tasting the fruits of Nature.
Find more details about the Rooster at: www.redroosterwinery.com
Just a few minutes from Penticton, the Naramata wine region invites you to slow down, smell the apple and peach blossoms, enjoy the view, hike along the old Kettle Valley Train Trail, stroll through the farmer’s market or lounge along the beach listening to the wind coming off the lake. This area, home to many artists, is a creative environment with an inspiring view around every corner. Come watch people making art in many genres in this idyllic setting, stay at a Bed & Breakfast and slow down. That’s what Naramata Bench is all about.