The second winery visit we made as part of a Pre-Conference Excursion to the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2013 in Penticton, British Columbia (WBC13) took us to Tantalus Vineyards, yet another beautiful and unique winery located along the Lakeshore Wine Route in southeast Kelowna. The subsidized excursion was organized for us by Tourism Kelowna.
The gravel drive from the main road leads to a modern, but seemingly unassuming white building. A striking metal sculpture stands at the entry to the tasting room. High ceilings rise at an angle, large windows provide a sweeping view of the vineyard and Okanagan Lake in the distance.
The wall behind the tasting bar is lined with wine bottles and a series of masks by Tahltan-Tlingit carver Dempsey Bob (you will notice the masks on their wine bottle labels as well). The opposite wall of windows look down into the barrel room. It was then that I realized the building is built into the side of a hill and is actually a two-story structure (and not at all unassuming). The building was completed in 2010 and is British Columbia’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)- certified winery.
We were welcomed to the tasting room, which had been set for our breakfast, by Jane Hatch and Stephanie Mosley. We were each presented with a glass of 2010 Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut. Very much a Riesling on the nose and palate, the bubbles and clean acidity rounded out the flavor experience, making my first taste of Riesling sparkling wine very enjoyable.
Mark Filatow, executive chef of Waterfront Restaurant in Kelowna, described each item on the breakfast buffet. Soon we all had full plates and were amazed by the crisp waffles, jams, house-made bacon, poached egg with potato rosti and white pepper gravy. Granola and yougert, naturally leavened grain breads and pain au chocolate rounded out the menu. The Tantalus 2010 Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut accompanied the menu perfectly.
After breakfast, we met winemaker David Paterson. He and Jane led us into the vineyards where we learned about vineyard operations at Tantalus. While the winery building is modern, the vineyards are historic. The acreage, originally know as Pioneer Vineyards and planted to table grapes in 1927, was purchased by Eric Savics in 2004. The vineyards themselves reflect a contrast of old and new as well.
Riesling planted in 1978 and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted in 1985 continue to produce today along with more recent plantings of the same varieties beginning in 2005. A bit of Pinot Meunier was planted in 1985 (to use for blending), brining to four the number of grape varieties planted on the property. Tantalus concentrates on single vineyard Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay because these are the grape varieties best suited for the soil, elevation and exposure. The vineyard is considered the oldest, continuously operating vineyard in British Columbia.
Though not certified organic, the winery uses no herbicides and hand-tends the vineyards. Harvesting is done by hand into small containers. They have preserved a 10 acre forest within the vineyards to promote plant diversity.
The plant diversity is reflected in the success of their bee program. In conjunction with Arlo’s Honey Farm the number of bee hives in the vineyard has increased from 12 to 43 over the past year. According to beekeeper Helen Kennedy, clean bee boxes and a near-by and diverse plant population are what is necessary to keep the bees healthy and happy. Oh, one more little tidbit of information from Helen: eating honey is good for your liver, so wine lovers remember to eat honey!
Our visit concluded with a tasting of Tantalus Vineyards wines, of course! We tasted the 2012 Riesling, 2010 Old Vines Riesling, 2012 Rosé (Pinot Meunier/Pinot Noir blend) and 2010 Pinot Noir. What a treat tasting the 2012 Riesling alongside the 2010 Old Vines Riesling. And the Pinot Noir had great acidity, spice and complexity. We liked these wines so well, we brought several home with us. The ultimate compliment.
We would like to say a big thank you to Tantalus Vineyards for hosting our visit and to Tourism Kelowna for organizing the trip. It was a memorable winery visit.