Organic and Biodynamic Wineries in Kelowna

Organic wine is becoming more and more of a trend in the new world. It’s quite commonly found in Europe, but it’s still a rarity in Canada. Kelowna has several wineries that use some organic practices and that claim to be organic, but there are only two that are actually certified Organic, and one that has a Demeter biodynamic certification. We visited both of them, and loved our experiences at each! I’m pleased to share with you what we learned about their practices and what we thought of the wines at Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Rollingdale Winery. First, it will help to understand what makes a winery organic and biodynamic.

There are several reasons why people are growing fond of organic wines, such as their low sulphite content, and environmentally sustainable practices. Many wineries may use organically grown grapes, but as nice as this theory is, if the winery isn’t organic in the rest of its production, it’s not putting out an organic product. In order to be certified organic, there’s actually quite a process that a winery has to successfully complete. Each country has its own specific regulations for certification, but they all focus on producing the purest wine possible. Grapes need to be grown organically, with no chemical sprays used. The organic vintner doesn’t add commercial yeast, but rather, lets the natural yeast in the air and on the grapes do the work. Sulphur naturally occurs on grapes in small amounts, and it is often used to sanitize bottles, but an organic winery is not permitted to add sulphur to their wines to stop the fermentation process, and they have specified maximum sulphur amounts on reds and whites. This means that sulphites (the buggers blamed for those nasty headaches and hangovers) are going to be minimal compared to commercial wines. Many organic wineries often don’t do fining or filtering, which means they’re not putting animal protein by-products (like fish bladders or egg or milk proteins) into the wine to clear out the sediment; you’ll notice some chunks at the bottom of your bottle of organic wine. This is the leftover tartaric and other acids, dead yeast and bacteria. It sounds kind of gross, but this is part of the wine making process, and they’re in all wines during fermentation. Most commercial wines take them out using chemicals or all those animal parts I mentioned (the sediment coagulates onto them), so I’m fine with seeing the sediment in my glass to know it’s a cleaner product.

The biodynamic movement is gaining more traction as people are studying it and starting to notice positive effects in the vineyards and the wine. The movement basically involves using the lunar calendar to determine the best days for vineyard practices, as well as some other beliefs that certain plants and natural practices increase the overall health of the vineyard, and therefore the final product that it produces. Biodynamic wineries are always organic wineries first; biodynamics is a way of being even more environmentally friendly, and additionally, these types of wineries are usually paying attention to sustainable practices to reduce their footprint on the earth as much as possible.


Now, to the wineries!

Summerhill Pyramid Winery is located just outside of Kelowna on a hillside overlooking the mountains and Okanagan Lake. Summerhill is certified organic and biodynamic. All of their wines are organic, and two are biodynamic. They are a large winery with lots of room for tasting, special events, and enjoying the beautiful view from inside and out. They have a large patio area that is part of their restaurant. We started with a tasting of several wines before we made our way to the patio to relax with a glass.

We started with their sparkling wine, which is made from Chardonnay and tastes as similar to Champagne as we had in the Okanagan valley, anywhere. It is made in the traditional method, with a traditional Champagne grape varietal, and we were quite impressed with it. It has notes of crisp green apples and citrus, and a slight yeasty bready nose and flavour.

Their Viognier was also notable as it was quite floral and aromatic, and was a great expression of what the grape should taste like, as was their Alive Rose.

This is a benefit to organic wine, with little intervention; it can taste like what the grape actually offers, rather than what the winemaker did to it to alter the taste to what he or she believes consumers may want. We tried several more wines, and weren’t in love with all of them, but overall, we were pleasantly surprised. Our sommelier was an Italian man who recently spent some time in South America, and he had lots of experience and knowledge to offer about wine.

On the patio, we enjoyed Syrah and Merlot, two more that we felt were great representations of the grapes and well done. Our service here was also excellent!


Rollingdale Winery is special to us because we’ve gotten to know their wine maker over the course of our visits in which we’ve connected on lots of common ground. We therefore know even more about Rollingdale’s practices than we do about Summerhill’s. Rollingdale is certified organic, and is currently in process of becoming biodynamic. All of their wines are organic.

Rollingdale is set up in a very casual, minimalistic style. It’s rustic-industrial-chic, if you will! They’re using a shop as their winery and tasting room, and they don’t have a restaurant or a fancy patio, but visitors get the sense of being on a family farm, and that’s how they treat you there – like family. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. They have a little cheese and cracker set up when you come in, and juice boxes for kids, and when they go through the wines, you can tell they’re passionate about what they do, not just punching a clock.

Our sommelier took us through several wines with an explanation of each, what they were made of and how, and a bit of the stories behind the names. He was knowledgable about the wines and the winery.

After our tasting, we ran into the winemaker who took us on a long walk through the vineyard and showed us where they were at in the season. He also explained how they’re in the process of getting their Demeter biodynamic certification. We went and took a look at the biodynamic block to compare the crop with the others, and it was immediately clear how much bigger, more ripe and abundant the fruit was. After going through the process, he really believes in the practices, now that he’s seen them for himself.

He has to keep a daily log of everything he does to those grapes and vines to get the certification. There are only certain days on which he can water and harvest, and he has to track exactly how much water the vines get. There are other days they’re permitted to prune and trim the vines. There are certain plants that need to be growing on the property to increase the health of the whole vineyard’s ecosystem. They have been taking measures to draw certain birds to the area to control pests naturally. They spray the crop with steeped teas of particular herbs and plants. There’s so much going into it, but it’s going to be worth it based on how those grapes looked yesterday! I’ll be excited to try their 2018 biodynamic Chardonnay!

(Pictured above: smelling hops, and taking a look at some of their fruit plants)

If you’re in the Kelowna area, and looking for a fabulous tasting experience, try either Summerhill or Rollingdale, or both! I highly recommend them, as you’ll be supporting more environmentally friendly wineries, and getting a more pure product in addition. If you have never tried organic or biodynamic wines, I encourage you to do so. See what you think of them, and how they make you feel.

Happy organic wine-ing!

How We Rode a Willy’s Jeep through the Vineyards of Chablis

We recently took a trip to the wine regions of Chablis, Bourgogne, the Cote Rotie, and Hermitage.  We celebrated our 10th anniversary in Paris, and as my husband and I just recently took our WSET Level 2, he planned this nice, five-day wine tasting add-on as a surprise that I must say was very, very pleasantly received.  Today, I’ll discuss one special tasting in Chablis.

First things first – the cutest little red and white Citroen!

Trains are a great way to travel around Europe; they get you easily out of and into the hearts of the cities.  If you’re going wine tasting though, you need to have some method of getting into the wineries, which are often in small towns, or out of town.  You have a few options of hiring drivers or signing up for wine tour vans and mini-buses, but we like to be independent, so we usually prefer a car of our own.  We knew from research that the French don’t appreciate it if you swallow their wine at a tasting. “You taste wine with your mouth, not your stomach,” is a common French philosophy, and we get it.  They’re pouring you some really nice wines, and if you’ve consumed the first five at their place, and who knows how many others at the place before, they know your palate isn’t exactly what it was when you woke up that morning, nor is your mental clarity.  As we were clearly planning to befriend the spittoon at every facility, driving was not going to be an issue.

We flew from our small city in the prairies to Toronto in the afternoon, then took the red eye from Toronto to Paris, arriving around 8am.  We had to drive through Chablis on our way to Dijon, the town we had our Airbnb booked in.  I’ve travelled enough now that I know myself pretty well; I said to my husband prior to the trip that no matter how tired I’d be from flying, as soon as we got there, and were driving through Chablis (me saying, “oh my gosh, we’re in Chablis right now!” over and over), I was going to want to stop at a winery, or a chateau as they call them, and stat!  I knew I wouldn’t want to wait a day, so we made a couple of bookings for Chablis before we flew out (more on bookings later).

We rented the Citroen, and once we figured out how to change the GPS from German into English, we were on our way to Chablis!  After filling up on baguettes and prosciutto from a grocery store off the highway, we arrived at Clotilde Davenne where we were in for a real treat.  They recently began offering a Willy’s Jeep tour through the vineyards of Chablis, and we were their first customers to book the experience.  We climbed up into the old Jeep, with Arnaud, the winemaker and owner’s son driving, my husband riding shot-gun, and myself in the back, hanging onto whatever I could find as to not fall over the side, and boy was it a ride!  If you’ve ever seen pictures of Chablis, it’s not flat; I had some moments of sheer terror where I was bounced off the seat, or I imagined going over the edge or us rolling, but I was so thrilled to be riding in Chablis that I got over it pretty quickly.

First of all, this jeep was used in WWII to transport soldiers, and if that wasn’t amazing enough, we were driving between rows and rows of perfect Chablis vines, setting our eyes on the very slopes of the Premier and Grand Cru grapes of arguably the most reputable Chardonnay in the world, with a second generation French winemaker as our guide.  “Here are some Premeir Cru plots, and over here are the Grand Cru plots…”  If you wonder why Grand Cru is so expensive, it’s because out of the 6000 hectares of vineyards in Chablis, only 100 hectares are Grand Cru plots, meaning that only the grapes that come from those specific 100 hectares can be labelled as Grand Cru.  The land is Grand Cru because of several reasons, some of which include the direction it faces which affects sun exposure, the slope of the hill affecting sunshine and water uptake, the soil make-up, the depth of the roots, the age of the vines, and the history that those particular vines have in producing the best quality Chablis.  Arnaud took us to a viewpoint at which we could overlook the vineyards, and see a map of Chablis on a stone plaque that labelled all of the individual plots and their level of quality in an easy to read, color coded system.

Once we finished our tour of the land, Arnaud took us back to the chateau for a tour of the grounds, a history lesson on his family and how they started in the industry, and a tasting.  He spoke fairly good English, which was great for us, as we speak little to no French.  We began with about six wines on the table, and once he saw that we were spitting them out, asking detailed questions and taking the tasting seriously, we ended up with another four.   We tried all four levels of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis Villages, Premier Cru Chablis, and Grand Cru Chablis.  These are all quality, Chablis Chardonnays, but they’ve been aged differently, and for different lengths of time, and they come from the specific plots of land that coordinate with their specific level of quality.

If you’ve ever had a bad Chardonnay, or heard the saying, “ABC – Anything But Chardonnay,” you’ve probably had experience with super oaky ones, or butter bombs, but Chablis is nothing like that.  It’s crisp and refreshing at all levels, and the higher levelled ones are extremely complex, with multiple smells, and tastes that linger in your mouth and change over the course of the next 15 or so seconds after you’ve swallowed (or spat).  You’ll get lemon, crisp green apple, citrus and floral blossoms on the nose, and there is a distinct minerality to it, kind of like a wet stone, limestone taste to Chablis that comes from the limestone soil the vines call home.

We also got to try some wines from other plots in the family that were really interesting, like some Pinot Noir Roses, a sparkling Cremant (made in the same way as Champagne, but wine can’t be called Champagne if it’s not grown in Champagne), and the Bourgogne Aligote, which is the only other white grape that’s allowed to be grown in the Bourgogne region, and is used often as a table wine or a blending grape.  The most interesting wild card we tried was the Roman grape that Caesar used to drink, and was therefore named after him.  This is grown in the Irancy region, therefore the wine is called Irancy, (regions are how France labels their wines), although it’s 10% Caesar and 90% Pinot Noir.

ALL of this – for the very reasonable price of €20 each.

Needless to say, we picked up a few of our favourite bottles to take with us, and gave Arnaud and Clotilde Davenne a spectacular review on Google.  I would send anyone there, so if you’re ever in Chablis, look them up!

A note on bookings in France:

Always book ahead at the chateaus in France.  The website that we used, ruedesvignerons.com, helped immensely.  I did have a couple of glitches with their app when trying to cancel or change a reservation, so it’s not perfect, but it is a great starting point for booking.  It shows which wineries are visitor friendly, because not all are open for tastings to the public.  It also lists information such as the different times available, types of tastings, and the costs.

We found that when we showed up at most chateaus in France for our bookings, we were the only ones there.  The families live and work on the property, and they’re the ones that run lots of the tastings and tours.  They’ve got work to do; they’re not sitting around waiting for people to walk in the door.  If you don’t book, there’s a chance the door will be locked, and nobody will be around.  If you do book, they’ll be there waiting for you, having already learned your names and set up the tasting, just for you.  Be sure to let them know if you need to cancel!

If you ever have the opportunity to taste in Chablis, or to taste anywhere in this world for that matter, go for it.  You can meet some of the greatest people, and get to share in a small piece of their story, their craft, and their passion.  Especially in Europe, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.

Happy wine-ing!

Wine Tips for Beginners: Pairing Wine with Food

Anyone that’s ever experienced a perfect pairing between wine and food can tell you that it’s like magic in your mouth.  Good food + good wine = an explosion of flavor.  In my quest to answer more questions for wine beginners, I think a brief article on food pairings is an important topic of discussion! (Memes from someecards.com)

You don’t have to drink white wine with chicken; it’s a myth and it’s been busted.  I love a great Pinot Noir with my chicken.  There used to be so many rules about always pairing white wine with fish, and red wine with red meats, but what if I want to eat fish AND drink red wine at the same meal?  Now I’m forced to choose, and that’s just not going to do.  Forget the rules.  Rules make me cranky sometimes.  White wine with fish doesn’t taste bad, but there are so many more options!

So, you ask, how do I drink wine, and eat food, without it being a complete disaster in my mouth?  Trial and error always works for us!  Take a look at some tips below, and maybe you can save yourself some of the error.

From our WSET course, and years of personal experience, we’ve learned some basic tips.  There’s so much more to be said on this topic, but here’s a start, including some quotes from my husband, Greg:

1. Unlike in people’s personalities, salty and acidic qualities seem to be the easiest to pair.  It’s a lot harder to go wrong with a wine when ordering or serving these types of dishes.  This is because salt and acid in food make wine seem sweeter and less acidic by comparison.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “A well seasoned piece of meat – it could be anything, ribs, steak, whatever, you need to put the seasoning to that meat – and a Montepulciano, Shiraz, or a strong Cabernet Sauvignon.”

2. Fatty foods pair best with acidic wine; this is likely due to how refreshing a crisp wine can be in comparison.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “A great juicy burger and fries, or pork side ribs and a beer!  If you’re drinking wine though, most wines are acidic; try a good Italian wine like a Chianti, or a big bold Chardonnay.  You’re eating a burger and fries.  You’re thirsty.  You want a crisp, cool wine.”

I also love these types of wines with a cheesy pasta dish.  Yum.

3. Sweetness and certain savoury foods can bring out bitterness in wine, making sweeter foods hard to pair.  If you’re as sweet on sweets as I am, and you’ve ordered something with sweetness to it, pile on the sweetness with an even sweeter wine.

Greg’s food suggestion: “If you’re having something with a sweet and savoury sauce, like a candied salmon or reduction-type sauce, get a Gewürztraminer or Riesling for white, or Gamay, Malbec, Shiraz or Zinfandel for red.  That does sound good…let’s have that.” 

4. Try and match intensities of foods with wines.  If you have a really acidic dish, a more acidic wine will pair nicely; just make sure the wine is more acidic than the food, or the wine will fall flat on it’s face.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “Pasta sauces, like tomato sauces need an acidic wine, like Italian ones, because tomatoes are so high in acid.”

Whites generally have more acid than reds, like New Zealand and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, or German and French whites.  Italian wines are often high in acidity, and some great, easy to find reds are Chianti, Sangiovese or Valpolicella.  Most restaurants should have one of these on their menus.

5. Bitterness leads to more bitterness, just like in a bad relationship.  Keep all those bitter family members away from each other to avoid a brawl.  No heavy reds with mushrooms and asparagus, or anything soya saucy or Asian!  You’ll want a crisp white for those dishes.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “I eat noodle bowls and sushi, and ginger beef.  A crisp white wine would go well with these.” 

Many crisp whites have been listed above!

6. Spicy food will have an extra mean kick if you’re matching it with heavy, high-tannin reds.  That high alcohol level will add to the burn!  Keep the wine on the fruitier, sweeter side, with lower alcohol levels.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “Spicy ribs or chicken wings, with a low alcohol Riesling will go well because of the sweet sauce and the spice.  The low alcohol won’t enhance the spice flavour, and the sweetness should take away from some of the spicy sauce.” 

7. “What grows together, goes together.” – I’m not sure who first said that, but it’s true!  If you’re eating Italian, get Italian wine.  French food, French wine, Asian food, Asian wine?  So it doesn’t ALWAYS apply, but when it does, it works.  Almost like the foods and grapes that grow in the same soils and climates might have something in common…

*Remember this:  the wine must always be sweeter than the food!

Dessert

Red wine and chocolate is a popular pairing misconception.  They’re actually not that good together – try it for yourself and see.  This is a shame, I know.  As red wine and chocolate happen to be two of my most favorite things to consume, I just do it anyways.  So you can be a food pairing rebel, like me, or you can save your chocolate for once you’re done your glass of red, or vice versa.

This all means that for dessert, a dessert wine must be served if you want a successful pairing.  Look in the dessert wine section at your store for Icewines (more expensive), late harvest wines (a bit more affordable) or try something interesting like Tokaji (Hungary) or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (France).  The question about Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is the one we both got wrong on our WSET exam; we won’ t be forgetting that wine ever again!  It’s actually really tasty.

To Sum Up

If you are ordering for multiple people eating different things, good luck.  It’s not an easy task, but the safest choices are neutral, un-oaked whites, or light body, fruitier reds, examples below.

A white wine that pairs well with almost any meal is Italian Pinot Grigio.  Pairing well with most meals are unoaked Chardonnay.  For a more interesting choice, try Chenin Blanc from South Africa or Albarino from Spain.   

Red wines that pair well with almost any meal and are usually a safe bet:  Beaujolais (the “hot dog wine” from the Somm movies), or Pinot Noir.  These reds can stand up to red meats, but also won’t overpower a fish or poultry dish.

You can Google specific food pairings online if you want to be precise.  Some reputable websites for wine information are www.winefolly.com, or www.jancisrobinson.com.  For example, check out Madeline Puckette’s wine and cheese pairing information here:  https://winefolly.com/tutorial/6-tips-on-pairing-wine-and-cheese/.

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6 Tips on Pairing Wine and Cheese | Wine Folly

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Armed with the right information you can create amazing wine and cheese pairings on your own. Here are several classic pairings and why they work.

(All of my suggestions for resources are my own opinions.  I have not been paid to recommend these resources.  I truly find them to be written by some of the most knowledgeable and accurate wine professionals out there, and I have invested in purchasing their books for my library.)