When I think about wine tasting and touring, many memories come to mind and it’s with the same group of pole every time. The people that make the whole experience.
In September 2017, my family and our good friends went to Osoyoos for a weekend wine tasting trip. With being an almost 19 year-old, I got away with tasting at most of the wineries the first day, but the second day it was a hard shut down. The weekend was full of wine, cracked teeth, signature drinks and a lot of laughs. We have been doing the same trip now for the past four years. Each year, new memories and a new “racehorse” but it just keeps getting better. Included is parents and I, my parents friends, D and Burger Bar, their kids Marn and Baby Colin as well as Seany, Marns hubby. It’s more of a friends who have become family. We have the name “Vino Squad” and everyone wants to be part of our club.
Through quarantine, we have even been doing Zoom potlucks. We chose a theme, everyone brings different pre-portioned dishes and we exchange in someones driveway. And of course we have a driveway beer to catch up. We go home, warm up our food and hop on Zoom, where someone makes a trivia for us to play after we eat. We did this for fourteen Sunday’s straight but as the Summer came closer, plans started to get in the way. We have recently brought it back through January and February and it picked right where we left off.
But back to Osoyoos, Friday’s are filled with the long drive and winery stops on the way to the condo we stay at every year. Actually one year the condo was booked and we stayed two doors down which got confusing after a few bevies, entering the wrong door. Whoops. Saturday is the main day, where we have a set schedule of wineries we will be hitting. This year worked a little differently because we needed to pre book time slots so the schedule was set in stone and Marn kept a timer at each winery for when we needed to leave.
There is a few mandatory wineries we have to hit: Black Hills, Culmina, CheckMate and Phantom Creek.
Black Hills Estate has been a classic for our trips. With a beautiful tasting room and an outside patio above an out door pool with cabanas poolside and the grape vines surrounding. Safe to say, it is an unforgettable experience. Their wine is outstanding. From the buttery Chardonnay to the Nota Bene, which is one of the best wines I have ever tasted. Through the years we have sat inside, on the patio and twice in the cabanas. Once we were out in the cabanas during a windstorm which was a very cold experience. Black Hills that serves flatbreads and charcuterie from their Vineyard Kitchen.
Tight grain barrels allow for slow development of aroma compounds and flavours. pic.twitter.com/ERdcPezt9B
— Black Hills Winery (@BlackHillsWine) February 20, 2021
Black Hills is located on Black Sage Road, in the middle of Canada’s only official desert. The microclimate leaves them with one of hottest, driest and sunniest sites in the country. With the northern latitude, Black Hills has more sunlight hours than Napa Valley in the key growing months from June to August.
Culmina Family Estate Winery is a different experience than Black Hills. The wine makers are there, sit you at a table and give the full story of the history of the winery and grapes followed by how they came to make each wine. Their winemaking philosophy revolves around two things: gentle handling of wine and minimal intervention of wine. That’s all I’m going to tell you because you need to go to the winery and experience the passion of these wines for yourself. Culmina is usually stop one on Saturday morning at 11am sharp so we have to behave on Friday night, which is rare. Culmina’s rosé is one of my top wines. It comes in a lovely bottle and has a glass cork which I thought was very cool.
Phantom Creek is a new discovery and quite possibly my favourite patio ever. Located on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench, Phaontom Creek has a grand outdoor entrance with statues, brick buildings and calming music playing that almost sounds like you are about to enter the spa and surrounded by rows of vineyards.
Phantom creek is full of a world-class team of wine professionals including Olivier Humbrecht MW, the consulting winemaker for the white wines and was France’s first Master of Wine. Philippe Melka is the consulting winemaker for the reds and has wroked with some of the most notable personalities in the wine business, still consulting for some of the world’s top wineries. Santiago Cilly is the CEO who worked with Jackson Family Wines in California for nine years before locating to Chile and returning to California as the President of Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate in Napa Valley.
From the moment you arrive to entering the tasting room and having doing the tasting, it feels as though you have transported to Italy. I sat out on the patio, which has luxurious chairs and a breathtaking view. The tasting was impressive and the rosé was so good we just had to get a bottle to share and take in the winery. On the Sunday, we tried to go back but unfortunately they were fully booked up and I would do anything to be sitting on their patio with a glass of rosé right about now.
The 2017 Riesling was featured in Forbes as their White Wine of the Week saying, “Anyone who ever questions the potential of British Columbia to produce wines as complex as any in the world should start popping the corks on both the whites and the reds from Phantom Creek: They’ll be convinced by the second sip.”
CheckMate Artisanal Winery has some of the best wine and most expensive of the trip. Philip Mcgahan is an Australian Born lawyer who turned into a winemaker. He left Williams Selyem in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley to take on Checkmate. CheckMate focuses on making sophisticated world-class Chardonnays and Merlots on their family-owned and farmed estate vineyards. Their goal: To make new world Chardonnay and Merlot with old world elegance in North America. Wine bottle pricing range from $80 to $125 or there is an options for cases or becoming a member. In 2019, they were still building their main tasting room so we tasted in a pop-up intimate wine tasting building but this year the main room was ready. We sat and enjoyed our wine and hearing stories about how the wines became what they are today. We ended up bring home a few reds and the Little Pawn Chardonnay.
Those are just a few of Vino Squad’s favourite wineries and some of our fantastic experiences over the past few years.