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Similkameen Valley

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As a proud member of the Similkameen Independent Winegrowers, we are grateful to call the Similkameen Valley home to Vanessa Vineyard.  By learning more about the valley we hope you’ll appreciate the region and its wine even more!

Similkameen Valley refers to the region in and around the basin of the Similkameen River, located in the Thompson-Okanagan region immediately north of the United States border.  The valley is carved from the rugged, steep Cascade Mountains by the Similkameen River, which meanders through the heart of this almost 200 kilometer-long valley. The terroir is visible through the eroding rock of the mountainside and the ancient gravel beds, as well as the complex deposits of minerals and soils deposited by the glacial action.

As one of the original areas of British Columbia to be prospected, farmed, and ranched in the mid 19th century, Similkameen is a special historical region in the province.  In fact, the valley is regarded as one of the two foundations of the province’s orcharding industry, dating back to an original 30 acre lot of fruit trees being farmed and harvested in the 1860s.

Characterized by its rugged terrain and intense summers, Similkameen has evolved into BC’s largest designated viticultural area and the Organic Farming Capital and Fruit Stand Capital of Canada.  The region’s topography, climate, and soil types provide the perfect foundation for producing unique wine and have led Similkameen to be touted as the next great Canadian wine region.

With over a dozen wineries spanning 691 acres, there is so much to experience as you travel through the rustic region.  The top planted grapes in the Similkameen Valley are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.

Visit Similkameen Independent Winegrowers and Similkameen Valley Planning Society to learn more about the valley’s wineries, orchards, eateries and all else that the region has to offer!

Master Winemaker Howard Soon Joins Vanessa Vineyard

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Vanessa Vineyard is proud to announce Howard Soon as our Master Winemaker. A pioneer in the BC wine industry, he has been awarded with innumerable accolades and established many firsts in the province, including the first to release a series of single vineyard designated wines.

“I’ve worked with Vanessa Vineyard grapes since its founding, and believe it is unlike any other vineyard due to the site’s unique topography, climatic conditions, and soil types – the perfect combination for making truly distinctive wine. When we first started getting fruit from Vanessa for Sandhill Wines we saw the potential, and when I tried our first vintage of Cabernet Franc I was blown away.” said Howard Soon, Master Winemaker. “I’m excited to go back to the workbench, it will be refreshing to be hands-on with these small productions. I believe this special terroir is the best site for growing premium reds in Canada.”

Vanessa Vineyard is situated high on a hillside overlooking the Similkameen Valley with red grapes cultivated on sloping terrain. The vines grow in rows of rock, absorbing the day heat and imparting that warmth during the cooler nights, thus bestowing complex flavours and minerality that are truly distinctive. A burgeoning appellation, the Similkameen Valley is touted as “the next great Canadian wine region.”

Viticulturist Robert Goltz comments, “I’ve been planting vines in the Okanagan for over 40 years and in the Similkameen since the NAFTA grape pullout. From the start, we recognized the Vanessa site was ideal for premium reds, there is just so much sun exposure in the summer and the rocks were both a huge problem and an advantage.”

“Over the past decade we’ve worked closely with Howard. He helps growers and everyone else excel at their craft in the expertise he provides. He is unique among winemakers in giving us such incredibly detailed feedback on exactly what he’s looking for on the palate so that we can make changes in the vineyard to meet the precise flavour profile he’s trying to achieve in the fruit. Now that he’s with Vanessa, he will have even more freedom to continue this,” Goltz said.

“We aspire to produce the best red wines in the country and are proud to have a winemaker of Soon’s expertise on our journey. With this premier site and an extraordinary winemaking and viticulture team, we can craft profound wines that reflect this truly distinctive vineyard,” said Suki Sekhon, co-founder Vanessa Vineyard.

A living legend, for over three decades Howard Soon has been on the leading edge of winemaking innovation. Originally a brewmaster, a taste for more creativity saw him join the fledgling BC wine industry in 1980. Amongst numerous other milestones, Howard was the first winemaker in the province to receive a Gold Medal at the Chardonnay du Monde in France; release a series of single vineyard designated wines; and sweep the Canadian Wine Awards receiving Red Wine of the Year, White Wine of the Year and Winery of the Year — the only winery to ever win all three. Most recently, Soon was recognized at the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival Celebrating Excellence Awards with the highly coveted Spirited Industry Professional.  His collaborative relationships with growers led him to Vanessa Vineyard in 2006, where working with their viticulture team, he oversaw the planting of their vineyard. He subsequently purchased the vast majority of their grapes for his highly-acclaimed Sandhill Vanessa Vineyard wines. In 2017 Howard “retired” after 37 years with one of Canada’s largest wine companies to focus on truly small lot winemaking as Master Winemaker for Vanessa Vineyard.

Thai Grilled Beef Salad & Rose

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Vancouver Sun - Thai RecipeFrom the Vancouver Sun, a fantastic recipe for two by Steven Raichlen that they recommend with our 2016 Rosé. Steven Raichlen is widely regarded as America’s foremost authority on live fire cooking. The five-time James Beard award winner has a new cookbook out: Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades. As the Sun notes, the Project Smoke celebrity chef is in the Barbecue Hall of Fame, so you can trust him. This light meal employs a unique post-grilling marinade for super fresh flavour.

Wine columnist, Anthony Gismondi writes on the Vanessa Vineyard Rosé wine pairing… “A richer Tavel style gives this savoury, spicy, dark berry flavoured rosé all it needs accompany the beef and seasoning in a Thai salad.”

Thai Grilled Beef Salad Recipe:

  • 1 lb (454 g) skirt steak
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp (60 mL) canola oil
  • Bibb lettuce
  • English cucumber
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) Thai or regular basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cilantro leaves
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped peanuts

Preheat grill on high. Season beef with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil. Brush grill with oil and grill steak until cooked to taste, 3 or 4 minutes a side. Rest meat 1 minute. Thinly slice and toss with two thirds of the Thai Flavour After Marinade. Arrange lettuce, sliced cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes on a platter. Top with beef, herbs and peanuts. Serve with remainder of marinade.

Thai Flavour After Marinade

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-inch (5 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp (60 mL) cilantro root, washed and minced (optional)
  • 5 tbsp (75 mL) sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) lime juice

In a bowl, combine garlic, ginger, lemon grass and cilantro. Sprinkle with sugar and mash. Add fish sauce and lime juice and set aside.

Grape Grower & Vintner Success

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Howard Soon in barrel room

Howard Soon in barrel room

We’re honoured that our grapes are so well received by the critics. With 75 acres planted, we’re not able to use all the fruit for our own winery and sell some to a very select few local wineries. Their single vineyard Vanessa wines are achieving incredible acclaim.  This past spring, renowned British wine critic Jamie Goode visited BC for the Vancouver International Wine Festival and had the chance to taste a range of local wines and wrote of the Sandhill Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2013,

“Sweet and textured with ripe black cherry and berry fruits with some lovely olive and pepper notes. Some dried herbs and spice, with a savoury, mineral intensity to this wine. Warm but with some peppery notes of cool climate. Lovely stuff. 93/100”

Similarly, renowned Canadian wine author John Schreiner recently wrote,

“Sandhill now sources some premium reds from Vanessa Vineyards in the Similkameen. This 100-acre vineyard has relatively young vines but it holds the promise of high quality wines as well. Certainly, the flavour profile differs from Phantom Creek. That simply underlines the Sandhill philosophy of making single vineyard wines that display the terroir and individuality of each and every vineyard…

Sandhill Small Lots One 2016 Vanessa Vineyard (barrel sample). This wine is a co-fermented blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Early in its aging process, this is a promising successor to the previous succession of Phantom Creek wines. The profile seems brighter, with minty and floral aromas and with brambly flavours. 90-92.”

Kudos to Howard Soon, winemaker Sandhill Wines for his repeated honours with our fruit!

Get Paid to Drink Fine Wine!

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VV - Tasting Room Mgr adWe started over a decade ago on the principle of growing and selling high-quality red wine grapes that reflect its terroir. We’ve achieved that goal and are now building a new tasting room in the beautiful Similikameen Valley to showcase our wines from one of the most unique vineyards in Canada, and accordingly are hiring!

We’re seeking a Tasting Room Manager commencing May 1, 2017.   We’re looking for a passionate person with hospitality management experience. Some benefits to the position besides a good salary and fantastic new tasting room:  promote “absolutely stunning” 95+ points wine, work with fun/smart people, plus as Wine Enthusiast Magazine noted — we’re situated in “the next great Canadian wine region” — only 20 minutes from Osoyoos, 15 minutes from Keremeos.  For the full job description please contact Sandeep Sangha.

Veraison to Harvest: A Sweet Time

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vanessa-grapes-veraisonVéraison, the French viticulture term for the change of colour of the grapes, signifies an exciting time in the vineyard — the onset of ripening. Veraison represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening, and many changes in berry development occur. In addition to the transition in colour from green to purple, throughout the process they also increase in volume, weight, sugar content and softness. After veraison, the berries are pliable, fruit acidity decreases and sweetness accumulates.

We saw veraison start in our Vanessa vineyard last month.  Later in the ripening process flavour maturity will also take place with the formation of flavour and aroma compounds — or “phenolic ripeness”. (Phenols are complex molecules, including tannins, in the grape skins that can contribute bitter flavours. As grapes ripen, they change from green and bitter to pleasantly astringent, to soft and ripe-tasting.) The whole process takes about six weeks with the balance between sugar, acid, and flavour compounds ultimately determining the pick date.

The interval from veraison to harvest is naturally different for each varietal, and is primarily dependent on heat accumulation and crop size. Merlot for example takes fewer heat units to ripen than Cabernet Sauvignon. Knowing the ideal time to harvest begins with tasting. Our winemaker is looking for specific flavours in each variety. In addition to tasting the grapes, we measure sugar levels, pH and acidity to also help us determine when our fruit is ready to be picked.

So far for 2016, the vintage is looking great and we are excited for harvest later this fall.  Renowned local Master of Wine Rhys Pender writes about the vintage:

“It was looking like 2016 might be one of those very hot (too hot) vintages as the early budbreak and then hot temperatures through April, May and most of June had grapes rushing towards ripeness. The growing degree days were ahead of any other year on record. Mother Nature then stepped in and July ended up being the fourth coolest in Summerland and the third coolest in Osoyoos since 1998. This welcome cool weather and some unseasonal rainfall really put the brakes on the ripening and probably turned the vintage from a potentially dangerously hot one to an almost ideal one. The grapes’ flavour complexity seems to develop more if the growing season is stretched out a bit longer, and the cool July helped to do just that. August saw temperatures back to their normal levels and ripening resumed at a steadier pace. Although temperatures cooled down in early September and there were a few showers and some worried farmers, things have picked up again and the forecast for the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys is sun and mid-to-high 20s for the next 10 days at least. That will make the vintage shape up very nicely indeed…”  Read more of Rhys’s comments on the Wine Align website.

A Taste of Similkameen Elegance

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Jamie Goode - Cawston“It may be the best wine appellation you’ve driven through but have yet to visit…”  Anthony Gismondi the wine writer for the Vancouver Sun, commented earlier this month on the elegant wines of the Similkameen.  He along with many other prominent wine writers across the globe have recently had our pristine Valley in their sights.

A similar perspective was reflected across the pond, “The Similkameen Valley is a peaceful yet dramatic place. Running parallel to the Okanagan, it lacks the lakes, but makes up scenery wise by being hemmed in moodily by mountains.  The valley has an almost alpine feel, and I reckon this is one of the most exciting viticultural areas in Canada. As yet, however, its potential is somewhat untapped…” Wow! Jamie Goode, renown British wine critic recently visited the Similkameen and wrote about it’s huge potential. Noting, the uniqueness of our region which due to the lack of a lake effect tends to have a more extreme climate than the Okanagan. The results are larger diurnal temperature swings and frequent strong winds. The benefits of this are low disease pressure and preservation of acidity.  He comments, “This is a huge advantage, because we have here a combination of what looks like quite a warm climate (in terms of growing degree days it’s the same as Australia’s Yarra Valley), with the ability to make wines that are fresh with good acidity.” Jamie concludes, “There aren’t a lot of vines here in the Similkameen – just 600 acres or so – but there’s a lot of potentially fine vineyard land here that’s not planted yet. A region to watch.”

In La Belle Province, Montreal Gazette’s wine critic Bill Zacharkiw had a similar take on the Valley’s terroir, “Another really interesting region is the Similkameen. Just to the west of the Okanagan, it has a completely different feel to the Okanagan. The wines tend to be crisper, more European, and there is very much a “vigneron culture.” You can find nearly every grape there and it seems every winery does something really well. Orofino’s gamay, Little Farm’s riesling, Vanessa Vineyard’s syrah, Courcelette’s Chasselas-based blend, Clos du Soleil’s white Bordeaux-styled — the list is long. The Similkameen is beautiful and the wines are truly worth investigating.”

We’re excited for what the future holds for our Valley.  Stay tuned for more exciting developments for Vanessa (and no doubt in the Valley as a whole) in the coming year!

Judgment of Geyserville

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Judgment of Geyserville 2016We were surprised and delighted to see our 2012 Syrah included in a blind tasting this spring by a small, exclusive group of wine critics in California.  The judges meet annually in the quaint Sonoma wine community of Geyserville for the “Judgment of Geyserville”. Each year they select a theme, then select three examples each from various regions across North America.

This year, the theme they chose for their tasting was cool-climate Syrah, and the judges found superb examples from up and down the West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington State and BC).

They noted one of the most difficult tasks of this particular judging was defining what “cool climate” means. The participants decided that in this case, cool-climate Syrahs come from regions that have somewhat cooler and longer growing seasons but are still capable of reliably ripening Syrah grapes each vintage. The goal was to find examples of Syrah that were not big, rich and overripe. Rather, they hoped to taste Syrahs that showed complexity that goes well beyond the jammy, ripe flavours often found from inexpensive Aussie Shirazes or California Syrahs — i.e. one reason Syrahs grown in France’s northern Rhône Valley are so great is the cooler climate — and the complexity of aromas and flavours that follows.

The participants consisted of :

  • Mike Dunne – longtime wine columnist for The Sacramento Bee and one of the top wine judges in California.
  • Ellen Landis, master of wine, former Sommelier for the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay California, and one of the top professional wine judges in the United States, wine blogger at Ellen On Wine
  • Eric Degerman, president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine, is co-founder of Wine Press Northwest magazine and a regular judge across western North America
  • Andy Perdue, editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine, is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times
  • Ron Washam – former Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers’ Association, a regular wine judge for Bay area competitions, and writes the HoseMaster of Wine blog

We have summarized their interesting results (see the blog links above for the full articles), and we are thrilled that our inaugural 2012 Syrah was honoured with a silver (one of the 12 medalists). They describe the Vanessa Vineyard Syrah as:

“It is rare to find wines from the remote Similkameen Valley, which is west of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia’s Interior region. This is a classic cool-climate Syrah with aromas of wild mushroom risotto, dried herbs, jasmine and vanilla bean. On the palate, flavors of Marionberry and dusty black cherry are backed by juicy, fine-grained tannins. This will be fascinating to taste again in another half-decade.”

We look forward to many more “judgments” in the coming months and years!

How to Grill a Moose

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steaks-with-mushroom-sauceIt’s Victoria Day weekend and officially barbeque season! What could be more Canadian than grilled moose steaks?

Our co-owner John Welson has shared his recipe for how to grill a moose, which he pairs with the Vanessa Syrah.  This full-bodied and earthy red is a delightful match to the strong flavoured game and mushroom elements of the meal.

Originally published in Western Living Magazine, this meat lover’s dish is fantastic with a porcini sauce drizzled over the grilled steak. His chef’s tip – keep in mind that wild game is low in fat and easy to overcook; thus he recommends not to cook beyond medium-rare.

NOTE: if you don’t have a hunter in the family, the moose can be substituted with venison (perhaps a bit easier to find) or traditional beef steaks. If desired, you can also replace the porcini with portobello mushrooms.

Serves: 4

Wine Marinade
2 cups Vanessa Vineyard Syrah
1/4 cup olive oil
2 carrots chopped
1 onion chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 sprig fresh rosemary, crushed and chopped
2 large or 4 small moose or venison steaks (a tbone or porterhouse cut is best)
olive oile

Simmer wine for 10 minutes over low heat to cook off alcohol; allow to cool.
Mix all ingredients in stainless steel, add steaks and cover bowl; marinate overnight in fridge.
Remove steaks, preserving marinade. Pat steaks dry and brush with olive oil. Grill over hot coals, turning only once. Allow meat to rest on a warm plate for 10 minutues before serving.

Porcini Sauce
1 cup boiling water
2 cups dried porcini
reserved wine marinade
1/4 cup demi-glace
2 tbsp flour
1-2 tbsp soft butter

Soak dried porcini in boiling water for 15-20 minutes; drain and reserve liquid. Coarsely chop porcini and set aside. Reduce reserved marinade by half in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add porcini soaking liquid and reduce again by half. Add porcini, stir in demi-glace and simmer for 5 minutes. (Note: you can make your own demi-glace by cooking 1 cup of good quality beef stock in a saucepan over medium heat until it reduces to 1/4 cup.) In a separate pan, toast flour over medium high heat until golden, tossing so it won’t burn, about 2 minutes. Put toasted flour into a small bowl and work in butter to make a paste or roux. Slowly add paste to sauce until it thickens, stirring constantly. Serve over grilled steaks.

Chat with Brian Parker of Gotham Steakhouse

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Gotham Steakhouse, located at 615 Seymour Street in Vancouver, is one of the city’s premier steakhouses. The beautiful art deco-inspire space boasts an extensive wine list that includes our very own Vanessa Vineyard 2012 Syrah. We recently had the chance to sit down with Gotham manager, Brian Parker, to talk all things wine and steak.

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