Spending time on the (Naramata) bench

La Dolce Vita - a regular contribution to the Castlegar News/West Kootenay Advertiser

Using a sabre to open a bottle of bubbly--Elephant Island Orchard Wines’ Pink Elephant--was one way to celebrate the new ownership of Naramata Heritage Inn in April.

Using a sabre to open a bottle of bubbly--Elephant Island Orchard Wines’ Pink Elephant--was one way to celebrate the new ownership of Naramata Heritage Inn in April.

On a recent extended weekend we left Creston shortly after noon and made a one-stop beeline to Naramata, our destination for several scheduled and unscheduled visits. Our timing was perfect—we pulled into the parking lot at Hillside Estate Winery just as our stomachs were beginning to rumble in want of dinner.

The bistro rates as one of our favourite restaurants anywhere. On a warm, sunny day the deck affords spectacular views of Okanagan Lake and the vineyards along the Naramata Bench. The food and wine are consistently fine, complementing the view.

We took a table inside on this chilly evening and placed our order. I was soon digging into my Caesar salad, which was followed by a yummy flatiron steak. A glass of Merlot-Cab Franc went nicely with my meal.

Comfortably full, we drove the short distance down to the lakeside, where we had a room waiting in the B and B at D’Angelo Estate Winery. After a quick visit with owner/winemaker Sal and his daughter, Stephanie, we repaired to our quarters. There is something special about spending the night in a vineyard.

In the morning I had a long chat with Sal, who was working in the vineyard, and made an appointment to return for a tasting of his latest wine lineup, and to sample from barrels of his soon to be released dessert wines, a red and white (Dolce Vita Rosso and Dolce Vita Bianco), each fortified with brandy made from his own grapes.

Next stop, Moraine Winery. Formerly one of several wineries owned by a family that went bankrupt, the newly named Moraine is now under the ownership of Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov. There, we had a very nice visit with Oleg and his winemaker, Jacq Kemp, who is from New Zealand. We joined them in a barrel tasting of 2012 Malbecs, which are coming along very nicely.

The tasting room was being renovated and we left with a commitment to return and enjoy the experience of sampling Moraine wines in what promises to be a lovely room.

We then drove through the tiny village of Naramata and up a steep hill to check out Forest Green Man Lavender, a farm that produces lavender and other herbs that are then turned into a tempting array of natural products that are sold in the lovely little shop on site. Also on the farm are a pair of cute-as-a-button guest houses, and our thoughts couldn’t help but turn to the idea of spending a couple of days of leisure in one.

After zipping into Penticton for a few hours, we returned to the village and checked into the Naramata Heritage Inn as guests of new owners Toni and Julius Bloomfield.

The couple, dynamic and personable, had two nights of celebrations planned to introduce local business people and friends to the inn, a 105-year-old historical treasure that features eight guest rooms, a restaurant, bistro and spa, all in a lovingly restored building set on beautiful grounds.

I enjoyed photographing the efforts of several brave folks, including Julius, who used a sabre to open bottles of delicious Elephant Island Pink Elephant sparkling Rosé wine. The technique requires one to sharply run the blade along the bottle until it snaps the neck off and the gases eject the cork and a circle of glass around it.

“Point the bottle away from me!” I kept reminding the participants.

In the morning, we wandered among the many yard sales that are organized on that particular weekend each year, then headed to a scheduled visit with Judy Kingston and her daughter, Katie O’Kell, at Serendipity Winery, one of our favourites.

We spent a perfect hour on the deck, sipping from our glasses and talking about the wine business. We also learned about Judy’s plans to build a kitchen to provide food on the deck in the summer months. She’s a French-trained chef, so it promises to be great.

We visited a number of other wineries before heading northward to Kelowna, each one with its own special appeal. With more than two dozen wineries in this tiny area, the Naramata Bench is a perfect place to spend several days, and we never seem to have enough time to take in all the wineries we would like.

We leave the area thinking about the next visit.


-Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance, a Black Press publication.