“Drinking and driving don’t mix but for this Okanagan wine fan, the reward came at day’s end…”
Through rain, fog, snow and ice, we drove in search of Syrah in the Okanagan Valley.
The 1,000-kilometre journey was good winter test of the all-wheel-drive 2015 Acura MDX elite edition. But it was also a quest to collect examples of the fermented homegrown Syrah grape to be poured by Okanagan winemakers at next week’s Vancouver International Wine Festival.
Drinking and driving don’t mix but for this Okanagan wine fan, the reward came at day’s end or when somebody else took the wheel at midday!
The idea for the jaunt came when I learned Honda’s premium brand was a festival sponsor. My focus sharpened when Syrah was named the feature grape and it was revealed that 55 wineries from Australia would show off their version of the French grape – the big and often fruity Shiraz. Past tastings told me B.C. could hold its own in this duel. Indeed, 16 of our best winemakers will uncork Syrah.
The Driveway car pulled into eight of those vineyards but it was not an easy drive.
Though the forecasted snow did not materialize in the Fraser Valley, gusts did test sure-footedness. The true winter test was found along the twisty Hope-Princeton highway. In the summer, it’s a fun roller coaster ride but hidden black ice and patches around every corner made it a steering wheel gripper.
The long straights in Manning Park tempted me to open up the 3.5-litre SOHC, V6 and let all 290 horses roar. A sudden slip towards the ditch and a rear sway put paid to that notion and I was grateful for traction control.
Rain swept us through the Similkameen Valley but cleared as we dropped down into Osoyoos. First stop would be Black Hills Estate Winery, on Black Sage Road, in Oliver. It has magnificent views of the Okanagan valley. Its interpretation of Syrah is mouth filling and much closer to its Rhone Valley origins than that Oz style. The same can be said of that served by TIME Estate Winery across the road, which opens to the public this summer.
Minutes later, we had swept across the valley to the castle-like structure that is Road 13, where owners Mick and Pam Luckhurst entertained and sent us packing with a variety of blends. The overnight stop was neighbouring Tinhorn Cellars, where its generous co-owner and winemaker Sandra Oldfield extracted a delicious Syrah from her private cellar.
The next day, a yellow orb appeared above while passing by the beautiful Vaseaux Lake and into Okanagan Falls. We spun onto Eastside Road and skirted Skaha Lake to Penticton. It’s a quiet, fast road and enabled me to play with paddle shifters.
The view from Poplar Grove over Okanagan Lake is spectacular as is the Syrah, which, like the best of the winery’s reds, benefits from the extra aging afforded by cellaring it for a couple of years longer than the norm. A three-kilometre side trip to Red Rooster netted a Reserve Syrah, which exuded yummy plum and cherry from its neck, once opened! One more stop before a relaxing evening spent staring over the lake while sipping on a suite balcony at the Summerland Waterfront Resort. The snowy and very icy single track to the new Sage Hills Vineyard in Summerland required careful navigation. The reward was a barrel tasting with winemaker Andrea Lee and vineyard manager Keenan Thrussell. The new vintage had yet to be bottled but a rosé version hit the spot later!
Time to return to the coast via Sandhill Wines in Kelowna. Howard Soon, a BC born industry pioneer, makes Syrah from vineyards in the south of the valley and a special ‘small lots’ version from a single vineyard.
By the time the rear two rows were lowered to accommodate the purchased cases of wine, the seven-seat MDX was strictly a two-seater. Despite its load, it leapt up to the Pennask Summit on the Okanagan Connector as fast the outside temperature dropped to minus five.
The Coquihalla Highway was bathed in sunlight and the descent to Hope was smooth and quiet but for the rattle from the bottles.
Bring on the Aussies!
If you can’t get to the festival tasting room, tour Okanagan wine country this summer… with a designated driver, of course.
Our Ride: The 2015 Acura MDX
Power: 3.5-litre SOHC, V6, 290 hp, with 6-speed auto paddle shifters and grade control.
Consumption: 12.7/8.5L/100km (city/hwy)
Price as tested: $63,990
Base price: $49,990