My final chapter as a stagiaire in the Okanagan was three days at Painted Rock Winery on Skaha Lake, just south of Penticton. With their vines planted in 2005, now onto only their 5th vintage, Painted Rock has amassed an incredible amount of awards and respect for such a young winery...but their youth doesn't seem to affect the accolades.
Every winery has something that is their thing, the physical or immaterial things stand out the most about it: whether its the people, the tradition, the innovation, or even fancy tasting rooms that make it special. At Painted Rock that thing is definitely the vineyard itself. It's hard to convey in words how epic this piece of property is...but in these pictures you can start to get an impression. Notice in the above picture how the vineyard is housed within a rock amphitheater created by the Skaha Bluffs in the background. This coupled with the vineyard sloping down toward Skaha Lake helps create a wonderfully unique microclimate that retains heat within the rock of the bluffs and uses the sun's reflection from the lake onto the vineyard to produce really ripe yet astonishingly elegant Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.
Having known owner John Skinner for several years now from his many visits to Ottawa, and having heard so much about the winery and tasted all the past vintages, I was really taken aback when I arrived at the winery. I know John has spent a small fortune on Painted Rock after having retired
from a very successful career as a stock broker, but this is not
obvious from the winery itself. The winery is new, simple, clean, highly functional and slightly hidden in the hillside of the vineyard. It's large enough to house all the tanks and barrels and that is all they need. The tasting room has been referred to in the Globe and Mail as a "tiny tasting room that stands alone on a slope like a misplaced tool shed", but that is all that is required for now. And I think all this is what I like most about the Painted Rock and their vision: unlike many people who erect massive ostentatious tasting rooms and showpiece wineries first then focus on the grapes second, John has such an aggressive mandate for quality that everything has went into his remarkable vineyard first. And when you see it, its breathtaking. To get a better understanding of this check out their archive of aerial shots from past decades. I also took this slightly shaky Blackberry video to try and capture the dynamic setting while touring the vineyard on a fourwheeler.
Their wine is about what is most suited to the site, and that vineyard has proven to do a world class job of ripening Bordeaux varietals, especially the more difficult Malbec and Petit Verdot. An important part of their philosophy is thinking outside of the box, not just following conventional truisms. So upon the advice of Alain Sutre, their consulting oenologist from Petrus in Bordeaux, Painted Rock began using Malbec and Petit Verdot as larger components to better express the vineyard in their proprietary blend instead using them as smaller percentage ingredients as is de rigueur in traditional Bordeaux blends. With 15-20% Petit Verdot and Malbec in the Red Icon, instead of 1-5% as is customary in Bordeaux, Painted Rock showcases what it does best. Although inspired by Bordeaux varietals and techniques, this way it becomes a truly "Okanagan wine", not just a carbon copy of Bordeaux. Similarly their Chardonnay undergoes a three stage harvest, picking part of the crop early, blending the more acidic juice with the later picked riper juice to introduce a naturally made complexity and balance that many wineries in warmer regions achieve only by adding tartaric acid to the wine. It's the combination of an incredible vineyard and winemaking details like these that support the accolades and contribute to making Painted Rock one of Canada's very best wineries.
Here's a few pictures from three days spent working crush and touring the vineyard at Painted Rock: