After living in Ontario for nearly three years, I'm beginning to feel like I'm lagging behind on new ventures in the B.C. wine industry. That's why I was thankful to taste the latest lineup from Harper's Trail, a new winery pioneering a new region. Suitably, Ed and Vicki Collett named their winery after the cattle drive trail of the area's pioneer rancher, Thaddeus Harper. Harper's Trail wines are 100% estate grown in Kamloops, British Columbia. Kamloops is about a two-hour drive northwest of Kelowna. It's in the Thompson Valley, and not far from Kamloops Lake. If you've ever been to Kamloops, you'd know that the weather isn't what you'd expect for a place situated above 50 degrees north latitude. The backdrop is rolling hills covered in sagebrush. Semi-arid, it sits in a rain shadow and the summers are hot and dry.
Harper's Trail's 24-acre vineyard is planted on clay and limestone soils with seven grape varieties (Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc), which I suppose is the way to go when you are starting from scratch and have no data to tell you what the standout grapes have historically been. The consulting winemaker is Michael Bartier, a star in B.C. best known for his work with Road 13 Vineyards, Okanagan Crush Pad, and his own winery, Bartier Bros.
So how are the wines? I was thoroughly impressed, especially with Harper's Trail being such a new winery. All the wines had fresh and vibrant acidity and many of the whites had a distinct aromatic spice that I think differentiated them from the same varieties grown in the Okanagan.
One of my favourites is the Harper's Trail 2013 'Silver Mane Block' Riesling. The aromas are lifted and vibrant with a captivating spice that somehow manages to combine orange citrus flavours with cinnamon and cool mint. It's off-dry with racy acidity and more citrus, orange blossom, and wildflower honey. The finish is long and lingering. If you're a Riesling fan, I highly recommend checking this one out. ($20, 11.3% alcohol.)
My other favourite is the Harper's Trail 2013 Cabernet Franc. I love the style of Cabernet Franc they went with. It's medium-bodied and reserved with lots of fresh acid and present tannin that is soft enough to enjoy. It reminded me of a Loire Cab Franc: dark cherry fruit, coffee, and undertones of all those woodsy, savoury notes that make Cab Franc so delicious. Probably not for those who like their Cab Francs to be full-throttled and inky, but really, this is a more compelling and original style. ($30, 12.9% alcohol.)
Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.