It was in 2003 when I managed a now-shuttered, sorely-missed restaurant on Vancouver’s East Side called Aurora Bistro. Chef and owner Jeff Van Geest had recently hung up his sous-chef apron at Kitsilano’s long-acclaimed Bishop’s restaurant to open the place, wholly-focused on local produce, seafood, meat, the whole nine yards. The mandate I was tasked with at the restaurant, was to run a wine program consisting solely of British Columbian wine. Now, that was a rarity; in fact, we were the first place in Vancouver to do such a thing.
On the wine side of things, there wasn’t the popular enthusiasm and support of B.C. wine that there is today. Familiar refrains would include, “Yeah, some of the whites are o.k., but we still can’t make any good reds,” or even occasionally outright refusals to drink the stuff. In fact, every so often, a reservation would come in and upon realizing it was a B.C.-centric wine list, would promptly leave to dine elsewhere. One by one though, we won guests over.
Of course, I needed to have a balanced wine program, and red wines would indeed have to comprise a good chunk of it. While the “B.C. can’t make good reds,” sentiment wasn’t true, they were undoubtedly fewer and further between than today. It was around this time that I really got to know Stag’s Hollow Winery, an Okanagan pioneer even at the time, having been established by husband and wife Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger in 1995. While many B.C. winemakers were trying to flex some muscle with their reds, a little over-ripening here, a lot too much oak treatment there, Stag’s Hollow’s reds just seemed a little more authentic, singing with regional berry fruit and embracing our natural acidity and minerality. A mainstay on the list was their Simply Noir, a softer red blend that could pair with everything from local wild salmon to nettle risotto to a flat iron steak. The current 2013 vintage, a charming blend of Gamay, Malbec and Merlot, is still just as delicious and user-friendly at the dinner table, not to mention a bargain at 20 bucks!
Over the years I’ve kept tabs on the winery, listing their wines at various restaurants and writing about them in occasional posts or columns. The unwavering consistency and quality at the hands of winemaker Dwight Sick have pleased many a palate. Not only have their “standard” wines like the Simply Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir perennially shown well, but the winery’s been geeking out to the delight of many with more offbeat bottlings of things like a tropical fruit-laden Vidal, and a plummy Tempranillo loaded with baking spices. Coupled with constant quality, the winery’s sense of adventure being playful with unique varieties has allowed them to stay at the top of conversation when quality B.C. wines are discussed.
From zippy whites to rugged reds, their wines are worthy of your attention. They’ve certainly always had mine. (There’s a great opportunity at the moment with My Wine Canada’s Wine Club, where if you sign yourself up quickly, a grab bag of Stag’s Hollow deliciousness will shortly arrive at your door.) I’m looking forward to what their next few decades will bring.
Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. Track him down at KurtisKolt.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @KurtisKolt.