Perched on British Columbia’s scenic Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley, Upper Bench Estate is sitting so pretty, I’d venture we’ll be hearing from them for a long time. The roots are deep; owners Shana and Gavin Miller previously worked just down the road, respectively making artisan cheese and hand-crafted wines at the much-lauded neighbouring Poplar Grove Winery, known for juicy whites and robust reds for many years now.
Naramata has become a critical darling in the local wine trade; a winding road populated by small wineries, the majority of which are terroir-expressive. The region’s proximity on Okanagan Lake is ideal for preserving natural acidity; while the summer days are quite hot (fantastic for ripening grapes), the nights are quite cool, which works well as a moderating effect for the fruit.
Gavin’s approach to winemaking fits with, well, what all the sommelier cool kids are looking for. A minimalist approach, with hardly any winery meddling in order to bring out the best the soil, climate and other sense-of-place conditions the region has to offer.
Their 2013 Riesling shines with an equal mix of stonefruit and citrus, and that natural acidity keeps the juice buoyant and bright.
2012’s Pinot Noir is a good example of regional conditions suitable for the variety. Climatically, Naramata has similar heat accumulation to Burgundy or Australia’s Yarra Valley, resulting in textbook cool-climate-Pinot that sings with cherries, blueberries and blackberries, gleaming with cheery acidity.
The 2012 Merlot shows solid evidence that Okanagan Merlot needn’t be boring. Stewed berry fruit is opulent with a few plucks of sage, a good rounding of oak, and a lingering finish making it ideal for braised and grilled meats.
It’s exciting to see newer wineries coming out of the gates so strong and confident.
I look forward to seeing where they head next.
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