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Column: From a Lofty Vision to a Lofty Winery on a Hill in Naramata

Wine recommendations for Hillside winery.

Once there was an apricot orchard owned by the Riddle family in Naramata overlooking Okanagan Lake. By 1979, the orchard was bought by two Czech immigrants, Vera and Bohumir Klokocka.

Vera had a dream of transforming the orchard into a vineyard and making wine. The problem? She had no experience in growing grapes or producing wine. That didn’t stand in her way. The grapevines thrived in the gravelly soil and warm Okanagan sunshine and Vera’s dream took shape. Except she couldn’t legally sell her wine.

By 1989, the Klokocka’s had another vision to make small-scale wineries more successful. Hillside, along with Lang Vineyards and Wild Goose lobbied the BC Government to introduce the Farm Gate Winery Policy. For the first time, small vineyards could make their own wine and sell it from their premises.

Fast forward to the new millennium. Under new owners, a new winery was completed in the shape of a grist mill with a 72-foot tower which dominates the view along the Naramata Road.

Hillside’s Winemaker, Kathy Malone had a vision when she realized that wines from Naramata were unique compared with the rest of the Okanagan. To celebrate that distinctive taste and terroir, she set out to revamp Hillside into a producer of 100-per-cent Naramata grown fruit. And this led to the recent establishment of Naramata as an official sub-region of the Okanagan Valley.

Today I review two of Malone’s wines. The Hillside 2019 Viognier ($28) is a delicious example of this varietal. Viognier, originally from Condrieu in France’s Rhone Valley has small plantings in BC; about five per cent of BC wine grapes. Although it’s susceptible to rot, needs to be heavily pruned, and requires late ripening, when done right it produces an exotic fragrant wine. Viognier is like a hybrid of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer; full and rich like a Chard and fragrant like a Gewurz.

Hillside’s Viognier has a stone fruit aroma with floral scents we’ll soon be enjoying outdoors with the advent of spring. Add a ripe juicy flavour of honeysuckle, peach and apricot with a lengthy tangerine finish and you’ve got a perfect wine to toast Daylight Savings.

Also pleasant is the rich round mouth-feel from the grape, partial oak aging in French oak, and six months aging on the lees. Overall, it’s an excellent example of Viognier.

Viognier matches best with foods that have richness or smoke. Enjoy the Hillside Viognier with duck breasts à l’orange, or smoked salmon, mussels, or oysters.

Another tasty wine from this Naramata winery is Hillside 2016 Syrah ($28). Syrah (aka Shiraz) is the fifth most planted red grape in our province. BC Syrah is often named the top red in Canadian wine competitions. It falls somewhere between the rich riper style of Aussie wines and the medium bodied, fresher, peppery style of the Northern Rhone.

The Hillside Syrah opens up quickly to reveal blue and black fruit with a whiff of smoke. On the palate there’s plenty of smooth ripe blueberry, blackberry, and boysenberry flavours with a brush of savoury umami and a sprinkling of white pepper in the fruity finish. Great with penne and sausage, porcini with Portobello mushrooms and Asiago cheese garnish. Or grilled boneless lamb with mustard, olives, and mushrooms. Que Syrah!

Hillside wines are available online from their website, at the Steveston Hotel and O’Hare’s in Richmond, Everything Wine, Value On Liquor (SW Marine) and Legacy Liquor Store in Vancouver.

Eric Hanson is a life-long Richmond resident, retired teacher and wine educator. Eric has also taught wine appreciation courses in Richmond and throughout Metro Vancouver for many years. He continues to be a journalistic ambassador for the enchanting world of wine through his weekly column.