A hidden gem: Howling Bluff
I'd heard of Howling Bluff in passing; having worked on the Naramata Bench in the past. However, I'd never tasted their wines. Truthfully, I knew nothing of them other than their name. When they graciously reached out and asked to send me some wine to taste and review, I was flattered, elated and couldn't wait to try the wines. I was absolutely delighted once I tasted them; they truly are a hidden gem on the Naramata Bench. I had the opportunity to stop by the winery recently as I wanted to see the facility and meet the wonderful staff behind these delicious elixirs - if you're looking for down to earth, look no further than Howling Bluff.
The winery is situated overlooking Okanagan Lake on the increasingly well known (and stunningly gorgeous) Naramata Bench with its hilly slopes and steep aspects; a theme that one quickly realizes is the defining characteristic behind Howling Bluff's styles. Their belief? The Okanagan is one of the most revered regions for producing wines because we apparently have it all - long, sunny days and minimal rain and frost. Due to careful selection of site, the moderating effects from the lake and wind, help keep the rot and frost away from their fruit. Unless your vineyards are planted on flat plains; there's no reason why you seemingly shouldn't be producing clean fruit. Luke Smith, winemaker and proprietor, gives credence to the team at Meyer (OK Falls) for their viticultural approaches, having worked under their tutelage in the early days, dating back 15 years. Luke and his family reside on the same property where the winery is situated; their son's former bedroom now housing the tasting room. 95% of their wines are sourced from estate fruit; they have a small but razor sharp focus - Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Bordeaux style blends, producing only 2000 cases annually.
You get to talking with Luke and quickly realize how much humility is at play here; this guy does not take himself too seriously and this infectious demeanour shows up in his wines, too - excellent calibre, yet still approachable, playful, but high quality.
Some of their vineyards lie on aspects that were formerly a creek - perfect for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc - which now sit atop an aquifer far below. Their Century Block vineyard is now planted exclusively to Pinot Noir - named as such for the land that formerly housed over one hundred different species of apple trees.
Their Pinot Noir - of which they do several - are all vinified and aged in the exact same manner - aspect, geography and soil being the only differences here - and noticeable they are, despite being so closely situated.
A resounding belief that came up again and again in our conversation - what is wine about, and who should be recognized for iconic styles worldwide? When you think of famous labels - DRC or Rothschild, for example - do you think of the winemaker or the place? A beautiful memory, mentioned by Luke, which he shared came from his Mother - "Great wine does not come from someone, it comes from somewhere". No surprise here then, that he takes so little credit as a winemaker, and gives all glory to the land.
Here are a few must tries from their portfolio:
2017 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon - this wine is slutty in the best way - it's terrifyingly easy to drink despite having almost no residual sugar, like drinking segments of pink grapefruit and rocket candies. Luke's suggestion for food pairing - Camembert, cut in half horizontally, stuffed with garlic, lemon juice and chopped parsley, wrapped in tinfoil and baked at 350 for 15 minutes. Drooling yet?
2015 Three Mile Creek Pinot Noir - potpourri, hay, dried rose petals, bing cherries. You ready for this pairing? Take fresh pizza dough, prep it for an extremely hot charcoal BBQ. Top it with morel mushrooms and goat cheese; once cooked, remove, and top with arugula tossed in olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper, drizzle with truffle cream (truffle oil mixed with mascarpone, preferably), honey and candied walnuts .
Go and have a visit - you won't be disappointed.