How has the Naramata Bench become such a critical darling in a relatively short period of time? Not only is it one of the biggest tourist draws for those visiting B.C. wine country, sommeliers and consumers have been flocking to Naramata wines with gusto, particularly in the last decade or so.
Here is a bit of history on the area… In the early 1900s, paddle wheelers were a common sight on Okanagan Lake, connecting Penticton, Summerland, Kelowna, and other small towns. After the town of Naramata was founded by J. M. Robinson in 1907, both locals and newcomers set up camp to get into the fruit business, with orchards of apples, pears, peaches, plums, and cherries filling the landscape. The area also became a cultural hub of sorts, where those paddle wheelers would bring folks dressed to the nines to attend theatre, concerts, and operas.
For most of the 20th century, that fruit industry flourished, even as the new millennium approached. By then, a few wineries had popped up and begun to thrive due to the area’s long, hot summer days (perfect for ripening grapes), cool evenings, immediate lake proximity (key to preserving natural acidity), and well-draining soils (ideal for concentration and purity of fruit). These viticultural perks and the well-crafted wines they lent themselves to were quickly noted by sommeliers and retailers in nearby cities like Vancouver, Victoria, and Calgary—places with enough buying power that they could be quite influential in a winery’s success.
Seeing that city folks were beginning to catch on to Naramata wines, the relatively new and member-driven Naramata Bench Wineries Association recognized that engaging trade was extremely beneficial. Starting in 2007, member wineries banded together for three consecutive years of trade retreats, annually inviting busloads of sommeliers, retailers, and media to two-day retreats full of vineyard tours, seminars, and tastings.
The close proximity of these wineries to one another makes touring them a little easier, compared to other areas where wineries are a little spread out. These key people soon got to know the charm of Lake Breeze’s Pinot Blanc, Howling Bluff’s Pinot Noir, Laughing Stock Vineyards’ Bordeaux-inspired Portfolio blend, and so many more.
The momentum has continued from there, with new wineries popping up all the time. Some specialize in clean and crisp whites, singing with that lively acidity, and others let heartier grapes like Syrah and Cabernet Franc bask in the sun for rich, bolder fare. Wineries like Upper Bench and Bench 1775 (try the rosé!) are becoming the latest of the many household names.
So when it comes right down to it, what makes Naramata so successful? Good terroir, good people, and a strong sense of community. A little savvy business sense never hurts either. In the big picture, the best part is that Naramata wine country is just getting started.
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Article Credit: Kurtis Kolt, The Georgia Straight