By Barbara D. Ritchie

‘Howard Soon, Winemaker at Peller Estates’ Sandhill Winery’ and Columnist Barbara Ritchie’

I was one of nine judges at the B.C. Wine Awards competition staged at Kelowna’s beautiful lakeside Manteo Resort over September 25-28, 2011. We were split into three panels of three judges to rate the wines for their medal potential, with golds reviewed by all judges on the final day.

Two years ago, entries were invited from all across B.C., not just the Okanagan Valley and the competition was renamed B.C. Wine Awards from the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival to reflect this. The Okanagan Valley is one of five wine regions in B.C. and accounts for 95% of its production. The remainder comes from Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser Valley and the Similkameen Valley, with the latter being the up and coming wine region.

Of the 455 wines we judged, over half were medal winners — 31 gold (7%), 79 silver (17%) and 139 bronze (31%). Fifteen of the 63 wineries took home half the medals, with the top six medal winners being Sandhill Wines (17 medals), Jackson-Triggs (12), Arrowleaf (9), CedarCreek (9), Lake Breeze (8) and Peller Estates (8). Volcanic Hills Estate Winery was voted the best new winery.

This judging event was held at the Manteo Resort, where we enjoyed the creative cuisine of B.C. Restaurant Hall of Famer Chef Bernard Casavant. His extensive culinary resume includes Executive Chef at the Fairmont’s Whistler Resort, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery’s Sonora Room Restaurant and Manteo Resort’s Wild Apple Restaurant since late 2009. The Manteo Resort gave us a lakeside view of some high performance kite boarding. As an added bonus, just down the boardwalk from the Mateo Resort is the wine store at the historic El Dorado Hotel, which stocks BC wines not readily available in BC Liquor Stores.

We also enjoyed a dinner at Raudz Regional Table in downtown Kelowna that prides itself on using local, organic produce and wild or sustainably harvested seafood. Chef Rod Butters’ commitment to regional B.C. cuisine has won him international acclaim and a spot in the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame. Judging by the buzz in the restaurant and the spectacular cuisine, this is a local favourite, and one you will not want to miss when you visit Kelowna.

In honour of their 50th anniversary in the Okanagan Valley, Peller Estate’s staged a portfolio tasting at their exclusive penthouse suite, with its panoramic view of Kelowna. Its founder, Hungarian born Andrew Peller, bought property in the Similkameen Valley in 1959 and launched Andres Wines in 1960. In 2005 they bought Sandhill Wines, whose renowned winemaker Howard Soon trained Stephanie Leinemann, winemaker at Peller Estates for the past six years. They also bought Red Rooster Winery in 2005, whose 2009 Reserve Syrah was voted the best red by our judging panel. In 2006, the company changed its name from Andres Wines to Andrew Pellar Ltd and its brands now include Trius, Hillebrand and Thirty Bench in Ontario’s Niagara wine region.

Barbara D. Ritchie is a wine writer, lecturer and internationally accredited wine judge, who has travelled extensively throughout the main wine growing regions of the world. Her working knowledge of French, Italian, Spanish and German facilitates her in-depth winery profiles. A distinctive aspect to writing is her suggestions for food and wine pairings.

Barbara has judged at the California State Wine Fair, Ontario Wine Awards, Toronto Wine & Cheese Show, Santa Cruz Mountain Wines, Ontario Fruit Wines and George Brown Culinary College. Barbara has also been on the judging panel at Italy’s prestigious Banco d’Assaggio.