McCowan shares history of Hillside Winery, the icon of Naramata Bench

by Sipping through the Okanagan, Wine & Food

1990 [Vineyard 1984]
Naramata Bench

Each summer, thousands explore the forty wineries nestled along Naramata Bench. An icon for many years has been Hillside Winery & Bistro with its tall grist tower.

“It’s the grande dame of the Bench,” says president Duncan McCowan. “It’s an architectural feature as well as it is practical; it circulates air down into the cellar.”

With a group of Albertans, Duncan first invested in the winery in 1998 — and as a geologist he knows his soils.

“Naramata Road is the high-level watermark of glacial Lake Penticton. Above the road, you have granite, limestone and some igneous rocks, and below you find lake silts and sediment. Munson Mountain is an old volcanic cone, so you also have some volcanic sediment. This variety of sediments and soils gives distinct characteristics to the wine and the vines.”

The vines were first planted in 1984 by founders Vera Klokocka and her husband Bohumir.Look to the current portfolio for Gamay Noir and Muscat Ottonel sourced from those original vines.

Since 2012, the winery has proudly produced 100% of its portfolio from Naramata grapes, crafted by winemaker Kathy Malone.

“At Mission Hill, I worked with fruit from up and down the Valley for a couple of decades. When I came to Hillside in 2008, I was at first shocked that we were making Syrah and Bordeaux reds that were grown on the Naramata Bench,” she says. “The prevailing thought was that unless you were right up against the border, it wasn’t hot enough for these reds.”

For several hours,  sunlight reflects off the lake right back onto the vineyard, keeping the vines and ground warm and keeping the metabolism going in the vines later into the evening, adding to the ripening power.

Hillside Winery now presents its unique sub-appellation on its label. Naramata Bench is one of four official sub-regions in the Okanagan Valley, each with distinct soil and climate conditions. The list includes Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench.

“I think that’s great for the consumer, and it’s helping the Okanagan create an identity in the world,” says Duncan.


Hillside Muscat Ottonel

Hillside Muscat Ottonel 2019

Hillside Winery & Bistro, Naramata Bench

Wonderfully aromatic. Think fragrant spring flowers, spice, rose petals. Off-dry style. Summer in a glass and great paired with flavourful dishes. Juicy and piquant. Vines were planted in 1984.

Feature: 30 Years of BC VQA

About The Author

Yvonne Turgeon

A published columnist and features contributor, our publisher Yvonne Turgeon has an editorial career spanning three decades. She loves writing, wine and all things Okanagan (but hasn't given up her Rider green). She is the founder of Thompson Okanagan Trends Magazine and new publisher of Orchard & Vine Magazine. Subscribe to the print magazines.

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