McCowan shares history of Hillside Winery, the icon of Naramata Bench
1990 [Vineyard 1984]
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.
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