An old European legend tells of the magic of the wine cellars in the dark of night. Late after harvest, after the wine has been aging in barrels and evening comes, the angels descend from heaven to visit the cellar and take their “angel’s share.”
While ancient tales amuse, modern practices have a different take on it. Here, in the new world, the loss of wine is explained as the evaporation that occurs from the porous oak barrels — and can reach over three cases per barrel. Those of us who know the spirits just smile.
The angels are also on-site in the South Okanagan at Phantom Creek Estates winery. The angelic sentinels stand seven metres tall in bowed reverence to greet each visitor to the winery.
Art was an essential part of the vision for the new winery, and long before the buildings were erected, the team called on the talents of art advisor Lara Tomaszewska to find the perfect sculpture for the circular entrance area and reflect the ethos and the principles of the winery: to protect and preserve nature and the environment. Director of farming, Amy Richards, at Phantom Creek Estates is leading an organic and biodynamic grape growing program. Several organic wines are now offered in the winery’s portfolio.
The chosen artwork reflects the elements central to winemaking: the sun, the earth and the terroir where the wine grows. Winged and poised to take flight, two angelic figures are tethered to the earth by a slender waterfall of coated bronze. Sculpted by Wu Ching Ru, the angels are reverently named Pro Terra et Natura — For Earth and Nature.
Travelling from the mountainous region of Taiwan to make the trip to Canada this September, the internationally acclaimed artist Ru visited the winery for the first time since the sculptures were installed in 2019. With her visit to Canada delayed by the Covid pandemic, the artist anxiously awaited the chance to see the Okanagan winery with her own eyes.
“My heart melted — such beautiful surroundings, the nature, even the people,” she said. For Ru, her art is not just an expression but also a plea — a reminder of our duty to the planet.
As the guests walked to the dining room, they were treated to a glimpse of the creativity of the internationally acclaimed artist. Upon Ru’s arrival at the estate, she was presented with all sorts of materials, from a dried grapevine to bushes, plants, seeds and flowers. She created a beautiful composition from these materials from the area in a one-of-a-kind floral installation.
Dining at Phantom Creek
While art graces the entrance of the winery, inside, culinary art takes the center stage. Chef Alessa Valdez of Phantom Creek Estates is also an angel with her own artistic talents. Her creations over the six-course intimate dinner with the artist each paid homage to Ru’s Taiwanese and Oriental heritage.
The first course arrived as a little present, a Foie Gras Bonbon. Presented like a gift box, a a yule log of velvety foie gras mousse was served on brioche and toppled with dapples of peaches and cream corn and nori. The pairing: the Phantom Creek 2017 Sparkling Brut with its own rich brioche notes. Created in the traditional method, this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is reserved for wine club members.
Squash tempura paired with the 2022 SL Chardonnay was followed by a stunning presentation of scallop sashimi. Glass-like slivers of Hokkaido scallops were presented on a cloud of coconut milk, the hints of ginger, lime and herb echoed in the wine pairing.
A burst of bright liveliness greeted me as the flavours travelled across my palette. The 2020 Organic Pinot Gris was the evening’s favourite surprise. The depth and complexity of this white wine come from aging for 18 months in traditional Austrian oak casks, adding a subtle imprint of honey and a rich texture that is balanced by a crisp finish.
Chef Valdez continued to showcase her expansive skills, firing up a duck breast served with the red 2020 Kabou Co-Ferment, and ending with not one but two desserts: a baked Alaska which hid the tangy citrus surprise of a sorbet of Asian fruits, calamansi lime and sea buckthorn (paired with the 2022 Phantom Creek Rosé), and a Gateau Vert Vert paired with the 2021 Organic Riesling.
This week, Valdez will put her talents to the test as she faces off at the Okanagan regional qualifier for the Canadian Culinary Championships, joining seven chefs in the Winery Chef Challenge at O’Rourke Family Estate. The results of the chef-off came after our press time.
Beyond special events, Phantom Creek presents a winery culinary experience that shouldn’t be missed. The Restaurant at Phantom Creek offers a two-course lunch menu for $50 per person from Thursday to Monday. Reserve at phantomcreekestates.com.
Photos by Yvonne Turgeon