Wine country touring headed to the tracks last weekend in Summerland, and it was “all aboard” for the oenophiles riding the historic steam train for the 2023 instalment of the Grand Sommelier Express.

Taking our seats in the old-world coaches, we chugged along to watch the terroir that is Summerland — the sights made even more enjoyable as winery members of the Bottleneck Drive collective came to each car to pour tastings throughout the ride. 

The tracks stretch across the Summerland Bench, a provincially recognized sub-GI (geographical indication) for its unique landscape. The terraces and undulations surrounding the ancient volcano of Giant’s Head Mountain are made primarily of glaciofluvial sediments, conditions that generate an array of sites suitable for particularly white wine grapes. The area, dotted with deposits of different igneous rocks, has soils layered with silt, sand and clay. The result is a very diverse fabric of arable land within a small geographical area.

Summerland Bench joins the Summerland Valley and Summerland Lakefront to make up the trio of distinctive wine sub-regions, and on the Grand Express, wineries and cideries from all three were showcasing their offerings. 

As we sipped, the train crossed the trestle bridge spanning the awe-inspiring Trout Creek Canyon. While the conductor made only one stop and a chance for us all to sip some ciders, the number of stops on the Bottleneck Drive route is now 18, including wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries.

Some of the wines that stood out include a sparkling from one of the newer wineries, Lightning Rock. The 2022 Elysia Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Pét-Nat ($32) has the aromatics and bright and crisp acidity this grape is well known for — and how fun to have it as a sparkling. 

An up-and-comer, Lightning Rock produces less than 3,000 cases each year. The winery is situated at the Elysia Vineyard, and its moniker comes from the discovery of a huge granite rock split in two in the vineyard, rumoured to have been hit by lightning. Find them at lightningrockwinery.com

Following my bubbles, I went in for a juicy sip of the 2021 Haywire Gamay ($31.99). Served as part of the pre-boarding party, this red varietal wine is always a pleasure. Her deep, rich berry fruit intertwines with a delectable herbaceous note and a silky finish. Deep enough for red wine lovers but always an easy sipper, choose a Gamay for some fun before the main course comes out. 

Yes, let’s sideline to the mains for a moment. Chef Paul Cecconi and the Brodo restaurant team created stunning multi-couse offerings, with the fan favourite being the 24 carrot-clam chowder topped with mussels. Coming in close second was a melt-in-your mouth lamb dish.

My trip to the table of Solvero Wines (solverowines.ca) did not disappoint (yes, Pinot Noir!), nor did my conversation with winemaker Alison Moyes. Her curriculum vitae includes crafting wines for Liquidity Wines and Stoneboat Vineyards. Nice to see her arrive in Summerland. 

I’ll dive in a bit deeper in an upcoming column with these newcomers and their unique climate and biodiversity of Garnet Valley in Summerland. For now, I’m giving a red and a white shout-out to their 2019 Pinot Noir ($35) and the 2022 Pinot Gris ($25).

See maps to the members of Bottleneck Drive at bottleneckdrive.com/map-wine-routes.

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