Monday, October 28, 2013

Wine Tasting at Hester Creek Winery, Okanagan Valley Part 2

This article is part of The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip series, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington.

As I was saying: Throughout the meal, Roger had given me a great introduction to Hester Creek Winery but we'd only talked business. That's when things got real, and we started to talk about our families. Roger, his wife, and his children all call the Okanagan home, and I told him that my father was wooden sailboat builder and that I grew up in Maine. We began discussing the new forms of publishing—blogs, Twitter, online versions of newspapers, etc.—and I felt that we'd reached a higher plain.

Soon enough, we climbed the hill and entered the modern Hester Creek Winery, replete with a six deluxe guest suites inside of a Mediterranean-style villa. The winery is the ideal base for a trip through the southern Okanagan Valley, and you can find great dining at Terrafina and live music at the winery most Saturdays. Further, Hester Creek Winery hosts cooking classes, which involve creating a four-course meal using fresh Okanagan ingredients in a beautiful kitchen.

Showing off the awesome kitchen where Hester Creek holds cooking classes (with wine, duh)
The Hester Creek grounds and vineyards cover 95 acres, and the views from their high up perch overlooking the Golden Mile growing area are mind-bendingly beautiful. The winery takes its name from the original owners of the property, Judge Haines and his daughter Hester. Spending her whole life on the property, Hester played a major role in its development, including giving her name to a stream that runs through it. Hester Creek Winery adopted her name to honor this history, and its cabernet franc vineyard dates all the way back to 1968, making the vines some of the oldest in the region.

The above wine, Hester Creek Winery's 2009 "The Judge," is one of those Okanagan powerhouse reds that the area is developing a reputation for. I dare anyone who loves Napa cabernet sauvignon to sample The Judge and find it lacking. It is an estate red blend, and the blending ratio changes annually (the 2009 The Judge featured merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc). You can taste this wine and others seven days a week in the tasting room, which is open year round, and tastings are free. Moreover, the winery typically serves several "tasting-room-only" wines that can only be purchased direct at the winery. Other wines that stood out to my palate:
  • 2012 Pinot Blanc
  • 2012 Trebbiano
  • 2012 Cabernet Franc Rosé
  • 2011 Character Red Blend

Photo courtesy of Hester Creek Winery

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Thompson Okanagan tourism board.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2014 Portland Events Wall Calendar in Stores Now

The 2014 Portland Events Wall Calendar: Something all cities need, and only Portland, Oregon has (Ok, Austin, too)

I've been a part of the Portland Events Wall Calendar crew since its inception, and, now that we're in our third year (and our calendar has become the all-time, best-selling calendar at Powell's Books!), I thought I'd share it here on Ravenous Traveler. This thing is beautiful, and I wish that I'd had something like it when I'd first moved to Portland (as well as San Francisco, New York, Italy...). It offers hundreds of ideas for fun things to do with the Portland community, and that's what Big Weekend Calendars and the Portland Events Wall Calendar is all about: having fun as a city.

Now in its third year, the Portland Events calendar shares more than 250 Portland-area events and activities with the dates printed right on the calendar. Just hang it up; enjoy the big photos by award-winning local photographer Mark Gamba (Sports Illustrated, National Geographic Adventure, Forbes), and get ready for an entire year of awesome things to do in Portland. Most importantly, the calendar includes dates for Portland events for the entire upcoming year. Yep, that means you will know what's happening in Portland in December 2014 right now.

Portland has so many awesome events, and our city's great organizers are so creative that there's something new every year. I mean, Feast Portland only deputed last year, and now it's one of the most anticipated food events in the country. Along with Feast, the 2014 Portland Events Wall Calendar includes plenty of other food, wine, and beer events—even saké events. In 2014, we feature the Taste of the Nation Portland, PDX Urban Wine Experience, Portland Seafood & Wine Festival, Oregon Brewers Festival, and many more. We also include Portland bike events, from Reach the Beach and the PDX Bicycle Show to the World Naked Bike Ride. Portland running events are there, too—from the Shamrock Run to the Worst Day of the Year Run, and we have Portland-weird events, too, including the Adult Soapbox Derby and the Vampire's Masquerade Ball. Of course, the calendar also has your back when it comes to major events, such as the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade and The Pirate Festival.

Check out how it works: For each calendar month, event names and descriptions up top; dates on the grid below

Our photographer Mark really deserves an extra shout out. Mark Gamba has taken photos for so many amazing groups, including Entertainment Weekly, ESPN, Esquire, Men's Journal, People, Runner's World, Sunset, and the list goes on. His work is featured in museums on both coasts, too. I mean, how many wall calendars come with this level of photography? And Mark shoots sides of Portland that you may not have seen before, whether it's a home-made Halloween graveyard in Milwaukee or zany participants of the Worst Day of the Year Ride crossing the Steel Bridge. For those of you who haven't bought a calendar before, I'll show off a few of the photos from the 2012 and 2013 Portland Events Wall Calendars at the end of this post to give you a better idea of what Mark does.

The 2014 Portland Events wall calendar is sold pretty much everywhere, including:

  • Powell' Books
  • All New Seasons locations
  • All Zupan's Markets locations
  • All local Costcos
  • All local Whole Foods Markets
  • Both Food Front Cooperative groceries
  • Mirador Community Store
  • The Portland Nursery
  • New Renaissance Bookshop
  • Alberta Cooperative Grocery 
  • Annie Bloom's
  • Audubon Society of Portland
  • Broadway Books

You can also buy one online here. (By the way, one of the tough knocks about the calendar business is that our reviews do not carry over each year. So, if you've got a moment, please review us and let people others know what you think about the calendar.)

Lastly, I just want to say thank you to all of the people who buy our calendar as well as all of the hard-working event organizers who supply us with their event dates so far in advance (we know it isn't easy!). We get lots of support from local businesses, business owners, websites, food trucks—and we're honored. The calendar is researched and edited by Portlanders; the photographs are taken by a Portland photographer; Portlanders comprise the sales team; and it is printed by Precision Graphics, based in Tualatin. I love our Portland community, and I hope that our calendar can help people connect with all of the creativity in Slabtown.

See you around at:


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wine Tasting at Hester Creek Winery & Dining at Terrafina Restaurant, Okanagan Valley Part 1

This article is part of The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip series, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington.

Pulling up to the Hester Creek Winery on my last day in the Okanagan Valley was like going to the gym the day after running a marathon. It was about a week and a half on the road, and I hadn't done anything but drink wine. Plus, in the middle, there was the... what was it? Oh yeah, the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference (apparently I drank a minimum of 225 wines a day according to my notes). Fortunately, as a professional, none of this phased me. I parked and got straight to work.

The Hester Creek vineyard was like a winelover's airstrip to heaven:

Time for lift off—

I was meeting with Hester Creek director of hospitality, Roger Gillespie, at the onsite Terrafina Restaurant for lunch. The wineries in the Okanagan Valley have it down: Many of the best wineries offer not only fantastic wine but inventive, locally inspired menus at onsite restaurants, and, as I was soon to learn, Hester Creek offers a whole lot more.

I was welcomed to the restaurant by owner April Goldade, and took a seat at a table on the patio. When Roger arrived, he appeared a well-calculated dresser with Clark-Kent glasses to boot. Over a bottle of the winery's 2012 Cabernet Ftopranc Rosé, he shared a bit about Hester Creek. "This piece of land you see," he said, "is called the Golden Mile. Some of our cabernet franc was planted here as early as 1968." The Golden Mile is not technically a bench like the Naramata and Summerland: it is a stretch of land raised up from the valley floor, and this topographical fact saves it from the early frosts that some of the other Okanagan vineyard areas get. In Canadian wine country, this can mean all the difference.

Terrafina Restaurant

Terrafina chef Natasha Schooten came out and introduced the menu, which offered a medium-to-large selection of seasonal dishes focused on gourmet pastas and pizzas. Like many of the Okanagan's top-notch restaurants, Terrafina features loads of local produce, and this made all of the difference. We started with the Antipasto Platter, and I must say that hands down it was the best antipasti I've ever had (and I lived in Italy for two years).

The marinated artichokes, eggplant, and caper berries were packed with flavor; the homemade focaccia was light and a non-overpowering accompaniment; and local meats and cheeses were each different and melt in your mouth. Next, we ordered the Sausage and Mushroom Pizza, with wild mushrooms, sausage, aged cheddar, and olive oil; the Pan-Fried Fishcakes, with organic quinoa, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, organic tree fruit, avocado, and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette; and the Gnocchi, with asparagus, carrots, wild spinach, shaved Parmesan, and microgreens.

From the left: Pan-Fried Fishcakes, Sausage & Mushroom Pizza, Gnocchi, & The Judge

Natasha explained that Terrafina makes its Tuscan sausage in house—a mix of basil, tomato, and local meat—and that it contains no nitrates or dextrose. Thanks to the Gnocchi, I can tell you that the best time to visit the Okanagan Valley is during asparagus season, which runs mid-May through Mid-June.

Terrafina Chef Natasha Schooten

I loved the fresh produce in all of the dishes, and Terrafina sources it from a range of Okanagan farms, including Covert Farms, Fester's Peppers, Harker's Organics, and Pranna Farms. Natasha said that her cooking is greatly influenced by Rod Butters, a chef who spearheaded local cooking in the Okanagan and who currently owns and operates RauDZ in Kelowna. Additionally, the pizza crust was very good: crunchy and chewy enough to leave you satisfied without being heavy. The Gnocchi had wonderful flavor, but the gnocchi themselves were a little heavy. I prefer very light gnocchi, almost pillowy.

Throughout the meal, Roger had given me a great introduction to Hester Creek Winery, but I'd noticed that he'd been a little quiet. What did he have in store... (To be continued)

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Thompson Okanagan tourism board.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

American Rieslings - A Taste of the Finger Lakes

America's primary riesling producers are Washington, Oregon, California, New York, and Michigan, and, living in Oregon, I like to keep close tabs on what's happening on the other side of the country in terms of riesling. I love Oregon's rieslings for their incredible terroir. In general, the style involves high acid levels and a incredible tartness—two components that make many Oregon riesling conducive to aging. When I open a bottle of Oregon riesling, I know it's good if it tastes like crisp Oregon air coming straight off of the Pacific Ocean.

The Finger Lakes Region of New York, located in the northeast of the state, have garnered a number of important awards. At the fore, Wine & Spirits magazine listed 20 Finger Lakes rieslings on its of best of 2012 list. As part of the Finger Lakes Alliance virtual tasting series, which you can check out on Twitter using hashtag #FLXWine, I was sent free samples of four rieslings. They were produced by Hosmer Winery, Glenora Wine Cellars, McGregor Vineyard, and Wagner Vineyards and range from dry to sweet. 

2012 Hosmer Dry Riesling Cayuga Lake ($15) - Out of all of the wines, this was the crowd pleaser. I actually enjoyed the 2012 Wagner sweet riesling best, but this was my second favorite. It has peach, pear, fresh grass, and petrol on the nose and lime peel and lemon on the palate. Clean with nice minerallity, too.
2012 McGregor Vineyard Semi-Dry Riesling ($17.99) - In general, I'm not a fan of semi-dry rieslings unless they taste of a sweet summer afternoon. This wine was made with fruit grown on 35-plus-year-old vines, but I found the flavors were not intense enough for me. The nose was floral with lots of tangerine, too, and I got honeysuckle and yeast on the palate. 

 2012 Glenora Wine Cellars Riesling ($?) - Again, this wine's sweetness feel toward the wishy-washy middle, and, in my opinion, the acidity level was just too low, giving the wine an overall flat quality. The nose had some interesting herbal-tea scents, though. 

2012 Wagner Vineyards Riesling Select ($?) - This wine was my favorite because, even though it was sweet, it had a great acidic backbone that left the palate clean. Overall, the 2012 Wagner Vineyards Riesling Select had great balance—a decadent and viscous wine with enough class to serve with a savory entree course. Thai curries obviously come to mind. Savory soups involving sweet corn. This wine's creamy texture could really make for some interesting pairings chefs.

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