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.

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