Best of the Bench—has sub-GI designation made a difference?

The Naramata Bench wineries were the first in BC to join and pool their marketing efforts through a regional association when the Naramata Bench Wineries Association formed in 2003 as a marketing organization promoting awareness of Naramata Bench wineries throughout BC and Alberta. This vibrant group became well known for “taking it on the road” with spring release trade/media and consumer events in Vancouver and Victoria, and occasionally Calgary and Edmonton, and has become the model for other such associations promoting BC’s sub-regions. A voluntary association, the NBWA boasts membership of most of the Naramata Bench wineries and also provides a strong social component, as wine tasting and meals almost always accompany general meetings.
The global pandemic right on the heels of achieving a sub-GI designation gave the NBWA an opportunity to take a step back from public events and re-focus on sharing what makes the Naramata Bench special. A consulting firm was employed, surveys were conducted, and great progress was made in conveying to the public the unique geographic, climactic, and geologic qualities of the Bench. A new website was launched with very robust terroir tools—data and maps that define the region NBWA terroir tools and we were well-prepared to start telling this story as we re-opened to the public.

In 2021 the NBWA invited an internationally-known MW (Master of Wine) Siobhan Turner to the bench to taste and evaluate the wines that we felt did us proud. After two days of grueling tasting (and spitting) Siobhan chose what she felt were the “best of the bench”—an 18-pack of wines to represent our terroir. A celebratory dinner was held at Poplar Grove winery with winery owners and producers, and the association prepared a number of packs to send to key media contacts in Canada and abroad.

This year we will repeat the process as Siobhan was so impressed by the wines, she was eager to return. Now that our world has fully re-opened, the occasion will be marked by a high-end gourmet dinner prepared by Hillside Bistro chef Evan Robertson and welcoming Siobhan and key members of the media and the Naramata Bench Wineries Association as well as wine-lovers wanting to share first-hand the winery experience. The chosen wine pack (12 this year) will be made available for sale to the public.

This dinner will also include an auction the stars of which are two “Bench Red” double magnums.

What???!!! You ask. “Bench Red” double magnums???!!!

In 2008 the Naramata Bench Wineries Association did something never before attempted—they brought together five winemakers from five different wineries to create a truly unique blend. Each winemaker contributed barrel samples from their cellar of Bordeaux reds from the 2007 vintage. They gathered in the cellar at Laughingstock Winery, hosted by David Enns and shared, tasted and evaluated the wines. They then each created a lab blend from these samples and the winemakers tasted, voted, and chose the best blend and “Best of the Bench” was born.

Those wineries whose barrels were chosen delivered wine to Laughingstock and the wine was blended and hand-bottled in magnums (1.5 liter) and double magnums (3 liter) only. The participating winemakers each signed every bottle.

The process was repeated in 2009 with wine from the 2008 vintage and a new set of winemakers.

A hand-full of these bottles are still in storage at Hillside Cellar’s climate-controlled warehouse and the last remaining 2007 and one 2008 will be auctioned off at the Best of the Bench dinner on July18th. Don’t miss this opportunity to own an extremely rare and very special wine.

In a similar super-cool collaboration, last month Chef Robertson organized the “New Kids on the Bench” dinner, bringing together five chefs in their first or second season on the Naramata Bench for an unprecedented event. Mostly winery restaurant chefs, each brought a wine from their winery to pair with the course they created for the evening. It was an opportunity for the chefs to share their skills as well as their knowledge of the bounty readily available to kitchens on the Naramata Bench. The dinner was sold out and Evan plans to make it an annual event—soon to be legendary.

This month’s Best of the Bench dinner offers Evan a unique challenge. While the menu has been determined, the wines will not be chosen until the day before the event. At that point, Chef will pick from the top twelve “best of the bench” wines chosen by Siobhan to pair with each course, then fine-tune the dishes drawing on the fresh ingredients available. “This is where the relationships we’ve established on the bench become really important. I know on a daily basis what folks have to offer—like Carla at Plot Twist Farms across the road—to work into a dish and make it truly special.”

Similar to Chef’s challenge on Chef vs Wild, when he and a survivalist were plunked onto an isolated beach on the Sunshine Coast and left to forage to eat for a week while creating a gourmet meal, this dinner will be full of drama and certainly delectable.

Kathy Malone, Winemaker

Kathy Malone