by Catherine Dale, Queens University
As you drive along Allendale Road towards Blue Mountain, you may notice small wooden boxes on many of the fence posts. These boxes have been set up to provide nesting sites for our local bluebirds – and Blue Mountain has over 100 of them scattered throughout the vineyard! These nest boxes are home to the two species of bluebird found in British Columbia: Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana), which are royal blue with a rusty breast, and Mountain Bluebirds (Sialia currucoides), which are a brighter blue with a light blue breast.
Western Blue Bird Mountain Blue Bird
During the spring and summer, it is common to see these beautiful birds perched on top of the boxes, or popping in and out of them with material to build their nests or food for their nestlings. Both Mountain and Western Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters – meaning that they nest within holes in trees, but they are unable to create their own their own holes, and depend on those created and abandoned by other species (such as woodpeckers).
During the early and mid 20th century, landscape changes – largely caused by humans – resulted in a decrease in the number of cavities available for bluebirds. Partly due to the limited availability of nesting sites, bluebird populations began to decline. In response, concerned citizens set up trails of nest boxes like the one you see here. Today, most bluebird populations are stable – and here in the Okanagan, the Western Bluebird population appears to be growing.
Many of the vineyards in the Okanagan have put up at least a few bluebird boxes (although most don’t have as many as Blue Mountain!). Vineyards are excellent spots for these boxes because of the bluebirds’ diet and foraging strategies. During the summer months, they feed almost exclusively on insects – making them a useful tenant in vineyards. To catch their food, they perch where they can see the ground clearly and look for their prey. If you spend some time watching one of the bluebirds at Blue Mountain, you will notice that it spends much of its time perched on a vine or a fence post, dropping down occasionally to the ground to catch an insect. Unlike many other birds, bluebirds are also quite tolerant of human activity around their nests.
Although not all of Blue Mountain’s many bluebird boxes are occupied in any given summer, the vineyard is home to a large breeding population of Western Bluebirds and a smaller breeding population of Mountain Bluebirds. During the summer of 2012, over 25 Western Bluebird pairs nested in the vineyard, producing more than 150 eggs in total and fledging over 75 nestlings successfully. Two pairs of Mountain Bluebirds also chose to nest at Blue Mountain. Each pair had two successful nests over the course of the summer, and together they produced 12 fledglings.
Besides the bluebirds, several other native species can be found nesting in bluebird boxes. At Blue Mountain, the boxes are often home to Tree Swallows and House Wrens. Other possible inhabitants include Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees and Red-Breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches.
So as you pass through the vineyard on your way to the tasting room, make sure to keep your eyes open to catch a glimpse of some of Blue Mountain’s smallest inhabitants!
Note: For the past few years we have been fortunate to have graduate students from Queens University who study our bluebird populations, monitor the nest boxes throughout the season, recording important data such as nesting periods, numbers and dates of eggs, hatchlings and fledglings. Catherine Dale is a Queens University student. She is pleased to report that the bluebird numbers are rebounding and although still at risk are certainly seeing improvements over a few years ago when their studies first started. Thanks to the students at Queens University who have studied the bluebirds at Blue Mountain.
For more information on bluebirds in the southern interior http://www.bcbluebirds.org/SIBTS/Welcome.html
It's that time again, when tasting rooms open their doors to welcome visitors to the valley and an abundance of festivals occupy every weekend.
Coming up in early May is the 19th annual Spring Okanagan Wine Festival. There are a myriad of events to attend and no shortage of options on dates, times and locations.
Deciding which to attend can be the toughest challenge but decide you should because many of these events sell out quickly and you don't want to miss out.
One new event this year is the Valley First Blind Wine and Cheese Soiree on May 11th at the Ramada Inn and Conference Centre Penticton. This involves items being served blind. Not guests being blindfolded. Wines are served with covered labels and cheeses are displayed without descriptions. Try your hand at guessing the type of wine or cheese. Tickets are available at selectyourtickets.com
Blue Mountain Vineyards is pleased to once again be a participating winery at Bacchanalia at the Penticton Lakeside Resort on May 4th starting at 7pm. Tickets will sell out quickly and are available from the Penticton Lakeside. www.pentictonlakesiderresort.com 250-493-8221
Located in the beautiful but notorious mountain town of Nelson, British Columbia, a full days drive from Vancouver, All Seasons Cafe aspires to the excellent restaurants of the big city yet is firmly anchored by our eclectic and eccentric small town surroundings.
Eccentric could describe our wine purchasing as well. Against the advice of our accountant we continue to buy more than we can store. It’s just that these wines need to be liberated, made available to the young dread-locked farmer, the two bit lawyer, the draft dodger, the urban refugee who thought they’d left it all behind, and of course the traveling public weary of burgers & box wine.
The primary aim of our list is to provide just about anything the wine savvy consumer could desire, at nearly any price point. There are lots of familiar wines for those who "know what they like, thank you very much", and many interesting choices for the adventurous. We look to avoid repetition in our selections, be it in varietal, style, region, or price. Nevertheless we apparently can’t say no to a good wine ~ we have several things cellaring, waiting for their vacancy on the list.
The list is presented in a three panel book with the food menu on the back of the third panel. (You would see the food menu first when opening the cover. Starting with "Wines by the Glass" we then sort the list geographically, then by intensity, then by price. After experimenting with other arrangements we've found that this works best for our public. We like to have the Wine List in the hands of everybody at the table to encourage discussion. For guests not in tune with the rest of their table we have the ever changing choice of wines by the glass and half litre, that list itself being a microcosm of the whole list, though increasingly biased toward Canadian products.
Wine service is unstuffy, but it is correct. We do our best to serve it at the right temperature. Hardly ever use an ice bucket. Deserving wines are decanted and served in good sized crystal. Our open wines are gassed after each pour. But in keeping with our casual airs, if somebody wants to rinse their glass with wine between bottles then we say, “Sure, ok, all right !”
Chef Emmett has provided a great Pan - Seared Sablefish with Orrechiette in a Tarragon Cream Sauce recipe to pair with our Blue Mountain Chardonnay.
Hope you find what you like
Hope you like what you find
Every year in April we see the arrival of an Okanagan flower that holds a special place in the hearts of everyone at Blue Mountain Vineyard. The Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) is part of the Aster family but is also known as the Okanagan Sun Flower.
For Blue Mountain it is the flower that graces the tops of all of our bottles and appears on our labels. Arrowleaf balsamroot can also be found in abundance on the hillsides along Allendale Rd on the drive past the vineyards on the way to the winery.
The bright yellow flower prefers drier, open sloped and sagebrush flats from low to moderate elevations. Habitat we have heaps of in the Okanagan thus its appearance on hillsides all over the valley.
What you may not know is that all of the plant can be eaten. The leaves can be consumed raw or steamed and its large taproot can be dried, roasted or steamed. The bloom does contain small seeds that can be eaten raw or pounded for use as a flower. It therefore is a popular food for wildlife and domestic animals.
So get out on a local trail in the Okanagan and enjoy these sunny flowers over the next few weeks. Once the flowers are gone and the leaves fade it is difficult to find evidence of these welcomed bursts of colour.
Meet our new vineyard manager Ernst Bruwer. A big Blue Mountain welcome to you. We hope you enjoy your new home.
What made you choose to come to Canada?
I’ve always had a big interest in Canada and the Canadian way of living. When I found out Canada had regions where they grow and make wine I decided I needed to move here as it would be a new and interesting challenge.
What were your perceptions of the Canadian Wine Industry prior to arriving in Canada?
I had heard from people that travelled to the wine regions of Canada many years ago that the wines had a “wild” taste. I was told vineyards were growing a lot of non-vinifera species.
When a winemaker friend of mine moved here he reported back that the industry had changed and that really good quality wines are being made here, also that many varietals of vitis vinifera vines are being planted.
Where are you from and what did you do in your previous position?
I’m from the Western-Cape region of South-Africa from a town called Stanford near the coast. I managed a 62 ha wine farm for Hermanuspietersfontein-vineyards.
Explain your role at Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars.
Vineyard manager. To optimize the soil quality, vine quality and grape quality to in the end have a quality wine.
How did you become interested in wine?
I grew up on a 200 ha wine farm near a town called Worcester in South Africa. You could say it’s in my blood.
Favourite wine region in the world?
Sandies Glen, Walker Bay
Favourite Grape Varietal and why?
Don’t really have a distinct favorite, but if you forced me to answer I would say Sauvignon Blanc. There is a whole lot you can do with it and so many possible end results as a wine.
Favourite grape varietal to grow? Pinotage. It has a medium to vigorous growth and is very easy to manage. If you treat it right you will always have quality grapes every year. Also Chardonnay and Mourvèdre.
What you like best about being in the Okanagan so far?
The people are all very friendly and that has made the transition run smooth. The lakes and nature are new and beautiful.
What you miss most from home besides your family and friends?
Mrs. Balls Chutney, Green coloured Cream soda, Mild winter temperatures and rock & surf fishing.
Favourite wine memory?
Being part of the team that won best Wine in SA from Diners Club International, with a full-bodied Sauvignon blanc with balanced wood integration.
Do you ever ask yourself what is the best wine in my price range that I can buy in this store right now? Now there is a way of finding out. WineAlign, Canada’s largest and most popular online wine site recently launched in BC and has more than 4,500 wines from the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch in its database with more being added every day.
WineAlign was founded four years ago by Toronto web entrepreneur and wine lover Bryan McCaw, with the aim of providing immediate, objective and comprehensive advice to shoppers at Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores. In 2012 WineAlign attracted over 967,000 different people, making it one of the busiest wine sites in Canada.
WineAlign now provides B.C.-based wine consumers with ratings and multiple critic reviews on wines available at their local BC Liquor Stores. It will also provide inventory levels at their nearest BCLDB store.
Following its debut in B.C., WineAlign will be exploring partnerships with private wine retailers in an effort to provide an even wider service to B.C.-based consumers.
"This is a light, spry, savoury, young and very complete pinot sports lifted cranberry, currant fruit with floral notes and beautifully integrated oak vanillin. It’s slim, tight, savory and complete. Excellent length here, with minerality, fruit and herbal notes nicely intertwined. Easy to like now but give it a few months to soften a bit. Should live through 2017." David Lawrason, Tasted February 2013.
To access this and other reviews sign up for an account with WineAlign.
Delicious Garlic and Bacon Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Rosemary to share with friends or family over the Easter weekend. Enjoy with Blue Mountain 2011 Pinot Noir
The majority of the post harvest work has been completed. Fermentation has taken place in either barrel or tank and now the wines are aging, waiting to be bottled and later consumed. Many of the wines particularly the reds go through malolactic fermentation during this time. The barrels containing the wine that is fermenting need to be monitored on an ongoing basis to make sure the malolactic fermentation is taking place.
Another task of the cellar staff is barrel topping and stirring. Throughout the winter over time evaporation will take place in the barrels. These barrels need to be topped up every week or two with the same wine to keep oxidation from occurring. Sometimes this can be as much as 6 litres per 228 litre barrel over a 1 to 1 1/2 month time frame. At the end of fermentation, on a weekly or bi weekly basis the white wines are stirred which is called batonnage. This stirring of the wine makes yeast particles in the wine called lees fall through the wine preventing oxidation. Another benefit of stirring the lees in a wine is the creation of a creaminess in the mouth feel of the wine. Photo below of our assistant winemaker Felix Korb.
In addition to barrel topping and stirring, SO2 or potassium metabisulfite is added in appropriate amounts in late fall or early winter. This starts when the whites finish fermentation and happens later with the reds as they have to go through malolactic fermentation prior to the addition of SO2. SO2 is added to the wine for antioxidant and antimicrobial purposes.
Finally we have quite a bit of work to do every winter with our sparkling wine production. The sparkling wine that has finished its primary fermentation from the current vintage are blended in tank to create our NV Brut, and our three vintage cuvees Brut Rose, Reserve Brut and Blanc de Blancs. The wine is then cold stabilized, gently filtered, inoculated with yeast and bottled to start the secondary fermentation process in the bottle. For more information on sparkling wine see our video
The office staff stays very busy planning for the next season as well as looking after holiday orders and any releases that occur during the “quiet “ time.
This year during the off season we launched our wine club called the Friends of Blue Mountain Priority Group, allowing customers to pre order the wines they would like to receive on an annual basis. So far it has been very successful and people seem to appreciate not having to wait for a release notice. For more information on the Friends of Blue Mountain Priority Group visit our website.
Other activities that keep us busy include event planning, finalizing some new packaging, planning sales and marketing for the next season. Every now and then you get an odd request like monogramming a wine barrel for a restaurant or a visit from a viticulture class to tour your facility that keeps everything interesting.
Before the snow arrives, there is work to be done in the vineyard to make sure the vines are ready for the next season. The compost has been building over the hot summer months and is then spread throughout the vines in fall using 2 year old mature compost. A layer of organic fertilizer is also spread throughout the vineyard. This is a feathermeal based fertilizer and provides a slow release of nitrogen and organic matter. Both feed the soil to feed the vine and provide a long term soil fertility building process. The 90 tonnes of pomace created through the harvest are then added to the compost that was started in the spring, to start the two year process of becoming the rich compost that is used to nourish the vines in the coming years.
Hilling up around the vines is also done. This is to protect the graft union, root stock and scion. The scion is the varietal of importance and is typically less cold hardy than the rootstock. Hilling mitigates the cold and is the 1st step in weed management practices. The tractor creates these hills and is part of the mechanical weed control in the vineyard. Allowing us to "plough back" in the spring to unearth the vines. In addition a tractor will pass through the vineyard and do an initial cut or pre- pruning of the vineyard. This reduces the hand labour in pruning by starting to loosen shoots and remove excess shoot length from the wires. By removing shoots the nutrients will move only to the required buds.
Once the snow falls vineyard staff are busy keeping the road to the winery accessible for commercial vehicles and a hectic schedule of clearing and plowing takes place. Charlie looks after the majority of our road and does an excellent job making sure we can all get safely to work. At the same time pruning starts and you can hear the electric pruners buzzing all over the farm. This takes 4 months per year with a small crew. Pruning is very important as is sets the crop potential for the coming season and all the plant work during the growing season. Pruning removes unwanted shoots and only leaves the required amount of buds and thus form the new bearing spurs and shoots for the coming season. For an overview on the processes that make up the overall activity in the vineyard please view /About-Us/A-Year-in-the-Vineyard or view our tour of the vineyard video with Ian Mavety.