In 1979, the Hillside Winery property was purchased by Bohumir and Vera Klokocka who had recently immigrated to the Okanagan Valley from Czechoslovakia. Vera had a dream. She imagined the sloping land carpeted by orderly rows of grapes – grapes that she would turn into luscious wines, even though she had no experience at either growing grapes or fermenting them. In 1984 she and Bohumir pulled out the apricot trees and planted 3.5 acres of vineyards. The last surviving apricot tree from the Riddles’ orchard remains on the bank just below the Kettle Valley Railway. The grapevines thrived in the gravelly soil and warm Okanagan sunshine and Vera’s dream took shape.
Hillside was the first winery designed by architect Robert MacKenzie in 1997. He later designed Burrowing Owl, Red Rooster, Cedar Creek and Nk’mip. It took 2.5 years to build the winery building which now dominates the Naramata Road. The building’s style is taken from a gristmill design. Not only is the 72-foot tower architecturally stunning, but it is also functional. It acts as a ventilation shaft that helps to cool the winery cellar in the hot summer months. The tower and the cellar are connected by a door at their base and by opening the door the warm air can be up and out of the cellar through the tower.
Under the direction of Winemaker Kathy Malone, Hillside Winery produces top quality Naramata wines. Hillside is the original BC winery to produce Muscat Ottonel, a unique, aromatic white wine with a huge customer following. Other Hillside varietals include Pinot Gris, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and Mosaic (the winery’s trademark Bordeaux-style blend.)
Kathy and the winemaking team always toast the harvest on the first day of picking–always Muscat Ottonel–with the previous year’s wine, then pour it into the press before the new fruit goes in. We had a chance to talk to Kathy, on a sunny Monday morning, right after the 2016 Muscat Ottonel harvest!
Kathy mentioned that so far the 2016 harvest had proceeded perfectly. In 2015, the hotter than average summer required that a number of varietals had to be harvested in a short period of time and the crush equipment was backed up. This year the summer was hot but more moderate than 2015 which mean that the harvest could proceed at a more leisurely pace. The September rains brought some challenges, but preventative work in the vineyard during the spring meant there were no issues with Botrytis mould.
Kathy recounted an interesting story about the Muscat Ottonel vines. Rumour has it that Vera was thought to have brought the vines with her when she left Czechoslovakia. However, Kathy could definitely confirm that Vera was able to find a Penticton gardener who grew Muscat Ottonel, and she took cuttings to local greenhouses to propagate. One of the tasting notes that stayed with me from the wine tasting session with Kathy was the nose on the Pinot Noir reminded her of “wet potter’s clay”. It was great session and definitely one of the highlights from our first visit to Naramata wine country.
Here are some of the wines we tasted:
Hillside Muscat Ottonel 2015 – Over the last few seasons, extra care in the vineyard has brought the old vines to excellent health. An early and consistently warm 2015 summer produced some of the best fruit from these blocks and the winemaking team pushed for an early release! The grapes were hand harvested at 21.5° Brix. Handled gently to preserve its delicate aromatics, the fruit was de-stemmed and given overnight skin contact before draining off skins and cold settling. The juice was allowed a long slow fermentation in stainless steel. Fermentation ended with a small amount of residual sugar remaining, for an off-dry finish. This wine has lovely floral aromas and hints of spice. The fruit aromas and flavours range from tropical to peach.
Hillside 2012 Pinot Noir – 100% Naramata Bench Pinot Noir. On the nose violets, strawberries and an earthy hint of wet potter’s clay. On the palate, raspberry and wild strawberry. The silky texture lingers and a hint of spice adds to its beautiful complexity.
Hillside Merlot-Cabernet Franc 2012 – The super-warm summer allowed a block of Naramata Bench Cabernet Franc along with 2 blocks of Naramata Merlot to be picked and ferment together, melding the flavours from cold soak on. A controlled ferment and 24 days skin contact gave a wine with bright intense flavours and an elegant tannin structure. A bit of Cabernet Franc from Oliver’s Black Sage Bench was added and 7-month oak maturation, with final blending to a split of 71% Merlot to 29% Cabernet Franc. The bright cranberry aromas of Cabernet Franc is synergetic with the deep plum and blackberry scents of Merlot. Flavours of red and black cherries linger on the palate. This beautifully balanced wine has a lush tannin structure and a seamless finish.
Hillside Mosaic 2011 – This is Hillside’s signature wine. Vineyard skill, careful barrel selection and cellar craftsmanship come together to realize a wine of great depth and finesse. A blend of 66% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot sourced from prime vineyard blocks along the Naramata Bench. Barrel matured for 16 months in small French oak (46% new). There are aromas and flavours of cassis and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate and cedar on the finish.
For the full wine portfolio of Hillside Winery go to the following link
. The Bistro was closed the day we visited but it has excellent reviews. Please visit Hillside Winery & Bistro the next time you are travelling the Naramata Road.