Over the Labour Day weekend, the inaugural Sea to Sky Gondola Winemaker’s Dinner got underway with a sold-out event high above Howe Sound. Summit Lodge’s Diamond Head Room, with incredible views out to the mountains and sea, served as the backdrop for a five-course dinner with wines by Oliver, BC-based, award-winning Desert Hills Estate Winery.
We arrived early to get our walking in while the weather was dry and the clouds and sun created glorious patterns onto the mountains. Here in the mountain microclimate, the scene was ever-changing in the late afternoon leading to a sunset through clouds that sent guests outside to take photos in between courses.
Winemaker Dave Toor is part of a three-brother team (aptly titled Three Boys Vineyard) that head up Desert Hills. The family purchased the estate in 1989, with their first production in 1996. At present, their annual harvest yields 12,000 cases. Desert Hills is the first Okanagan winery to plant Syrah grapes (in 1995). Fast-forward to their international double gold-winning Syrah with 94 points.
Desert Hills Gewürtztraminer was voted Canada’s Overall Best Wine of the Year in 2013.
We started with an appetizer of Albacore tuna with mango salsa including watermelon, cantaloupe, lime and lemon juices to bring out the tuna’s smokiness. This was brilliantly paired with a glass of ‘Helena’ Rose 2012. The other four courses were paired with Executive Chef Barbara Foster’s dishes.
Our favourite pairing was the Gewürtztraminer 2013 with the seafood Thai green curry that featured East coast calamari, Salt Spring Island mussels, and OceanWise-sanctioned prawns.
The wine’s lychee and rose petal were perfectly balanced with the creamy green curry broth, mussels, and succulent prawns alongside a bed of jasmine rice. The next course was a grilled lamb leg with sauce verte and roasted summer vegetables. As neither of us are big lamb eaters, we opted instead for the vegetarian option: grilled summer veggies and baked polenta in a roasted tomato sauce. Both dishes were paired with a glass of Gamay 2013. While we can’t speak for the lamb and Gamay pairing, we really liked the peppery quality of the Gamay together with the roasted tomato that nicely flowed through both the polenta and veggies. Good choice!
The evening conversation flowed, many of the guests celebrating birthdays and anniversaries amongst the two long tables in the room. Our delightful evening was capped with a slice of dark chocolate torte, blackberry compote, and a light chocolate wafer paired with Mirage 2009.
With the Mirage, Desert Hills also has the distinction of being the first Okanagan winery to produce a Bordeaux blend. All grapes were hand-harvested and hand-sorted before the stemmed whole berries and free-run juice were transferred to fermenting tanks, where they were cold soaked for five days with twice a day pump over.
The Mirage breaks down to 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, and it’s perfect for dark chocolate and chocolate-enhanced desserts.
One of the Sea to Sky Gondola owners, General Manager Trevor Dunn, closed off the evening with a thank you to guests for making the first dinner a sold-out success, and mentioned upcoming events to be found on the website. I also overheard a beer pairing evening in the making; keep an eye out on the Sea to Sky Gondola events page for October, BC Craft Beer Month.