Painted Rock Estate Winery alfresco summer celebration with Joy Road Catering
John Skinner stood me up before we even met:). Laura (the culinary travel guide) and I attended the chic Visa Infinite dinner a couple of weeks ago and the name tag for the seat across from me and beside Laura was John’s and he was a no show. Fortunately he sent a stand in, Painted Rock 2011 Red Icon, who proved to be spectacular company that evening, so we forgive John for his absence.
I did get to meet him the other night at his absolutely gorgeous winery Painted Rock Estate Winery overlooking Skaha lake in Penticton. What a place. The occasion was a summer celebration of food and wine and it was catered by the one and only Joy Road Catering . Just my kind of ambiance, wine and definitely food. Sometimes the stars are aligned and this was one of those times.
We were so looking forward to the event that we actually showed up a day in advance only to find the gate to the winery closed. A quick look at each other and the calendar confirmed that this was Wednesday, not Thursday, and we got ahead of ourselves with our enthusiasm. You (may) know how it is when you are summering in the Okanagan and all days seem to blend. No worries though, we visited friends in Penticton for a glass of wine on their lovely patio and then had dinner at the Vanilla Pod restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery. No harm done and the ride in the convertible on a warm Okanagan evening is always fun.
On Thursday though we showed up on time and our visual senses were pleasantly assaulted by the expanse of vistas overlooking brilliant Skaha lake, the mountains above it and vineyards cascading gently down the hill. Hi honey, I am home. The tasting room itself is a gorgeous modern structure that sits on a spectacular bench with stunning views of the lake and vineyards. Someone had a vision in putting this place together and I suspect it was John. In his welcoming remarks he said their approach was to build a legacy family business to anchor his family in something that is generational and exciting and be a part of the BC wine industry, and he seems to have done just that.
As we arrived we entered the all-white, bright tasting room where a wall of sliding glass panels opened onto the view and a long vineyard style table was set for dinner. After leaving our belongings on a couple of chairs facing the view we stepped outside and were handed a glass of their 2013 Rose, a first time bottling. One thing we quickly found out is that Skinner is a story teller, and each wine had its story. “This Rose is a funny story” says Skinner, “2013 was a magnificent vintage and then all of a sudden we had wasps and hail and a whole lot of things thrown at us. On top of it in the last two week of september there was a rain event. We were dialed in to 3 tons an acre and after the rain event we are like “poof”, at 3.3. I was worried that everything was going to be watered down and we are going to have an issue”. “However”, says Skinner, “I brought our consultant Alain Sutre from Bordeaux, whom I bring over 6 times a year, and he just said “Rose”, so we pulled off 10% of the harvest and we got this beauty”. And beauty it was. They blended 50% merlot with 30% cabernet franc and 20% cabernet sauvignon and the result was deep pink refreshing, zesty wine with berry flavours that made a perfect summer sip that evening. To go with the rose Joy Road servers passed around appetizers prepared by their talented team: little golden fish cakes with house made tartar aioli spooned on top and pissaladiere on puff pastry with perfectly caramelized onions and cherry tomatoes. I saw quite a few guests chasing the servers for another bite of these delicious morsels. I was too busy visiting, eating and drinking to remember to take pictures at that point but perhaps I’ll borrow some from the official photographer of the evening Jon of Adrian Photography.
John Skinner was making the rounds, greeting everyone personally, a very nice gesture and he seemed to be enjoying himself. I didn’t see his wife Trish and she was not introduced so I assume she wasn’t there. We were soon called to the table (where was Dana’s traditional dinner-bell call?) and we settled at the long table beautifully appointed with fresh flowers, white linen, tall stemware and the customary Joy Road fougasse loaves in the middle of the table ready for us to break bread together.
First course was served: cured, lightly smoked wild salmon on a bed of freshly shelled English pea puree , shaved fennel salad with lemon and mini purple potatoes. I believe that Dana mentioned that the salmon was smoked on oak chips and in any event it was tender with a hint of smoke, lightly peppery and delicious. With it came Painted Rock 2013 Chardonnay , a blend of three micro-harvests (meaning they harvested the grapes three different times over 7 days to capture specific characteristics in the grapes) and then aged them in combination of French oak, stainless steel and some underwent malolactic fermentation. In the glass it was silky and rich with subtle oak and a balanced acidity. It was lively and fresh and paired nicely with the lightly smoked wild salmon.
Next came Joy Road signature presentation: long narrow boards set along the entire length of the table on which they serve a selection of house cured charcuteries, locally grown organic baby vegetables, roasted olives and whatever else is on the menu that day (we had bruschetta with ricotta and tomatoes). Each serving is set on a fresh grape leaf and you can either help yourself to a full serving by pulling the grape leaf with the selection they set on top, or have a piece of this or that as you please. With the charcuts came a glass (or more) or their 2011 Syrah. This also came with a story. Two days after they bought the property Skinner got a call from John Schreiner who knew him from his broker years. Schreiner asked if they are planning to plant Syrah. At the time they had just purchased the property and Syrah wasn’t part of Skinner understanding of the Okanagan. A few months later the scene repeated itself: “have you decided to plant Syrah?” This happened a few times. After planning the planting strategy and deciding on best locations for all their varieties they were left with eight prime acres in the middle of the vineyard and based on Schreiner suggestion and consultation with their team they decided to plant Syrah. “2011 was a really cool year so if you can ripen Syrah here you can ripen it anywhere” says John. Skinner recommends a horizontal tasting of Syrah throughout the valley to see how the wines reflect the terroir. “That’s the whole journey we are involved in now” he says, “pursuit of sub-appellation, celebration of site, location and terroir”. The Painted Rock Syrah is made in the cooler northern Rhone style, peppery, dark fruit with herbal notes (sage?) with structured tannins and a smooth finish. It was a good pairing with the charcuts although perhaps a bit overwhelming for the bruschetta.
The main course of lamb leg and loin with romesco sauce was one dish among many. There was a barley salad with radishes and cucumbers, grilled zucchini and slow roasted tomatoes with goat cheese and oregano and a Nicoise style salad with olives, green beans, potatoes and dijon vinaigrette. Plenty for a vegetarian like myself to be satisfied with. The course was paired with their signature 2011 Red Icon, an elegant, rich and ripe Bordeaux blend of 30% Malbec, 27% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Each year the blend is different. “It’s been a journey from the get go” says Skinner, “right from the beginning we intended to plant all the Bordeaux varieties, the Syrah (thanks to Schreiner) and the Chardonnay, but with respect to the rest of planting strategy we wanted to avail the wine maker with a full suite of opportunities which meant two clones of every variety of the primary Bordeaux varieties”. Alain Sutre created this Red Icon blend. “We recently did a vertical from 2007 to 2011 vintages. Very similar wine year over year which is remarkable because it is a completely different blend from year to year. It’s all about understanding what each variety brings to the party: Merlot is mouth feel Petit Verdot is the attack and finish Cabernet Franc is the aromatic. It’s amazing to see. Almost the same wine but different blend each year”. It would be interesting to do a vertical and compare the wine over several vintages keeping in mind the difference in blends.
This wine concluded the evening as far as wines go (we were offered the 2012 Red Icon but I somehow missed that glass). According to John the difference was that 2011 was a cold year and 2012 a very warm one. I’ll have to conduct a little tasting for at least these two myself when the 2012 is released. Food still kept coming though. Dessert was served in individual jars: organic hazelnut cake with apricot marmalade, creme fraiche mousse and raspberries. The portion was generous and my husband helped me finish it. A lovely sweet ending to an evening that can only happen when the stars are aligned.
We drove back in the convertible in the warm evening air and were at home in no time, or so it seemed. The memories of the sights, sounds, and flavours lingered with me for days. This is Okanagan living at its best.