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Tour shows behind-the-scenes view of winemaking process
Many tours to local wineries feature a chance to taste the wines, but LaStella Winery near Osoyoos has started offering behind-the-scenes tours teaching visitors about how wine is made.
“The idea of these tours is to bring the client through the entire journey we go through,” said Severine Pinte, winemaker at LaStella, who is also a viticulturist. “We wanted to give clients a real feeling of what we’re doing and why.”
Whether or not you are knowledgeable about wines, you have to be seriously interested to pay the $50 per person charge and give the necessary 48 hours’ notice for the tour. But you’ll learn about the process from the grapes on the vine to the final product.
At LaStella, the tour is called Symphony of the Senses, a reflection of the Tuscan-inspired wines that are named after musical terms. Similar tours have also been started at the French-inspired sister winery, Le Vieux Pin near Oliver.
Tours begin in the vineyards that spread from LaStella onto hills overlooking Osoyoos Lake.
As Pinte explains, each plant is treated individually to achieve a balance, rather than treating a whole block the same.
“If I don’t have good grapes, I can’t make good wine,” she says, adding that yields are kept intentionally low to achieve complex, concentrated flavours.
“It’s all about quality and not quantity.”
This quality comes at a premium price and LaStella wines aren’t cheap. But listening to Pinte, it soon becomes obvious that she takes wines very seriously.
The grapes, she says, are harvested from mid-September to the end of October and are collected into 30-pound bins with the grapes intact.
During picking and sorting, care is taken even to remove the “jacks,” or small stems that are attached to the grapes as these might affect flavour.
Pinte describes the journey the grapes take from the sorting table until the juice is fermented in large 5,000-litre stainless steel tanks in the cellar. There it is tasted twice a day throughout the process.
An on-site lab can do an analysis of a single drop to measure such things as alcohol content, acidity, sugar and nitrogen allowing adjustments to be made during fermentation.
“There’s no real recipe,” Pinte says. “Mother Nature is giving us something, but we have to adjust.”
Grapes grown in different “terroirs” or soil, land and micro-climatic conditions around the area have different characteristics and are combined to adjust the balance.
Afterwards, wine may be stored in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks or for some it is aged in oak barrels, each with its own wood characteristics that affect the flavour.
Guests on the tours are brought to barrel cellar and can sample the wines along with a platter of cheese and charcuterie.
They might try the same wine from different years to show its evolution from a new wine to a “library wine.”
Pinte allowed the Osoyoos Times reporter to taste a few of the wines that tour visitors can try and each had a profoundly different taste.
Leggiero, as its Italian name suggests, is a lighter un-oaked Chardonnay, while Vivace, also suggested by its name, is a lively Pinot Grigio combining grapes grown at three vineyards with different “terroirs.”
LaStellina Rosato is a rosé made by combining Merlot with Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
Standing out from the others with its stronger taste and bitter tannins was the appropriately named Fortissimo, a red wine made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese.
As Pinte explained, the tannin molecules change over time so a wine like this becomes smoother with age.
“We’re not trying to replicate what’s happening in Italy because we’re not the same,” said Pinte. “We’re in the Okanagan. We have hot days and cool nights and that gives the grapes a special taste. We can replicate some of the Italian so we have a foot in the old world and a foot in the new world.”
Pinte, who is originally from the south of France, studied viticulture at University of British Columbia in Maple Ridge before returning to France for 12 years with her Canadian husband.
There she worked as a winemaker in Bordeaux and Languedoc before moving here in 2010, three years after she first made contact with the owners of LaStella.
“We invite people to come and share this amazing journey,” she says. “We work with what Mother Nature gives us and we transform those grapes into wine. I just want to share my passion for my job and what I’m doing.”