Who knew that rain in BC would ever be so welcome? Last week’s Similkameen BBQ King took place against a backdrop of six weeks of scorching temperatures and a weekend of lightning strikes. The rain held off for a while. But, eventually, a downpour had everyone running for shelter. And I heard not one single complaint. That in itself says a lot about the character of this very distinctive corner of BC wine country.
Much like the small region itself, since its 2010 premiere, the Similkameen BBQ King contest has matured. These days it attracts a range of food and wine entries that truly underscore what’s happening in the ‘hood. The venue itself is quite beautiful: The Grist Mill is a slice of heritage, lovingly restored, and literally just a couple of minutes off Highway 3, in Keremeos. (If nothing else, go for the excellent hard boiled egg and avocado sandwich on the freshest of bread, made with flour ground on site.)
This year’s ‘King’ turned out to be a ‘Queen’. The Grist Mill’s own, Chef Natasha Schooten was crowned the 2015 Similkameen BBQ Queen for the Best Wine and Food Pairing of the night (judges choice), as well as for the Most Creative Dish.
Her slow-smoked short ribs with smoky-sweet apricot BBQ sauce, on zucchini nann bread with a zucchini was served with a smartly conceived yellow tomato, blueberry, basil and pico de gallo (salsa) that was a shoo-in with Corcelettes 2014 Oracle Rose. That was good to see as well. Earlier this year, the Corcelettes crew took a leap of faith, purchasing the Herder Winery & Vineyards, which enjoys a commanding valley view from Upper Bench Road.
That Corcelettes 2014 Zweigelt Rosé is a deliciously juicy drop, with bright strawberry and grapefruit notes and plenty of heft. (90 pts.) $17-$20. Try it with grilled fresh Sockeye. also worth a nod is Corcelettes Gewürztraminer 2013 Accolade, a classic expression that sports an intriguing banana twist to its lychee and rose petal tones, full fruited but well balanced with a dry end. (91 pts.) $17-$90. (corceletteswine.ca)
The BBQ King’s People’s Choice pairing award went to Chef Chris Boehm of Penticton’s Burger 55 for his braised short rib and Qualicum blue cheese stuffed AAA beef burger with blueberry basil apricot jam, shallot root beer BBQ sauce, topped with a delicious truffle parmesan zucchini wedge: well matched with Orofino 2012 Scout Vineyard Syrah.
More Similkameen tastes…
There are no shortage of worthy stops in the valley: Ever fancy starting a winery? Stop by Rhys Pender and Alishan Driediger’s Little Farm Winery (open usually just on Fridays) to see just what starting a winery entails. The couple juggle family and a busy work schedule between working in the vineyard they planted from scratch and running the winery.
Rhys and Alishan are already known for their extraordinary, shiste-mineral Mulberry Tree Riesling 2013 (92 pts). You’ll also want to check out their green apple, mineral and slate toned 2014 Chardonnay (92 pts), or Blind Creek Cab Franc Rosé 2014, (from just across the valley), with quince and marmalade aromas, again that kingering mineral, with even a sneaky hit of jalapeño in the background. 91 pts.
Nor is Similkameen only about grape and fruit wines. Turn off the main Highway at Lowe Drive and follow the signs to find Twisted Hills Craft Cider. Cider maker Kaylan Madeira and partner Jo Schneider are producing some excellent, true apple ciders. Dry styled Pippin’s Fate is a superb quencher on a hot day, while Tangled Rose (which blends organic cider apples with organic Santa Rosa plums) make for a delicious stand-in for an off-dry rosé).
Similkameen has plenty going on, enough to warrant at least one night’s stay, if not more. For comfortable, modern rooms with sweeping valley views and superb organic breakfast fare, book in to Tree to Me.
Part organic bakery and grocery store and part country inn, this small, nine room, very family friendly resort is a welcome recent addition to the valley—ideally situated close to Keremeos.
Highlights from the breakfast menu? A delicious spiced fruit bowl (with whatever happens to be ripe and available) and made on the premises honey-lavender jelly. The showstopper? An amazing riff on Green Eggs ‘n Ham, with prosciutto and Asiago.
Even if you’re just passing by, drop in for excellent organic produce, good espresso, home made preserves and more. Or, plan to take in their Lavender Festival, August 8th.
For more info on the valley: similkameenwine.com