Harper’s Trail vineyard last January, Tim Pawsey photo

A few years ago, we went on a back country drive near Ashcroft that followed a route past the Logan Lake mine— so huge that it can be seen from space.

I remember looking at the barren but almost terraced slopes thinking that, once returned to nature, these terraces might be entirely suitable to growing vines.

Rumour had it at the time that at least one major Canadian winery was taking a good look at Logan Lake. Although nothing has transpired so far, there’s no question that regions once considered borderline for ripening are starting to receive more serous consideration. And with good reason …

This past January we stopped in at Harper’s Trail, on the north shore of the Thompson River, just east of Kamloops. It wasn’t a day conducive to checking out a site in an area where winter-kill is a prime concern. As we (very briefly) left the warm confines of the SUV to take a look at Ed and Vicki Collett’s bold project on the north shores of the Thompson River, the mercury was hovering around -15 C, with a bone-chilling wind that made it feel even colder.

At the time, we couldn’t help but think that if most of these mounded vines could make it through these kinds of conditions they’d probably make some pretty interesting wines—especially given the lime rock that runs through the property.

Last week we had a chance to taste the first three releases from Harper’s Trail (owned by Ed and Vicki Collett) and were intrigued by what we found. We had an earlier preview of the 2011 Riesling, which has evolved into a pretty juicy drop, with hints of honey and apple on top with a palate wrapped in citrus and stonefruit. Think pad thai or sautéed scallops. ($19.99) 88 pts.

There’s also a worthy rosé (a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, and Merlot) that sports a dry personality with flashes of strawberry and rhubarb. Pretty flexible, you could enjoy it with everything from grilled chicken to cold cuts and milder cheeses. ($16.99), 88 pts. But, perhaps surprisingly, it’s the unlikely field blend of Chardonnay, Gerwurz., Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc that grabbed our attention, with its vibrant, zingy citrus and distinct mineral notes below (a reflection of the lime-rock terroir), held together by firm acidity, that also suggests good things to come from this daring new BC player. Enjoy as a sipper or match with something spicy and you’ll be surprised at how well it stands up. $16.99, 89 pts.

These wines also sport refreshingly low alcohol (10.5-11%), which makes them all the more ideal as summer lingers a little longer. Tough to find on the coast, your best bet is to order right from the winery. Kudos to Harper’s Trail—and to Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Michael Bartier—for putting Kamloops on the BC wine map. www.harperstrail.com

A more seasonal view, image supplied.

Even at the best of times, growing grapes is not for the faint of heart, perhaps even more so in a place like Kamloops. Nevertheless, the Colletts took the plunge back in 2007, when they started to convert the former alfalfa farm into Kamloops’ first commercial planting of vines. Since then, two others have planted in the area, one also with vinifera, the other with hybrids.

Eventually the couple plan to increase the 7.5 hectare initial planting to some 27 hectares, including a winery, tasting room and landscaped picnic area to make the most of the dramatic setting.

Harper’s Trail is named after Thaddeus Harper, the legendary cattle drover and founder of the Gang Ranch, who first brought cattle ranching on a grand scale to the Cariboo and surrounding country.

These modern day wine-ranchers are very much trailblazers in their own way. We’ll be  watching their progress with interest.