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Picking Grapes with Melanie Gravel

The seasoned local Wine Director (Nicli, Origo Club, Bishop's) and current General Manager at Delara Restaurant fields our list of wine-related questions...

Picking Grapes with Melanie Gravel

Picking Grapes is a Scout series that asks wine professionals to map out their complex relationships with British Columbian wines by citing the ignition point of their interest and some of their favourite wineries.

Today we put our Picking Grapes questions to Melanie Gravel – seasoned Wine Director and current General Manager at Delara Restaurant

What was the BC wine that you first fell in love with? Do you remember where you were? What were the circumstances?

When I first tried the Summerhill Spadefoot Toad Vineyard Sangiovese, I was quite impressed with it. I wasn’t drinking much BC wine in those days, as I was working a very Italian-focused list at Nicli Pizzeria, but I wanted to introduce some local producers, yet keep the Italian connection. It was a very small production. That vineyard is a protected area for the local spadefoot toad, which in turn acts as natural pest control. Agriculture is disruptive to the natural cycle, but there are ways to integrate into the circle and reduce the impact. Summerhill is definitely high on the list of environmentally-conscious wineries that do just that.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 4870 Chute Lake Road, Kelowna MAP

Which local winery are you most looking forward to visiting, and why?

BC is a beautiful place to explore and one part I’ve not given enough time to is Vancouver Island. I believe there has been a lot happening there in the last few years, such as the recent inauguration of the Cowichan Valley appellation. I’d like to visit Averill Creek and Kutatas Winery, for example.

Averill Creek Vineyard 6552 North Rd., Duncan, BC MAP
Kutatás Wines 164 Norton Rd, Salt Spring Island, BC MAP

Supporting small, BC businesses has become especially important these days. We know it’s difficult to narrow it down, but if you had to choose just three local wineries that you think are especially deserving of our attention, who would you choose?

Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer that, because I’m not an expert on local wineries. If it’s acceptable to you, I’d like to highlight some people who have enterprises of their own that are directly linked to local wines in some way:

Maude Renaud-Brisson, from Apero Mode, who started a monthly wine pack in the pandemic that always includes a local wine. She’s got loads of detailed info going out with her selections and she’s fun and knowledgeable.

Shawn Dalton, from Marrow Vermouth, who’s experimenting with making vermouths and amaros made with local wines and botanicals. It looks like he’s having fun, and I’m enjoying seeing the journey.

What is the one versatile BC wine you recommend for pairing this autumn?

The Spearhead Pinot Noir Saddle Block, for a spicier take on Pinots. Good in the sun, but also good in the rain, makes a great fall wine to me.

SpearHead Winery 3950 Spiers Rd., Kelowna, BC MAP

Have the last two years reshaped your approach to buying, serving, and enjoying wine in any way? If so, how?

More than the pandemic, I think that social awareness has been raised in those isolation months and I hope it will continue to rise. There’s more concern about the welfare of workers and of the land. There are more health-conscious choices being made too.

What sort of changes, if any, do you think that the local wine industry – from wine lovers and servers, to the producers and distributors – might see in the future?

I hope wineries will be held to a higher standard of stewardship going forward and that people will continue to ask questions about where what they eat and drink comes from.

If you could work in just one local winery for just one harvest, which would it be and why?

Working a harvest is something I don’t think I’d want to do, but supposing I’d stay somewhere, I think the Similkameen Valley would be nice. Orofino does great things in that area that’s all organic fruits and vines and it’s so very grand there with the walls of the valley rising high on both sides.

Orofino Vineyard Guest Suites 2152 Barcelo Rd., Cawston, British Columbia MAP

Can you recommend one local, emblematic-of-BC red wine for someone who didn’t even know that wine was made here? Why did you choose it?

There’s definitely a particular aroma that runs through a lot of BC reds, probably the sagebrush and cedars, that makes them unique. Le Vieux Pin Syrah has been recognized already, and I’d agree it’s a particularly good representation.

Le Vieux Pin Winery 5496 Black Sage Road, Oliver

What about a white?

We were lucky to have some of Marcus Ansems (Daydreamer Wines) Viognier at Delara when we opened. What a wonderful wine it was, sadly it’s out of stock, and it wasn’t made this year… It’s a producer to watch though.

Daydreamer Wines 1305 Smethurst Road, Naramata MAP

And finally, a rose?

Not a rose, but I really like how we make Pinot Gris with skin-contact here in BC, giving it a fuller texture and a more complex feel. Nichols’ is a good choice, as well as Kettle Valley’s. For actual rose, I loved Arrowleaf’s Zweigelt blend. I plan to seek it out again next spring!

Nichol Vineyard 1285 Smethurst Rd., Naramata, BC MAP
Kettle Valley Winery 2988 Hayman Road, Naramata MAP
Arrowleaf Cellars 1574 Camp Road, Lake Country, BC MAP

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