Those suffering from vertigo may find the seemingly levitating Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards on the edge of their comfort zone.
But the long-awaited and delicious partnership created by Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and famed Vancouver restaurateur Manuel Ferreira provides a breathtaking view of Canada's Golden Mile and makes for a dining experience unparalled in the Okanagan Valley.
Some might see Miradoro as out of place for Oliver, British Columbia, even though the town bills itself as "The Wine Capital of Canada."
"They said the same thing about our winery in 1995," said Sandra Oldfield, president and winemaker of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards. "Honestly, we were the only ones down here with a tasting room. Gehringer had one, but not one with a really big presence."
Indeed, Miradoro looms as a promontory over the Golden Mile and offers a postcard view of the Black Sage Bench. After sunset, though, the tony ambiance of the restaurant and the caliber of Jeff Van Geest's cuisine may trick you into believing you were dining in downtown Vancouver. It makes Miradoro marvelously out of place and deliciously unique in Northwest wine country.
In fact, this spring, Vancouver magazine feted Miradoro as Best Winery/Vineyard Dining in the province. Regional acclaim, praise from wine tourists and the nightly receipts make the long-awaited project worthwhile.
"It was at least four years in the making," Oldfield said. "We had some stop and start, a couple of architectural goes at it and the recession, but it really speaks to Manny's character that he stuck with us for so long.
"He wanted to come out to the Okanagan and operate a restaurant at a winery, so we were pleasantly surprised that he wanted to do this with us," she continued. "His was one of the first restaurants in Vancouver that we went to with our first vintage, 1994, so we have a long relationship with Manny, both from a sales perspective and a personal perspective."
Ferreira still devotes much of his time to the historic Le Gavroche, one of Vancouver's iconic and most romantic restaurants, so he trusts Miradoro to Justin McAuliffe, a manager at one of Ferreira's former restaurants.
"It's been a great opportunity to open a restaurant from the ground up," McAuliffe said. "Starting with menu development, everything had to be done from scratch."
Van Geest, though, is the linchpin, and at first glance one might imagine him as a night-club bouncer or an artisan brewmaster. However, if spotted on a street in downtown Vancouver, there's a good chance a passerby would recognize him as one of the province's top culinary talents and an advocate for sustainable cuisine.
He worked up to sous chef at renowned Bishop's to create Aurora Bistro, which opened to praise in 2003. Van Geest's work earned him several awards until he closed it in 2008. After two years at the Diva at the Met, he moved to the Oka-nagan Valley with ideas but no position. Within months, Ferreira contacted him as Miradoro took form.
"It was pretty easy since I'd already moved here," Van Geest said with a chuckle. "But Manny and I connected immediately, and it's been a good fit."
Van Geest grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario, amid Canada's first wine producing region. Combine that with grandparents being farmers, and it helps explain Van Geest's career path and how it led him to the Okanagan Valley.
"I love Vancouver, and I always will, but the city wears on you," said the avid alpine lakes fly-fisherman. "Here, the view is beautiful; we've got great wines, and the produce come from right here in the valley. There's the lifestyle of mountain biking, skiing and fishing. It's all right here. It's a great area for raising a family."
Was it difficult for the nattily attired McAuliffe, who also worked in Toronto, to trade Vancouver for Oliver?
"I grew up in a small town in Manitoba," McAuliffe said. "It's warmer here."
Miradoro's liquor license limits McAuliffe to wine, and only those wines from B.C. Their agreement with Tinhorn allows them to offer all current vintages of Oldfield's wine by the glass, half liter and by the bottle. And the only library wines available are Tinhorn, but McAuliffe doesn't seem to mind. After all, the research he conducted with Oldfield before the restaurant opened was fascinating.
"She and I sat down and went through the entire Tinhorn library since 1994 -- every vintage and every varietal," McAuliffe said. "It was 117 wines in one afternoon, and it was a blast. It showed how the older vintages of Canadian wines are holding up, and they are beautiful."
McAuliffe expresses himself elsewhere on the list, featuring the likes of Black Hills, CedarCreek, Church and State, Fairview, Foxtrot, JoieFarm, LeVieux Pin/LaStella, Mission Hill, Seven Stones and Stag's Hollow.
"We want to promote the Okanagan Valley as a whole, so some of the best wines are represented," McAuliffe said.
Van Geest continues to support the local food movement, and his list of providers includes Covert Farms (Oliver), Harkers Organics (Cawston), Okanagan's Finest Angus Beef (Oliver), Similkameen Apiary and Wolfgang's Grain & Flour (Enderby). Seafood comes via Codfathers, a fishmonger working out of Kelowna.
And one of his favorite pairing tools is the Tinhorn Creek rose.
"So often if the server comes to me and asks about a food pairing, I will think of one or two wines and then at the very end, I'll say, "Or rose," Van Geest said. "It just seems to go with so many different things, from rich dishes to lighter dishes. It stands up to things that have been grilled. It works great with charcuterie and richer seafood dishes."
For one of his Maker Maker assignments, Van Geest chose his Beet Salad, which includes ricotta, citrus honey vinaigrette and edible flowers. During spring and summer, it's a perfect lighter-style option, especially if followed by one or two of Miradoro's thin-crust pizza. During the winter months, he'll make it a bit heartier by incorporating chickpeas.
Van Geest went sustainable by serving oven-roasted wild salmon with roasted tomatoes and polenta alongside 2008 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir.
"I've got to say, that wine is stunning," Van Geest said. "It really is. It's a little more fuller-bodied with great expression of fruit, and you really get the sense of terroir, acidity and fruit."
And the chef is a fan of the American-born winemaker, too.
"She is so laid back and such a great spokesman not just for this part of the valley but the wine industry in general," Van Geest said. "She's very passionate and driven, but at the same time, laid back.
"And she's embraced the (Vancouver) Canucks, so that helps," he added with a chuckle, referring to the province's beloved hockey club.
Considering the shoulder season of the Okanagan Valley wine industry, it's a good thing Van Geest is a hockey fan.
"We do close the restaurant for January and February, which is great for catching up with the family and sleep," he said. "It's also a chance to recharge your batteries and start thinking about the new year and new menus. Then you build up to the summer, when it gets pretty intense."
There are no breaks after March 1. Miradoro is open seven days week from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
"They have a good professional staff from the Lower Mainland, so they know what service is about," Oldfield said. "They know what wine is about and what food is about. I just came back from Vancouver, and eating here is not taking a step back."
With that in mind, when sitting down at Miradoro and taking in the scenery, be prepared to see a menu priced closer to Vancouver than for typical Oliver fare.
"The restaurant is right above my head," Oldfield said with a chuckle. "I don't go up all the time, for sure, but obviously we're eating a lot better -- all of the employees are."
As is the Golden Mile.
Oven roasted wild salmon with wild mushrooms and roasted tomatoes
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
6 wild, sustainable salmon filets, 5-6 ounces each
6 medium size, organic heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated use
A couple sprigs of fresh thyme
1 pound of assorted wild mushrooms
For the polenta: Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer. Slowly pour in the cornmeal, whisking as you pour. Reduce the heat to a very low simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring often. Whisk in the butter, one cube at a time and then fold in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the salmon: Remove the salmon from the fridge 20 minutes or so before cooking so they aren't cold when you cook them.
For the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 400*F. Cut the tomatoes in half and sprinkle the cut sides with the 1/4 cup of olive oil, thyme, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Roast in the oven cut side up for about 10 minutes, starting about 5 minutes before the salmon goes in the oven.
For the wild mushrooms: Saute them slowly on low heat in olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Finish the saute with a generous splash of Pinot Noir.
For the salmon: Heat a couple of non-stick saute pans to medium high. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in each pan. Season the salmon with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste and place it with the side that once had the skin up and place in the oven. After about two minutes, flip the salmon and cook for another two to three minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon. Do not overcook, serve medium rare.
To serve: Place a scoop of polenta on each of six plates. Place salmon filets on top of the polenta, and garnish with a couple pieces of roast tomato.
Beet salad with ricotta, citrus, honey vinaigrette, herb salad, edible flowers
6 large organic beets
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Peel of 1 orange
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tub ricotta, about 300 ml
Orange segments from 2 oranges
A selection of tender herb leaves such as parsley, mint, dill, fennel tops, celery leaves, etc. for garnish
A selection of edible flowers either from a specialty grocer or from your garden such as marigolds or nasturtiums for garnish
For the beets: Toss the beets in the olive oil and wrap in foil with rosemary and orange peel. Bake in a 350*F oven until tender, about one hour. Remove and rub off the peels with a paper towel. Discard rosemary and orange peel. Cut beets into wedges.
For the vinaigrette: Whisk honey, mustard vinegar and grapeseed oil together.
To assemble: Arrange the beets on six plates. Crumble ricotta over the beets. Arrange orange segments over the ricotta. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Garnish with herbs and flowers.
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2008 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir, $30
--364 cases produced, 13.9% alcohol
California native Sandra Oldfield has been creating Pinot Noir in Canada's Okanagan Valley since she arrived nearly two decades ago.
This summer, though, the University of California-Davis grad will release a British Columbia Pinot Noir with her name on it for the premium tier.
"I've been making Pinot Noir here since 1994, but over time we've found that we like them best after being in the bottle for three or four years," Oldfield said. "They are not as tutti frutti and cherry. The additional aging gives them more complexity."
So on July 1, the 2008 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir goes on sale both at the winery and in the on-premise Miradoro Restaurant. The Tinhorn Creek varietal series Pinot Noir from the 2008 vintage was released last summer.
"This first year, we made around 300 cases, but our goal is to be around the 300-800 case mark," said Oldfield, who became a Canadian citizen in 2002.
A decade ago, she made nearly 9,000 cases of Pinot Noir. In 2008, she produced a total of 3,271 cases.
Tinhorn Creek keeps Andrew Moon, its affable Aussie vineyard manager, busy with its two large, salmon-safe vineyards -- the 100-acre Diamondback on the Black Sage Bench and the 50-acre Tinhorn Creek surrounding the winery on the Golden Mile Bench. There are two six-acre blocks devoted to Pinot Noir clone 73 (115) on the Black Sage Bench, and just half an acre near the 35,000-case winery.
"The wines have a different profile as you go cool up north," Oldfield said, "so we are trying different things."
And yet, she stays with her tradition of bottling with Stelvin screwcaps. In 2006, Tinhorn Creek became the first winery in Canada to turn its back entirely on cork.
"The 2009 is already in the bottle and the 2010 is about to be bottled, and we haven't even released our first wine of that -- so that's some logisitcal funness," she added with a chuckle."
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, 537 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver, BC V0H 1T0, 888-484-6467, tinhorn.com, @TinhornCreek
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2011 Oldfield Series Rose, $23
--1,100 cases produced, 12.9% alcohol
Most years, Sandra Oldfield doesn't worry about ripening grapes off her Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, the hottest growing region in Canada and typically one of the warmest sites in North America.
"Last year, it was definitely nailbiting," said Oldfield, founding winemaker and president of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, British Columbia. "We were three weeks behind, so we did a lot of thinning in the spring to bring the crop down, and we still stayed behind."
Of particular concern was her Cabernet Franc, which she bottles both as a standing variety wine and a rose.
"One of the four blocks we could tell was going through all the stages much later than the others," she said. "If the wine was going to be in balance, we were going to have to drop it below 3 1/2 per acre, and we were going to make a rose out of it."
Thanks to a remarkable Indian summer, the lot reached the predicted sweet spot of 21.5 brix. That's just about right for food-friendly rose -- 2.5 brix shy for most wine grapes.
"I don't like high alcohol wines for sure, so we were pretty happy with that," Oldfield said. "What was remarkable was the absence of greenness happened at 19 brix, and there was none of the bell pepper. It was amazing. We got super-high acidity, low sugar and lots of flavor.
"It was a pretty unique year because we had the huge burst of heat in the fall," she added. "I had not seen that in 18 vintages -- where the flavors ripened so early."
As it was, the Cabernet Franc wasn't harvested until Oct. 29.
Thankfully, there's more 2Bench Rose this year than usual.
"For years, we have done about 200 cases, but Miradoro goes crazy selling the rose, so we'd already decided to ramp it up to 400-500 cases, but because of the vintage and that block, we decided to go up to 1,100," she said.
And Oldfield can look back on perhaps her second-most-difficult vintage.
"Quite simply, none of them hold a candle to '99," Oldfield said with a chuckle.
ERIC DEGERMAN is Wine Press Northwest's managing editor. Have a suggestion for a future Match Maker? E-mail him at email@example.com.