Concept of new destination in Okanagan Valley defines 'Local'

Wine Press NorthwestDecember 6, 2010 

What is it to be a locavore?

A group of San Francisco Bay Area women coined the term chosen by the New Oxford American Dictionary as its 2007 Word of the Year.

And it certainly applies to one of most famous families in the British Columbia wine industry, who last year launched a restaurant along the shores of Okanagan Lake to celebrate the local food movement.

Welcome to Local Lounge • Grille, where patrons are encouraged to "eat local, drink local and be local."

"We've taken the 100-mile diet one step further, and on our wine list, we've got the 100-kilometer wine diet," beams Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, who owns and operates the property with husband, Cameron Bond, and her father - Harry McWatters.

Their approach made it an easy choice for Wine Press Northwest as Local earned our Best British Columbia Wine List award for 2010.

And it appears as if Local will be successfully defending that crown for years to come, especially with executive chef Paul Cecconi in the kitchen.

"When Cam and Christa-Lee approached me about this new venture, I was blown away by what we were planning to do," Cecconi said. "I told them, 'We have to do this, and this is what I've been waiting for.' "

How committed is Cecconi (pronounced See-cone-ee) to the concept? He moved his wife, Holly, and their two young children from Kelowna into a Summerland house just down the block from Local, sold one of the family vehicles, and his ski boat rarely gets dry.

"I told my friends and family this is my dream come true," he said. "My two passions are cooking and water skiing. This summer, I skied every morning, and then I walked to work."

For the affable McWatters-Bond, marrying wine with business sums up much of her life - past and present.

"My family started Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, and that's where I grew up, literally. Child labor was alive and well in our household," she said with a chuckle. "I made my first wine when I was 9."

Business led her to Vancouver for short time before she returned to the winery's headquarters in Summerland. She left Sumac Ridge and its parent company - Vincor Canada - just after the Winter Olympics for the launch of Local.

"After 30 years of selling wine, to be the purchaser is interesting," she said. "You get to see how other wineries do their business and see that last step of how they sell and follow through."

To get on her list, the wine must be from the province and bear the Vintners Quality Alliance label. That still leaves her plenty to choose from.

"I think we've got one of the larger lists with over 160 wines," she said. "If my husband had his way, I'd stop buying now, but every month I go, 'We've got to put THIS on our list, too, because it's so great.' It makes it hard when putting the list together because there are so many fantastic wines that pair so well with the cuisine and ingredients of the region."

Anyone who looks at the wine list gets a feel for how much they are in wine country.

"We list how far from the restaurant each winery is," McWatters-Bond said. "For instance, Sumac Ridge is just up the hill. It's 4 kilometers away. And all of our wines are from within 100 kilometers of the restaurant."

Cecconi's pantry mirrors the same theme. Even the coffee is roasted in Summerland at The Beanery.

"In Vancouver, you have a few farmers who come into the loading docks, but you didn't have the opportunity to drive an hour where all the farming communities are," he said. "Here, we are living among the farmers and producers. A couple members of my staff live on orchards and help plant and bring product into the restaurant, so it is picked that morning and used that night. The team goes to the markets in Penticton and comes back all excited about the products they found and the new producer they met. It's a great lifestyle."

Remarkably, Cecconi, 35, has been living the life of a chef for 22 years.

"I started early," he said with a smile. "I grew up in Vancouver and hit the restaurant scene at the age of 13 in a local Mexican restaurant. That exposed me to the kitchen, and basically I've never turned back."

After college, Cecconi spent eight years with the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts group, which took him from Vancouver to Sydney, Australia, where he worked at the host hotel during the 2000 Summer Olympics. He was on the verge of transferring to the West Indies. His fifth and final interview was Sept. 10, 2001.

"The next day, the e-mail came out, and all transfers were put on hold," Cecconi said. "At that point, I decided I was coming home."

Rather than return to Vancouver, he looked to the Okanagan Valley. He spent seven "great" years as chef at The Harvest Golf Club in Kelowna until the Bonds came calling.

"We've known Paul for years and have done winemaker dinners with him," McWatters-Bond said. "We've never met a chef who is so passionate about food, has a passion for the ingredients and serves as a mentor for his team."

While the food and the wine list are indigenous, they've imported a metropolitan vibe to Local. The decor creates a hip and swanky ambiance with its leather furniture in solid colors. In the background, there's the hum of urban digital soundtracks via Vancouver-based Music Direction Inc. It's well-distanced from what the property was less than two years ago.

"It was originally built as a pub in 1986 and closed many times," McWatters-Bond said. "The owners designed it so that it could become a house if it needed to be, which is why there are so many levels - a living room, the kitchen and bedroom. When we took it over, it had been closed for 17 months."

They transformed it into a 65-seat restaurant downstairs with 65 more seats in the lounge, which is sunken from main entrance. Ideally, you would occupy one of the 120 spots on the patio to enjoy reflections off Okanagan Lake and views of the Naramata Bench. Out front, the parking lot is surrounded by the Summerland Waterfront Resort Hotel and Spa.

Then again, you could leave the car at home and moor a boat at the dock in the back. When you shove off, be mindful of the wildlife sanctuary a stone's throw up the beach.

"We're in the middle of wine country and a great four-star resort that sandwiches us on both sides of our building," McWatters-Bond said. "It was exciting to re-energize and totally reinvent what was here. And look at the lake! We've got an amazing property here."

There's more on the horizon for the Local group. They are expanding the footprint of their liquor store in downtown Summerland to include a tasting bar and commercial kitchen for cooking classes and wine education. It also will serve as headquarters for Vintage Consulting Group - which Christa-Lee and her father operate - and the consumer-focused Okanagan Wine Academy.

"We've got a few things on the go," she said with a wink. "It's really all about food and wine, and for me, unwinding is having friends over, making dinner and spending all night eating and drinking."

The makings for this Match Maker with Cecconi were hyper-local as both Dirty Laundry Vineyard and 8th Generation Vineyard belong to Summerland's Bottleneck Drive wine association.

He paired the Dirty Laundry 2009 Woo Woo Vines Gewurztraminer with a Pacific Halibut, Chorizo and Winter Squash with Red Curry-Coconut Broth and Smoked Apple Chutney - a dish influenced by that Mexican restaurant in Vancouver 22 years ago.

"It's got red Thai curry so it carries all the spice," Cecconi said. "There's sweet fall squash from the valley, and the lime leaf makes it very aromatic. This Gewurz has just a bit of sweetness to deal with the spice, and it also complements the aromatics of the curry broth."

Eight Generations Vineyards' delightfully fun 2009 Chardonnay Frizzante made for a special pet project at Local. Cecconi apprentices Joe Dierickse and Ryan Pennington, won a "young chef" award this fall for creating a Blue Cheese Cake to pair with the off-dry bubbles.

The savory and fascinating cheesecake is so versatile that it could be sliced thin as an appetizer or served in a traditional portion for dessert.

"We were maybe the fifth people outside of the winery to taste that wine, and we were blown away by it," Cecconi said. "The Okanagan really has become a destination for foodies and people who want that experience."

Local Lounge • Grille,

12817 Lakeshore Drive South, Summerland, BC, V0H 1Z0, 250-494-8855, thelocalgroup.ca.

8th Generation Vineyard, 2009 Chardonnay Frizzante, Okanagan Valley, $20 CDN (274 cases produced, 12.8% alcohol)

When the Schales decided to create a sparkling wine styled after Prosecco bottlings from Italy, they couldn't find anyone else in the Northwest attempting it.

"We were wondering why," said Stefanie Schales, who co-owns and operates 8th Generation Vineyard in Summerland, British Columbia. "It is such a popular wine in Europe to drink with friends before you go out - especially among younger people."

Her husband, Bernd Schales, 38, is an eighth-generation winemaker from Germany, reaching back 1783. Stefanie's forefathers have roots in the wine industry dating to 1691, spanning 10 generations.

They arrived in the Okanagan Valley in 2003 and established 8th Generation in Okanagan Falls with plantings of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Three years ago, the Schales acquired Adora Estate in Summerland and planted an acre of Dunkelfelder, a German red.

But it's the Chardonnay frizzante that has created the biggest buzz at this 3,000-case winery. It is a delightful drink made to enjoy sooner rather than later, and they chose crown cap over cork. In terms of bubbles, it's a semi-sparkler, similar to prosecco. And the method is neither charmat nor Champenoise as there's no secondary fermentation.

"The goal is to have tiny bubbles and a little mousse," she said. "We just keep the C02 from the first fermentation and infuse it before bottling, so it's a mixing of styles."

The subtle effervescence does not dominate the delicate residual sugar (1.4%). And it's all about the fresh orchard fruit so easy to find in the Okanagan Valley, hinting at apricot, peach and Gala apple. There's no oak, and the bubbles transition to a slightly creamy midpalate before yielding to a clean finish of Juicy Fruit flavors.

The Schales sold it out within a month.

"We will produce a couple of them next year - a white and a rose style - at about 300 cases each," she said. "In 2009, we played it safe. In 2010, we are confident it will work."

8th Generation Vineyard, 6807 Highway 97, Summerland, B.C., V0H 1Z9, 250-494-1783, 8thgenerationvineyard.com.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard, 2009 Woo Woo Vines Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley, $18 CDN (1,218 cases produced, 13.5% alcohol)

Back in the 1800s, the Okanagan Lake beach town of Summerland was home to a Chinese laundry. At least that's all it appeared to be from the street. On the second floor, however, was a brothel that made sure the washboard got plenty of work.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard, though, sits among pines that overlook the lake. Long-time followers of Okanagan Valley wines will remember this property as Scherzinger Vineyard Cottage Winery. Ron Watkins bought it and keenly renamed it.

"Sales increased 350 percent two years in a row after the name change," said marketing manager Judi Skinner, who began by managing the vineyards for Watkins.

Four years ago, Alberta attorney Bob Campbell bought the winery, and his group hired talented consultant Philip Soo - former lead winemaker at Canadian giant Andres. Among his bottlings for Dirty Laundry are Naughty Chardonnay (oaked) and Not So Knotty Chardonnay (unoaked). The Port-style refers to "a girl in every port." The ice wine is Hoarfrost.

"We totally have nothing but fun here," Skinner said.

And yet, few wineries in the Northwest approach Gewurztraminer as seriously. The references are not to specific vineyards, but instead to differing levels of residual sugar. Madam's Vines carries a sweetness code of 1+. The Thread Bares Vines was fermented dry.

For this Match Maker, Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond and Paul Cecconi went in between to two for the Woo Woo Vines that checks in at 1 on the sweetness. And at 1,218 cases, it's the most buxom production of Gewurz from Dirty Laundry. It brought just the right amount of sweetness to check the spicy components of chorizo, curry, ginger and chile. And the wine's dusty apple and pear flavors didn't overpower the umami and earthy elements of the squash.

The broth in the dish makes for great dipping with bread, while the Woo Woo Gewurz revives the palate.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard, 7311 Fiske St., Summerland, B.C., V0H 1Z2, 250-494-8815, dirtylaundry.ca.

Blue Cheese Cake

Serves 8

Ingredients

14 ounces mild blue cheese

12 ounces cream cheese

1 1/2 cups white sugar

3/4 cup milk

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 cup flour

Carmelized Apple, Pear and Roasted Pumpkin Coulis (see recipe below)

Toasted Walnut-Brioche Streusel (see recipe below)

Instructions

1. Cream the cheeses, add sugar and mix 1 minute.

2. Blend in the vanilla and the milk.

3. Blend in eggs one at a time, just enough to incorporate.

4. Mix in sour cream and flour.

5. Pour batter into a parchment paper lined spring-form pan.

6. Bake in oven at 250° F for about two hours.

7. Serve piece of cheesecake with a spoonful of coulis and a dusting of streusel.

Caramelized Apple, Pear and Roasted Pumpkin Coulis

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients

2 pounds pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded, cubed

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 pounds Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, sliced

3/4 pound Royal Gala apples, peeled, cored, sliced

canola oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup water

Instructions

1. Toss pumpkin cubes in butter and roast on a tray in a 425° F oven for 30 minutes.

2. Caramelize sliced pears and apples in a hot pan with a touch of canola oil.

3. Add roasted pumpkin cubes to the pears and apples over medium heat.

4. Add sugar and water.

5. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

6. Puree in a blender.

7. Cool and keep in the fridge.

Toasted Walnut-Brioche Streusel

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

4 slices brioche bread

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted

Instructions

1. Blend brioche in food processor until it resembles fine crumbs.

2. Add butter to saute pan and bring to medium heat.

3. Add walnuts and brioche. Cook until golden brown.

4. Cool down mixture.

Pacific Halibut, Chorizo and Winter Squash with Curry, Red Curry-Coconut Broth and Smoked Apple Chutney

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds Pacific halibut, diced into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons grape seed oil

1 1/2 pounds chorizo, medium diced

Red Curry-Coconut Broth (see recipe below)

1 1/2 pounds winter squash, diced into 2-inch pieces and roasted

Jasmine or short-grained rice

Smoked Apple Chutney (see recipe below)

Instructions

1. Sear halibut in very hot pan in grape seed oil until golden, and then set aside.

2. Saute chorizo sausage in same pan for 2 minutes.

3. Add red curry broth and begin to simmer.

4. Add halibut and squash to broth and simmer until cooked.

5. Serve halibut with broth over jasmine or short-grain rice.

6. Top with smoked apple chutney.

Red Curry Coconut Broth

Makes 32 ounces

Ingredients

1/2 onion

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon red curry paste

4 lime leaves

1 stalk lemongrass

1 piece of ginger root, peeled, grated

16 ounces canned tomatoes

64 ounces chicken stock

1 1/2 cans coconut milk

1/4 bunch of cilantro

Instructions

1. Sweat onion and garlic in olive oil

2. Add curry paste, lime leaves, lemongrass and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes.

3. Add canned tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes

4. Add chicken stock and coconut milk and cook for 20 minutes.

5. Add cilantro, puree and pass through a sieve. Check seasoning.

Smoked Apple Chutney

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients

1 red onion, diced

Olive oil

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon ground chile powder

6 apples, smoked and diced

1/4 cup rice vinegar

3 sprigs thyme

Instructions

1. Saute onion in olive oil until tender.

2. Add sugar, chile and apple. Cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add vinegar and reduce until apples are glazed.

4. Cool down and mix in thyme.

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