21 Sep 2013

Siegerrebe

"It means victory vine in German" explained the girl in the tasting room, visibly excited. She must have highlighted that bit of information in bright yellow in the study guide management gave her at the beginning of the season.

She was correct, of course. And she had piqued my curiosity, for as a wine amateur, I'd never heard of this grape varietal before. In the event, Siegerrebe turned out to be a pleasant white similar to Gewürztraminer (another one of these Germans!), and it made for just one of many pleasant surprises.

For this episode is still set in Canada, due west from where the last post had left off. After climbing the peaks of the Rockies, we'd continued towards the setting sun, and towards a region in British Columbia's interior that I had heard many good things about. Notably that the Okanagan Valley has some of the mildest climate in the country, and consequently does not feel very Canadian at all.

If Alberta's mountains had reminded us of the alps, the wide open valleys, shining lakes flanked by vineyards, majestic chestnut trees and fragrant lavender bushes now made us think of Ticino, or possibly the shores of Lake Geneva. Even more so than the Maritimes, this facet of Canada defies common stereotypes.

In the best of ways, of course. We headed out from Kelowna, a pretty yoga-and-granola city with endless sandy beaches,  and tasted our way through the various vineyards in the vicinity. Over the past few decades, the trend to produce high-quality wines in the Pacific Northwest has taken a firm hold of the area, and while the Okanagan's yields are still too low for its wines to be widely available outside the province, both the reds and the whites we sampled were of very respectable quality. Much to our enjoyment, some of the wineries had not just built tasting rooms, but small gourmet restaurants as well.

Settling in for dinner in one of them, overlooking Lake Okanagan and discussing how much it resembled the Lavaux, it only seemed natural that the maître d' greeted us - in Swiss German. She'd arrived many years ago, and agreed with us that this was a very livable place.

By the time we jumped into the lake's clear waters the next morning, just like we used as teenagers on our discovery trips across Switzerland, I'd firmly fallen in love with the area. Only half jokingly, we started to evaluate the cottages and houses along the shore for their suitability as holiday homes.

That particular plan may have to age for a few more years. The bottle of Siegerrebe, however, is now in my fridge here in Montréal. And if things go to plan, I'll have an occasion to treat myself to the victory vine tomorrow. Cheers!

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8 Sep 2013

Summit

Yes, they definitely do - my skepticism has finally gone. Until recently, I struggled to believe that Canada, this vast country extending flat in all directions from Montréal, really had any proper mountains. Even a previous skiing adventure in British Columbia did not succeed in fully convincing me.

My most recent road trip, however, did. In the trusted company of my earliest travel buddy, a dear friend I got to know aged 5 and started travelling with soon after, I took to the classic route through the Canadian Rockies. Setting off from Calgary, where airport greeters in cowboy hats welcomed us to the land of prairies and oil sands, we headed due west and eventually found ourselves at the base of a mighty mountain range. Cragged peaks towering over surprisingly wide valleys, dark green pine forrests and barren rock faces soon surrounded us, and before we knew it, the freeway spat us out right at the toll gate for Banff National Park

This being a federal institution, I naturally insisted on my constitutionally guaranteed right to speak French, with which the Albertan park ranger coped surprisingly well. Well enough, in fact, to provide us with all the maps and guides for our planned hikes. He even managed to tack on a kind piece of advice: Faitez attention aux ours!

Being Swiss, we came prepared for many things. Proper boots, sun and rain protection, GPS, and of course the trusty Swiss Army knive were all at the ready as we stroke out.  In the alps, however, there are no bears to avoid, whereas in the Rockies, a note at the trailhead pointed out that it was currently berry season, and visitors therefore stood an increased chance of getting up close and personal with Yogi Bear.

And so it came that, one sunny August day, a selection of the world's national anthems could be heard on a steep mountain trail, performed by two panting but determined individuals, neither of which would make it very far on Canada's got Talent. In fact, the rendition was such that not just bears, but also any other wildlife was safely kept at bay until we cleared the treeline. The view awaiting us was as breathtaking as the path to get there: As far as the eye could see, unspoilt alpine landscapes lay below us. Only the town of Banff could be seen in the distance, with the prime Alberta beef of its steakhouses calling us back down again for a celebratory dinner.

The photogenic sights kept coming: The next morning, we were up with the larks (and crucially, before the Chinese) and had the oh-so-famous vistas of Lake Louise all to ourselves. On yet another hike, this one to the confluence of seven glaciers (or what's left of them, you global warming skeptics!), we learned about a century's legacy of Swiss mountain guides in the area, and indeed found ourselves taking tea at a little cottage that was visibly built by compatriots. Just like us, they must have felt right at home.

Sadly, but true to our joint travelling traditions, we had no time to dwell. Our journey was set to continue, and more adventures (along with other, less expected similarities to Switzerland) were awaiting us beyond the Rockies. Further dispatches from Beautiful British Columbia shall follow. Westward ho!

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