The first time I met Paul Gardner was back in 1994 when I took him on a tour of Silver Oak Cellars in California. The last time I saw him, in 1995, he was making wine from boxed juice in the basement of his Kitsilano house.
That was so last century.
In 2006, after eleven years incommunicado, I was shocked to see his picture in a Wine Trails magazine, and yet I wasn’t really surprised to learn that he’d started a winery. I remembered seeing a certain ‘this is for me’ look in his eye as we strolled the barrel rooms of Silver Oak. Finally, in early June, my posse and I took a trip to the Okanagan and paid a visit to Paul and his wife Julie at their semi-vertical spread in Penticton, overlooking Skaha Lake.
He still looks like a young Sean Connery, and occasionally he sounds like him. And after working the land for over a decade, he still possesses an unquenchable drive to build things.
Paul has just planted a new vineyard, called the “dirty dozen” for the number of varietals it contains, including Rhones. He is building an expansive new winery cave in the hillside above their house, and is designing a sleek new house to build on top of that. The old winery, now packed to the skylights with equipment, barrels and packaging, will become a public tasting room when the new winery is finished.
Walking through the sloping vineyards, sipping an ice wine he pulled from a tank, I had to say, “I’m afraid to ask how you are financing all this.”
“I’ll tell you how,” he raved. “I do all the work myself!”
Believing him made my back hurt.
Over lunch, we drank the Pentage Cabernet Franc, a bottle I had heard about from wine store customers who had tried it at Brix restaurant. It was as good as the people had said. This wine is rich and full bodied, fruity with hints of tobacco and spice and has none of the greenness of many Okanagan reds. Paul is making this wine to mix with his signature Pentage blend, which we found to be loaded with cassis and black cherry and topped with mocha notes.
On the way out we copped one of each of his thirteen bottlings – the Semillon, the un-oaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauv Blanc/Semillon, (which he advised aging for ten years) Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Gamay Noir, Cab Franc, and Pentage, as well as the three-liter bag in a box of Pinot Gris. Alas, no Rose was in stock.
We’ll be tasting these puppies after they recover from their bottle-shocking ride home and I’ll post our findings later on.
As for the name, Pentage, Paul admitted it was a goof. Yes, the Pent means five, but he said, “I was joking around and thinking of the word, Meritage – like they used in California – and I thought of Pentage as a play on Meritage. That’s all.”