Sometimes, even in the middle of a pandemic, things just come together. The right time, right place and right people can align for what is a perfect match. That is what happened with sommelier Emily Walker joining the team and taking over the wine list at the newly revived Naramata Inn.
When well-known chef-and-PR-powerhouse team Ned Bell and Kate Colley purchased the Naramata Inn along with partners Paul Hollands and Maria Wiesner earlier this year, there was palpable excitement for what was to come. The only missing piece of the dream team puzzle—and an important piece, with the inn being located deep in Okanagan wine country—was a wine list to match the quality of the food and the beauty of the 1907 property. Luckily, one of British Columbia’s most talented sommeliers was living just across the lake in Summerland, a somm with a bit of time on her hands thanks to a global pandemic.
This isn’t the first time that the trio has worked together. Between 2011 and 2015, Walker was the wine director at Vancouver’s Four Seasons hotel, where Bell was executive chef and Colley public relations director. Walker calls the Naramata reunion “getting the band back together—wine country edition.” “Sometimes I feel like pinching myself to see if this is actually happening,” says Walker. “Other times it feels like nothing has changed.”
Working in wine country isn’t the same as working in the city, though. “You get to have direct relationships with the growers and producers that you just don’t have in the city,” Walker says.
Not surprisingly, every winery in B.C. wants to be on her list, but Walker has curated a tight but exciting selection of 75 to 100 wines. About 80 per cent is from B.C., but there are around 20 international wines at any time to pique the interest of the local winemakers, key customers of the inn, who want to discover what is going on in the rest of the wine world.
Walker has been able to use these close relationships to get some pretty interesting wines. “I can dig up a few bottles here and there of older vintages and small-batch, hard-to-get wines to keep things interesting, deliver an experience and keep the locals coming back,” she says.
What Walker calls the Wine Annex is a library section that could include treasures like Blue Mountain 2010 Reserve Chardonnay or mini verticals. The Time Capsule tasting, a flight of four wines that rotates every six weeks, focuses on a specific grape and vintage from four different sub-regions of B.C. She includes a little write-up with pop culture notes, so while you sip on a flight of 2012 Riesling you can think back to what was playing on the radio that year. Every Friday is Large Format Friday, when a different magnum is poured by the glass. “My goal is to keep it fun and always have interesting wines open to talk about,” say Walker.
By all accounts the re-opening has been a resounding success. With such a busy and successful first summer at the Naramata Inn, there there is really only one downside for Walker: “My tennis game has really suffered as I’m just too busy to play,” she says.
@ Vitis Magazine