When a gold medal isn't good enough, the heavy hitter platinum and double platinum awards are bestowed.

That's exactly what happened recently at the Wine Press Northwest Awards put on by the Kennewick, Wash.-based magazine and website of the same name.

Of the 40 double-platinum accolades for vintages produced by B.C., Washington state, Oregon and Idaho wineries, seven were earned by Okanagan wines.

Okanagan wines went home with 21 of the 137 platinum medals awarded.

To be considered for the double-platinum or platinum prizes, wines had to be prescreened and invited to enter.

This year that meant 654 wines were considered and the aforementioned 40 were deemed double-platinum worthy and 137 deserving of platinum.

"We make wines for our customers and not to attain high scores," said Andrew Windsor, winemaker at Oliver's Tinhorn Creek.

Tinhorn picked up double-platinum for its 2016 Chardonnay ($21) and platinum for both its 2014 Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc ($32) and 2017 Pinot Gris ($19).

"But, it is always nice to receive recognition for our hard work," continued Windsor.

"We track our success based on the acceptance of our wines. The fact we consistently sellout out of our wines tells us we are on the right track. It's an honour to work for this great group of people and be the stewards of such a great place. So, these awards are for them."

It was actually Oliver's Gehringer Brothers Winery that had the biggest haul of any B.C. winery at Wine Press Northwest with three double-platinum and five platinum.

The double-platinum were for the 2017 Classic Riesling ($13.50), 2017 Old Vines Auxerrois ($14.50) and 2017 Private Reserve Dry Riesling ($13.50).

The platinum winners were: 2017 Gewurztraminer-Schonburger ($15), 2017 Dry Rock Unoaked Chardonnay ($14), 2017 Dry Rock Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($16), 2017 Ehrenfelser ($14) and 2017 Private Reserve Pinot Gris ($14).

Wine Press Northwest editor Gregg McConnell calls Gehringer Brothers the Kings of Platinum of British Columbia.

He also pointed out that since double-platinum and platinum inception in 2000, Gehringer Brothers has won the most with 78 medals.

The Gehringer brothers are Walter and Gordon, who took over the winery and winemaking from their father, Helmut, and his brother, Karl.

The other Okanagan double-platinum winners are:

– C.C. Jentsch 2014 The Chase Red ($20)

– Larch Hills 2015 North Okanagan Siegerrebe ($16)

– Skaha 2014 Merlot ($26)

The additional platinum medals for Okanagan wines are:

– Lang 2012 Riesling Ice Wine ($55)

– Larch Hills 2016 North Okanagan Lemberger ($15)

– Black Market 2015 The Syndicate Red ($30)

– Lake Breeze 2017 Pinot Gris ($21)

– Township 7 2016 Merlot ($25)

– Cassini 2014 Bella Vinetyard Nobilus Merlot ($40)

– La Frenz 2017 Knorr Vineyard Semillon ($23)

– La Frena 2016 Vivant Reserve ($29)

– Larch Hills 2016 North Okanagan Tamarack Rose ($14)

– Road 13 5th Element Red 2013 ($49)

– Lake Breeze 2016 Ehrenfelser ($19)

– Stag's Hollow 2017 Shuttleworth Creek Albarino ($22)

– Forbidden Fruit 2017 Pomme Desiree Iced Apple ($26)

– Vanessa Right Bank Red ($40)

*****

Dennis O'Rourke refers to The Chase as his "little beginner winery."

That's in no way meant to be disparaging.

The Chase has a beautiful winery, tasting room and restaurant set on a vineyard at the corner of Okanagan Centre and Goldie roads in Lake Country and produces 10,000 cases of luscious wines annually.

But, construction is already underway at O'Rourke Family Vineyards off Carr's Landing and Commonage roads in Lake Country, a project O'Rourke calls "one of the most nonsensical things" and a "vision on steroids."

Indeed, the hilltop winery will look like a fort overlooking Okanagan Lake.

Underground caves will be used to age and store wine, there will be a amphitheatre for concerts and an events centre.

O'Rourke said it will be a "showpiece" to rival West Kelowna's Mission Hill Family Estate, which is considered to be the grandest winery in the Okanagan.

O'Rourke Family Vineyards, which is across the road and up the mountain from the lake, will also have a dock and waterfront tasting room so its own boat shuttle, and people with their own boats, have access.

"That alone will be a game changer in the winery business here in the Okanagan," he said.

The new winery is expected to be open in 2021.

O'Rourke makes his money as the owner of Sureway Construction in Edmonton, so wine is a hobby and passion.

A big and ambitious passion and hobby, mind you.

The Chase gets its name from O'Rourke's tendency to always chase and aspire to be the biggest and best.

Currently, O'Rourke has 110 acres of vineyard and is buying more land as it becomes available or he convinces owners to sell.

Adrian Baker, formerly of 50th Parallel Winery in Lake Country, is the winemaker at The Chase and will also craft the wines for O'Rourke Family Vineyards.

His good work is already evident at The Chase.

When I met O'Rourke for a tour of the new winery site, we ended up at The Chase for lunch in the Garden Bistro, which is open year-round alongside the tasting room.

We ate crispy duck confit with cannellini beans prepared by chef Alex Lavroff, which paired nicely with The Chase 2016 Gruner Veltliner, a treat of peach, pineapple, fennel and flint aromas and flavours.

I couldn't leave without also sampling the citrusy 2017 Riesling, apple-and-pear 2017 Pinot Gris, full-bodied berry 2017 Rose and pear-and-herbaceous Garden Bistro White.

*****

Tuesday is the deadline for sommeliers and somm wannabes to apply for 10 scholarships of $1,000 each from the B.C. Hospitality Foundation.

The foundation is best know for providing financial assistance to hospitality workers in crisis.

But it also awards some scholarships.

This year wineries Sunrock, Hester Creek, Okanagan Crush Pad and Da Silva along with Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants have put up the money.

Somms already working in the industry can apply for a scholarship to further their education and students entering some sort of hospitality training with a focus on wine can also apply.

Check out BCHospitalityFoundation.com/Scholarships.

Successful applicants will be contacted next month and scholarships will be presented at the Vancouver International Wine Festival awards lunch on March 1.

*****

Steve MacNaull is The Okanagan Weekend's business and wine reporter and columnist. Reach him at steve.macnaull@ok.bc.ca.

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