You're not supposed to ask a lady her age.

But in the case of Keira LeFranc, the winemaker at Stag's Hollow in Okanagan Falls, I just had to inquire.

After all, she looks quite young to be crafting such exceptional wines.

"I just turned 29," said LeFranc with a laugh.

"In fact, my birthday was earlier this month."

LeFranc's quick ascension to winemaker is a product of education, skill, passion and being at the right place at the right time.

LeFranc earned a biology degree at the University of Alberta and Edmonton and then headed to New Zealand to earn a post-graduate diploma in viticulture and oenology.

Upon her return to the Okanagan, she landed a job as a cellar hand at Stag's Hollow in 2017.

By early 2018 she was promoted to assistant winemaker under winemaker Dwight Sick.

Sick moved to Moraine on the Naramata Bench in July 2018 and LeFranc was again promoted, this time to winemaker.

The timing means she had a hand in making the new releases in Stag's Hollow's premium line-up of Renaissance red wines.

LeFranc describes the Renaissance 2017 Pinot Noir ($35) as bold, Okanagan Pinot due to some of the grapes coming from the warmer Stag's Hollow Estate Vineyard.

Other grape come from the cooler Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard in Okanagan Falls.

The resulting blend has an earthy and spicy aroma and taste from the grapes grown on the warmer plot, but a bright strawberry and raspberry profile thanks to the grapes from the cooler vineyard.

This is the Pinot you pair with roast chicken for any meal with mushrooms from pizza to risotto.

When you’re eating a more robust steak, roast or stew, break out the Stag's Hollow Renaissance Meritage 2016 ($45).

Its Bordeaux-style blend of 76% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cabernet Franc gives is a hefty character of plum, blackberry, dark chocolate and coffee.

While it's labelled Renaissance 2016 Merlot ($35) the wine is actually 86% Merlot, 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6.5% Cabernet Franc.

The Merlot contributes the dominant cherry and plum aromas and flavours and the other two varieties add some blackberry, cocoa, black liquorice and dried herb nuances.

Stag's Hollow amassed $6,500 this year for the South Okanagan Raptor Rehab Centre this year by collecting donations rather than tasting fees in the tasting room.

The winery handed the cheque over when centre manager Dale Belvedere and centre chairman Dave Whitton dropped by with Houdini the great horned owl.

"Birds of prey are a key part of a healthy ecosystem in vineyards and surrounding areas, so this relationship is a great fit," said Stag's Hollow founder and manager Linda Pruegger.

*****

Being sold out is a blessing and a curse.

Of course, it's gratifying to Black Widow Winery in Naramata that its wines are so popular most are already sold out.

But, it's also frustrating, for both the winery and wine lovers, that sales of all the reds and many whites will have to wait until the next wave of new releases.

However, there's a silver lining here.

Black Widow still has stock of two whites – the 2018 Pinot Gris ($20) and the 2018 Oasis ($20).

The pink-tinged Pinot Gris reminded me slightly of apple cider because it's so refreshingly apple-and-pear.

A great drink on its own, with cheese or paired to chicken or fish dinner.

Oasis is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Schonburger.

As such, it's a yummy and aromatic sipper that will give you flavours of apple, melon, gooseberry and lychee.

Keep on top of when new releases happen by joining Club Web (a clever tie-in to Black Widow's name and the webs such spiders weave) and checking out BlackWidowWinery.com.

*****

Which Okanagan chef will qualify for the Canadian Culinary Championships in Ottawa, Jan. 31-Feb. 1?

The Great Kitchen Party on Friday at Kelowna's Delta Grand hotel will determine a winner from the seven chefs creating dishes for six judges and the hundreds of others who buy a ticket to enjoy the food, wine and atmosphere.

The chefs are Andrea Callan from Indigenous World Winery's Red Fox Club (West Kelowna), Brock Bowes of CrAsian Foods (Kelowna), Jeff Van Geest of Tinhorn Creek Winery's Miradoro (Oliver, Chris Braun of Raudz Regional Table (Kelowna), Rob Walker from Big White Ski Resort, Kai Koroll from 50th Parallel Winery's Block One (Lake Country) and James Holmes from Salt & Brick (Kelowna).

The top Okanagan chef will join a dozen other qualifiers from other Great Kitchen Parties across the country at the national final in Ottawa.

For nine years, Kelowna was home to the Canadian Culinary Championship until organizers decided to switch it up and move the championships to Ottawa for 2020.

Kelowna's Great Kitchen Party will start with a tribute to Harry McWatters, an Okanagan wine legend, who passed away at age 74 in the summer.

Kelowna's own Olympic gold medallist in ski-cross, Kelsey Serwa, will be the master of ceremonies.

And there will be entertainment by Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Neil Osborne of 54-40 and violinist Anne Lindsay.

Tickets are $300 at GreatKitchenParty.com.

*****

Steve MacNaull is a reporter at The Okanagan Weekend. Reach him at steve.macnaull@ok.bc.com. Also listen to Steve's Okanagan Wine & Dine show exclusively on digital radio station OkanaganValleyRadio.com on Saturdays at 11:15 a.m. If you miss it then, it's always available in the podcast vault.