For lovers of good food and even better wine, the Okanagan is a sunny playground. Continuously growing in notoriety and clout, British Columbia’s wineries are again and again proving themselves not only on the national scale, but the global one, too. Any time is a good time to visit, but the region truly shines in the spring and summer months; and the Spring Okanagan Wine Festival adds even that much more, with over 125 wineries in a mere 100 miles offering special events, tastings, and menus.
The 2016 festival was no exception, taking place from April 28 to May 8 and helping the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society celebrate 22 years in existence. Of course, any trip to the Okanagan feels like a wine festival, and no matter the district, there is plenty worthy to sip.
Sandhill Wines’s tasting room, with big orange couches and vases of cheerful flowers, is a welcome place to begin. The winery’s new series with legendary winemaker Howard Soon is sure to please, especially the chardonnay, whose grapes were hand-picked and gently pressed for a product scarily easy to drink. “His creativity and winemaking style is very much captured in these wines,” says Sandy Leier, winemaker for sister winery Wayne Gretzky Okanagan. “He’s a fantastic teacher. I learned so much from him.” In nearby West Kelowna, Indigenous World Winery is soon to open, and is the first to be 100 per cent indigenous-owned. Westbank band Chief Robert Louie has big ambitions and even bigger determination, not only to create great wine, but to offer a fantastic place to do so, and promote indigenous culture. Try the 2015 Hee-Hee-Tel-Kin White Blend.
In neighbouring Summerland (where Dominion Cider makes its sweet drink), almost-one-year-old Evolve Cellars is stepping up its game with a new restaurant offering fresh and seasonal fare, of course paired with its wines, including a noteworthy 2014 cabernet merlot. Evolve is the only winery whose vineyards go all the way down to the lake, making it a unique and memorable stop. Then there is Okanagan Crush Pad, a natural winery focusing on product that represents the place it was made—true terroir. Opt for at least one glass of the Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2014. Then heads will rest easy at the Summerland Waterfront Resort, especially after a dip in the hot tub.
A necessary stop before heading up the Naramata Bench is The Bench Market, where nearly every morsel of food is made from scratch, and the espresso from Summerland’s Backyard Beans is good and strong. Pick up a homemade granola bar for the road and head to La Frenz Winery, where owner and production and vineyard manager Jeff Martin’s philosophy is that “it really does start in the vineyard”. Lucky patrons may even spot him out among the vines, scooping up and sniffing the soil he puts so much care into. His new patio is a great place to sip on the 2015 Alexandria, with fresh notes of mango and lychee. Over at Bench 1775, sprightly winemaker Val Tait is creating a wide array of products (“I’m out of control and need to be reined in,” she jokes). Her wine is designed to be food-friendly, and indeed it is, with the 2013 syrah acting as a great accompaniment to charcuterie and cheese. And speaking of cheese, memorable bites come from Upper Bench Winery and Creamery, where the mighty King Cole reigns supreme. Cozying up for the night at the historic Naramata Heritage Inn should do the trick, and while some say it is haunted, all agree that it is charming.
Though technically in Okanagan Falls, See Ya Later Ranch must be mentioned, especially for its hailed gewürztraminer (the property hosts an uncharacteristically large gewürztraminer vineyard) and fabulous patio with views of the Valley. In Osoyoos itself there is the important Nk’Mip Cellars, a joint partnership between the Osoyoos Indian Band and Constellation Brands. The 2014 Winemaker’s Series Talon is smooth and fruity, an easy choice for every day, while the 2013 Mer’r’iym is a nice, big structured red. At Moon Curser the name of the game is unconventional, where lesser known red varieties including tannat, tempranillo, and touriga nacional run the show. Its 2009 Border Vines even picked up a prestigious UK Decanter World Wine Awards Trophy for Best Canadian Red Wine, and with an incredible tasting room view, it swallows all the better. Hats can be hung at the Watermark Beach Resort right in the heart of Osoyoos (near punchy espresso at Jojo’s), where both pool and lake are ready for the taking.
In the Okanagan, regions and destinations flow in and out of each other like water. The resounding theme is that one does not have to travel far to travel well; there is incredible abundance and versatility right here in British Columbia. It is easy to spend days in each spot, and even easier to leave wanting more.
Discover new grapes and bottles—read more wine stories.