Akin to fine wine, the South Okanagan has aged beautifully for wine touring. Once home to a handful of wineries, South Okanagan hosts over 120 and counting. Each year brings some exciting news of developments at existing locations and newly established wineries.
Finding the Holy Grail of wine touring is a quest easily achieved. The toughest test is narrowing your choices down. Fair warning, if you’ve only a day to explore the region’s wineries and select three or four, the awesome experience will leave you thirsty for more. No worries though, there’s always next visit.
If you follow the five-step process of wine tasting of see, swirl, smell, sip and savour, it’s best to enlist a designated driver or sign up with one of the many excellent wine touring companies. Otherwise, you’ll need to add the sixth step to spit in order to travel safely.
For inside scoops on the wineries, behind-the-scenes tastings, perhaps meeting a key personality like an owner or winemaker, booking with an expert tour company or scheduling an appointment at the winery is the best option.
No matter how you define your Holy Grail, Wines of British Columbia offers handy tools at winebc.com to guide your journey. Discover BC Wine Country breaks down by region the wineries and their styles and varietals.
Take the iconic Naramata Bench, for example. At the boutique Bella Wines, the focus is natural winemaking of sparkling wine in the traditional or Ancestral method with varietals Gamay Noir and Chardonnay. While just down the road at Nichol Vineyards, you’ll taste Syrah from the oldest planting in Canada as well as Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and the rare Austrian red St. Laurent. Closer to Penticton, Poplar Grove Winery was one of the original five on the Naramata Bench and today is one of the largest family-owned operations. Known for Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc, multiple varietals and blends, Poplar Grove also offers a fine dining experience with stunning views of Okanagan Lake and across Penticton to Skaha Lake. This region is jam-packed with unique wineries with eclectic stories to tell. If your plan is to check out multiple locations in one day in close proximity, it’s the best bet.
Between Peachland and Summerland – or Bottleneck Drive as the local association is known – is Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards at the historic Greata Ranch site. Focus here is traditional method sparkling wine and cool-climate still wine. Linger at the Bar & Bistro with broad Okanagan Lake views featuring Rattlesnake Island. Just off Highway 97 as you head into town is Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, the first operating estate winery in BC. Crisp whites and luscious reds including Meritage are available. Down the hill is the Okanagan Crush Pad, home of wines: Haywire, Free Form, Narrative, and recently released Bizou + Yukon named for two Great Pyrenees that guard the flock of sheep at The Ranch where those grapes are grown. State-of-the-art, it features concrete tanks, clay amphorae, and large format neutral oak casks. With the guest centre built into the heart of the facility, you get a rare glance into the art of winemaking. Two of my favourite family boutique wineries, SummerGate Winery and Silkscarf Winery are also found in Summerland. The thoughtful winemaking processes of their proprietors is inspiring. For lots of chuckles and a cheeky back story for each of the wines, Dirty Laundry Vineyards is the place. Here, too, enjoy a delightful pause for woodfired pizza on a picturesque patio.
The Penticton Wine Information Centre is where those in the know, start their wine touring – and return again and again. It’s like a library of great wines of BC with knowledgeable staff to guide you on your passage to finding your personal favourites. With outstanding merchandise complementary to wine appreciation like guide books, cookbooks, stemware, culinary items and so much more, allow time to shop. In city centre, visit an urban winery, Time Winery & Kitchen, where you can enjoy a fabulous tasting and a great meal. By Penticton Lakeside Resort, Great Estates of the Okanagan Wine Experience offers the “Cole Notes” of touring its array of wineries. While you experience the wines of its member wineries all in one setting, you delve deeply into their background.
Your next tough decision is whether to head south along the eastside or westside of Skaha. On the west, Play Estate Winery offers eye-popping views over Skaha Lake from its tasting bar, restaurant and patio. You can take in Kraze Legz Vineyard & Winery at Kaleden en route to Okanagan Falls. The eastern route facilitates a stop at the natural rock cellar at Pentâge Winery or at ultra-modern Painted Rock Winery.
Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars has the rare distinction of over 40 years of continuous grape production by one family. Its spectacular setting in Okanagan Falls is not to be missed. At Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery, there’s three generations of family passion in winemaking plus the Smoke & Oak Bistro. If you’re a patron of the arts and love gardens, see Liquidity Winery, where there’s another great dining option with a view.
Oliver, too, sports so many possibilities. For a highly personal family experience, VinAmite Cellars is my go-to. For established sites with a wide range of delightful wines and dining options is Hester Creek Estate Winery with onsite Terrafina and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards with Miradoro. The shining new penny that calls out “Go Big or Go Home” is Phantom Creek Estates – for the architecture and art alone it’s worth the drive.
On the way into Osoyoos, LaStella Winery (sister to Le Vieux Pin Winery, Oliver) provides an Italian take on winemaking. Moon Curser Vineyards is known for growing unusual old varieties such as Tannat, Tempranillo and Dolcetto, among others, and creating bold wines. Just around the corner is Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Aboriginal-owned and operated winery in North America and pride of the Osoyoos Indian Band. Take time to learn about the history and customs.
I’ve found the Holy Grail of wine touring at each of these fine wineries and even as I end the post, the many others not noted filter into my consciousness. Thank heavens for return visits!