Vancouver is the largest big city for miles and its thriving and highly critical restaurant scene has tapped into the Okanagan wines. “Although the wine program at West offers a wide variety of selections from the world’s best wine growing regions such as France, Italy and California, I often suggest wines from the Okanagan Valley of British Colombia,” said Owen Knowlton, Wine Director at West Restaurant + Bar. “It is definitely still an up-and-coming wine region – but the wines are exciting! Most of the wineries in BC are small boutique artisan operations, offering quality and value. The wines have vibrant fruit flavors balanced with minerality and refreshing natural acidity.” West is recognized as one of Vancouver’s leading restaurants devoted to farm fresh ingredients and worldly styles. And Executive Chef Executive Chef Quang Dang and his sommeliers wouldn’t offer Okanagan wines to their guests unless the wines were spot on.
Fear not, it’s not all grapevines. Okanagan farmers still grow plenty of fresh apples, pears, apricots and cherries – and vegetables (there’s a strong farm-to-table culinary tradition here too) but wine-grape growing has really taken root – today over 7,000 acres are devoted to vinifera. Mission Hill is perhaps the most celebrated and visited winery, producing many excellent wines while displaying its “big boy” combination of modern and Baroque styled architecture. Their Oculus is the winery’s signature Bordeaux inspired wine. Complex, elegant and delicious. Mission Hill is a must visit, mountaintop beauty. Other wineries of note dotting the landscape include: Sumac Ridge, Summerhill, Pyramid Winery, Quails’ Gate, Jackson-Triggs, Cedar Creek, Gehringer Brothers, See Ya Later Ranch, Nk’Mip Cellars, Osoyoos LaRose and Burrowing Owl among others. BC wineries have as late been bringing home major international awards for whites and red wines, plus of course, their very famous and delicious ice-wines.
A particularly interesting Okanagan sight is that of the massive train trestles (train bridges) from the old Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) near the town of Naramata. The Myra Canyon portion of the Kettle Valley Trail is a 12 mile round trip ride, offering breathtaking views of Okanagan Lake, and the forest way below. Twelve huge trestles, (train bridges) all of which have been entirely restored, cut right through magnificent forests, with well-groomed trails providing effortless hiking and biking. The KVR trains gave way to roads many years back, but the tracks themselves were only pulled up in 1976. The path is gentle and those imposing old wooden train trestles standing silently in the forest make for quite a sight. Renting a bike is a fantastic way to explore the KVR trails while also stopping in at many of the Okanagan wineries. Various companies, including Monashee Tours offer bike rentals, as well as guided walking and wine tours.
Many small hotels, motels, B & B’s, Inns and a few modern resorts, such as the one at Nk’Mip Cellars – a First Nations luxury property and winery provide visitors with various lodging and dining choices. The largest city in the area is Kelowna, which is actually quite fun and cosmopolitan.
Own Knowlton from West says: “Right now, my favorite wines from the Okanagan Valley are from Foxtrot, Laughing Stock and Painted Rock wineries. Foxtrot on the Naramata Bench is making world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; if you are looking for power, I love the Portfolio from Laughing Stock and the Icon from Painted Rock, two Bordeaux inspired blends of Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.”
Getting to the Okanagan is simple. Air Canada flies directly to the main city of Kelowna and from there it’s easy to rent a car and drive. Or, it can be a stunning drive all the way from Vancouver. As an alternative, the Okanagan region is about a 5 hour drive from Seattle. The area is intriguing, and its wines are on the cusp of greatness. This wine region is certainly not what one might expect above the Canadian border. Check it out.
c. Bob Ecker 2013
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association
Monashee Tours – Bike Rentals