Originally published in July 2015
Wine adventurers are heading north, more and more, to discover British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and delight in the award-winning wines produced there. Recently voted as the second ‘best wine region to visit’ by a USA Today readers poll, the Okanagan Valley is starting to gain global buzz. With options of direct flights into the Kelowna airport or a short 4-hour drive from Vancouver, B.C., the Okanagan Valley is very accessible to the wine tourist.
The Okanagan Valley is, for the most part, located around Lake Okanagan. This 150 mile long lake is one of the main reasons that grape growing is viable so close to the 50th parallel. The Okanagan Valley has been called the ‘Napa of the North’ or ‘Canada’s Tuscany’ and it is not hard to understand why. It is a gorgeous piece of land with dramatic granite cliffs and a rolling, rural landscape. Lake Okanagan is the star of the show as vineyards rise up from the water’s-edge – it is nothing short of breathtaking.
The Okanagan Valley is best known for its white wines but make no mistake, this is a wine region that boasts perfect growing climates and soils for many grape varieties. The most planted grapes in the Okanagan Valley are Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is cool enough for the grapes to retain a good amount of acidity and it is hot enough for the fruit to ripen beautifully. Perfect…
Kelowna is one of the main hubs of vineyards in the Okanagan Valley and is home to some of the biggest names in B.C. wine. Starting in Kelowna is a great way to experience some award-winning wineries and get a sense of where it all began for the Okanagan Valley.
In Kelowna, be sure to visit Summerhill Pyramid Winery for organic and biodynamic wines. And, yes, there is a real pyramid here where the Cipes family ages their wines. This is a unique approach to winemaking and something you may not encounter ever again. While in Kelowna, visit also Tantalus Vineyards for exceptional Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Tantalus Vineyards were the first winery in British Columbia to be LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certified.
Next, drive for 20 minutes to West Kelowna and arrive with an appetite for excellent food and wine at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. Park your car and head into the Old Vines Restaurant for culinary delights and a magnificent view of vineyards gently sloping down toward Lake Okanagan. Once finished, and do take your time, visit the tasting room and sample Nikki Callaway’s excellent wines - pay close attention to the ‘Orchard Block’ Gewürztraminer, ‘Richard’s Block’ Pinot Noir and ‘Rosemary’s Block’ Chardonnay.
Stay the night in Penticton where a host of hotels and motels are there to serve you. Some top choices are the Best Western Inn at Penticton or the Penticton Lakeside Resort – both conveniently located with great staff and attention to detail. The Best Western is perfectly suited for families with a summer movie series in the evenings for the kids, two pools and breakfast is included.
While in Penticton, there are some great options for dining. Some favorites are Theo’s Restaurant for delicious, family style Greek food, Villa Rosa for excellent Italian food and a great wine list, and Brodo Kitchen for locally sourced, fresh and delicious food.
Touring Naramata Bench
Wake up and drive towards the Naramata Bench to continue your wine tasting. A quick 15-minute drive out of Penticton, the Naramata Bench offers many opportunities to delight in some of the Okanagan Valley’s finest wines.
First, start your morning at Upper Bench Estate Winery and Creamery located in Penticton. Here you will find some award winning wines as well as be able to sample some fantastic cheese. Drive back out the way you came and carry on to Tightrope Winery for exquisitely crafted wines. The O’Rourke’s tasting room is a beautiful piece of architecture overlooking Lake Okanagan. Be sure not to miss their Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Next, head up the hill to Terravista Vineyards to experience Bob and Senka Tennant’s love affair with white wine. This is a quaint, one on one wine experience with an intimate and friendly approach.
After working up a well-earned appetite wine tasting, pop into Hillside Winery and Bistro for some great wine and food. With indoor and outdoor seating, this stop makes a great place to relax and replenish.
A trip to the Naramata Bench would not be complete without a stop at La Frenz Winery, which has successfully been named ‘Best Small Winery of the Year’ two years in a row. Take time at the tasting room and sample all of the options available…Jeff Martin and his team produce some amazing wine. Be sure to sample the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Drive next to Kettle Valley Winery in Naramata for some stand out wines in a cozy tasting room – big reds, full whites and a great Pinot Gris await you. With over 20 years of winemaking, Kettle Valley maintains great commitment to quality while being welcoming – a great combination.
Finally, after an amazing day in Penticton and Naramata, conclude your tour with dinner at The Vanilla Pod restaurant located within Poplar Grove Winery. Try for a seat on the stunning patio overlooking Lake Okanagan – you will not be disappointed. Sip on beautiful Poplar Grove wines while enjoying dinner and the amazing view.