Susan and I worked together for many years at the Port Washington Tennis Academy. It was my first job out of college, so that gives you a glimpse into just how long it’s been. We’ve kept in touch since we both left Long Island and when I decided to go to British Columbia, I knew it would be a perfect fit for her. What neither of us was aware of was just how much we would really fall for the food, the wine, the mountains and the people of Canada’s Okanagan Valley.
We met in Seattle airport for our flight to Kelowna, British Columbia. Everything went smoothly and it was only about two hours later that we were in a three bedroom suite at the Delta Grand Okanagan. It was our first glimpse of the breathtaking views of this area and we were excited about seeing more the next day. We walked just a few short blocks to the French bistro Bouchons.
Owners Martine and Richard Toussaint greeted us and we enjoyed a delicious dinner and our first British Columbia wine. It was Brut Gold Label from Blue Mountain and it went well with the appetizers, a Smoked Salmon Purse filled with Shrimp Salad for Susan and a Baked Pear & Blue Cheese Tartlet. It was followed by La Cassoulette and Coq au Vin, and the best French Fries I’ve ever eaten. I felt like I had just arrived back in Paris instead of landing in “British” Columbia.
After a good night’s sleep, we headed to our first stop in Kelowna, Carmelis Dairy. Ofri and Ofer Barmor emigrated from Israel to the Okanagan in 2003, bringing their knowledge of running a dairy with them. Everything here is made from goat’s milk. From the cheese to the gelato, this place is definitely worth a visit.
Just down the road from Carmelis is Cedar Creek Winery, where I tasted something I never had before and would not soon forget. It was their 2010 Enhrenfelser, a German grape that’s a cross between gewürztraminer and a riesling, full of tropical fruit and made for a hot summer day. I would discover more flavorful European grapes (Chasselar and Mareschal Fouche) at St. Hubertus Winery, where the Swiss owners prided themselves on producing the unusual, but nothing was unusual as our next stop.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery is a great restaurant (a large selection of pizza and vegetarian dishes), a terrific winery, and a very unique experience. Owner Stephen Cipes has built it all – including the Pyramid that ages the wine, musical tributes and life changing events (he was married here and his daughter was born here). It’s a place not to be missed.
There was one more wine stop for us in this part of Kelowna (we were on one of five wine trails in this area). Tantalus Vineyards is one of the newest and greenest, Leed certified to be organic and biodynamic. The wines here are mostly rich reds. Susan loved the 2010 Syrah Ice Wine, which combines sweet and spicy, while I favored the 2004 Sparkling Riesling. Dinner was at another place where fruit, produce and organic is important, RauDZ Regional Table, where the homemade Apricot Peach Sangria was perfect with the Wild Boar Rigatoni in a roasted garlic cream sauce.
The next day we made the scenic drive south, with Lake Okanagan on one side and the mountains on the other. We stopped at the Penticton & Wine Country Visitor’s Center, where you can purchase (at the same cost as you would at the winery) many of the wines made in British Columbia. They sample a few a day, but we were off to check out the brand new tasting room, Road 13 in Oliver.
The views of the valley were as wonderful as the wine at Road 13, in fact, their 2010 Chenin Blanc (which is also done in a sparkling) would remain one of my favorites throughout the trip. We enjoyed the cheese platters they offer and then headed to Osoyoos, home of the only aboriginal owned winery in Canada. The Osoyoos Indian band also owns the Bellstar Hotels Spirit Ridge Resort, where our two bedroom apartment had a wrap-around balcony overlooking the mountains!
This part of the Okanagan Valley looked much more desert like than the others, with a feel that reminded us both of the Southwestern U.S. We did a short tasting at the winery (great Rieslings) and then got ready for our wine tasting dinner at the resort’s Passa Tempo restaurant, hosted by Meyer Family Vineyards. The food and the wine were well-blended and we enjoyed getting to know Jack and Janice Meyer.
We spent the next morning exploring the Nk-Mip Desert Cultural Centre before lunch and a tasting of Hester Creek Estate Winery, which has lots of light and fruity whites, like the 2008 Pinot Blanc and 2008 Sémillon Chardonnay. We then went with MJO Tours for a ride up to Cawson in the Semilkameen Valley to taste at Harkers Organic Farm and Rustic Roots Winery and took a look at Orofino, a winery made of straw bale. We saw owners John and Virginia Webber later at the Watermark Beach Resort, where they had a wine dinner paired with the menu of Chef Natasha, who prepared what Susan and I agreed was the most spectacular macaroni and cheese we ever had (with roasted peaches and bacon).
On our last full day in the Okanagan Valley, we were met in the morning by Tracy Reis of Penticton for a tour. It was the coolest day we had experienced, but we were still ready to check out the scenery. She took us up to Munsons Mountain for our best views yet of Lake Okanagan as we enjoyed coffee and scones from Bench Market. We talked and walked for awhile before going to Hillside Estate Winery, where I couldn’t decide which I liked more – the food, the picturesque setting or the wine. After lunch, Tracy brought us to Elephant Island Orchard Wines to taste their fruit-filled offerings, from blackberry to blueberry.
That night we had our first glimpse of Summerland. Local Lounge & Grille supplied the food and an array of local winemakers the beverages in the tastefully decorated Summerland Greenhouse. We listened to the very talented Ari Neufeld sing and play the guitar. The meal and wine paired perfectly, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending our final evening making new friends from another welcoming community.
Our final day in the Okanagan Valley was spent in Summerland with Lisa Jaager of the Chamber of Commerce. It was a fitting place to end our trip as it seems to be about everything this area of British Columbia stands for. We had coffee at Good Omens, sampled at Vinegar Works at Valentine Farm, revisited the wonderful Pinot Gris we had the night before from Dirty Laundry Vineyard, and had some fruity treats at Summerland Sweets (also home to Sleeping Giant Vineyard). We caught our last look at Okanagan landscape at the Kettle Valley Railroad Trestle before heading for a walk through town. After a delicious lunch at Victoria Road Deli & Bistro with Chef/Owner Roger Gillespie, we went home with a piece of it all courtesy of Lisa – our bracelets full from the Summerland Bead Trail.