Exploring wine regions around the world is always high on my travel itinerary and I’ve been fortunate to visit many. Because of Canada’s strict import restrictions, it’s an activity I enjoy in the moment rather than purchasing for later consumption, but this is also the reason why I continue to visit BC’s Wine Country each year to stock my larder.
A few weeks ago, I set off to the Okanagan for another KoshiBanChan adventure with my 2 pals. Leading up to our trip, the BC wildfires were bad and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make the journey. Lucky for us, on the date of our departure, the reports were favourable so we jumped in the car and headed east towards the Thompson-Okanagan.
The Okanagan Valley wine region stretches 160km north-south and therefore the varietals grown differ from top to bottom. For my tastes, I enjoy the wines from the Naramata Bench all the way to the southern end in Osoyoos, which is where we concentrated our efforts for this trip.
Over the years, my friends and I have done quite a bit of wine tasting and I’ve learned to understand that the enjoyment of wines, like so many other things, is subjective. I also like to think there are no bad wines, only those that don’t suit your palate. I want to believe every winemaker is producing something that is appreciated by a certain segment of the population.
I have an open palate when it comes to wine. I can sip a white almost “too sweet” for my liking but find an occasion to serve it, or taste a red so young with tannins to strip all moisture out of my mouth and understand what 5-10 years of sitting would do to it. But that’s not to say I’m a snob about wines though, actually very much the opposite.
My friends are very different than me, and their likes/dislikes are clearly defined, almost to the point where I can taste and know which of them will give me a slight nod yes or a yuck face no. But I have to give them credit, I’ve dragged them to so many tastings over the years that I believe their palates have opened as too, their enjoyment of wine.
As we arrived late afternoon into Summerland, we knew our first few stops with hopes of finding some new treasures as well as old friends.
8th Generation – I love their half bottles of frizzantes, Integrity and Confidence, which are perfectly sized for mid-week when you feel like celebrating just making it through the workday.
Okanagan Crush Pad – I enjoy their various labels, Haywire, Narrative and their new Free Form line of natural wine. But best of all is their always friendly tasting room staff.
Detonate Brewery – A newish brewery in the industrial area of Summerland was a good stop because sometimes you need a break from just tasting wine.
Theos – The Okanagan isn’t strong in uniquely delicious cuisine, so this stop for Greek food, inspired by ingredients from the Okanagan, has become our regular in Penticton. We always order way more than we should, but do so because the leftovers seem to come in handy when we’re in need of something to snack on throughout the trip.
Poplar Grove – While the tasting experience here has never been “warm”, the view is one of the best on the Naramata Bench. As an added bonus they have picnic tables outside, which we used to enjoy our leftover Theos for lunch.
Kanawawa Wines – Richard Kanazawa has some of my favourite wines in the Okanagan and on this trip, became my favourite winemaker. I love his focused unpretentious and approachable manner and appreciate that he’s generous in sharing his knowledge.
I found out more about this whole natural wine movement, and how I’d be seeing more of it in the Okanagan wineries in the last year as well. He explained in easy terms, the definition and the process and I learned that his wines were natural as well. I was a bit surprised as his have none of the murky, cloudy, funkiness that I often associate with natural wines.
I can only visit 4-5 wineries in a day before I completely blow my palate, which means it’s hard to add new places to taste when I have so many must repeats. I did little research on different wineries for this trip thinking I had more than enough to fill a few days of wine tasting. But after stopping at Kanazawa on our way to the Naramata Bench on Day 2, our wine schedule shifted dramatically. Richard’s recommendations for wineries led us to small rooms, mostly family-run, where we felt the passion and thoughtfulness to the wines.
Daydreamer Wines – A small winery with a cute tasting room with luscious reds and a very special sparkling shiraz from Australian-born winemaker Marcus. His wife Rachel took us through the tasting and the connection and pride of their wines came through in our visit.
Lock and Worth Winery – This tiny room, shares their space with Poplar Grove’s cheesery and tasting room, which meant a paired wine & cheese tasting. While they only had 2 wines to taste, the Square One Cabernet Franc was worth the visit.
Roche Wines – Another newish tasting room in Naramata, but which I was drawn to the Roche family’s background in Bordeaux.
I had hit the wall after all these tastings and it was time to move south towards our home base for the next 2 nights in Osoyoos.
Maverick Estate Winery – Our first stop the next day was the small family-run South African-styled winery with an impressive slate of whites and reds.
Intersection Estate Winery – Another new find was Intersection Winery located on Highway 97. Here we tasted first hand the effect that terroir has in a wine as we sampled 2 Merlots grown side by side, but in 2 different soil types, silicate sand and alluvial wake.
Bartier Bros. – The Bartier brothers actually hail from the Okanagan, and make wine to that are honest expressions of where they came from. It was another winning stop in my books as I walked out with a white, red and rose!
Firehall Brewery – Located in the basement of Oliver’s original Firehall and a much-needed beer tasting after so much wine.
El Sabor de Marina – Some of the tastiest tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico. So when I asked the cooks, “where are you from?” and the answer was “Honduras” I have to admit I was disappointed for a second. But the flavours couldn’t be denied
Mooncurser Vineyards – A return visit because we all have favourites at this winery high up on the hill overlooking Osoyoos Lake.
Kismet – Masala Bistro – I remember eating a great Indian meal in Oliver years ago and mentioned it when we were at Kanazawa. Richard recommended we check out Masala Bistro attached to Kismet winery for dinner. We were tired so we opted for takeout. While the food was good, I was hoping for better. On the other hand, it was probably better than many of the options for dining in the area for a simple dinner. The view out of the back of the restaurant was a pretty sight though.
Vanessa Vineyard – Heading home through the Silmilkameen via Highway 3, I noticed a tasting room that we’d heard people talking about through our trip as the winery that brought legendary winemaker Howard Soon out of retirement. The wines were delicious but most with a price tag on the upper range of what I’m willing to pay, but I did pick up a Syrah which I know will be a knockout in a few years.
Orofino Winery – Our last stop was one that I’d visited many years ago, but hadn’t returned to this cute boutique winery since then. I was curious though as I’d recently delighted in Orofino wines at 2 separate restaurants in Vancouver.
4 days of wine touring and I’d finally hit the wall. All I wanted was to get home and crack open a bottle and savour a full glass (or 2) without having to think about complexity, flavours, acidity, tanins, etc. Lucky I have a few great bottles to choose from…