May 25 - 28 A trip to B.C.'s Okanagan Valley
It had been years, probably 17, since I had visited the Okanagan Wine Region and Mat's 1st visit ever. With a handful of appointments at the top food spots, hotel and winemaker visits, we began our experience.
People are friendly, the area is small and a lot of recommendations are available upon request.
Our best hints were being told the Valley is a 3 hour drive from top to bottom. So, we focused on the top section of the valley our 1st day, the second day we drove down to the middle area and the third day we moved to the lowest section of the valley and finished our trip there.
Our 1st day we arrived mid afternoon and hungry, Salted Brick for lunch was perfect. Local centric, owner / operator, a nice start, seasonal fresh ingredients. And for dinner Raudz is a great addition to what I knew of as a sleepy food scene twenty years ago. Crab cappuccino and preserved lemon risotto were our favorite items but there were so many that we didn't try.
The third day, we stopped in Penticton to pick up a picnic lunch. Brodo Kitchen on main street is owned by a former Four Seasons Hotel chef that I had worked. This stop was both fun and tasty. Knowing Paul's level of experience, I knew the food would be great. We had a chance to catch up while our lunch was being prepared and packed, which was very nice. I would highly recommend Brodo Kitchen for a casual lunch, catered event or a picnic. Another great food experience in the valley for us.
Kelowna is a town of 150,000 population that increases to 500,000 in high season, so we recommend going off season to enjoy the lake front view rooms, multiple restaurants, wineries and picnic areas without crowds.
The wine country is located around the lakes, really stunningly beautiful scenery and the growth of wineries is staggering. We visited many main stays that I've known from the early days but added in many new hot spots and a couple that were just on the way. We struggled to find the perfect map until the last day. Each small region has a map but to view the entire valley, the OK Falls directory has this full map on the back.
Our high light wineries were as follows.
#1 Blue Mountain - South of Okanagan Falls
This was on the top of my list from twenty years ago. Their sparkling wines sold out regularly and the still wines were and still are so worthy, we brought more than a case home. We tasted with the son of the founders who is the current winemaker, Matt. Each of the wines has such a classic quality without a doubt of sense of place, 100% Estate. Driving to Blue Mountain Winery also assists with this, at the top of a hill at the end of the road, well removed from everything. Wonderful!
#2 Tantalus - Kelowna
One of our 1st stops of the trip and we had a connection from Sonoma from a few years ago. While tasting, David the winemaker came by and ended up chatting with us for the remainder of our visit. The wines which we had never tasted were solid. We even got to taste their limited production ice wine. Small production and 100% Estate, definitely worth a visit. We bought a bottle of the Sparkling to enjoy in our hotel, which was unique, searing acid and refreshing.
#3 Quails Gate - West Kelowna
We started with an early lunch in their restaurant over looking the lake. A lot of wineries have restaurants which is not common in CA due to the laws. Kind of backwards to me with the height of Canadian laws but, this is the only winery restaurant that we ate at.
After our lunch we met with Nikki the winemaker, she invited us into the cellar to taste barrels. We tasted through Chardonnays, Pinot's, a few Bordeaux varietals and finished with a pallet cleanser Pinot Gris. Multiple cooperages all from 2014. It is so fun to hear the trials and tribulations from the cellar perspective, which tasting rooms don't really offer and Nikki has personality plus. Winemakers bonding.
We had our last night in Osoyoos, five minutes from the American border. We opted to stay in the town and search for our final valley dinner by foot. We found a nice little wine bar style spot that
we enjoyed, Dolci Social. All local wine by the glass and small plates over looking main street.
Three days was sufficient to get a lay of the land. We enjoyed seeing yet another different wine region than the one we live in. This trip proved to be a great refresher of the Okanagan and proof that it has upped it's game in every sense.