Even the most dedicated city dweller occasionally needs a breath of fresh air.
You’ll need a plane ticket to get there from Montreal, but once you arrive, you’ll want to whip out your camera at every turn to capture the stunning mountain views and rippling lake. Treat yourself to fresh local cuisine and wash it down with wine from one of the many wineries that dot the lakeshores a short drive outside town.
All this and much more is possible in Penticton, at the center of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley wine region, as I discovered on a recent trip courtesy of Penticton & Wine Country Tourism.
When it comes to wine, the Okanagan has a little something for everyone. In red, you’ll find juicy Merlot, herb-laced Cabernet Franc, hearty Cabernet Sauvignon, an occasional earthy Pinot Noir, and a variety of Bordeaux-style blends. In white, expect fruity Pinot Gris, perfumed Gewürztraminer, cool-climate unoaked Chardonnay, and the occasional delicate Riesling.
A good place to start your trip into wine country is the B.C. VQA Wine Information Centre, offering information to help you organize your tour, a large selection of B.C. wine, and even a crash course in wine tasting. If your spitting technique needs a little polishing, this is a fine place to practice. And if you need some morning fuel before hitting the trail, a stop at The Bench Artisan Market may be in order. This cozy café does a mean breakfast burrito, and their salmon and egger sandwich was the perfect choice for a savoury breakfast lover like me. Bonus points for their tasty, locally-roasted organic coffee.
From there, it’s a short drive north to the Naramata Bench, a small but fast-growing wine region along the Okanagan Lake. Bordeaux fans may find their fix at Laughing Stock Vineyards, where David and Cynthia Enns craft skillfully-blended wines with an elegant complexity. For something a little more home-grown, try Kettle Valley, a small winery run out of a garage. Tim Watts and Bob Ferguson make a wide variety of wine, including an unusual and delicious pink Pinot Gris. If it’s hot out, their Gewürztraminer slushie makes an unorthodox but refreshing treat.
Several Naramata wineries also have restaurants: Poplar Grove Winery is home to the Vanilla Pod, where chef Bruno Terroso sources local ingredients for his creative dishes that pair well with Poplar Grove’s excellent line-up of wines (and yet another gorgeous view). His roast lamb with romano bean and fresh herb ragout was an excellent match for Poplar Grove’s smooth, sage-infused Legacy blend. Somewhat more casual, the intimate bistro at Hillside Estate offers simple yet flavorful dishes where fresh, local ingredients are the highlight.
If you’re pressed for time, it’s worth heading straight to Okanagan Falls, south of Penticton, where you’ll find Blue Mountain Winery. Not only does the estate have a swoon-worthy view, it has wines to match. Start with their lively sparkling wine, move on to their clean and elegant, yet lightly creamy, Chardonnay, and finish with their fresh, fruity, and earthy Pinot Noir. Not far from there, dog lovers will be charmed by See Ya Later Ranch, where you can leave your furry friends to graze in the “barking lot.” A little further south near Oliver, Tinhorn Creek, has a broad portfolio of impressive wines. If you’re lucky, you can also catch a concert in their on-site amphitheatre.
If you’re in need of a little R&R after all that hectic wine tasting, do like the locals do: grab an inflatable tube and float the river channel that runs between Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake. The beer-filled cooler is optional.
Penticton & Wine Country Tourism, www.tourismpenticton.com, 1-800-663-5052