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KELOWNA, BC, Aug 25, 2015/ Troy Media/ – One of life’s more pleasant experiences is to drink a glass of wine, enjoy fine dining on an open-air, sunny terrace overlooking a picturesque lake and the vineyards where your wine’s grapes were grown. This is what is on offer to the visitor all around British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan.
The Okanagan Valley is a 250 km (155 mile) long micro-climate running north-south from about the town of Enderby south to the town of Osoyoos close on the Canada-U.S. border. It is dominated by Lake Okanagan which is 135 km (84 miles) long in a zone noted for its semi-arid climate and very hot summers. With a bit of help from irrigation, the Okanagan Valley produces peaches, cherries, plums and, increasingly, grapes. Indeed, about 90 per cent of British Columbia’s wine is produced here in its 130 licensed wineries.
Visitors to the area should stop in at a tourist information kiosk or one of the wineries to pick up the various wine trail guides that will help navigate the vineyards. For those who prefer not to drive while sampling the products of wine country, several tour operators will provide transportation. Try, for example, “Napa North Wine Tours” or “Okanagan Wine Country Tours”.
The bigger wineries are tourist destinations in their own right, with sales outlets, wine tasting bars, guided tours, restaurants and other entertainments. In some cases, reservations may be required for tours and dining during the peak summer season.
The “Queen” of the lakeside venues has to be Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in West Kelowna. Not only do they have one of the most recognizable brand names of the B.C. wines, but the site of their winery has a magnificent overlook of Lake Okanagan. In addition, their buildings, designed by architect Tom Kundig, are done in an aesthetically pleasing “modern Tuscan” Italianate style. Fine dining is part of the experience on site and Mission Hill has a beautiful open-air restaurant. Nearby “Quails Gate Winery” rivals Mission Hill in the quality of its wines and the dining experience at its “Old Vines Restaurant”.
Over on the east side of Lake Okanagan, head down to the city of Kelowna’s Lakeshore Road to find three wineries: St. Hubertus, Summerhill and Cedar Creek. The latter two have popular restaurants and Summerhill is also famous for its pyramid structure wine storage building. Be sure to stop in at the Caramelis Goat Cheese outlet on nearby Timberlake Road to sample their unique product.
To see some of the southern wineries on the lake head down British Columbia’s Highway No. 97. The 61 km (40 mile) stretch of road from Kelowna to Penticton is, incidentally, one of the most scenic drives in Canada. After passing through Penticton, get on the Naramata Road on the south-eastern side of Lake Okanagan. Here there’s another 27 small wineries on a geological formation known as the Naramata Bench. I liked the Hillside Winery and Bistro along this route. Look for the sign to Munson’s Mountain along the road as you leave Penticton as it’s an overlook providing a spectacular view of the southern part of Lake Okanagan.
For some old-style luxury accommodation try the Naramata Heritage Inn and Spa with its live entertainment and wine bar in the charming little lakeside town of Naramata. Everyone has a favourite and mine is the Grapevine Restaurant at the Grey Monk Winery in the lake district north of Kelowna. Its dining terrace overlooks a narrower part of Lake Okanagan, making for a wonderfully scenic panorama.
This brief survey doesn’t do justice to the very large number of fine wineries in the region. There are many more with exotic names like Volcanic Hills, Black Widow, Mount Boucherie and Arrowleaf Cellars.
There is something else in play here as the Okanagan Valley is known for its leisurely pace, for its retirement-oriented lifestyle, its mild climate and beautiful scenery. It’s a great fit with the wine trail dining experience. Bon appetit.
| Fred Donnelly
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