You might be surprised to learn that British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan region is a favourite holiday destination for Australians, who flock to three of the area’s main ski resorts – Sun Peaks, Big White and SilverStar – in winter. But if you visit this region in summer, spring or autumn, you might be even more surprised to see that the transformation from white winter wonderland to a lush paradise of vineyards and orchards is almost magical.
The lure of the “vine change” lifestyle is attracting a new breed of winemakers to the Okanagan Valley, where wineries, farms and restaurants have popped up around the region, especially the area around Okanagan Lake between Oliver and Kelowna.
A driving tour is a great way to explore the Okanagan Valley and Kelowna is a good place to start. Long smooth roads sweep past vineyards and cellar doors. Gentle rolling hills wind past farms and orchards. Pick cherries, taste goat cheese, smell lavender, breathe fresh air and taste wine.
The aromas and flavours of the Okanagan are herbal and fruity. Think sage, clover, honey and elderflower. The region is also a rich historic growing region for fruit trees: apples, pears, peaches and apricots thrive in the fertile soil. And market stalls are packed with plums, cherries, raspberries and blackberries.
Pair a local wine with locally-sourced dishes at a winery restaurant; spread out a blanket and enjoy the view while sipping wine and tasting artisan cheeses. Here are some wineries in the three Kelowna wine regions (Kelowna, Lake Country and Mount Boucherie) where you can eat, drink and meet the makers.
Set on the ridges around Kelowna, many of the Kelowna wineries have the advantage of incredible views of Okanagan Lake.
Kelowna wineries: Summerhill Pyramid Winery, CedarCreek Estate Winery, Tantalus Winery, St. Hubertus Estate Winery, Calona Vineyards, Sandhill Estate Winery and House of Rose Winery. Here are three favourites.
1-Summerhill Pyramid Winery
As soon as you walk into the tasting room at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, you will get a feel for the buzz that this winery is creating. The menu at Sunset Organic Bistro is simple yet sophisticated with a range of local creations and the views of Okanagan Lake are to-die-for.
How about a crispy duck confit salad or pan roasted local char from Oliver served with Israeli couscous, goat cheese, arugula and sundried tomatoes with lemon vinaigrette and basil?
Go on a guided tasting tour or join the Pyramid Experience tour, where wines at Summerhill are aged. The four-story pyramid is a 1:16 replica of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt and constructed according to the principles of pyramid geometry.
Summerhill’s organic Riesling is fresh and fruity for summer. But the star is a 2014 Chardonnay ice wine that costs $A150 for half a bottle!
The vineyard is biodynamic and the winery is one of 10 British Columbia certified organic wineries (by the Certified Organics Association).
Wines are produced with grapes that are grown organically without using synthesized fungicides, herbicides or insecticides. Chickens are used for weed control and lavender and buckwheat are grown between the vines.
You’ll be able to see how its done as you wander around the gardens to the historic 1800’s cabin of the First Contact Exhibit.
2-CedarCreek Estate Winery
One of the original eight wineries that pioneered winemaking in British Columbia, the winemakers at CedarCreek Estate Winery have had three decades to perfect their craft.
This dedication has won CedarCreek the accolade of “Canada’s Winery of the Year.”
The winery’s philosophy of respecting the land, honouring tradition and pursuing perfection
CedarCreek is a local social hub with a roster of activities, such as concerts, winemaker’s dinners and sunset yoga. Between May and September, a table at the Vineyard Terrace Restaurant is a great spot to sip an award-winning Riesling or pinot noir while dining to fabulous vineyard views.
Another winery with spectacular lake views and a historic vineyard, Tantalus also practices sustainable grape growing and winemaking. The first table grapes were planted at Tantalus in 1927, which possibly makes it the oldest continuously producing vineyard in British Columbia.
One reason Tantalus makes such good wine is the age of their vines. The vineyard’s 1978 riesling, 1985 pinot noir and chardonnay vine plantings are the anchors.
Wine critics, such as Jamie Goodie from the UK, have showered accolades on the winery’s riesling. Goodie describes the 2014 Old Vines Riesling as “powerful and expressive with real personality.”
The uber-modern LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a certification for buildings that are environmentally friendly) winery has an impressive gallery tasting room decked out with art by top Canadian artists.
Lake Country Wineries
30km north of Kelowna on the sunny west-facing slopes that stretch from the shoreline of Okanagan Lake is a pretty pocket of wineries.
Lake Country wineries: Gray Monk Estate Winery, Arrowleaf Cellars, 50th Parallel Estate, Ancient Hill Estate Winery, Blind Tiger Vineyards, Ex Nihilo Vineyard and Intrigue Wines.
4-50th Parallel Estate
Curtis and Sheri-Lee Krouzel moved from Calgary to build their dream wine destination at 50th Parallel Estate.
With her designer sunglasses, high heels and sparkly nails, there’s no doubt that Sheri-Lee Krouzel brings glamour to winemaking. Read this post and watch the video interview about how the pair from the city is making “glamour farming” work in the Okanagan Valley.
50th Parallel Estate has fantastic views of Okanagan Lake and has a sloping southwest site and red granite soil perfect for pinot noir. They also make riesling, pinot gris, and gewurztraminer.
The lake’s reflectivity and heat allow their vines to grow, even during the cold of winter.
In Latin, Ex Nihilo means “out of nothing”. It’s a name (and description) that resonates with co-owner Jeff and Decoa Harder and Jay Paulson. The partners were able to see the potential of this spot near Okanagan Lake.
The outdoor setting at Chaos Restaurant has a homely feel, with comfortable outdoor couches facing the vineyards. The boutique winery displays artworks of local artists and the function room among the barrels is an atmospheric spot for a private party.
Try the sparkling pinot noir rose for its rhubarb aftertaste, riesling and a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc called “Night”.
6-Gray Monk Estate Winery
A European-style chateau set within a landscape of mountains, vineyard and lake make Gray Monk Estate Winery a top pick for a picture-perfect spot.
This winery is an Okanagan pioneer when it comes to cultivating vinifera varietals native to central Europe and the Mediterranean.
The family-owned winery has a busy tasting room, banquet facility large enough to host functions and a restaurant with fabulous views of the vineyard and lake.
George Heiss planted the first pinot gris in Canada here in 1976 and aptly chose to name the winery after the Austrian colloquial name for pinot gris.
Pinot Gris is the most planted varietal in British Columbia and Gray Monk is the oldest family-owned winery in the province.
Mount Boucherie Wineries
The vineyards of Mount Boucherie, an extinct volcano in West Kelowna, produce wines flavoured by rich volcanic soil.
Mount Boucherie wineries: Mission Hill Family Estate, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, Mount Boucherie Estate Winery, Beaumont Vineyards, Rollingdale Winery, Volcanic Hills Estate Winery, Little Straw Vineyards Estate Winery and Kalala Organic Estate Winery.
7-Quails’ Gate Estate Winery
A favourite with the locals, Quails’ Gate Winery is owned and run by the Stewarts, a pioneering family of horticulturists since the turn of the 20th century.
Old Vines Restaurant is one of Canada’s top restaurants and a farm-to-table favourite of local foodies who meet for brunch, lunch or tapas at Happy Hour.
The winery’s wine portfolio includes pinot noir, chardonnay and chenin blanc. The quality is consistently high. Winemaker Grant Stanley, from Vancouver, worked for six years at New Zealand’s Ata Rangi estate.
8-Mission Hill Family Estate
Mission Hill won Canadian Winery of the Year at the National Wine Awards (2013) and is not only impressive for its wine but is equally impressive as a winery destination.
The 2015 Terroir Collection No. 43 Reflection Point Pinot Noir was named ‘Best Canadian Pinot Noir’ and ‘Best Canadian Red Wine’ at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London in May 2017.
The winery has a charming European ambience, with a 12-storey bell tower, an amphitheatre, courtyard, lovely gardens and reception hall decorated with a Chagall tapestry.
Join a winery tour or a culinary workshop and dine at the Terrace Restaurant. The kitchen sources fresh local produce from the estate’s gardens and local farmers to create an evolving seasonal menu.
Mission Hill practices sustainable and bio-dynamic agricultural practices, such as foraging, organic farming and takes part in the Vancouver Aquarium’s OceanWise program.
Discover British Columbia
Okanagan Valley Wine
Kelowna is a comfortable drive from Vancouver and within easy reach of three winemaking regions with over 30 wineries. The greater Thompson Okanagan region has 211 wineries and growing.
As the region has the right conditions to support sustainable and organic grape growing, a few vineyards have made the transition to using organic techniques. These sustainable grape growing and winery practices, such as drip irrigation, composting and recycling, will help preserve the environment for future generations.
Visit the BC Wine Museum for an overview of local wines and consider planning your trip around one of these four seasonal wine festivals.
Getting to Kelowna
Kelowna is a four-hour drive from Vancouver. If you’re flying from Australia, which is a 14-hour journey from Brisbane or Sydney, Air Canada has connecting flights to Kelowna.
Manteo Resort is a family-friendly hotel not far from the centre of Kelowna. The waterfront Smack DAB restaurant is a favourite with the locals.
Sparkling Hill Resort is a Swarovski-owned glittering lakeside resort with an impressive European spa.
Are you interested in a delicious Canadian experience? Here are some food trails to choose from.