There’s a slew of wineries in B.C.’s Okanagan Lake region. This in itself is awesome, but it can be hard to figure out which wineries are worth your while. Travelling with my 20-pound mutt this August made the decision easier. Every vineyard I visited needed to be pet-friendly. Beyond that, I was at a loss.
Well, not quite. The wine tasting venues needed to be close to Vernon, where we were basing ourselves from. (Fun fact: downtown Vernon is equally as close to the Kelowna Airport as downtown Kelowna is.) The city is less developed from a tourism perspective, which is code for less busy, less traffic and less expensive. Here’s a look at four distinct Lake Country wineries to consider when next visiting Napa of the North.
Wine tasting at Ex Nihilo if you like art and appies
Aptly named Ex Nihilo – Latin for out of nothing, this winery is a haven for culture vultures and foodies. Brimming with local art, the tasting room is as much a gallery, as it is a spot to sniff, swirl and sip.
You can settle into a proper, full meal at Chaos Bistro, but if pressed for time, you ought to try the Courtyard Experience. For only $15, three to four wine samples are paired with two appetizers. You’ll also receive a coupon for $5 off any wine purchases, making it a steal of a deal. The tapas-style plates are worth the visit alone. We polished off slices of poblano pepper, salami and feta pizza, plus a watermelon, feta, mint salad. Sometimes you’ll get a surprise pairing like rose with flourless chocolate cake.
What to take home? Their Riesling is more dry than those overly sweet ones from Germany. For fans of red, consider Night, a big Bordeaux-style wine that can be cellared for years.
If you like attractive price points and gorgeous views: picnic at Arrowleaf
With rows of grapes unfurling down to Lake Okanagan and canopies of trees providing a shaded picnic area, Arrowleaf Cellars couldn’t be a prettier spot. The downside is turning your back away from the views as you throw back samples in the tasting room. Fortunately, you can take wines by the glass (or bottle) out to the picnic tables to enjoy. What’s particularly lovely about this spot is they allow you to bring in your own picnic. Not that organized? Order baked goods and charcuterie items from their kitchen.
Arrowleaf wines are affordably priced and sell out every year. You won’t find them in Alberta either, they’re old only in private B.C. wine stores.
What to take home? Thanks to its clean, crisp finish, Arrowleaf won best Pinot Gris in the Valley in 2017. My favourite, however, was Bacchus, a floral Riesling, Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau blend. Try saying that three times fast.
If you like drinking serious, award-winning wine head to 50th Parallel
Built from scratch in 2009, 50th Parallel is owned by former Calgarians Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel. It’s rare for farmers to look like glam rockers, so if you notice a woman teetering around in the fields in four-inch high heels, realize you’ve spotted Sheri-Lee.
This is a winery with a mission. They’re not trying to be everything to everyone. They’re hyper focused on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and aromatic whites. Only French oak is used for barrels and grapes move through the wine making process using natural gravity versus pumps. (Apparently Pinot Noir with its thin skin is sensitive to motion, so this more delicate procedure produces a better quality wine.) Impressively, the winery has racked up over 50 awards in 2016 alone, including a silver at Decanter International Wine Awards.
What to take home? You can’t go wrong with a 2015 Pinot Gris or the 2014 Unparralleled Pinot Noir.
If you want a winery and restaurant on Lake Okanagan
Gray Monk Estate Winery is BC’s oldest family run winery. These pioneers were the first to plant Pinot Gris in Canada – now considered the Okanagan’s signature white grape. Complimentary tastings run daily year round, plus grape to glass tours (also complimentary) delve deeper into each wine’s story.
Folks head to Gray Monk for its restaurant as much as its tasting room. The menu at Grapevine Restaurant plays particular homage to all the abundant produce grown in the region, but you’ll still find heartier fare such as burgers and duck confit. Despite offering three types of butter with your bread, it’s not in anyway intimidating. Sit indoors or on the massive patio overlooking its vineyards and Lake Okanagan.
What to take home? Pinot Gris, of course! But it’s also worth sagging bottles of Sparkling Odyssey White Brut and Odyssey Meritage, a spicy red.
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What are some of your favourite wineries?