I know we just came back from a road trip to Portland last weekend, but I suppose we are making up for lost time, as we didn’t make an effort to go on very many road trips the past couple of summers. This time we went stayed within beautiful British Columbia and headed to the Okanagan, specifically Okanagan Falls and Oliver. We’d been to the Okanagan before, and we’d visited most of the wineries in the Naramata, Summerland, and Kelowna already. We wanted to explore different wineries, so for that reason we focused on the southern part of the Okanagan. It was a timely trip, as the Popcorn team decided to go on a team retreat as well. We met up bright and early to avoid as much traffic as possible, only to find that it didn’t make much of a difference once you’re on Hwy. 1.
We made a quick stop at Bridal Falls to fill up on gas, where it was only $1.24/L, compared to $1.39/L in Vancouver. It’s amazing how much cheaper gas prices are once you get out of the GVRD. Once we were past Chilliwack, the drive was much more enjoyable, with mountains in the backdrop, and easy-to-drive open roads. It was quite a different drive from what you would experience going down the I-5. Unlike Vancouver, I definitely noticed a difference in the drivers and their awareness of highway etiquette. Like our neighbours south of the border, people knew to stay on the right, and to use the left lane for passing.
Although it wasn’t quite lunch time yet, we decided to make a stop in Princeton to grab a bite before hitting the road again. It was a quaint little town, and we sat down at Thomasina’s for some soup, salad, and sandwiches. Their salad servings were a little lacking, but Amy and I found the carrot ginger soup to be quite delicious. They did have a great selection of teas, and they offered freshly baked bread at the counter if you wanted to take some home.
After lunch, we got back on the highway and arrived Okanagan Falls shortly after. We were so excited that our first stop was at a winery. That’s what happens when you travel with wine enthusiasts. Our first winery of the weekend was Blasted Church, well known for their fun labels and well-balanced wines. We were greeted by friendly staff, and went on a short tour of their 70-acre property. The grapes at this time of year are not quite developed yet because harvest season doesn’t happen until late August/early September. But you can see that these baby Pinot Gris grapes will flourish under the Okanagan sun and be made into delicious wine, unless of course the deer or bears get to them first. They have an electric fence to keep them out now, but we’re told that it used to be quite a big problem before. Their pool and BBQ patio area is generally closed off to the public (it is available for rent), but it definitely enhances the look of their property. The interior of their wine shop is cute, as it has a cabin-like feel. We walked away purchasing their Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Merlot. That was a great first haul!
Being mindful of the time, we headed to the house to settle in and freshen up before attending the Okangan Falls Winery Association Party in the Park event. Tickets were $56, and it provided a great opportunity to sample wines from the various wineries in the Okanagan Falls. There was so much to taste that we didn’t get a chance to sample everything, but a lot of the wineries were there, namely Wild Goose, Blue Mountain, Blasted Church, Painted Rock, See Ya Later Ranch, Meyer Family, Stag’s Hollow. There were a few new wine players who came out too, including Noble Ridge and Topshelf. A favourite for all of us was the Jimmy My Pal white wine blend from See Ya Later Ranch. What makes this winery even better is that they donate a portion of their sales from each bottle to the SPCA. I also found Stag Hollow’s Tragically Vidal wine to be pretty tasty too.
After wine tasting, we enjoyed a lovely picnic dinner that consisted of different salads, chilli, and pulled pork burgers smoked by The Chef In Stead. A live band was also playing hit cover songs from the 60’s, which got some the older crowd up on their feet. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience on our first night in the heart of wine country, with favourable temperatures, great people, and of course, the fruits of the winemakers’ labour.
The next night, we headed into Penticton for dinner. Because we were here on the first weekend of the Summer Okanagan Wine Festival (July 7-15), a lot of venues were already booked up. We were able to land a patio reservation at Bufflehead Pasta & Tapas Room thanks to OpenTable, an Italian restaurant located inside the Lakeside Resort & Casino. Despite some negative reviews, the service was on par with what we’ve come to expect from Vancouver restaurants, and the food was satisfactory. We took this time to enjoy the wicked lakeside view which was accompanied by a beautiful sunset later on in the evening.
In addition to the Festival happening that weekend, there were well over two thousand cyclists staying in the Okanagan and getting ready for the 2nd Annual Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan race. It was neat to catch them racing on Highway 97 on Sunday morning, but it did create some traffic congestion.
We visited several other wineries over the weekend, including Painted Rock, Jackson-Triggs, and Silver Sage. Painted Rock was just up the road from Blasted Church, and when we drove into Penticton on the other side of Skaha Lake, the view of Painted Rock’s vineyard was quite spectacular. There’s just something about grapevines being planted in a very organized fashion that makes me so drawn to looking at them both up close and from afar.
As we drove into Painted Rock’s winery, we encountered a deer at the top of the hill. While it may be a treat for us city slickers to see, they are considered as pests to winemakers and winery owners. Deer or bears that regularly feast on the plants can destroy grapevines and plantations, severely affecting the amount of grapes able to be harvested, so all measures are taken to prevent them from accessing the vineyards. Their tasting room was very small, as they were in a temporary “shack” as they awaited the construction of their new tasting lounge. Albeit small, they used a very precise wine dispensing machine that can be seen in a few hotel restaurants in Vancouver. There was a $10 tasting fee, but it was credited towards any purchase made. We were impressed by the creaminess of their chardonnay, so we took a bottle home with us.
Given the late start of our day, we were very fortunate to still have time to visit a couple of wineries in Oliver. After a 30-40 minute drive and passing through tons of “U Pick” fruit stands, we reached Jackson-Triggs. Unlike Painted Rock’s humble tasting room, this winery certainly projected a more corporate look, with glass doors, and industrial-sized tanks next to their building. The staff were dressed in crisp black uniforms, and their black, bronze, silver, and gold series wines were abundantly stocked on shelves of every wall. They were offering complementary tastings for 4 wines of your choice, and were accepting donations to the local food bank. We took this opportunity to sample a few wines sold exclusively through their wine shop, and happily brought back a bottle of their Black Series 2009 Rose, which can only be found exclusively at their winery.
Our last stop before heading home was Silver Sage. I really wanted to visit this winery because their wines are not distributed to BC Liquor stores. You may be able to find one red and one white at specialty wine shops, but you wouldn’t be able to find much more than that. If you do manage to come across it in Vancouver, please let me know! My friend introduced me to their Pinot Noir a few years ago, and it was one of the best reds I’ve had in my life. Ever since that first sip, I’ve wanted to pay this winery a visit. It certainly lived up to my expectations once we got there. Not only were the staff comedic, but they were nice enough to allow us to sit in their gazebo and have a quick little lunch next to their pond. I wanted to take all the wines in their tasting profile home with us, but we didn’t have room so we had to pick our favourites. We decided on their 2011 Pinot Blanc, The Passion – 2010 Pinot Noir, and 2009 Merlot.
It was a fun weekend filled with lots of driving, wine tasting, and sun. We saw a variety of different wineries, and I can’t wait to come back for more adventures in the Okanagan.
Finally, here’s a shot of the Popcorn gang goofing around.