Planning your summer jaunt for '07?
Add BC (as in British Columbia, Canada) to the list of wine-friendly escapes. BC's Okanagan Valley is an undiscovered gem just North of the U.S. border with picturesque hills, orchards, vineyards and the impressive 68-mile long Okanagan Lake. The area offers a wide range of activities beyond wine tasting and gourmet eats: golf, waterskiing, cycling, hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing plus skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the winter. There are some 65 wineries located throughout the Valley with many receiving international acclaim. The region reminds me California's Napa Valley but without the mass wine tasting crowds.
To get there:
Kelowna, the region's main commercial center, is just a short flight from either Vancouver or Seattle or roughly 4 hours via car from Vancouver.
Wines to taste:
Of the over 75 wines tasted on a recent trip, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Syrah stand out among the pack. A few great Bordeaux style blends were also notable.
Spots not to miss:
Quail's Gate Estate Winery and the Old Vines Patio Restaurant with breathtaking water views. Try the Chesselas-Pinot Blanc blend with notes of fresh honeydew melon, fresh grass and a lemon citrus finish or the Family Reserve Pinot Noir with dried cranberries, toasted cedar notes and a fresh finish.
Mission Hill Family Estate--one of BC's largest wineries set atop a hill overlooking Okanagan Lake with seasonal terrace dining. Don't miss the Gewurztraminer with passion fruit, guava and lychee notes or the Pinor Noir Reserve with sweet cherry and raspberry notes, hints of clove and vanilla, light tannins and a lingering cherry spice finish.
Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery--just down the road from Mission Hill and Quail's Gate, this small family-owned winery produces a killer Semillon with intense herbal and citrus aromas and a creamy mouthfeel plus a show-stopping Pinot Noir Ice Wine with baked apple, dried cherry and caramel notes.
Nk'Mip Cellars--North America's first Aboriginal owned and operated winery overlooking Osoyoos Lake at the southern end of the Valley. Sample their stellar Pinot Blanc with its explosion of tropical fruit, pineapple and crisp, racy finish and the delicate fruit-driven Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir with cherry, strawberry and vanilla notes.
Borrowing Owl Vineyards and Sonora Room Restaurant with outdoor terrace dining overlooking the vineayrds and nearby Osoyoos Lake. Sample the Pinot Gris with bright citrus notes and the Pinot Noir with dried stawberry, raspberry and spice flavors.
Blasted Church Vineyards--a small and unpretentious winery set in a log cabin overlooking Skaha Lake. Don't miss the Chardonnay Musque with tangerine, grapefruit, pineapple notes and a clean, crisp finish or Hatfield's Fuse white blend with floral aromas, tropical fruit, green melon and a crisp finish.
Where to Eat:
While in Kelowna, don't miss Waterfront Wines, a newish retail shop stocked with BC wines with adjoining bar/bistro featuring creative Pacific Northwest fare. Also notable is The Rotten Grape along Kelowna's waterfront with small plates inspired for wine pairing. 231 Bernard Avenue, 250-717-8466.
Where to Stay:
The area boasts a number of small boutique hotels, travel lodge motels, and an interesting array of bed and breakfasts. My top pick: Accounting for Tatse Bed and Breakfast on the western side of Lake Okanagan and rooms with lake-view vistas. Owned and operated by husband-wife team Rosemary and Michael Botner, Accounting for Tatse offers tastefully wine-inspired rooms minutes from Quail's Gate and Mission Hill Family Estate. The Botner's will also customize a wine tasting tour during your visit.
For more information and to plan your Okanagan escape, visit Tourism Kelowna.