If you love less travelled but excellent wine regions, make British Columbia a must visit in 2020. Not only is the whole of the Okanagan Valley and its small towns gorgeous and navigable, the wines and food are off-the-chart delicious.
Fly into Kelowna, BC, on Alaska Airlines, an easy hop from Seattle, and a charming lakeside town on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Be bold and stay at the best hotel in town, The Eldorado, which just happens to be on the lake with access to boats, paddleboards and lounge chairs on their beach. The boardwalk is perfect for an evening stroll before hitting El Dorado’s new whiskey bar, aptly named The Whiskey Bar, before heading to their lakeside restaurant, The El, which showcases only the finest locally sourced cuisine and wines.
A fun nearby wine tasting is in the garage of the owners Ria and Trent Kitsch’s stately home is their namesake Kitsch Winery where very funny winemaker, Grant Biggs, turns out single vineyard wines from the sun-soaked slopes of their lakeside vineyards—gorgeous views and yummy wines from an irreverent team who like to experiment.
Quail’s Gate Winery
Experiences are everything in wine tasting these days, and Quail’s Gate Winery has one of the most unique with their “Black Out Blind Tasting.” Seated with a sommelier, guests taste through an array of wines poured into black wine glasses, so their color and varietal hints are disguised. Only the aromas and taste remain as tasters are coached to determine what is actually in their glass, for a test of skills and discovery as choices and guesses bring guests closer to the reveal. After working through the blind tasting, stunning views await you in the tasting room for the full Quail’s Gate lineup.
Mission Hill Family Winery
When it’s time for lunch, tour the expansive Mission Hill Family Winery and marvel at the outdoor sculpture as well as the underground barrel aging caves. Architecture is key here and creation of the caves from volcanic rock is evident through the dripping water and mossy walls. When there, try Mission Hills’ top of the line Oculus Bordeaux blend and make sure to continue the experience by pairing additional wines with some of the most inventive cuisine in the region at The Terrace while overlooking rows of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Red Fox Club
Another creative dining experience is at the Aboriginal-inspired Red Fox Club beneath Indigenous Winery, where modern culture and indigenous history meet in wines produced by Robert and Bernice Louis, descendants of the Syilx people who first lived along the shores of Lake Okanagan. Pair the wines with Red Fox Club’s food, inspired by native foods and recipes, for a unique and memorable meal of elk burgers, local salmon, heirloom grains and produce.
Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards
Downtown Kelowna is full of local restaurants and boutiques as well as breweries and wine tasting rooms in a quaint village with plenty of parks and outdoor activities. Biking and kayaking are the perfect weekend adventures before exploring the farmer’s market. After, a stop at Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards to try their grower-style sparkling wines is a little like a trip to Champagne. Savor their vintage and non-vintage sparkling wines from site specific vineyards made in the Methode Champenoise style. Enjoy woodfired pizzas, salads and other meats and produce cooked in their massive brick oven. As usual, with vineyards stretching to the edge of the lake, the views are spectacular.
Covert Farms is a totally different experience with their farm animals, tractor tours and family activities. Parents sit leisurely at picnic tables and patio tables drinking blends like Roussanne/Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon while their kids pet alpacas or jump on the massive outdoor bouncy field.
Checkmate Artisanal Winery
Checkmate Artisanal Winery is a bit new in the area. Winemaker Philip McGahan, formerly of Williams Selyem, is making wine with the two varietals the von Mandl family (also owners of Mission Hills) produces from decades old Chardonnay and Merlot vineyards they consider the best expressions of the varietals in the area. Tasting is out of a temporary but hip converted container while the major winery, designed by architect Tom Kundig, who worked magic at the Mission Hills Winery, is being built next store. Overlooking a good chunk of the valley, the views rock here, too.
Hester Creek Winery
If looking for a scenic and luxurious place to stay in the area, reserve at the Hester Creek Winery’s guesthouses, the Villa Suites, which are in close proximity to their winery and tasting room and yet another world-class restaurant, Terrafina by RauDZ. A perfect getaway combining accommodation overlooking rolling vineyards and the wines produced there paired with artisanal local cuisine. Another option for lodging is the high-rise Penticton Lake Resort where suites face the Lake with floor to ceiling windows and luxurious bedding and amenities.
TIME Winery + Kitchen
In downtown Penticton, TIME Winery + Kitchen is a father-daughter project from one of the founders of the wine valley, Harry McWatters, and his daughter, Christa. Converting an historic old theatre into a production facility, the restaurant and tasting room was a labor of love and the perfect home for TIME and McWatters Wines. Although Harry passed away recently, his memory continues in daughter Christa’s vision at both TIME and her latest project, Evolve Wines. What Christa wants to make at Evolve are fun, easy drinking wines that women (and men) enjoy. Affordable but well-made wines as well as yet another gorgeous lakefront location make Evolve the perfect end to a multi-day Okanagan Valley trip. The tradition of fine winemaking that Harry McWatters started carries on but, as always, history evolves.
Barbara Barrielle is a long-time publicist, writer, actress and producer. She writes about travel, wine, food and entertainment. She is published regularly in major newspapers, magazines and online travel sites. As a producer, Barbara has a feature film, BREAK NIGHT, in distribution and three more going into production. She is also completing a documentary on the wine country fires of 2017 and their effect on the wine industry and the people who work in it.