I know that this blog is focused mostly on skiing and snowboarding, but I simply could not resist sharing my recent DIY Wine Tour in the Okanagan! I am a wine lover, and during these last few months of staying at home during the pandemic, I may have increased my love for wine even more. I’ve been to a few wineries in norther California and in Sonoma, and have always wanted to travel back there. Well, with all that’s been going on, a wine tour that is a bit more local made a lot more sense. So, I decided to plan a trip to the Okanaga with my mom.
The Okanagan Valley is BC’s premier grape growing region. With an ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 250 kilometres, across sub-regions, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing a range of varietals from sun-ripened reds to lively fresh and often crisp whites. Basically, the perfect place for a wine tour.
The planning begun, and after looking at some guided wine tours, we decided to do the wine tour ourselves as there were a few wineries I simply could not miss.
Before you know it, we were flying to Kelowna to start our tour! Flying into Kelowna airport is the best airport to fly to as you’ll be landing right in the heart of the Okanagan valley. We flew directly from Toronto on Air Canada. (I started my journey in Montreal as that’s where I live, so on the way back I connected via Vancouver to get back home).
Below is an overview of all the wineries we visited, but I’ll diving into each of the wineries we visited day by day.
An overview of all the wineries we visited.
DIY Wine Tour in the Okanaga
Day 1: Arrival and Head to Penticton
As soon as we arrived, we picked up our rental car at the Kelowna Airport and headed down to Penticton. We stayed at the Penticton Lakeside Resort which was right on the water. It was a nice little hotel that was very well situated. Once we settled into our rooms and had something to eat, we started wine touring!
See Ya Later Ranch
Our first stop was See Ya Later Ranch. Located in the Okanagan Valley near the south end of Skaha Lake and nearly two thousand feet above sea level, See Ya Later Ranch is one of the highest elevation vineyards in the Okanagan Valley – an area where nature has created conditions perfect for growing grapes destined to become award-winning wines.
The vineyard’s slope, proximity to the lake, warm days and cool evenings all encourage healthy ripening of cool weather varietals including Pinot Noir, Riesling and the largest planting of Gewürztraminer in North America, with sixty-five acres devoted to this aromatic, cool climate varietal.
We tasted their reds and I really loved the rosé and their Shiraz! We had a flight of reds to taste from, and from all of them, those two really stood out!
Painted Rock is located very close to Penticton, their wines are produced exclusively from fruit grown on our single estate vineyard located on Skaha Bench, the Eastern bench of Skaha Lake in Penticton, British Columbia. We weren’t able to have a tasting of their wines as we didn’t have a reservation (and due to covid, booking your tasting at some of the more popular wineries is highly recommended).
However the landscape of the winery is GORGEOUS. I would certainly go back.
Day 2: Day Trip to Osoyoos and Similkameen Valley
Nk’Mip Cellars was the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America, and they are inspired to express their culture in everything they do. The Winery itself is a bold celebration and a strong reflection of their commitment to authenticity and deep respect for their colourful past.
We visited the vineyard without any reservations for a tasting, and were told we’d have to wait a few hours to have a tasting. That said, we were able to get a reservation for lunch at the Patio Restaurant located right beside the winery. Our server was very friendly and gave us a few sips of some of their classic wines like the cabernet sauvignon, the riesling, and their signature, the Talon. There was another wine we sampled, but I can’t remember which one it was. We both LOVED the riesling and the cab sauv, so that’s what we had for lunch. (and what I ended up bringing home!)
The location of Nk’Mip Cellars is very special as it’s on sacred land. You can hike some of their trails, enjoy the cultural centre, and if you’re lucky to get a room, stay at the gorgeous onsite hotel.
Next we headed off to Corcelettes Estates.
Corcelettes Estate Winery, located on 150 acres in the Similkameen Valley, blends passion, precision and science to craft expressive, small lot premium wines. Led by Charlie and Jesce Baessler, the skilled team at Corcelettes is committed to creating exceptional wines and experiences. In history the word “Corcelettes” described a royal garden.
We showed up to Corcelettes without reservation, and really should have as it’s a very small winery. We were lucky that we got a spot on their patio for tasting. Our host was incredibly knowledgeable and for some reason reminded me of Sandra Bernhard.. anyhow..
The day of our visit, the smoke from the fires in the USA was coming in so we had a bit of a foggy view, however… that did not impact the wine tasting.
We tried their sparkling wine, their rosé, their Gewurstraminer, their Pinot Noir, their Syrah and their Meritage. I LOVED their sparkling and their rose, and picked up their Pinot Noir for someone I know will love it (it’s a Christmas gift, so I can’t say who just yet!)
It was a great winery to end our day in the Oysoyoos / Similkameen regions before we headed back up to our hotel in Penticton.
Day 3: Leave Pentiction and Head Up to Kelowna
On our third day, we checked out of our hotel in Penticton and headed back up the Okanagan valley towards Kelowna. There are so many amazing wineries on this drive, so it was hard to choose. There were two iconic wineries on this route that we had to stop at in West Kelowna, and then there was one organic winery that I wanted to try, that winery was our first stop.
Sage Hill Wine
Sage Hills is a family owned and operated winery specializing in organic low-intervention wines. I never thought something like low-intervention, organic and hand picked could make such a difference in the wine tastes, but it really does. Every wine that we tried got better and better. I fell in love. The vibe, the methodology and the passion… it all had me sold.
The wines are made in small batches, and are made without additives, such as fining agents, nutrients, tannins, and colour. I tried the 2017 Pinot Gris, the 2018 Gewurstraminer, the 2019 Syrah Rose, the 2018 Pinot Noir, and the 2018 Merlot. And i’ll tell you… I LOVED THEM ALL! The Pinot noir was extra special (at $64, you’re limited to 1 bottle). They had an orange wine, I didn’t try it as i’m not a fan of orange wine, but it was one of the few wineries we had visited that had an orange wine offering.
As you can imagine with my excitement and love for most of their wines, I joined their wine club. This was something that most every winery was offering, but what I loved about this wine club was that I get to choose which wines are shipped to me. (as long as I choose 12 bottles). And the shipment is only twice a year, I know the wines will go to good use!
Mission Hill Winery
Mission Hill Family Estate is situated in the heart of British Columbia’s breathtaking Okanagan Valley wine country. This winery could be considered “the” winery of Kelowna (very big advertising budgets, you see this winery’s ads as you come off the the plane), so it get very very busy. There are a variety of tastings and a very exclusive restaurant on site. The grounds are GORGEOUS, but unfortunately for us we didn’t have a chance to taste the wine as they were booked solid. Just another reason to go back!
Also, it’s good to note that Mission Hill wine is available across the country fairly easily, so I could always do my own tasting from home.
It’s worth a visit just for the architecture and perfectly manicured grounds alone.
Quail’s Gate Winery
As one of Canada’s foremost family-owned estate wineries, Quails’ Gate has shaped the development of the wine industry for over six decades, focusing on making the Okanagan Valley a true culinary destination. This winery was another very busy winery, and by some luck we got a tasting without any reservation (although I highly recommend one). They have an onsite restaurant and you have have picnics on their grounds. Our host during the tasting lives just outside of Montreal, so it was an interesting convo and experience as soon as he found out we could speak french.
We tried 4 wines from their Collectors series which included a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon, the Chardonnay, the Pinot and the Syraz. I tried the Rosé as well. I loved the Cab Sauv and picked up a bottle to bring home. The Rosé was ok, but not as good as the previous wineries, so I didn’t buy any.
Day 4: Kelowna and Country Lake Wineries
After spending the night in Kelowna, we decided to venture north for our fourth day of wine tours. The focus was Gray Monk winery and Arrowleaf which are literally beside each other.
Gray Monk Estate Winery
Gray Monk Estate Winery, which was established in 1972 by George and Trudy Heiss. The Gray Monk Estate is comprised of 75 acres of lush vineyards overlooking Okanagan Lake, in addition to premium grapes sourced throughout the Okanagan Valley, to produce some of the world’s finest wines.
The great thing with this winery is that it’s a no reservation, first come first serve type of destination. So we got in for a tasting without issues. What Gray Monk does best is white wines. Their Gewurztraminer, their Pinto Gris and their Riesling were excellent! (and I even purchased some Pinot Gris to take home!)
We had a lovely lunch at the Lookout Restaurant on side which has some of the best views of the Okanagan valley and lake. It was a great way to end our wine tour! We booked our lunch reservation the day before to make sure we had a spot.
After Gray Monk, we drove over to Arrowleaf, again without reservation, and decided not to leave the car. The parking lot was packed and there was no way we were getting in without a reservation. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, if there is a winery you absolutely want to visit, make a reservation!
Bringing Wine Back Home
So this is something I was asked A LOT when I was traveling (and buying wine). There are a few ways to get wine back home to you if you live in Canada.
The first way is pack the wine in your luggage. I brought home two bottles that way without issue (I use these amazing wine skins, and it if the wines are surrounded with clothes to create that cocoon affect in your luggage, the wine bottles should be find throughout the journey.
Additionally, as soon as you clear security at the Kelowna airport, there is a great little wine shop which caries a lot of the Okanagan wines. I was able to pick up some NK’MIP wines, and some See Ya Later bottles (although the didn’t have the rosé I wanted). As long as you don’t have to exit security at any of your connections, you can carry that wine home (and they package it in a sturdy box for easy transport). I connected via Vancouver to get home to Montreal, and I brought my bottles right through without any issues.
Lastly, you can ship from a lot of the wineries. I shipped a box a wine from Corcelettes (which arrived exactly 1 week later) and I joined the wine Club at Sage Hill which means i’ll get a box shipped to me in November/December. With the wine clubs at most locations you’re not paying shipping, at Corcelettes as it was a one time purchase the shipping was about $45.
So there you have it.
Our 4 day DIY Wine tour of the Okanagan. 4 days was JUST the perfect amount of time. Maybe you could have even done just 3, or break up the wine tasting with 1 day of hiking or relaxing. It’s a lot of wine tasting! And unless you take notes, you’ll easily forget the wines you loved.
Canada has so much to offer and the Okanagan is a must see. If you love wine, then this wine tour of the Okanagan needs to be added to your bucket list.
Until next time!
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