I know this topic has been discussed extensively on this board, but to be honest I'm a bit overwhelmed by the information - there's obviously a LOT of great wineries here!
My wife and I are headed up for a short trip next weekend, hopefully the first of many :) Planning to head out of Vancouver very early Saturday morning, and then head back Sunday evening (I know, it's very little time for a long drive). We were thinking of exploring one region on Saturday afternoon, and a different region on Sunday afternoon - maybe 4-5 wineries per region...
Any suggestions on regions / wineries for our first trip? We want to start discovering some of the best wines in the region, and we don't really care about the views, how nice the winery looks, or the food... We'd be particularly interested in smaller batch wineries that are harder to get in Vancouver. If you're familiar with Ontario wines at all, our favorite wineries are Thirty Bench and Ravine.
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Just returned from an amazing trip to the Okanagan, reporting back as promised :) I'll include the food as well, since we're on chowhound afterall. Disclaimer: I definitely would not consider myself a wine expert, but I certainly drink my fair share
Went for lunch at The Bench Market in Penticton - when I read about a brisket sandwich, I was picturing made-to-order sandwiches where they would pile on some juicy fatty brisket on fresh cut bread, and was slightly disappointed to see pre-made sandwiches in saran wrap. However, they do put them in a panini press, and the brisket sandwich was actually really delicious! Small amounts of brisket, but it was nicely balanced with the coleslaw and crunchy bread. We also had a couple wraps, some salads, all were excellent. Would definitely recommend for a casual quick lunch.
The Grand Finale Consumer Tasting was an amazing event - 60 wineries, 240 wines. There were a lot of people, but surprisingly not over-crowded at all. We rarely had to line up for any wines, we could take our time tasting, and were even able to have discussions about the wines with the winery staff. Most of the wineries brought out their best wines, many were $50+. The bottle-check service was great, you could keep adding to your box(es) throughout the night, and grab them before they run out (my wife got a few bottles of dirty laundry woo woo, which was sold out everywhere). The only problem was that we were not able to seriously taste the wines - it was a party atmosphere with live music and fun people to meet, we got drunk pretty quickly because everyone was very generous with the pours, and no one was spitting (free taxi ride home, plus it's a party afterall)… but we had a blast, would highly recommend this event
We explored the Oliver / Osoyoos area on Sunday (thanks for the recommendation Jzone - although you'll be sad to hear that Carriage House has shut down)
- See Ya Later: Definitely not the smaller boutique winery we were looking for, but it was a nice drive off the main strip which brought us past a brilliant purple lake (Mahoney Lake). They had some nice wines - we really liked their bruts, and also picked up some of their 2009 ping and 2011 gewurtz…
- Nk'Mip: We liked the idea of an aboriginal owned winery, and were surprised that it turned out to be large and commercial. The wines were pretty good, but in general they were kinda 'familiar' and not unique and exciting, we liked their 2009 Qwam Qwmt series reds, got some cab sauv and pinot noir…
- Road 13: Just stopped by to see the "castle"… none of the wines really stood out, didn't end up buying anything here
- Burrowing Owl: Lunch was amazing here, great views sitting on the patio, duck confit was out of this world, and we loved their lemon tarragon bread. Their wines were pretty good, but not super-exciting, picked up their pinot gris and syrah
- Church and State: Didn't expect to like this place - ultra-modern sleek looking winery, highly reviewed and awarded - but we absolutely loved the wines. Their Coyote Bowl series is spectacular, picked up the 2009 Meritage, 2009 Syrah and 2009 Chardonnay. Also got a few of their 2008 Quintessentials, probably our favourite wine of the trip.
- Oliver Twist: Loved this place - small unpretentious operation, super-friendly and enthusiastic owners, and fun wines - very enjoyable and interesting wines at a great price point. We picked up the Oliver's Choice and Syrah.
Had dinner at Poplar Grove - great food, beautiful dining room.. Heard great things about their 7-course meal with wine pairings ($100), but we had a couple vegetarians in the group that they couldn't accommodate. The pakoras, potato-cakes, and pastas were stand-out for us.
Next day we biked along the Naramata Bench (warning: we were a bit 'wined' out at this point):
- Poplar Grove: Returned for a tasting, we were really impressed with the wines. All of the reds were really elegant, the 2009 cabernet franc and 2008 legacy stood out for us. We also loved their 2010 chardonnay
- La Frenz: Nice small boutique winery with some very nice wines - we only picked up the 2011 chardonnay, but will definitely return for a more serious tasting
- Ruby Blues: Another small boutique winery, fun atmosphere, very decent wines at a good price point… we picked up their stiletto and gewurtz
One additional comment: It seemed like 75% of the wines there were award-winning, 50% of them were gold-medal winners… at Nk'Mip, every single wine had at least 5 awards! This was definitely very odd…
Anyways, turned out to be a very successful trip - great food, great wine, great scenery - brought back 3 cases :) Thanks to everyone for their suggestions!
interesting report - thanks for the info
QUESTION - you ate at the Vanilla Pod restaurant located at Poplar Grove winery in Penticton? - we ate there the other day - food was OK if not a bit pricey for Penticton - nice view but very stark, loud room. Could use some modern rustic makeover (i know it's a new place) --- it's odd to me to eat expensive dinner w/o even a table linen on the surface - anyway - we had salmon - it was good. Service not the very best - odd having a server stand there next to your table with hands shoved in pockets and I don't like being told that i can't drink my sparkling water out of a decent looking glass (even the designated driver has to feel like one of the party, right?) I think it would be nice to go in the summer when outdoor seating is avail.
ps - as i've said in other Okanagan threads on CH - i like Elephant Island - small, family own-operated - interesting wines not avail in the LCB shops (tho some boutique shops like in Edgemont and such do have it.)
re: Georgia Strait
Yep, ate at Vanilla Pod... we stayed away from the "large plates" and just shared lots of the small plates, we enjoyed most of the food, and we were pretty stuffed and spent about $60 pp which I thought was pretty reasonable. The service was pretty good as well. Guess the experience can vary!
We did have some Elephant Island wines at the Consumer Tasting, they were definitely interesting - we were just pretty exhausted by the time we biked to Elephant Island on our last day, and gave it a miss... will definitely give them a shot on a subsequent visit
Wow, we were in this area at the end of August, and had an OUTSTANDING lunch at the Vanilla Pod, so much so that we ended up going back there for coffee and dessert, and then back again for dinner on our last night there.
I don't mind the lack of linen when the views are so stunning, and I must admit I have a very modern design sensibility, but that room was perfect for me, I wouldn't change a thing. My only critique (and it's a very small one) is that some of the plates and bowls used were not really suited to the food that they contained (ie: deep bowl used for paella).
The food was probably the best we had on that whole trip, and the service was top notch. I also liked that they had the little blankets for guests who sat outside on the patio in case they got cool. Different strokes, I guess!
NNNNooooooooooo!!!! That sucks about Carriage House. Sigh.
And I knew I forgot one, Church and State was that one. The wine master there used to be with Burrowing Owl many moons ago. A couple years after he arrived at C&S it was right up there but smaller and more accessible than BO. Glad you found it and enjoyed it, it's one of my favs.
As for the bike tour, I guess I should have mentioned something about it being better on the first day than the last lol, my bad.
Really really happy you had a great time though and from experience the 2nd, 3rd 12th etc trips can be even more fun. Cheers.
I agree with the overwhelming amount of info. We've been a bunch of times and probably done way less than half of whats available. For your first major trip I'd start with the southern part in Oliver/Osoyoos and up to Penticton/Naramata bench area. Then maybe do Summerland/Peachland/West Bench/Kelowna next time and other Okanagan areas after that. (Here is a pretty comprehensive list) http://www.kelownabc.com/wine/winerie...
Oliver/Osoyoos has many high quality boutique wineries like you were talking about. My favorite is Carriage House which is near Burrowing Owl. BO is very popular as a small batch winery, but never really been a fav of mine. Blasted Church can be worth a visit along the same lines.
As you head up towards Penticton you go through OK falls and I love the rieslings and gewutz's from See You Later Ranch (used to be Hawthorn Mountain).
Benchland Vineyards in Penticton/Naramata used to have an amazing Zweigelt but I haven't seen it for a while. Red Rooster is popular but never been a fav of mine. If you hit the timing right you can rent some bikes and cycle from Penticton to naramata and hit dozens of wineries along the way and not worry about how much you're drinking :)
You will probably need more than one trip so don't worry about rushing though it. Just stay where you are as long as you are still having fun and finding cool stuff and leave the rest for the next trip.
Thanks for the suggestions! Will put those on the list... Looks like the Okanagan Wine Festival is on, so might be pretty busy.
We're thinking it might be a good idea to go to the Valley First Grand Finale Consumer Tasting on Saturday - $65.00, 60 wineries and 240 wines, bread and cheese, and free taxi ride home :) Have you been to this event?
I've been to the consumer tasting. It can get super busy, so it's best to do a tour around the various wine rooms first (I do it with a glass of bubble in hand) and pick and choose as you can't try everything! trust me! Then pick your fave whites and while trying them suss out the reds you want to try, or do it by winery. I try and hit some of my fave wineries (Fairview Cellars, Wild Goose, Lake Breeze, 7 Stones, Quail's Gate, Dirty Laundry etc) and then try some I've never tried before. And remember to grab a (free) bottle of water on the way out for the taxi ride.