Summer days are long and sunny in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, one of the world’s most northerly wine regions reaching northward of the 49th Parallel on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Located a four-hour drive east of Vancouver, the long and narrow 160-kilometre stretch of rolling vineyards is also home to a thriving local and artisanal culinary scene, often organic, its southern tip sitting in desert conditions with a strong wind that keep pests and disease at bay. Add a series of lakes that provide gorgeous water views, and you’ve got the ingredients for a delicious road trip.
North to south, here are five must-visit wineries where you can also savour bites – sustainable, seasonal, or artisanal – along with a stunning view. New or old, these wineries and corresponding places to sip, dine and unwind are a reflection of the subregions’ flavours and the bounty that is uniquely Okanagan.
The Stewart Family was one of the first to plant grape vines in the Okanagan, transitioning from the historical tree fruit that dominated the valley. Stone fruit is still a hallmark of Okanagan cuisine, and its aromas and flavours are resplendent in the white wines throughout the valley. Known for their benchmark pinot noir wines in the northern and cooler Okanagan, Quails’ Gate’s tasting room and their Old Vines restaurant and wine bar offer sweeping views of Okanagan Lake from the inside and out - on their patio. Pair their pinot noir with the elk tartare.
Led by chef and sommelier turned winery owner and winemaker Heidi Noble, Joie Farm started as an Italian-inspired agritourismo farmstay and cooking school. 2004 saw their first vintage as a winery with wines made from Alsatian and Burgundian grape varieties, and this spring saw the launch of a new tasting room and small menu centring around an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven to enjoy on picnic blankets on the lawn or at bistro tables on the patio. Try the pancetta cotto and zucchini pizza, neopolitan style, with their new pinot noir/pinot meunier/chardonnay sparkling rose as you take in a bucolic view of orchard trees with the mountains and water as the picture-perfect backdrop.
Hyper seasonal is what you’d call the menu at Liquidity’s bistro. The menu doesn’t change by the season, but by when each fruit and vegetable becomes ripe for the picking, bringing farm to table to its apogee. Try the warm olives, pasta, and the flatbreads, which are more like pizzas because of their generous toppings – really everything on their menu. Both its tasting room and bistro are designed to make you want to linger, enjoy the panoramic view as well as at the art – inside and out. Liquidity produces one of BC’s best viogniers, but it’s their plans for a dedicated pinot noir program to keep an eye on for the future.
Pinot Gris is the Okangan’s most planted white grape, and Tinhorn Creek has a delicious example, along with fuller-bodied reds from Bordeaux grape varieties. Located in the south Okanagan, Tinhorn Creek partnered with the owner of Vancouver’s Gavroche to create Miradoro restaurant next door. Floor to ceiling windows inside and a patio that wraps around two sides of the building give panoramic views of the valley below. Must try: Albondigas, beef and pork meatballs with tomato sauce and arugula, and their octopus.
At the southern and warmest tip of the Okanagan Valley, where temperatures are most extreme in both summer and winter, is Canada’s first Aboriiginal owned and operated winery, named after the Osoyoos Indian band Nk’Mip (pronounced Inka-meep). There are two places to dine here, both with views of Osoyoos Lake. Talon restaurant at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa next door offers upscale dining and the prettiest, most delicious oysters on the half-shell, and a range of game meats: rabbit, venison, and elk. The patio restaurant at the winery is farm to table using traditional Aboriginal techniques. Full-bodied, easy-drinking red blends and Canada’s most famous wine, ice wine, head up their lineup of wines.