Unwinding in British Columbia’s Wine Country
July ended with a quick trip to the Creston Valley for a visit with family and a visit to wineries. There are 2 fantastic wineries in Creston, located in southern BC and about 10 minutes from the US border.
In 2003 former fruit farmers Al and Marleen Hoag purchased the land on which they envisioned establishing a winery. Their elegant wine tasting bar and wine shop opened in June of 2007, and so the Skimmerhorn Winery was born in Creston. Just this year, the winery changed its menu from serving full meals to offering an interesting tapas menu featuring upscale snacks created to pair with various Skimmerhorn-produced wines. This establishment’s tree-shaded deck provides views of the mountains and of the Skimmerhorn gardens. It is an ideal place from which to enjoy wine, food and life in the summertime. For details, you can visit Skimmerhorn’s informative website at www.skimmerhorn.ca.
Right next door to the Skimmerhorn, you’ll find the younger and always-improving Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery. Their latest addition is a gorgeous outdoor pergola-covered patio located across the lawn from the wine shop. Since my last visit there a couple years ago, Baillie-Grohman also expanded their shop and wine-tasting facility. Its towering ceilings and 3 wine tasting bars make the building feel open and airy, uncrowded and relaxed. This winery hosts a couple fun events during July and August. Wine Down Fridays allows guests to drink wine and purchase supper from food trucks in the late afternoon. The food vendors are invited on a rotating schedule so that there are different food trucks present on different Fridays.
Baillie-Gorhman also offers a Bus Art Wine Tour. The title says it all. Participants board a bus, see some art, and drink some wine. They’ll pick you up at the Creston Ramada and you’ll tour 6 art studios and 2 wineries, and the tour charge includes wine, snacks and a pizza dinner. You can access more information about this winery’s events and wines at www.bailliegrohman.com.
A month after our Creston visit, late August found us heading over to Kelowna to see more family and to experience more of BC’s world-class wineries. (I know. It was a tough summer for me. I can feel your pity.)
We started at the Arrowleaf Winery, a little jewel of a place, quickly expanding and developing its reputation. Arrowleaf offers, in my opinion, the best outdoor dining from its covered deck overlooking a short expanse of grapevines with astonishing views of Lake Okanagan. I like Arrowleaf’s menu and also its vineyard-side picnic area where guests are welcome to bring their own food and to enjoy Arrowleaf’s wine. During this visit, we let the winery feed us on their patio where we had the Farmhouse Charcuterie, a wooden board laden with mostly locally-produced food which included bread, cheese, meat and apples. Delicious! Almost every winery we visited this summer asked a small fee for tastings which was waived upon purchasing wine. Want to know more? Check out www.arrowleafcellars.com.
An Okanagan wine tour is not complete without a stop at Gray Monk. This well-established winery is busy with tastings, tours and weddings, and their restaurant is very popular among locals and visitors alike. It’s the kind of place that you don’t have to dress-up to visit but most folks do. This winery has a glamour inherent in its architecture and dining that makes me want to wear a dress and heels when touring there.
We stopped by Gray Monk for a post lunch-lunch. We headed downstairs from the tasting room and wine shop to the spacious concourse where food and wine are served. Upon entering, we were asked by the host, “Do you have a reservation?” We did not, but fortune was smiling on us as we got what I’m sure is the best table on the patio. I love it when that happens! Gray Monk is also situated on Lake Okanagan and from our corner table at the front of the patio, we had a perfect view of the vineyards and water in the distance. This winery has a great website including Wine 101 with wine pronunciations at www.graymonk.com. I was corrected during one tasting (not here) regarding my wine name pronunciation. To avoid embarrassment and irritation, you might want to prepare yourself with Gray Monk’s cheat sheet!
We belong to a platinum wine club. 3 times a year, CedarCreek Estate Winery sends us a big old box of wine. The days on which it arrives are the most wonderful times of the year. We’ve visited here before but for the first time this August, we participated in one of CedarCreek’s wine tours where we were guided through the events grounds, vineyards, and wine production area. It was an excellent tour that wrapped up with a complimentary tasting. Tasty and free! What I liked best about the tour was the access we were granted to the wine storage area where oak barrels, manufactured in France and filled with wine, were stacked to the warehouse ceiling. It was a sight to behold. I wept. Feel free to find out more about the food, wine and events offered at CedarCreek by visiting www.cedarcreek.bc.ca.
Family members took us to a unique and trendy Kelowna winery called The Vibrant Vine. When we walked in, we were instructed to don a pair of 3-D glasses and then to look at the artwork hanging on the walls and at the wine labels, some accidentally placed upside down. It was all 3-D and way too fun! This cool little winery also features live music a few times a week, dessert wine served in tiny chocolate cups and a lovely patio on which to enjoy wine.
At lunch during one of our winery stops, our server suggested that we stop by one of her favourite wineries, The Hatch. This is an up-and-coming winery with a very strong hipster vibe, a rustic interior and a Meritage that knocked me over. We bought 2 bottles of it to take home. There’s also a lot of fun merchandise here if you’re looking to purchase wine country souvenirs for your winey friends and relatives.
Besides the wineries I mentioned here in detail, we also visited Tantalus and Quail’s Gate – both well worth including in your Okanagan wine tour.
Typically, we prefer touring a couple wineries at a time, savouring the scenery, the wine and the food. To pack more fun, wine and food into your day without having to worry about where to go or driving there, there are many wine tours by van offered in Kelowna. The hosts of these adventures generally pack up a cooler of cheese and crackers and take you, the wine curious, to several different locations for numerous tastings and probably a vineyard or production facility tour or two. From what I’ve read, you may also enjoy lunch at one of the wineries, but this is not usually included in your wine tour ticket. If I was short on time and only in the area for a little while with no hope of ever returning, I’d hop aboard one of these tours and relax. I think it could be a great option. Some of these tour companies pick you up right at your hotel and drop you off again. All you have to do is fall into bed at the end of your exploration of Okanagan Wine Country.
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