Food and Drink 

Happy vineland and wine land under the Okanagan sun

Last month we spoke B.C. wine. This month I want to do valley talk.

I’ve always been a bit put off by the Napa North moniker that many over-active headline writers have applied to our wine country jewel, the Okanagan Valley. For the longest time the Okanagan wasn’t even close to resembling Napa Valley, not the topography, not the wines and certainly not the food. As for the accommodations, well, suffice to say there wasn’t much that would appeal to seasoned food and wine travellers.

That’s all changed in the summer of 2006 and it’s only going to improve over the years to come.

Best of all, the modern Okanagan Valley is managing to carve out its own identity that really isn’t anything like Napa or Sonoma, nor for that matter most other wine regions in the world. The simply prepared local foods – nothing too fancy, but food made with quality ingredients – is symbolic of the whole new identity.

Over the last month, I have had the chance to be in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valley on four separate visits and after experiencing so much, it’s difficult to suggest where you might start to explore Okanagan wine country.

But despite all the change, my wine country travel advice remains the same: follow the wine. Most of the Okanagan’s best are on a short leash (especially white wine from the 2005 harvest) and if you want to get your share, you must visit the source. Once you have secured your wine, you can turn your attention to eating, playing and sleeping.

Let’s begin by eschewing the spectacular but stark Coquihalla (Highway 5) drive in favour of the slower, more picturesque Hope-Princeton-Keremeos (Highway 3) route, and stop at Herder Vineyard and Winery in Cawston. Count yourself lucky if you can pick up a bottle or two of the Herder Twin Benches Chardonnay 2005 ($25) , and then enjoy the gorgeous ride out the east end of the valley, over the mountains into Osoyoos and the south Okanagan.

One glimpse of the spectacular east bench will draw you through the town of Osoyoos onto the Nk’Mip lands that border the east side of Osoyoos Lake. Here Spirit Lodge will welcome you to some very upscale accommodations, and a stop at Nk’Mip Vineyards will allow you to pick up some of winemaker Randy Picton’s Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2004 ($25). Lunch is served daily on a patio with some of the most breathtaking views on the continent. Be sure to look across the lake to the west bench of Osoyoos and the soaring vineyards of Osoyoos Larose.

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