Travel & Culture

Falling for the South Okanagan

October 12, 2019

In autumn, Mother Nature clearly announces that you’ve entered the Similkameen Valley arriving from the west via the Hope-Princeton highway. Visitors are treated to a stunning parade of golden fall colours dotting the landscape, directing them to the brilliantly hued vineyards of the south Okanagan. Crisp temperatures, snow-topped mountains and extra elbow room in tasting lounges create a more-relaxed experience for touring around wine country, especially on a (motorized) bicycle. Granted, some wineries close their tasting rooms for the cooler seasons, but many others recognize there are patrons seeking a less-frantic approach to tasting new or favourite wines. Local, ultra-knowledgeable tour guides can curate unique experiences based on personal preferences to point you and your best wine-sipping pal(s) in the right direction for a fabulous fall getaway. —Michele Marko

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stay. In autumn in Osoyoos, staying lakeside at the Watermark Beach Resort means spectacular views of the water and surrounding mountains from the cosy comfort of a villas or suite. If you’re a hearty soul, suit up in your warmest fleece to sip morning coffee on the expansive, beachfront deck, or detox with an evening soak in the resort’s hot tub. Fully-equipped kitchens make serving up snacks or breakfast a snap (a supermarket is just around the corner to stock up). Image by Norah Hamade.

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explore. The best view of the south valley—from Oliver to the U.S. border—is undoubtably from the Golden Mile Bench. Sample Checkmate Artisanal Winery’s signature Chardonnay or Merlot while taking in the awe-inspiring, unobstructed view of valley. Presently in a temporary (but stylish) structure, the permanent tasting room/winery, under renovation, has been designed to feature the spectacular vista. Work your way down the bench, visiting the award-inning Road 13 Vineyards, and finish at Rust Wine Co.— the farthest south on the bench—which also boasts beautiful views from its spacious terraced patio. Over at Covert Farms, on the weekends in the off season, hop on the farm truck to see what regenerative farming means, a practice that goes beyond the organic farming label. Seeing is understanding, and some adorable farm animal sightings are part of the tour. The tasting room is also be open for sampling wines after the tour. If you’re feeling energetic, Covert provides access for a hike to the majestic landmark McIntrye Bluff.

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sip. Booking with a local tour guide not only helps you narrow down what wineries you want to visit, but also means you have a designated driver (tour operators don’t drink on the job). Moxie Wine Tours offer packages for as few as two people or as many as 17. The tours are meant to be small and personal, so wine lovers get an experience tailored to their tastes. Billed as understated luxury, tours can be a little as $119 a day per person, depending on the chosen itinerary. The guides have a wealth of knowledge about the wineries and the region as a whole. If you’d like a more-adventurous approach to seeing the wineries, Richard Cooper’s Heatstroke Cycle tour may be just the ticket. Don’t be put off by the name—his bikes are electric, so the hills are a snap to scale. Born and raised in the valley, Cooper is a fount of useful information.

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savour. Right on highway 97 in Oliver sits family owned winery vinAmité. Its busy location doesn’t hint at the serenity inside or on the rear balcony overlooking the five-acre vineyard. Wanting to be known primarily for its wine, vinAmité is as well known for its creative, outrageously delicious charcuterie plates crafted from homemade patés, terrines, saucisson sec, wine jellies and local cheeses. The tasting room is small but stylishly appointed with a French-country inspiration. The balcony is set up accommodate those wanting to indulge in both wine and charcuterie, even in cooler times—there’s a basket of throws to ward of the chill, and vinAmité also can arrange platters to take back to your accommodation. Bread and wine are an obvious pairing, but Platinum Bench winery takes it many loaves further with uniquely flavoured breads—balsamic, strawberry and chocolate, for example—that can be paired with all its wines. The tip from the locals it to head over early in the day as the bread usually sells out by early afternoon. And, finally, if you’ve ever wondered how to pair wines with Indian cuisine, Kismet has solved that quandary. The winery restaurant, which humbly began with the winemaker’s mother whipping up butter chicken to accompany the wines in the tasting room, has expanded to a full-menu operation of elevated and flavourful South Asian dishes. It’s open for both lunch and dinner Thursday to Sunday. Image by Leila Kwok.


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