How to Visit Okanagan Wine Country Effectively
Okanagan wine country is BIG. We’re talking a 200 km stretch of breathtaking lakeside vineyards and wineries full of award-winning bottles. So how can you make the most of a 1-5 day visit? Here’s how.
1. Make a Tasting Objective
Determining your tasting objective for your visit will set a blue print to dictate which wineries and regions to visit, expand your knowledge of Okanagan wine, and ensure you get the most out of your trip.
Are you curious to learn how the same grape variety expresses itself differently from various sub regions? Surely, we know the same grape doesn’t taste the same from every winery — so what does the difference in growing conditions really taste like? Maybe you are intrigued to discover and experience new wineries that you haven’t tasted from before? Or you are inspired to taste a spectrum of wines to bring a new collection of favourites back home?
Whatever you are after, make sure you keep it at the forefront of planning. It will help you get the most out of your visit. Here are a few tasting objectives that will ensure you experience both delicious wines and come home with new knowledge and meaningful bottles to prove it:
- Focus on a grape varietal (or style) within a single sub region.
Ideal for someone visiting 1-2 days because the wineries will be in closer travel proximity to one another.
Within a single sub region you will notice a specific varietal or wine blend style represented differently from winery to winery. This can be because of physical site differences (ie. aspect or soil) and / or the result of different winemaking techniques (ie. oak use or different fermentation practices). This is a great way to gain first-hand experience of how the subtlest of differences can impact the finished wine — even when the grapes are grown within only a few kilometers from one another.
- Focus on a grape varietal (or style) through multiple sub regions
Ideal for someone visiting for 3-5 days due to the extra travel time required between sub regions.
This is the best way to experience how various sites or sub regions showcase their fruit differently. Riesling for example, from a relatively cooler spot, like Lake Country, is likely to express itself differently from more southern regions, like the Naramata Bench, where the temperatures are typically warmer.
- Pursue a specific sub-region
Ideal to spend 1.5 days per sub region.
Choose one sub region and pay close attention to the varietals that show best there. Osoyoos, for example, often showcases fleshy reds much better than whites, but you can be the judge and see if you agree! Remember, that wineries often source fruit from sub regions outside of their estate’s address. For example, if you taste a brilliant Meritage in Kelowna, the fruit may have been sourced from a vineyard in a more sun-drenched vineyard further south. Feel confident to inquire!
2. Ask Questions
This is your chance to chat with the pros about their wines and get information straight from the source.
Don’t be shy, ask questions! Regardless of how sophisticated your wine knowledge is right now, there are many questions you can ask to learn more about the wine being poured for you. If asking about specific vineyard sites or details about the fermentation feels daunting, consider asking other questions like:
- What is your top selling wine?
- Why do you think that is?
- Which of your wines do you like to drink after your shift?
- Which varietal do you think this site does best with, and why?
3. Pace Yourself
Choose higher quality tastings over a higher quantity of tastings. You won’t regret it.
- It is ideal to visit about 3 wineries per day. This will give you enough time to adequately taste and learn about the wines and allow yourself to create a mental library to compare and contrast all the wines you have tasted. If you taste too much in one day, you run a risk of palate fatigue. You’ll know you are experiencing palate fatigue if the wines start to generally all taste the same.
- While you’re in the tasting room, do not be afraid to spit. It is 100% okay to ask for and use the spittoon. In fact, it is the most respectable approach to tasting and absolutely necessary if you want to taste like a pro. A few new tasters have told me that they are bashful to ask for the spittoon because they think it might imply a snobbish dislike of the wine. Not the case! When you ask for the spittoon it actually makes you look like a sophisticated and respectable taster who really cares to understand the wine.
4. Grab Hold of Wine Country Beyond the Tasting Room
The Okanagan has so much to offer beyond just the tasting room. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of hopping from winery to winery, but it’s also important to allow yourself time to really experience the Okanagan beyond the four walls of a tasting room.
- Grab a Bite
Make sure you stop to eat the sun kissed produce of the Okanagan. There are plenty of different venues to refuel and recharge with mouth-wateringly fresh local produce.
Some wineries have picnic-friendly patios where you can bring your own basket and enjoy the view. And others, like Joie on the Naramata Bench, have exceptional an picnic program that serves classic European dishes made with local ingredients. You can stop in for a tasting and then grab a bottle to pair with the picnic they create just for you and enjoy both on their patio.
A few wineries host exquisite sit-down dining experiences where chefs have created multiple courses for you to enjoy while basking in vineyard and lakeshore views. Dining at a winery’s restaurant also grants you access to the hard-to-come-by library selection of back-vintages that are only available through their restaurant’s wine program. Some of my favourite winery restaurants are Liquidity in Okanagan Falls, Quail’s Gate in West Kelowna, and Tinhorn Creek in Oliver.
The Okanagan boasts some of the most coveted orchard fruit in the country. And there’s no better way to recharge — or stock up for a picnic — between tastings or activities than to swing by a fruit stand. A true oasis to any highway traveller, one of my favourites is The Little Acre fruit stand. It is a great pit stop on highway 97 between Peachland and Summerland. This fruit stand has an ample selection for freshly-picked produce, ice cream, and home baked goods — not to mention a stunning cliff side view of Okanagan Lake.
- Visit the Beach
The Okanagan is as much a lakeside beach destination as it is a wine destination. And, depending on how you like to beach, there are lots of options throughout the whole valley (even a nude beach about half way up the Naramata Bench). Make sure you take the time to just chill at the beach and enjoy the refreshing lake water. And, if you’re like me, you’ll bring a bottle to enjoy with your toes in the warm sand after splashing in the water.
- Float the Channel
Bring one of the bottles you picked up from a winery visit and float down the Penticton channel. You can rent a tube from Coyote Cruises and use their shuttle service to get back to the starting point once the float is finished. Of course, you don’t have to bring a bottle on voyage with you, but having wine in hand on the float makes it that much more of a blissfully relaxing way to spend a couple hours in the afternoon. Yes, it’s a little touristy, but for all the right reasons — it’s so much fun!
Before you go, do remember!
- Most wineries have a $5-$15 tasting fee but will waive the fee if you purchase a bottle.
- Call ahead to see if the winery allows walk ins for tasting or if you should book an appointment.
- Make sure you pack a cooler to store your purchased wines in the car between visits. The summer heat can damage the wines (or even cause the bottles to burst under heat pressure) if left in the car.