It was Mrs E’s birthday this last week and as a little treat I took her for a wine tour in BC’s interior. Summerland, on the west bank of Okanagan Lake to be specific.
We set off good and early. The tour was scheduled to start at 2:45pm, and if we missed the bus, we were in trouble. It’s about a 4 hour drive, depending whether you go North then East or East then North. I took the precaution of checking the BC highway webcams and was shocked to see “The Connector” (the northern East/West option) was not only snowy… but it hadn’t been ploughed yet! Now in fairness, it was still a bit early and being the most busy route I’m sure it would have been totally fine by the time we got there. However, not wishing to risk anything, we opted to head East first and took the lower route on Highway 3 – the Crow’s Nest. This was such a quiet drive, it was a real pleasure. There were no big trucks trying to push us to go faster, and there was lots of time to enjoy this great province. We paused briefly in Hedley – little more than a kink in the road and a heavily tattooed pop band. We hastily moved past Princeton which gives me the willies. It always feels like one of those places that have been taken over by aliens. Everyone looks at you a bit weird.
At one point we slowed briefly to let an injured coyote cross the four lanes without further harm and later saw quite a large stag looking at us from the side of the highway like we were the first car he’d ever seen.
As we drove through Penticton, we could see the Skaha bluffs on the opposite shore of the Skaha Lake, and shortly after that we were driving close to the Okanagan lake and into Summerland. The hotel (Summerland Waterfront Resort) was easy to find (as most things are with a GPS), and we were comfortably early for checking in. The jolly receptionist was happy to let us check in early and we had a little while to familiarise ourselves with the locale.
We’d paid a little extra and got a top floor suite with a balcony and almost a view of the lake. The low building in the picture is a bar/restaurant, and if it hadn’t been so windy it would have been nice to walk out on the floating dock.
The room was very light and airy and there was a reception gift of a bottle of wine and cheese plates.
We’d just nicely explored the suite and it was time for offsky!
We joined the group of ne’er do wells by the front door and before long a shuttle bus arrived. This one however was “Merlot”, and we were waiting for “Kerner”. Kerner is a grape variety I’d never heard of, so I was already feeling like this would be an educational afternoon. Soon after, our driver arrived and 21 of us piled on to the adventure. One bloke loudly declared that “I’ll be asked to sit at the front soon. I always am…” Oh great – we’d got the piss-head!
A quick ride down the highway and we were at “8th Generation“. I’d seen the winery’s sign on the way into town earlier. The winery was run by a German family who had been making the grape juice sing for… surprise!… 8 generations. In 1757 Christian Schales started it all with 3 acres and in 2003 Berndt Heinrich Schales emigrated to BC as the 8th generation and started his own winery in 2007.
It was our first stop of the tour, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We were apologetically told that several wines were sold out, and given three wines I honestly can’t remember much about. One of the ladies seemed to be part of the family and was very passionate about the wines. This was a theme throughout the tour – if you could engage with “the principal” you learnt a lot about their wines and their winery. Here though I just felt like we were being thrown from pillar to post and was almost glad to be back on the bus. Mr SitAtThe Front and his wife had bought a bottle of ice wine and it was almost gone by the time we arrived at the second winery – Lunessence. Lunessence (NOT Luminescence as several people insisted on calling it) is a new winery, only 18 months or so in the making. They were quirky to say the least, but their Reserve Chardonnay was lovely! They use the phases and essence of the moon (hence Lunessence) to guide their routine and – I shit you not – they play opera to their vines. Raucous tragedies to the reds and gentle romance to the whites. The guide was Slovakian and once more exuded passion for her wines and the process of making them.
Back on the bus, and next stop was Sumac Ridge. Now this is a well known winery and I was expecting a brusque, dismissive experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I applaud the company for the care they took in offering an excellent experience. We sampled no less than 5 wines including both the Sumac Ridge and Black Sage brands. The Shiraz was great, and I was told that the Black Sage vineyard was actually further south and gave bolder reds than those here in Summerland – hence they branded them differently. They also had a port-style wine called Pipe… and we made our first purchase of the evening.
Each of the five tasters was paired with a little food to really set it off, and again – I applaud Sumac Ridge for the attention to detail. By now, I was feeling decidedly mellow, but we weren’t done yet!
Although it was included in our tour fee, the last stop at Crush Pad usually charges a $5 fee for their tasting. This is more than offset by the experience they offer and the excellent food. Everything from whiskey chocolate truffles to a hearty stew or bread and cheese dip. All of it gorgeous and all of it paired well with the wines on offer. Our favourite here was the “Narrative Fortified Small Batch”. According to their web site, this wine is a combination of Merlot and Syrah, fermented in concrete, fortified with their own grape spirits distilled on site, and aged for two years in neutral oak. Like port… but not quite.
The venue was itself interesting and I took a couple of photos of the wine currently in process of being made.
By now, “Front Seat Guy” and his wife were very well oiled (and loud). This led to her losing grip on an expensive bottle they’d purchased and its demise was mourned by all. the winery wouldn’t hear of her buying a new one and insisted on replacing it at their own cost. Amazing service.
Back on the bus for the trip back to the hotel and we were very happy with the evening indeed! After a spot to eat in the nearby restaurant we had to sit through the Canucks snatching a 4-3 defeat from the jaws of a 3-0 victory as only they can.
Sunday we had to head home, but not before we fit in one last visit. First though… breakfast! We asked Uncle Google for suggestions of local cafés and we selected “Good Omens” for no particular reason at all. The GPS took us straight to the location… where we found anything but good omens!
We chose Saxon for our last visit as it had been recommended by the shuttle driver. The GPS took us straight to it, and we were relieved to see a sign by the entrance saying “Open for Tasting”. It wasn’t a given on a Sunday morning. As we approached, the owner bid us a welcome, but told us they weren’t actually open. They’d just forgotten to bring the sign in. We were already there though… we could certainly still have a look. The owner – Jayne Graydon – was a lovely person and spent a good half hour telling us all about the winery and their products. Since they weren’t open for tasting, she went as far as letting us sample the in-progress wines being made at the moment, as well as a sample of their port style. We were enamoured by the taste of half-made Gewürztraminer and though I would not have naturally been a fan of German grapes, we were moved to purchase a bottle for the fridge.
So – if you find yourself with the opportunity to go to the Okanagan, I thoroughly recommend taking a wine tour along the Bottleneck Drive.