Visiting the Okanagan and why it’s the most beautiful (so far)

It was the last week in May this year and it was in the low 30°C (86°F) at 10 am already. We were in the southern Okanagan visiting wineries in the Osoyoos area.

Moon Curser winery

Hey, it’s yours truly outside Moon Curser winery in Osoyoos, located in the southern Okanagan.

Typically, wine regions please the eyes, no? I haven’t been to many wine regions, but of the those I have visited, I’d have to say that the Okanagan is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful region I’ve been to. Where have I been? Admittedly, not much: Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Kelowna (Okanagan), Osoyoos (Okanagan), Walla Walla, Willamette, Napa, and Sonoma.

The Okanagan

The Okanagan is a semi-desert between two mountain ranges. It’s super hot in the summer, often going above 30°C and super cold in the winter, dropping below 0°C for a long time; sometimes very cold long enough to produce ice wine.

You’ll find a lot of Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer here. Specifically where we were, there’s a lot of Pinot Noir and Cabernet blends produced. Although there are some fantastic tasting wines produced here, I’d have to say that in general, it’s meh…

Why the Okanagan is the most beautiful wine region I’ve visited

The rolling hills plus the lake that dissects the area is breathtaking: morning, noon and night.

If you’ve never been to the Okanagan, Osoyoos in particular, here are the sort of views you can expect when you get there.

Nk'Mip

The view from Nk’Mip. Pronounced in-ka-meep.

Nk'Mip winery view

Another view of the Okanagan Lake from Nk’Mip. This winery is Canada’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery.

Adega on 45th

Adega started off as a fruit orchard. In 2009, the land became vineyards.

LaStella winery

LaStella’s tasting room had a very Italian feel to it. The tasting experience and wines were fabulous.

Moon Curser winery

The view from Moon Curser.

You can’t disagree: these are gorgeous views. As I alluded to earlier, I’ve got so many more regions to discover. Where to next? Tell me where you’ve been and why I should make that my next destination to discover.

A story of a wine store disappointment

In the province of British Columbia, there are government operated liquor stores and private ones. I went to a private wine store last week to pick up a bottle of VQA wine for a private tasting session. That was our theme: VQA wines. I wanted to spend at most 5 minutes in the store. I thought it was going to be easy peezy: Head to the BC or Ontario section, grab a bottle that says VQA. Batta bing batta boom.

Not quite. I couldn’t find the Canadian section!

vqa wines

Some of the VQA wines we tasted.

The store was organized by varietal, the store employee advised me after I asked him where the above-noted sections were. In response I asked, so you guys carry old world wines too? He said yes. I pointed out, old world wines don’t normally show the varietal, and what about new world blends? How do you find what you’re looking for then? He said that’s what he’s there for.

Well, hooray for creating unnecessary work for your employees, Store Owner!  I wonder if this person thought this whole organizing of wines thing through.

The employee (who knows, maybe he owned it) walked me around the store, not certain where a VQA wine would be. I explained to him that the theme of this wine tasting I’m going to is VQA so I needed to get a VQA wine. He adamantly said that VQA doesn’t mean anything; it just means they’re large enough to be VQA – whatever that means! I didn’t respond to that. He should know that VQA (Vitners Quality Assurance) is a regulatory system to ensure quality, similar to how they have it set up in France, Italy, Spain, and Germany.

According to the Wines of British Columbia site, “These wines are also tasted by a qualified panel for quality characteristics prior to being able to use the BC VQA designation.”

On the VQA Ontario site you’ll find the following, “Through origin verification, extensive laboratory testing and tasting by an independent expert panel, as well as comprehensive label reviews, VQA Ontario ensures precise adherence to rigorous winemaking standards and label integrity that consumers can trust.”

Annoyed, I said, you know it doesn’t have to be BC wine; it can be from Ontario. Oh, but only BC makes VQA wine, he said. Now completely annoyed, I decided to correct him. Actually, Mr. Wine Store Employee, VQA is found in Ontario too. Do you want me to google it and show you? I didn’t call him Mr. Wine Store Employee but I did say the rest. He was surprised, he didn’t know, he admitted.

I’m not saying that non-VQA wines suck and I’m not saying that all VQA wines are great either. I’m saying you can expect a certain quality level at best with VQA wines and it’s not about operation size.

He also admitted he didn’t know how he’d identify a VQA bottle. It’s always says on the label, I schooled him. My intention wasn’t to make him feel stupid. I’m a very nice person. But he was so adamant with what he was saying. No wonder people are confused when it comes to wine. They’re getting the wrong info if these are the sort of people they’re getting advice from. I would’ve rather him admitted in the first place he didn’t know, but he’ll help me look for one. I’ve been in stores where employees have said that to me and I was perfectly fine. I’m not a wine snob. It’s frustrating when someone is blatantly wrong though and their advice is taken without question because of the authority they derive from their employment at a wine store.

Oh and he was recommending a non-VQA wine from the Okanagan explaining it’s like a Bordeaux style. So I said, oh like a Meritage (pronouncing it like heritage). Yes, he says and two sentences later he says Meritage with a French twist like ‘mari-taj’. SMH.

So the moral of this story, friends? Just read this blog or leave me a comment when you have a question about wine.

What’s your everyday drinking wine?

My taste in wine is getting more expensive. My everyday drinking wine used to cost around $10, then it went to $15 and gradually $17. It’s been hovering around $20 the last couple weeks. The bf has convinced my frugal side that we should not be spending $100+ during the week on wine (1 bottle per night). That’s $400 per month and that’s not even including the weekend.

Currently, we don’t actually enjoy a bottle a day between the two of us on a regular basis, but we’d like to, and we have in the past. I suppose I must wait until my Baller status kicks in to justify this sort of spending on fermented grape juice.

So what is it these days that’s costing us $20+ each time? The last bottle we really liked was a Meritage from the Okanagan (pictured below).

Meritage VQA Canadian wine

$24.99 at the BC Liquor Store.

This craving for Bordeaux style wines all started when the bf brought home the Bordeaux release flyer from the BC Liquor Store which had wines for hundreds of dollars into the thousands. Remembering that he enjoyed the red Bordeaux style wines we tried in Walla Walla, he asked if there are cheaper Bordeaux than the ones in the flyer. Not from Bordeaux, I said. Then, pointed out that we can try Meritage, which is the American name indicating that the wine is made of any combination of the varietals that you’d find in Bordeaux wines. For reds, they are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. The one shown above is made with 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.

By the way, if you’re saying Meritage with a French accent, stop it. The word actually rhymes with “heritage” and that’s how it’s correctly pronounced 🙂

What’s your everyday drinking wine? Let me know, especially if it’s under $15!

How to Plan a Wine Tour Route in Niagara-on-the-Lake

I balked at the prices of wine tour packages when I first started exploring options in Niagara-on-the-Lake. $100 per person to visit three wineries?! Mmmm Given that I’ve yet to use this service, I can’t speak from personal experience on what it’s like, but have asked two friends who have and… well, there’s nothing offered that I can’t do myself. You simply hire a driver to take you to these wineries. If you’re willing to pay for the convenience of not trying to decide a route or don’t have a designated driver, then this service is the way to go.

NOTL

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a quaint and pretty historic town surrounded by vineyards.

I’m a planner though and I find the research part fun. Plus, my little sister who missed me so willingly agreed to be the DD. There are tons of wineries to choose from, so how did I decide on the four we ultimately visited?

  • I looked at how long tours are on average – they range from half an hour to an hour. There are more elaborate ones that offer tours with cheese and wine pairings as well as just tours with tastings at the end. I was interested in the latter.
  • Also, I was driving in from Hamilton and would not stay the night so that eliminated any planning for accommodations.
  • I found the Wine Country Ontario site really helpful and I created my wine route using that! It’s not that easy though when you don’t know where the wineries are in relation to each other. What I suggest is just selecting the wineries you want to visit, and if you don’t know which you want, there’s a short description of each winery on the same site. Just open up a new tab to this url.  If it looked interesting, I included in my route and it’s easy to remove wineries or switch the order around. The route map and directions change accordingly.
We visited: Konzelmann, Jackson-Triggs, Lailey and Riverview. A medium sized one, a large one and two small ones.

Niagara-on-the-Lake. We visited: Konzelmann, Jackson-Triggs, Lailey and Riverview. A medium sized one, a large one and two small ones.

wine route planning niagara-on-the-lake

Unfortunately, editing in Google Maps didn’t work for me. Neither did sending the route by email. However, it was easy to move the order of the wineries (see left) by dragging and dropping. Just like Google Maps, the directions also tell you length and duration of travel.

  • I also had to figure out timing on when each winery offered tours by visiting their website and scheduling them so I’d have enough time to get from one winery to the next.

Now, if this sounds complicated or too much work, then a tour definitely is the way to go. Time and the patience to research for information are required to map out your own custom route, but like I said, I enjoy that part of planning and it’s a way for me to learn a little bit in advance about the wineries I’d be visiting.

I’m hoping I can find something like this for the trip I’m planning to Walla Walla in the coming weeks.

How do you go about planning your winery tours? Would love to know of some tips for different wine regions.