It’s closing time for the 2013 Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. Purple-lipped, and for some purple-toed, wine enthusiasts move into the “wait till next year” zone. Next year they’ll plan earlier for events they didn’t sign up in time for this season and perhaps sample an Okanagan wine region they haven’t explored yet.That’s just a sign of how the wine festivals are growing. There is such breadth and depth of things to do, you can’t possibly take them in all in one year – from grape stomps (hence the purple toes), garlic festivals and blending seminars to elegant wine-paired dinners, awards and tasting galas and Young Chefs competitions.
The official 33rd annual festival which is reported to attract 10,000 visitors to over 150 events throughout the Okanagan Valley ran from October 4 to 14, however, events spill over. The Signature Events got underway with the British Columbia Wine Awards and Reception to a full house at the Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna. There were 520 entries and 27 gold, 86 silver and 95 bronze medals were awarded. Best Wine Wine was Clos du Soleil Capella 2011, Best Red Wine See Ya Later Ranch Rover 2010, Best Dessert Wine Jackson Triggs Okanagan Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2011 and Bet Sparkling Wine was Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2013. (Plan your purchases by checking out the full results at thewinefestivals.com/wine_awards.) B.C. Wine Label Awards are also presented and included Best Red Wine Label to Blasted Church Big Bang Theory, Best White Wine Label Blasted Church Mixed Blessings, Best Rose Wine Label Intrigue I Do, Best Sparkling Wine Label Blasted Church OMG, Best Dessert Wine Label Harper’s Trail Late Harvest Riesling and Best of Show Wine Label Blasted Church Mixed Blessings.
Signature Events included two nights of The WestJet Wine Tastings at Kelowna’s Rotary Centre for the Arts, The Blind Wine & Cheese Soiree by Valley First at the Laurel Packinghouse, Alexis de Portneuf Presents “The Young Chefs” at The Atrium in the Centre for Learning at Okanagan College, Kelowna, Harvest Reds and BC Cheese – Autumn Perfection! at Kelowna’s Manteo Resort and finally two nights of The Valley First Grand Finale Consumer Tastings at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. Results of “The Young Chefs” were Top Young Chef to Zachary Drake, The Hotel Eldorado, Top Apprentice Team to Perry Bentley’s culinary students from Okanagan College, People’s Choice Young Chef to Hayden Duval, Delta Grand Okanagan and Guest’s Choice Favourite Wine to St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery Oak Bay M. Foch 2011.
Some of this year’s attendees may have been enticed by a new collaborative promotion between WestJet and the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society which showcased the first pouring of B.C. wineries on flights operated by WestJet Encore in July, August and September. B.C. wines featured were from wineries that are members of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society. No doubt customers who hadn’t tasted B.C. wines for many years would have been delighted in the quality and interested in learning more about how the industry has evolved.
Throughout the festival, there is a true spirit of collaboration whether it’s a specific wine region sharing the spotlight with member wineries, local restaurants working with specific wineries on wine-paired dinners, theatre and music companies presenting special performances wine receptions or community-engagement such as Oliver’s Festival of the Grape. There’s even the Okanagan Spirits Winetender Mix-Off presented by JCI Okanagan where local bartenders vie for championship with a cocktail featuring a local wine and a selection from Okanagan Spirits. This year Alex Thomas and Jessica Natalie Skinner of Ric’s Grill took the Judges Choice and the People’s Choice went to Harry Dosanj of Poppadoms – Taste India!
Like our out-of-town visitors, I can only manage so many events each festival. I’d already had a great opportunity to catch up with the Naramata Bench Wineries Association at its annual Tailgate Party in September so I moved around the Okanagan.
It was fun to watch the medal recipients pick up their hardware at Wine Awards Reception and the safe ride home program was perfect for my stay at the Best Western Plus Kelowna. We even got in a round at The Harvest Golf Club and The Quail – Okanagan Golf Club and toured The View Winery and Ancient Hill Winery.
I had the opportunity to celebrate the Westside Wine Trail’s official launch as an association in September. Held at The Cove Lakeside Resort on a gorgeous day it allowed me to check out what’s new at these wineries. I even got a glimpse at some collector cars as the Going to the Sun 2013 Vintage Car Rally convened there that same day on its “Montana to the Lake Okanagan Wine Country BC”. It’s a charity event for auto enthusiasts and draws participants from all across United States.
On my “missed it last year” list was the 2nd Annual Garlic Festival where Hester Creek and Terrafina invite local growers and artisan producers to join them in celebrating all things garlic. Admission is by donation to the Oliver Elementary Schools Farm to Table lunch program. There was live music and of course, wine and garlic tastings.
Just down the highway, I checked out the Tinhorn Creek Crush Club Pick up Party, which is strategically planned for members at festival time. Purple toes were possible here, too, as members were urged to try out grape stomping. There was musical entertainment, a lovely lunch catered by Miradoro and barrel room tours that included a sample tasting from a barrel.
Perhaps the largest and most community rooted event is Oliver’s Festival of the Grape. Along with a Fall Art Show, it features over 50 wineries, grape stomping competition, diverse food vendors, specialty boutiques, kids’ venue and Stellar Main Stage Entertainment. It is reminiscent of old community fairs where families come together and seize the joy of the day. The grape stomping competition which was once mostly between local wineries now draws teams from outside the province!
Also on my “missed it last year” list was the Barrel Bash and Stomp at Misconduct Wine Co. Here the stomping took place on the dance floor rather than a barrel inspired by talented live musicians. It started with a complimentary tasting of whites and reds and a family-style long table dinner presented by Chef Abul Adame of The Kitchen. Then with the help of Twila and Richard Da Silva we got to tap into a barrel or two and blend right into our glass.
Individual wineries and restaurants offer a myriad of options from blending seminars such as at Township 7, vineyard hikes, patio parties, cellar grazing, the 6th Annual Organic Harvest Festival at Rustic Roots and the list grows on. New this year at the Valley First Grand Finale Consumer Tastings, you could opt into free seminars on Wine Tasting 101 and/or Introduction to Cheese by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. With over 80 wineries pouring more than 300 wines from all over the Okanagan, while we sipped on wine, nibbled gourmet cheeses, artisan breads and other goodies, I consoled myself that while I couldn’t make it to all the events, there’s always next year.