Any time of year is a good time to explore British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. But none is better than fall. Summer’s searing heat has cooled, leaving just a breath of lingering warmth captured by the stony bluffs that line the valley’s lakes. The crowds, too, have gone, leaving roads less travelled and wide open for exploration. And as harvest approaches, fall’s vibrant brush paints the valley’s vineyards and orchards in vivid scarlets and ochres. Here are some of the best things to do in wine country’s most delicious season.
Behind the scenes, winemakers are frantically getting the new vintage into tanks and barrels. But in the tasting rooms, the crowds have thinned out after a busy summer. That makes fall the perfect time to sample the Okanagan’s just-released red wines. Expect to taste some powerhouse vintages from the last few sun-drenched seasons. One great way to tour the wineries is on two wheels – Heatstroke Cycle in Osoyoos even lets you add power to your pedaling with electric bike rentals.
The only thing better than tasting wine at a winery is dining there, too. The Okanagan Valley’s winery chefs are developing a uniquely local wine country cuisine based on exceptional ingredients from fields, streams, forests and even the backcountry wilderness, where foragers pluck wild asparagus in spring and porcini mushrooms in fall. Two winery restaurants to try: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate in West Kelowna and Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver.
Bringing colourful fun to downtown Kelowna is the new Hotel Zed, in a primo location across the street from the lakefront and steps from the coolest eateries in town. Expect free bikes, a ping-pong lounge, retro shuttle van and private mini-disco. Who needs sleep anyway?
Busy bees have been buzzing away throughout the Okanagan, pollinating all those plants and making sweet, sweet honey. Sample their wares at Arlo’s Honey Farm in Kelowna, as well as Penticton Lakeside Resort and the Kelowna Delta Grand’s new Oak + Cru restaurant, which are all abuzz over their own hives.
With some 170 licensed wineries, the Okanagan Valley has no shortage of wine. But the valley has something for thirsty visitors of all tastes: sip creative craft brews at Kelowna’s new BNA Brewing Co.; try locally produced cider, including Broken Ladder made with apples from BC Tree Fruits growers; or sample absinthe from BC’s first craft distillery, Okanagan Spirits.
Connect with the place your food comes from with a visit to Covert Farms Family Estate near Oliver. Hop aboard a vintage 1952 Mercury truck for a tour through fields, orchards and vineyards, then wrap things up with a wine tasting and a few tasty purchases from the farm shop. Prefer to pick your own produce? Covert Farms offers that, too. Alternatively, head over to Davison Orchards in Vernon, which offers a u-pick apples and pumpkins in fall, as well as family-fun train rides and irresistible pies.
Never let it be said that folks in the Okanagan don’t know how to party – it is wine country, after all, and harvest season is the best reason to celebrate. The biggest party of all is the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. It lasts 11 days (Sept. 29 to Oct. 9) and features about 100 events from Lake Country to the Similkameen Valley, including tastings, seminars and unforgettable winery dinners that boast the best of the annual harvest.
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