A serenity settles into the Okanagan as the bustle of tourists fades to a gentle hum and hilltops are adorned with frosting. The magic continues as communities and wineries string up the lights and glisten up the valley from mid-November to New Year’s.
I love the light up ceremonies and Santa Claus parades in all the small towns. It’s truly a time for community to gather and even if you don’t know a soul, you feel at home. Summerland, for example, sparkles as it kicks off the Bottleneck Drive open houses with a festival where shopping spills out to Main Street. Aromas of hearty soups, yeasty local breads, freshly brewed coffee and cocoa with gingerbread cookies and other holiday treats tempt you as you stroll through the kiosks of handmade crafts and treasures. For adults, there is wine tasting, and for kids, so many fun activities. The evening is punctuated with a kaleidoscope of captivating fireworks. It’s enough to take the Grinch out of anyone!
Note to self, in 2014 take advantage of the room and shuttle packages offered by Summerland Waterfront Resort and others. Then I can participate in SummerGate Winery’s moonlight harvest and take in more wineries without concern. This year the new tasting room at Tyler Harlton Wines made my list where hints of apple filled the air from a special mulled apple wine prepared just for the season.
Still adjusting to the cooler temperatures after a tropical vacation, I missed the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country’s Winter in Wine Country event which is one of the first of the season. It’s on the 2014 agenda, as is the Westside Wine Trail in West Kelowna, Lake Country’s Scenic Sip, Kelowna’s Downtown Grapes & Grains, Fab Five and Lakeshore Wine routes. Thankfully, I visited many of these wineries from spring to fall.
To check out the Holiday Cheer Open House of the Okanagan Falls Winery Association, I returned to the stunning tasting room at Painted Rock Estate Winery where Tyson Archer led me through a private sip and spit and offered Christmas goodies. Just a glimpse of the view over Skaha Lake from Penticton to Kaleden to Okanagan Falls is worth the drive! I hated not swallowing those amazing wines: If only I had a chauffeur. At Meyer Family Vineyards, I caught up with the talented team of Sharon Misselbrook and Monica Horning and bumped into a friend and kindred culinary spirit Jeannette Montgomery. The tasting was paired with delectable snacks and I noshed on cookies with hot chocolate.
Next up I toured the Naramata Bench Wineries Association Holiday Open House & Artisan Faire. It was an occasion to finally see the funky wood sculptured tasting bar inside Monster Vineyards. Who knew making mulled wine with rosé would yield such delicious results? Check another Christmas item off my list! I stopped at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery en route to the Artisan Faire held at the Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa. Packed up with more bottles to add to my Christmas wine collection as well as crafts and baking, I made a final stop at Misconduct Wine Co. before calling it a day.
While the temperatures dipped when I embarked on the Similkameen Country Christmas of the Similkameen Wineries Association, the sun shone brightly and the reception at the wineries melted any chills. It was my first visit to Clos du Soleil and it was fun to see Jean-Felix Boulais, vineyard manager at home in the rustic tasting cabin. I couldn’t resist dropping in to say Merry Christmas to the folks at Orofino Winery, watch some crush pad hockey and pick up the lovely Moscato. I ran into David Brooks, usually seen entertaining guests on the Top Cat Tours although this time Aaron Godard was pouring for him and his friend Anthony Chiew from See Ya Later Ranch. Perhaps another time I will join in on the buddy system!
Then it was off to Forbidden Fruit Winery where I’d never been. Here I found Proprietor Steve Venables hosting the talented ET2 media duo of Erick Thompson and Erin Trainer out touring with her Mom Mary. Amid the aroma of Christmas goodies and bouquet of wine scents, there was an amazing collection of artwork and jewellery by Steve’s partner Kim Brind’Amour and local honey and jellies. Entertainment compliments of the winery canine and feline crew brought smiles, too!
It was also a day to catch up with George Hanson, the affable proprietor of Seven Stones Winery. He was holding court in the tasting room while down in his dramatic winery caves artist Dwayne Woloshyn was on hand to discuss his art there on special exhibit. While I was ready to call it a day, I couldn’t resist a stop at Rustic Roots Winery to pick up some Harvest Moon Organic Apple Cider by the talented team at Harker’s Organics. One more quick visit to Tree To Me for a Christmas Stollen.
Make Penticton’s BC VQA Wine Information Centre your first and last stop in a wine tour. Why? The store is open throughout the season and staff are a wealth of information. They can guide you to which wineries are open and match your preferences. Wine is priced as it is at the wineries and there’s many other great gifts you can purchase there from local products to culinary books. If you’re like me and limit yourself to buying a bottle or two per stop and realize you should have bought that riesling, you can probably get it at the VQA. Regularly, you’ll find wineries on site offering tastings which is a great way to connect with those ones not as close to home.
Insider tip: Check ahead to see which sites are open in this season and perhaps wear some woollies. Be dazzled by the decorations and don’t be surprised to find that key personalities of the wineries have time to spend with you!