Living in wine country in the off-season is like curling up to reread a favourite book in front of a crackling fire. You know where all the best parts unfold and you can count on being captivated.
Take Quails’ Gate Winery where in its Old Vines Restaurant & Wine Bar, Chef Roger Sleiman takes neighbourliness to new peaks in offering exceptional deals for multiple-course meals. Known as one of the chefs instrumental in the creation of farm-to-table Okanagan cuisine, Sleiman indulges the loyal locals by refining past favourites and skillfully incorporating changing food trends. Diners are given the flexibility to choose broadly from the menu in designing their feast. Along with the outstanding food, it’s the full experience that enwraps you like a warm blanket. The ambiance of rustic elegance in amber hues with glowing flames in the stone fireplace, tasteful lilt of background music, attentive customer service and the ever-changing view of vineyards, lake and mountains foster the enchantment. Old Vines is participating in Wine & Dine Thompson Okanagan through to February 2 with a $25 three-course lunch (add wine-pairing for $10) and $35 three-course dinner (add wine-pairing for $15). If you miss that, there will be multiple course deals available. Just check out the web site for current options. Recently I was treated to an amazing $39 three-course selection menu. It was great to savour the attention to detail.
The Stewart family take great pride in all aspects of Quails’ Gate (celebrating 25 years in 2014) and through their approach to continuous improvement and attention to detail it is well-established as a top agri-tourism site. The wines, too, are evolving and an accomplished, young and enthusiastic winemaker Nikki Callaway has been named to the team as senior winemaker. The wine shop is open daily 10 am to 6 pm with The Family Wine Tour available at 11 am.
Over at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, the Terrace Restaurant is closed, however, check out the culinary workshops appropriate for “both the novice cook and culinary connoisseur.” In the series Dynamics of Food & Wine, classes cost $79 plus tax each or $225 plus taxes for a package of three different ones. Chefs prepare each dish in the winery’s modern Culinary Theatre and “the three-hour sessions are interactive, informative and delectable.” Topics such as Ocean Wise, Savouring the South Pacific and Cool Cali Chefs invite you to learn more, meet the chefs and see into the kitchen. New this year is a Wines of the World series hosted by Ingo Grady, Director of Wine Education. These are $45 plus tax per class, or $40 plus tax combined with the corresponding culinary class, or $120 plus tax for a three-class package. Winter hours at the spectacular wine shop are daily 11 am to 4 pm. See the winery’s underground barrel cellars and tastings in daily tours (reservations recommended). Or just wander the grounds and marvel at the architectural highlights.
In West Kelowna, other wineries that remain open include: Kalala Organic Estate Winery, Wed, Sat & Sun 11 am to 5 pm; Little Straw Vineyards, Mon to Sat noon to 4 pm, Barrel Top Grill restaurant closed until spring; Mount Boucherie Estate, Daily 11 am to 5 pm; Rollingdale Winery, Daily 10 am to 5 pm; and Volcanic Hills Estate Winery, Daily 11 to 5:30 pm. Check out Westside Wine Trail for seasonal events such as “Sip with Your Sweetheart” on Sunday, February 9 where participating wineries treat visitors in an early celebration of Valentine’s Day with complimentary wine and chocolate tastings between 11 am to 4 pm.
You will find wineries to visit in almost every Okanagan wine region. In Lake Country, it’s Gray Monk Estate Winery, open daily 10 am to 5 pm with a daily tour at 2 pm. Its Grapevine Restaurant is closed until April.
In the Kelowna region, head over to Summerhill Pyramid Winery, open daily 10 am to 6 pm. You can savour the view and the cuisine of Chef Jesse Croy at Summerhill’s Sunset Bistro, Mon to Sat Lunch 11 am to 3 pm, Wine Bar 3 to 5 pm, Dinner 5 to 9 pm, and Sun Brunch 11 am to 2 pm. Other wineries with winter hours include: Calona Vineyards, Mon to Sat 9 am to 5 pm, and Sun 9 am to 4 pm; Cedar Creek Estate Winery, Daily 11 am to 5 pm, Terrace Restaurant closed until spring; House of Rose, Tue to Sat noon to 5 pm; St. Hubertus Estate Winery, Mon to Sat noon to 4 pm; Tantalus Vineyards, Tue to Sat 11 am to 5 pm; and The View Winery, Weekdays noon to 5 pm.
In Summerland, check out Bonitas Winery, Daily 11 am to 5 pm Bistro closed until spring; Dirty Laundry Winery, Thu, Fri & Sat noon to 4 pm; Sleeping Giant Fruit Winery; Daily 10 am to 4 pm; Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, Daily 11 am to 4 pm; and Summer Gate Winery, Fri, Sat and Sun noon to 6 pm.
In the Naramata/Penticton region, the stunning tasting room at Poplar Grove Winery is open daily 11 am to 5 pm, and while The Vanilla Pod Restaurant is on a short break it reopens February 7. At Upper Bench Estate Winery, daily 10 am to 5 pm, you can taste the amazing Upper Bench cheeses as well as its wine. If you’re like me, you won’t leave without buying a few for later! Visit the Hillside Estate Winery wine shop, Monday to Friday, noon to 5 pm, but you will have to wait until March 29 to dine at its Bistro. Other winery options include: Lang Vineyards, daily 10 am to 5 pm; Red Rooster Winery, daily 11 am to 5 pm with The Pecking Room restaurant closed until May 15; and Township 7 Vineyard, reopening Feb 7 on Fri, Sat & Sun, noon to 5 pm.
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery is open Friday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm in the Okanagan Falls region. While See Ya Later Ranch is closed January, visit it Fri, Sat and Sun, 11 am to 4 pm in February and starting in March, daily 10 am to 5 pm.
In the Oliver region, Hester Creek Estate Winery opens daily 10 am to 4 pm with Terrafina Restaurant open for a special Valentine’s Day event and then for the season mid-March. You can take cooking classes at Hester Creek in its gorgeous demonstration kitchen where you sit at the granite island interacting with an acclaimed chef preparing a multi-course menu paired with the award-winning wines. Classes are $115 plus tax and winter dates include February 15 and 28, March 21 and April 4 and 18. Next door at Tinhorn Creek Vineyard, the wine shop is open daily 10 am to 4 pm while its Miradoro Restaurant reopens March 1. Visit these wineries: Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Mon to Fri, 10 am to 5 pm; Jackson Trigg’s Vintners, daily 11 am to 4 pm to March 1 and then 10 am to 5 pm; Le Vieux Pin, daily 11 am to 5 pm; Road 13 Vineyards, Mon to Sat, 11 am to 4 pm; and Silver Sage Winery, daily 10 am to 5 pm.
In the Similkameen wine country, you’ll find Crowsnest Vineyards open daily 10 am to 4 pm (its restaurant closed until April 18); and St. Laszlo Vineyard, daily 9 am to 7 pm.
Armed with such a list, as a wine aficionado you can keep busy touring in the off-season. Enjoy the added bonus of less traffic and often winery staff with more time to give you a highly personalized visit. Just be sure to phone ahead to verify the hours of operation.
If you have a favourite winery not listed with winter hours here, you have a couple of options. Lots of activity is happening behind the scenes at the wineries because winemaking is an ongoing commitment. So, give the winery a call, you may be able to book an appointment. At the BC VQA Wine Stores, you will find a wide selection of BC wines and often winery personalities on site for a special tasting. In the Okanagan, check out the Penticton BC VQA Wine Information Centre; and in Kelowna, the BC Wine Museum & VQA Wine Shop; and Discover Wines.
I treasure my local advantage and whenever I get the chance, I love to check in with the congenial characters of the wineries and winery restaurants. Like a good book it’s truly comforting.
Wineries & Vineyards in the Thompson Okanagan region
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