Words/pix: Henry Yuen
Chinese blog: http://blogs.taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/
When my California friends came north to pay a visit last week, the Vancouver sunshine was as good as in California. “Impressive,” they said; and I agreed proudly. Surprisingly, though from California, their main destination was Okanagan Valley. “Where your famous wineries are!” they added. Once again, I agreed and proceeded to tell them that there are wine regions in Fraser Valley and over at Vancouver Islands. I did presume, however, being from California where the winery playground of Hollywood “Napa Valley” locates, they would know what to expect of touring winery. Somehow I found myself answering a whole bunch of questions about Okanagan and the winery visits. “We are just tourists, so indulge us!” my friends urged. So here are the Q&A you or your visiting friends may find helpful before and when at Okanagan wine regions.
When is the ideal season for Okanagan Wine Tour? Usually from mid-June to mid-October when interior BC is painted in lush green. June and July will see the vines budding and flowering. They will turn to full bloom in August and early September. Glimpses of grapes can be found on the vines which will soon become voluptuous clusters. The airs and tones change in late September to mid-October announcing the arrival of harvest time. Tourist high season is July to September when the weather is hot and dry and the signs at orchards everywhere waving “welcome!”
Why Okanagan? Beautiful lake views and beaches; orchards and vineyards; scenic drives around the lakes. Gorgeous weather, good wines, great culinary scenes and warm hospitality. Numerous indoor and outdoor activities for the young at heart and families.
What are the popular wine regions to visit in the Okanagan? Okanagan Valley is divided into sub-wine-regions: Kelowna/Lake Country region, Penticton/Naramata region, Oliver/Golden Mile region, Okanagan Falls region, and further south is Osoyoos/Black Sage Bench region.
What vintage of wines are you drinking at the wine tasting session? The wines you are sampling are usually from the previous harvest. Whites would normally be from the vintage of at least a year ago and Reds from even two or three vintages before. Special vintages are available upon request. All depends on the philosophy of individual winery and the winemaker’s style.
How many hours of driving from Vancouver are we talking about? It usually takes 3 ½ hours to 4 hours depending on which route to take and which wine region to visit. Start early in the morning so it's lunch time when you get there. A picnic lunch by the vineyards or eat at one of the award-winning winery restaurants.
Cost of normal wine tasting? Average cost of sampling of each wine flight ranges from $5 and up, depending on the wines poured. Normally, the cost is deducted if you buy any wine from the winery.
How many wines are poured per tasting? Normal tasting sessions offer samplings of 4 to 5 wines from each winery who selects which wines to pour, usually includes both white and red wines. The winery usually rotates different wines for each day.
How much wines are you sampling? Normal sampling portion is one ounce pour per wine. You are getting about the equivalent of 4 to 5 oz. or about one glass of wine per winery. An ideal day of touring wineries is to visit around 4 wineries. But if you have 6 to 8 people, some tours can cater to your own choice of wineries.
Other ways to enjoy winery tours? There are lots of wine tours you can join, from half day to full day to custom tour for private group or special functions such as bridal parties, birthdays, anniversaries…etc. Price is usually per person and can range from $80 to $120 for regular wine tours and tastings. Cost of private tours will depend on size of party, the length, the service level and the wine-tasting program. Winery tours usually pick up and drop off at your hotel. Some tours could include lunch or dinner.
To get detail information about visiting the Okanagan wine regions and the wineries, drop by any Tourism Offices at the airport, at the borders and downtown on Burrard Street. Booklets, maps and tour information are yours to pick up. Or go online to http://winebc.com , or simply google “Okanagan wine tour”!