The Okanagan Fall Wine Festival

The Okanagan Fall Wine Festival

Jan Lee's Travellin' News
Photos courtesy of Don Weixl and
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association

Okanagan Lake
The Okanagan

Take a stunning vista, a challenging enterprise, combine it with a little ingenuity, and you have what BC'ers call a festival. BC is blessed not only with uncommon beauty, but with a versatile climate - a quality that makes it one of the best places in the world to live.

Perhaps that's why I think of the Okanagan Wine Festival as the perfect holiday. In 20 short years, BC's "breadbasket" has become one of North America's best known wine producing regions. Vineyards in this region actually began as early as the 1800's, but it was not until recently that its wineries gained recognition. British Columbia now boasts more than 40 wineries, more than half of them in the Okanagan.

Luscious grapes of the Okanagan.

There are three main seasons of wine production in the Okanagan: Spring, Fall and Winter. The third, which is the ice wine season, is a relatively new enterprise for the region. Each one of these seasons are celebrated with their own public festival which usually culminates or follows the main harvest period. The festivals are organized through the combined efforts of private wineries and the BC Wine Institute.

Rated as one of the top 100 events in North America, the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival offers more than 110 events to enjoy. Most of the tours of the Okanagan wineries are free and include sample tasting of this year's newest vintages. Special events, such as lunches, banquets and formal wine tasting gatherings require tickets. Most of the events range in price from $15 to $75, depending on what is being offered, and its locale.

Prints from Summerhill Estates
Summerhill Estate Winery | Wines of Summerhill | Wine Tasting

Specific information on the dates for this year's wine festival is available through a variety of publications and locations. The "BC Wine Country" listing of BC Wineries provide a comprehensive listing of BC's wine growers. The "Wine Trails" magazine, published quarterly, lists the special festival events as well. Both of these publications are available through BC Liquor stores. The BC Tourism "Tours of Abundance" brochure also provides a complete listing of the wineries and special events for each festival, and can be obtained through BC Tourism Information Centres.

Many of the wineries in this area are renown for their award winning wines.

Travelling to the Okanagan Wine Festival from Vancouver is easy. Take Highway 1 to Hope (150 km/94 miles) and then follow Highway 3 east. At Keremeos (202 km/126 miles from Hope), take the Highway 3a connector to highway 97 at Kaleden (32 km/20 miles). Head north on Highway 97. If you are coming from the interior of Washington, it is an easy ride on Highway 97 north, from south of the border.

Highway 97 remains your connector for much of the Okanagan. Wineries dot the countryside throughout this area, providing excellent opportunities for touring the lush scenery of BC's Interior. At the northern tip of the Okanagan is Vernon.

Wine Tasting, photo courtesy of "Wine Trails" Magazine

Salmon Arm, which hosts Larch Hills Winery, is approximately 60 km/38 miles north of Vernon, an interesting addition to your tour. Vernon is 46 km/29 miles north of Kelowna, and Kelowna is 81 km/51 miles from the intersection at Kaleden.

At the southern tip of the Okanagan, lies Oliver and the desert town of Osoyoos. Oliver has several well known wineries, including Inniskillin and Hester Creek. Both have a reputation for their festival events. Check one of the brochures mentioned above for specifics.

Your journey will take you along the shores of Okanagan Lake, one of the area's largest and most popular recreation areas. Naramata, on the east side of the lake, is surrounded by 7 different vineyards and provides an interesting side trip. The Red Rooster Winery and Kettle Valley Winery are two of the newer wine producers in the Naramata area.

One of the many vineyards of the Okanagan.

Cedar Creek Estate Winery, in Kelowna, is gaining increasing notoriety for its wines. Two of its more popular releases are the 1997 Gewurztraminer and the 1997 Ehrenfelser. The 1996 release of this vintage was selected as the top Ehrenfelser in the Best Varietal Wine Competition at the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival.

Summerhill Estate Winery, also in Kelowna, hosts an annual "Champagne" Jazz Brunch. It has been called the "Best Event" by both restaurateurs and guests in previous years. The brunch is held at the winery each fall and features cuisine from some of the top restaurants in the Kelowna area. Proceeds from the brunch go to local charities.

Take a photo tour, courtesy of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
A Gathering | Okanagan Wine Festival | Tinhorn's Vineyard

If you enjoy laid back lunches with a little historical flair, try Tinhorn Winery's Gold Mine Heritage Hike. There is the long hike to the Gold Mine (10 km) at 9 am and the short version two hours later. The hike is likely to be a popular gathering. Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is located in Oliver, at the south end of the Okanagan.

An orchard in the Okanagan.

Of course, a wine festival would not be complete without the requisite grape stomp, which normally takes place in Kelowna. All ages are welcome, and the grape stomping is free. Check your schedule for the specific date for this year.

As for accommodation, there are numerous campgrounds in the Okanagan area. Bear Creek (northwest of Kelowna) and Okanagan Lake (north of Summerland) Provincial Parks have RV sani- stations. There are 7 other provincial campgrounds around the Okanagan area. Most of these campgrounds are open until November. Hotel accommodations are also available throughout the Okanagan. Of course, don't forget to book your campsite or hotel accommodations ahead of time.

For those who prefer not to drive while touring the wineries, there is even a limousine service that caters to this event. The White Rose Limousine Service in Salmon Arm, offers a variety of chauffeur services, including backroad tours by van. Contact information can be found in Tourism BC's Tours of Abundance brochure.

Information Contacts
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association
1-800-568-2275 or 1-250-860-5999
BC Tourism reservations and general information
For tickets to special events
Ticket Master Canada in Vancouver
(604) 280-4444 or Town Ticket Centres at (250) 860-1470.
For detailed information on this year's many events, consult the BC Tourism brochure "Tours of Abundance", or pick up a copy of the "Wine Trails" Magazine from any BC Liquor Store.

Copyright Jan Lee

Jan Lee

Be sure to read other articles by Jan Lee in the BC Adventure Network

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The Okanagan Fall Wine Festival