Celebrate Okanagan Wine This Weekend

A lingering moment in the Interior does the soul—and the palate—some good.

October 8, 2015

By Neal McLennan

It’s October, meaning this long weekend has the potential to include blue skies, red leaves, and plenty of good wine. The Coquihalla will be delightfully snow-less for your quick trip through tomorrow to check out the 35th annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. Our drinks editor made the journey a few months ago, and is happy to guide the way on this boozy, foodie, OK weekend.

This article was originally featured in the July/August 2015 issue of Vancouver magazine.

There are plenty of places to get fancy charcuterie in Kelowna these days but I’m at Illichman’s Meats, Sausages and Gourmet because I’m looking for something more sturdy and less precious as I head out of town to try to capture some sun. If the name didn’t make it clear (they say sausages and meat), Illichman’s doesn’t do precious. It’s a place where you take a number and place your order with an unsmiling frau who wraps it in old-school butcher paper and sends you on your way. I order some landjaeger sausages and a few soft pretzels—both hearty enough to be thrown in a backpack and eaten with bare hands—and head back out into the warmth and aim south.

I’m taking Gordon Road south, which is far enough off Lake Okanagan that by the time I hit Casoroso Road and start gaining some elevation, agriculture has replaced property development as the economic driver. And while there’s no doubt that hallmarks of urbanity still pop up—I pass that shining architectural beacon, Tantalus Vineyards, with its crowded parking lot and perfectly framed vista of the lake—it’s the exception. Instead, there are apple trees, cherry trees and, increasingly, lots and lots of vines. This is a land where the sun is more than a benefit; it’s a serious necessity.

I veer further away from the lake and after a few more minutes of driving, hit my destination: the quaint yellow house that doubles as the tasting room for Spierhead Winery. I discovered the winery a few years ago and while it’s not quite Mission Hill yet in terms of visitors, I note there are a few more cars in the parking lot this go-around. And the beauty of a winery in lieu of a beach is that there’s always land at the ready. So I grab my backpack full of Illichman’s Teutonic goodness and head away from the tasting room into the rows of vines that cascade north up the sloping hill behind the winery. As I hike between the rows—the tightly packed clusters tell me they’re Pinot Noir—the sun is warm, but not blazing, which is ideal for both me and the grapes. Pinot grapes are fickle things—they’re literally thin-skinned and unlike say Merlot, which is big south of here, they don’t like the heat. They don’t like too little sun either—just perfect is about the only conditions they’ll flourish in. And with a cool lake breeze blowing, and no one else wandering the vines I’m smack in the middle of just perfect.

Afterwards, I head back down to some picnic tables the owners have set up beside the winery and get ready to unpack my lunch. First up: ducking inside to buy a bottle from the husband-and-wife team manning the till. While everything—the sun, the breeze, the distant sliver of a lake view—screams rosé, I feel like I’ve grown a kinship with the Pinot grapes from our brief time so that’s what I opt for. It helps that, at $22, Spierhead’s Pinot is without a doubt one of the best bargains in the Okanagan, and, dropped for a few minutes in an ice bath it’s also a weather-beater too. There’s no one else around, and while it’s less than 10 kilometres back to the bustle of Harvey Avenue, it seems as far away as Timbuktu as I stretch out on the bench and let the rays bounce off me. It’s more than ideal conditions, it’s just perfect.

35th Fall Okanagan Wine Festival
October 1-11

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