Wine Country: Exploring the Okanagan’s Golden Mile

The following article was written by Joanne Sasvari and published in the Vancouver Sun on April 11, 2019

Read the full article here.

Wine Country:  Exploring the Okanagan’s Golden Mile

It’s another perfect day in wine country.  And there are few places better to greet it than right here on the Golden Mile Bench.

The birds know it’s morning before you do. A single sweet note breaks the velvety silence and is quickly joined by a chorus of birdsong. Grape leaves rustle as some small creature wanders through the vineyard in search of breakfast. The inky darkness lightens to smoky grey and then brightens to gold as sunlight spills molten over the bluffs across the valley.

The bench is a steep, sandy, gravelly, loamy slope just south of Oliver, pop. 5,000, the little town known as the Wine Capital of Canada. It’s British Columbia’s first sub-geographical indication, a unique place within wine country that just happens to be the perfect spot to grow lush Chardonnay and elegant Merlot. Some of B.C.’s greatest producers can be found here doing just that, among them Culmina Family Estate Winery, CheckMate Artisanal Winery, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Fairview Cellars, Road 13 Vineyards and Hester Creek Estate Winery.

Days move lazily here, broken by delicious moments. Hop in the car—or on your bike, though it’s easier to load cases of wine in your car—and meander along the numbered country roads that lead to Black Sage Road across the valley, where wineries produce peppery Syrahs and voluptuous Viognier. Head north, past the massive boulder known as McIntyre Bluff, and you’ll bump into Penticton’s twin sandy beaches. Head south, and you’ll find yourself in the desert surrounding Osoyoos and, just a few metres further, the U.S. border. But here, between the Golden Mile and Black Sage benches, it’s all rolling hills striped with vineyards, and hidden in their folds, people who want to give you lovely things to eat and drink.

You’ll need a central location to start from, a home base. A guest house like the Tuscan-style ones at Hester Creek Estate Winery will do quite nicely. They have kitchenettes, comfy furniture and, perched as they are high above the winery, patios with sweeping views across vineyards and valley. You can make yourself right at home without having to worry about pesky details like bringing in the harvest.

The winery itself is historic in this valley. Fifty years ago, back when everyone else in the Okanagan was still planting hybrid varieties like Vidal and Marechal Foch, an Italian immigrant named Joe Busnardo planted the first vitis vinifera here, including the Trebbiano vines that still produce a bright, crisp white wine each spring. The wines he made from these noble grapes were, by all accounts, terrible, but he proved that they would thrive here.

In the 1980s, Busnardo opened Divino Estate Winery on the site, and when he sold it in 1996, the new owners named it for the creek that runs along the south side of the property. In 2004, Prince George businessman Curt Garland bought the winery and hired Rob Summers, a veteran winemaker from Niagara, to produce its wines, which, please note, are no longer terrible. Far from it. The Cabernet Franc is elegant yet approachable, all black fruit and violets, and the Bordeaux blend known as The Judge is a powerful combination of juicy fruit and supple tannins.

Grab a bottle (or two) from the wine shop and some cheese and charcuterie from Oliver Eats, the new gourmet deli from local chef Derek Uhlemann. Or pick up some authentic tacos al pastor from El Sabor De Marina, the turquoise-blue Mexican food stand just outside town, if you can wait till you get home to dive into their savoury depths. Or, if you’re feeling adventuresome, head out to one of the great restaurants in the neighbourhood, which, happily, are all located at wineries: Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, Masala Bistro at Kismet Estate Winery, or Terrafina right here, just down the hill at Hester Creek.

About a year ago, chef Rod Butters’ RauDZ Creative Concepts took over the Tuscan-themed restaurant, and while chef de cuisine James Hanna still takes inspiration from the Mediterranean, Terrafina’s new menu is proudly local and seasonal. It abounds in pastas, risottos and pizzas made with fresh local produce. Though truth be told, you could simply order the fully customizable boards that come loaded with marinated veg, cured meats and cheeses and be perfectly happy sipping wine at a patio table and watching the glow from the setting sun dance across the vines.

From Terrafina, it’s just a short stroll under the stars back to your guest villa. The night falls gently here, cool and fragrant, cattle lowing softly in the hills, birds trilling goodnight. Rest well in your suite, happy in the knowledge that tomorrow you can do it all again.

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