Wine tours in the Okanagan are big business. Readers from outside Canada (or even just BC) may not know that there are more than 120 wineries in the Okanagan region. With 2,400 hectares of planted vineyards and over 60 varieties of grapes growing, the area is home to Canada’s second largest wine growing region after the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. OK, so the wine production overall is still tiny compared to any of the major wine regions of the world but it’s impressive to have such a variety of grapes and wines in a country nicknamed ‘the Great White North.’ One of the biggest concentrations of wineries in the Okanagan is on the Naramata Bench. just outside of Penticton.
A must-do in Penticton
With the Okanagan Valley being the land of good food and wine, we couldn’t not do a wine tour ourselves with friends and family visiting in early August. After all, they say that nothing is better than good company except good company and wine! Half day wine tours around one of the southern Okanagan wine areas (Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Naramata, Oliver and Osoyoos) start at around $75 a head – this includes tasting fees, transportation and the attention of a guide/driver. There is also a shuttle service in Naramata and Oliver four days of the week, running at $65 per person.
At almost $400 for a group of five, we decided there must be a better way. After all, it was likely we would want to buy some wine too and that would push the total much higher. So as we all love walking and doing things the off the beaten track way, a walking tour of the Naramata Bench seemed like a great alternative. With the Naramata Bench (the closest wine area to our home) being uphill, it seemed sensible to take a taxi as far as we felt like going and then walking back.
A perfect pairing
What a better place to start a tour than with a good breakfast at the Bench before heading to our first winery. All coffee’d up, we were ready for our adventure. Bench 1775 was the perfect place to start, with 30 acres of lakefront property with amazing views of the lake. Undeterred by the sleepy wine sales assistant, we tasted our first few wines of the day. Walking to the next winery, around 600m down the road, I realised the downside of a walking wine tour….the heat. But it made the chilled white wines taste even better!
A few wineries later, we were starving. Most of the wineries sell snacks and/or some fresh deli items to purchase but a few have full restaurants open for lunch and dinner. It is pricey though. Again, we did took a DIY route and wandered on down to Poplar Grove Cheese (not to be confused with Poplar Grove Vineyard). As it turned out, there was also a (completely unexpected) winery at the same location. We were able to taste wine with paired cheese before buying our own to eat outside with a view of the lake. Can’t beat that for a lunch spot!
Our tour ended at Perseus Winery, around 6pm. Perseus was our 11th winery, but it was a particularly nice one to finish at since we consider it our local winery being just a stroll up the road from our home. Finishing our day with a swim in the lake and a barbeque on the beach, it was close to a perfect day in the Okanagan. Wine, cheese, swimming and a sunst on the beach….Penticton is quite a lovely place to live indeed.
A complete guide to the wineries we visited:
Bench 1775 – Awesome Sauvignon Blanc. Charge for tasting: Amount unknown. Waived if wine purchased within group.
Tightrope – Beautiful tasting room. Charge for tasting: $5. Waived if wine purchased within group.
Howling Bluff – Family run, friendly vibe. Charge for tasting: $5. Waived if wine purchased within group (relaxed)
Quidni (‘why not’ in Latin) – Friendly and laid back, located directly on main road. Free tasting (update 2016, now $5, waived if wine purchased)
Hillside – Large, popular winery with bistro. Average wines. Charge for tasting: $5. Waived if wine purchased.
Lock and Worth – Combined with Poplar Grove Cheese. Few wines but great quality. Free tasting of both wine and cheese.
Red Rooster – Big and a bit impersonal. Average wines. Charge for tasting: $5. One fee waived for each bottle purchased (i.e. Everyone in group would have to buy a bottle for all to go free)
La Frenz – Small winery set back from the main road, amazing views. Charge for tasting: $5. Waived if wine purchased (fairly strict).
Township 7 – Low-key winery. The Queen once purchased wine from here to serve at state dinner. Charge for tasting: $5. One fee waived for each bottle purchased (STRICT)
Monster – Fun, young winery with great bottle designs. Charge for tasting: by charity donation.
Perseus – Our local! Fairly new. Can bring own food to eat on patio with wine. Great Gewurztraminer. Free tasting.
Our taxi cost $23 to travel from the Bench Market to Bench 1775. A straight walk back would have been around 7km. Our actual route required us to venture on and off the main Naramata Road and the total distance was more like 9km total. A walking winery tour is a cheap way to see and experience the Okanagan wineries – for the same or similar price of a tour, we were able to pay for a taxi, tasting fees, lunch and a bottle or two (or three) of wine. Cheers to that!