For a person who loves to hike and paddle, you may be surprised to know that wine tasting is also one of my absolute favourite activities. This is true especially in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, where the wineries are small and the quality of the wine thoroughly underrated. Visiting wineries one-by-one is certainly fun (particularly when combined with hiking) however, wine festivals make it possible to try and compare dozens of wines side-by-side.
Over the last few years, we have enjoyed both Festival of the Grape in Oliver as well as the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Our third wine festival experience came just recently at Cropped, BC’s Largest Wine Tasting & Farmer’s Market.
Cropped: An all-inclusive event
October brings cooler temperatures and stunning autumn colours to the Okanagan Valley. It is also grape harvest season for the hundreds of vineyards here. Correspondingly, there is a 10-day festival celebrating the start of the harvest. Cropped is the premier, and also the finale, event of the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Cropped is that it is an all-inclusive event. This means that there are unlimited wine tastings (and food) included in the price. While we did enjoy the Festival of the Grape tasting event in Oliver, the ticket price only covered entry and two tasting servings. Paid tickets were required to taste more wine and then we had to pay again for food. It ended up as quite an expensive day and also felt restrictive. Having to queue up and buy more tickets was also more than little tedious. At Cropped, there’s none of that. Line up for entry, receive a complimentary full-size wine glass and off you go.
tasting a valley of wine at cropped
Located in Penticton’s Convention Centre, Cropped features over 80 wineries, each with at least three (usually four) wines to taste. Most wineries were Okanagan Valley based but we were surprised to find BC winemakers from far away as Creston serving. Varietals varied between the crisp and fruity Gewurtz and Viogniers of the north to the deep and sultry Cabs and Merlots of the Golden Mile area between Oliver and Osoyoos. Living in Penticton we visit the Naramata Bench region regularly so it was great to taste from wineries a little further away.
The soundtrack to Cropped is unique, with half a dozen musical acts singing and playing throughout the venue at any one time. Somehow, the sound from each artist never clashed. This, alongside the no-ticket system, contributed to the most relaxed, friendliest and chilled out wine festival vibe we’ve ever experienced. It was also Thanksgiving weekend – perfect timing!
wine Tasting with a side of food
Food and wine must be one of the best culinary combinations out there. And Cropped makes sure to celebrate that, with several locations offering high-quality breads, cheese, crackers, deli meats, pastries and dips. Oh, and the desserts! I had to go back a second time to try them since my plate was already full.
Aside from the goodies from Nester’s Market, the friendly folks from Fresh is Best in Kamloops were also offering heaped servings of salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips. Before arriving at Cropped, I did wonder if we’d have to find somewhere for a late dinner afterwards but there was plenty on offer.
Farmer’s Market and a blind pinot wine tasting
At the centre of Cropped’s tasting room is a smorgasbord of artisans, local vendors and food producers. How many other places can you shop with a glass of wine?! We found everything here from handmade signs and organic wine jams to quirky custom liquor barrels and clever pens you can use to write on wine glasses.
If you feel like a challenge, don’t miss the Blind Pinot Bar. Here, you put on a blindfold and try three wines – Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Whoever guesses the correct glass of wine to the varietal wins the respect of their fellow Cropped attendees and entry into a contest. I was exceptionally pleased to get all three right; it was especially impressive as we took part quite late in the evening!
Get home safe from Cropped
One of the other reasons we haven’t visited more wine festivals in the Okanagan is the getting home safe part. It was no fun at all working out who had the short straw and needed to drive us home to Penticton after the Festival of the Grape. A taxi for the journey from Oliver would have been incredibly expensive. Luckily, the people behind the event at Cropped have come up with a solution to this common problem.
Cropped is a ‘Get Home Safe Event’ supported by BC Liquor Stores. Included with every ticket to Cropped is a $75 taxi voucher to be used for the journey home. Being that we live within an easy 15-minute walk from the convention centre in Penticton, we had no need to use our voucher but I think this is a fantastic system that more wine festivals should use.
Wine festival tasting tips
Arriving at a wine festival like Cropped can be a bit overwhelming (in the best way of course!). With so many vendors, it’s just not possible to see and taste everything in one evening. Read on for a short guide to making the most of a wine tasting event such as Cropped.
- Plan your strategy: Walk around a full circle around the venue once to prioritise which wineries and vendors to visit. As mentioned, we preferred to taste from wineries outside of our local area.
- Bring a wine holder: I’ve seen lots of these during my time at wine festivals but never did it become clearer why I’d need one than at Cropped. With all the food to try, it’s nice to be hands-free!
- Slow down! Swirl, smell and taste: With so many wines on offer, it is easy to fly straight through them without appreciating each one. You don’t have to try every wine at a booth.
- Spitting is OK: If you want to stay objective about the wines, every table usually has a receptacle for spitting. This is also helpful if one of the wines just isn’t to your taste.
- Remember to take notes: Recalling your favourites after a night of tasting can be difficult. Take photos of labels you like and/or use the Okanagan Wine Festival app. Most festivals, including Cropped, have an on-site wine store but you may just run out of time.
- Allow others to taste: Some wineries will be busier than others. Be aware of other tasters behind you and enable them to fill their own glass too. Don’t crowd the table!
- Drink water: Be sure to keep hydrated! Every winery at Cropped had at least one water jug on the table for rinsing glasses and also for drinking. These were continuously topped up.
All the details
Cropped takes place at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre every year during grape harvest season. The 2017 event was held on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th October. Evening tickets cost $69 per adult; a weekend ticket was also available for $110.
We were guests of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society but all views about the Cropped event remain our own
Read this next: Walking Wine Tour on the Naramata Bench
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