With 2,400 hectares of planted vineyards and over 60 varieties of grapes growing, the Okanagan Valley is home to Canada’s second largest wine growing region after the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario.
The wine production overall is still small 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.
At the time of writing, there are over 40 Naramata wineries in a stretch of less than 20km. This means it is possible to walk or cycle easily between wineries.
There’s no other winery region quite like it! Read on to discover the cheapest and most fun way to tour the Naramata Bench.
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Naramata Bench Wine Tour: A must-do in Penticton
Half day wine tours around one of the southern Okanagan wine areas (Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Naramata, Oliver and Osoyoos) start at around $100 a head – this includes tasting fees, transportation and the attention of a guide/driver.
Naramata Bench winery tours are typically $125-150. Four or five wineries are usually visited, with a lunch stop (additional fee).
In regular (non-pandemic) years, there is also a hop-on, hop-off bus service offered both in the Naramata Bench and Oliver area. That runs a little cheaper.
Looking to book a stay in Penticton?
Lakeside Villa Inn and Suites – Great value
Penticton Lakeside Resort – Awesome location
House Victoria Bed and Breakfast – Highly rated on Booking.com
An alternative option: Walking the Naramata Bench
We moved to Pentiction in 2015 and quickly started receiving many visitors. But with winery tours being priced out to over $500 for a group of four, we decided that there must be another, more cost-effective way to do it.
After all, it was likely we would want to buy some wine too and that would push the total much higher.
We live right on the edge of the Naramata Bench, within easy walking distance of the KVR Trail. This mostly flat multi-use path travels directly through vineyards and orchards. We figured that there must be some way to utilise it to visit wineries.
And we were right! There are actually around a dozen wineries located within 500m of the KVR.
Building on this idea, we put together a plan for our first walking wine tour of the Naramata Bench.
Our first walking wine tour of the Naramata Bench
With the KVR Trail running downhill from Naramata to Penticton, it seemed sensible to take a taxi as far as we felt like going and then plan to walk all the way back.
Our first walking wine tour started at Bench 1775 at 11.30am, after a good breakfast the Bench Market. Our taxi cost $23.
Over the next six hours, we visited as many as eleven different boutique wineries along the Naramata Bench. The total walking distance was around 9km, taking into account detours into wine tasting rooms along the way.
Lunch was a DIY charcuterie at Poplar Grove Cheese, with shares a tasting room with Lock and Worth Winery. We shared a couple of rounds of cheese with crackers and a bottle of wine.
Here’s quick list of the wineries with my post-tour impressions:
- Bench 1775 – Awesome Sauvignon Blanc, amazing panoramic views from patio
- Tightrope – Beautiful modern tasting room
- Howling Bluff – Family run, friendly vibe
- Quidni (‘why not’ in Latin) – Friendly and laid back, located directly on main road. *Since closed, now Wesbert Winery
- Hillside – Large, popular winery (good choice of wine) with bistro and pretty gardens
- Lock and Worth – Combined with Poplar Grove Cheese. Few wines but great quality. Paired tasting of cheese and wine
- Red Rooster – Impressive building, wide choice of wines
- La Frenz – Small winery set back from the main road, amazing views
- Township 7 – Low-key winery. The Queen once purchased wine from here to serve at state dinner
- Monster – Fun, young winery with great bottle designs
- Perseus – Great Gewurztraminer, beautiful views *Closed in 2020
In the end, we didn’t utilise the KVR on that particular walking wine tour. Indeed, we stayed mostly on Naramata Road. It’s not an ideal route since Naramata Road can may quite busy with vehicles and cyclists.
Perfecting our Naramata Bench walking wine tour
Our first walking wine tour was a resounding success. We’ve been experimenting with the idea ever since, with different groups of friends and routes.
Taking a taxi part-way up the Naramata Bench is always a winner with friends who don’t like walking as much as we do. It’s also a good idea for wine tours with a later start.
One fun variation was to take a taxi up to Upper Bench Road (rather than Naramata Road) and visit the wineries in this area instead, before returning via Lower Bench Road.
Other times, we have walked along Naramata Bench as far as Hillside Winery and then returned on the KVR Trail. There are three wineries located just off the KVR in this area (D’Angelo, Red Rooster, Ruby Blues). The KVR is definitely much pleasurable to walk on than Naramata Road!
More recently, we have been omitting the taxi altogether and walking up the KVR Trail as far as Origin Wines.
After a tasting at Origin, we then turn back towards Penticton and have the option of visiting seven different wineries on the way back. This is a 12km route.
Naramata Bench walking wine tour tips
Thinking about doing your own Naramata Bench walking wine tour? I’d recommend it! But you should keep the following in mind:
- There is not a lot of shade on the Naramata Bench. Be sure to bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen. A cloudy day is preferable
- Bring plenty of water with you and drink often. There is a water bottle filling station at the corner of Naramata Road and Poplar Grove Road. Alternatively, ask at the winery tasting rooms for a refill
- Wearing appropriate clothing and footwear is crucial. Most of the surfaces are tarmac and/or gravel. Take a rain jacket and/or umbrella if there is any threat of rain
- Don’t try to carry too much wine! Wineries are usually happy to hold purchased wine for you to collect later
- Keep in mind that there is no raised footpath/sidewalk next to Naramata Road (the main road through the Bench). This means that you will walking next to traffic for large sections.
- Remember to face oncoming traffic when possible. Despite being a fairly windy road and speed limits posted along it, the traffic on Naramata Road can be fairly fast (60-70km)
- Things are different during the pandemic. When deciding your route, it’s a good idea to research each individual winery and find out whether they accept walk-in visitors.
This information is based on our personal experience walking to and from wineries on the Naramata Bench. I make no representations or warranties of any kind, expressed or implied, about the accuracy or suitability of a walking wine tour on the Naramata Bench.
Join us on a walking wine tour (but not yet)!
Back in February 2020, we were actually approved to offer walking wine tours on Airbnb’s Experience platform.
I was really excited to be able to offer these unique tours to more people beyond our friends and family. JR was a professional tour guide for a number of years so it seemed like a great fit.
Of course, we all know what happened next and we decided to put our plans on hold.
Since the pandemic started, organising a walking wine tour on the Naramata Bench has become more difficult.
Many of the Naramata Bench wineries now require or request reservations. It is trickier to stick to a rigid schedule when on a walking wine tour.
For that reason, we decided to delay starting our tours. We’re hoping that 2022 may be the year!
Want to know more about the Naramata Bench? Check out our partner website, Visit Naramata!
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