This month I flew to the sunny Okanagan Valley in British Columbia to chip and sip. Aficionados of grape and fairway can find nirvana here. The Valley is B.C.'s largest and oldest wine appellation with 74 wineries and more on stream. Blessed with a sunny, warm and dry climate - Canada's only desert, an extension of the Sonoran stretches up from Mexico into the Okanagan. Good golfing weather is virtually guaranteed. There are 36 golf courses in the area and tour packages that link golf, hotel and wine tastings.
Kelowna is the gateway to the Valley with an airport that offers more than 30 direct flights
a day to key cities in Canada. My non-stop flight from Toronto was an easy morning trip. By noon I had checked into the Hotel Eldorado overlooking the glimmering blue waters of Okanagan Lake and I was seated for lunch. Its lakeside dining room and Boardwalk patio is a local hot spot that rocks from breakfast to closing. Next door is the larger Manteo Waterfront Hotel and Villas geared to families and large groups but with outdoor patios and fine dining. Both offer golf packages including tee time booking. Golf courses and wineries are minutes away.
The most visually beautiful, well-established wineries are best for dining and wine. My first visit was to Mission Hill, perched atop the extinct volcano, Mount Boucherie, with great views of the lake, only 15 minutes from downtown Kelowna. Architecturally stunning with an outdoor dining terrace overlooking the vineyards, it's a "must see" place. The wines are consistently top notch. I've always liked their sauvignon blanc, but was surprised at how good their 2005 reserve pinot gris was with full bodied, peachy fruit complexities. Both the fresh-tasting, regular pinot noir and the fuller, riper reserve pinot noir are commendable.
Quail's Gate is just down the road on south-facing volcanic and clay slopes. Its fairy-tale pretty indoor/outdoor dining room in the vineyards is aptly named Old Vines Patio. Dinner as the sun sets over the lake is a treat for eyes and palate. The winery is known for the quality of its pinot noirs which I highly recommend. The dry white chenin blanc 2005 with its expressive lemony character is a special wine to seek out for summer sipping. Owned by the Stewart family, Quail's Gate has produced wines since 1989 after a decade of planting and experimenting. Chairman/owner, Ben Stewart, told me, "We were a mixed farm when I got involved. Apples, cherries, pears...acres of them."
The Okanagan remains a mixed farm country despite its multiplying vineyards.
Thus, produce for the restaurants are naturally fresh and local. The same orchards surround some of the golf courses. The championship length Harvest Golf Club threads throughout 1,000 apple trees, five acres of vineyards and a smattering of peach, cherry, pear and other fruit trees. Trees on the course are sprayed to prevent fruiting but on the periphery, whatever's in season is free picking for golfers and the Club's chef, Paul Cecconi, who honed his knives at several Four Seasons Hotels. Paul takes advantage of local fare to create his Pacific Northwest cuisine. The wine list is replete with great BC wines.
The Okanagan Golf Club offers two distinctive championship courses above the orchards in a dramatic mountainous setting. Amidst a forest, The Bear, crafted by Golden Bear Design, commands sweeping views, multi elevations and cleverly placed obstacles. The Quail, built with guidance from legendary Canadian designer, Les Furber, celebrates multi-tiered fairways meandering around a rock bluff, undulating greens and dramatic vistas of the Okanagan Valley. Clubhouse dining is above par with a good selection of local wines on the list.
Okanagan Wine Tours offers "chip and sip" tours of morning golf, followed by afternoon wine tours. I visited Cedar Creek, founded in 1986 by the Fitzpatrick family and
consistently one of the best in the Valley (named winery of the year twice in the past five years at the Canadian Wine Awards). Their 2003 Platinum Reserve Merlot aged in French oak is delicious - lengthy and plump with fruit. The 2003 Estate Select Meritage, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, has good structure, ripe fruit and cedar oak notes. The open-air Vineyard Terrace Restaurant wraps around Cedar Creek, a most popular luncheon choice.
My last night in the Valley, I dined at Summerhill Pyramid Winery which boasts a four-storey 8% replica of Egypt's Great Pyramid in order to age its wines to 'sacred' effect. After a game of golf, followed by a savoury pizza, chased with a fine Summerhill bubbly on the sunny veranda overlooking Lake Okanagan, it was hard not to feel blessed.
Swaine's Top Picks:
Cedar Creek Platinum Reserve Merlot 2003 $39.99
Quail's Gate Limited Release Chenin Blanc 2005 $18.99
Margaret Swaine is an award winning freelance journalist who has published over 2,000 articles covering travel, wine and food. Her wine columns and restaurant reviews have run for decades in magazines such as Chatelaine and Toronto Life. Her articles on golf, ski, spa and culinary tourism have appeared in many publications including ScoreGolf, Ski Press, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, Food and Drink and websites including Gault Millau's Gayot.com.
Margaret Swaine: Harvest golf and vineyards, Summerhill Pyramid Winery.
Thompson Okanagan Tourism: lupines (Don Weixl), fall vineyard (Don Weixl), vineyard (J. F. Bergeron), vineyard (Jason Cannon)
If you go
Wines can be ordered directly from the wineries' websites and shipped to your home.
Cedar Creek Estate Winery:
Quails' Gate Estate Winery:
Okanagan Golf Alliance:
www.golfbc.com or 1-800-446-5322
Okanagan Wine Country Tours (Chip & Sip)
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