The Okanagan Valley has some of the best wineries in the world.
For the past 4 years I always try to stop for a visit after dragon boat racing in Vernon. I first visited Mission Hill Winery back in 2001 after my first visit to the Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival. Mission Hill has always been a favorite wine of mine, ever since tasting their Grand Reserve Barrel Select Chardonnay that won the IWSC trophy for Best Chardonnay. The legendary story is that the judges couldn't believe it was a BC Canadian wine that won, and re-tested. Mission Hill won again.
This year's Okanagan road trip began last week on Friday July 25. On our way to a dragon boat race meeting at Kalamalka Lake, I thought there was enough time to stop at Gray Monk Estate Winery. It is just a 15 minute drive West to Okanagan Centre, just north of Winfield, between Kelowna and Vernon on Highway 97. We drove past Arrow Leaf Cellars, which also has some nice wines I have tried. We crested the hill, and looked out over the expanse of green vineyards overlooking a beautiful blue Okanagan Lake.
The wine-tasting service was very friendly at Gray Monk Estate Winery, and the tastings were free! There also a large new patio restaurant where we saw musicians setting up at for the 6pm dinner crowd. We tried the Chardonay unwooded, the Seigerebbe, Gewertztraminer, Reisling. For reds we tasted the Merlot . One of our friends doesn't usually drink reds, and the tannins really puckered her face. But she did try the Odyssey Series Merlot which was remarkably smoother. I walked out with the Gewertztaminer ($16.99) which had wonderful sweet lychee accents, as well as the Kerner Late Harvest ($16.99). My friends bought a Seigrebbe ($16.99) and a delicious Pinot Gris ($17.99) that we drank that night with dinner.
Dragon Boat weekend was spent mostly consuming Peach Cider and lager beers.
But on Monday, we headed to Mission Hill Winery. This is definitely a recommended stop for any Okanagan vacation. My traveling mates Dave and Brooke were excited to visit these Northern Okanagan wineries. It was Brooke's first time in the Okanagan. If you can take the tour, you will see a commissioned Chagall tapestry, and see a video that identifies the top wine growing areas in North America as Napa/Sonoma Valleys in California, the Williamette Valley in near Portland Oregon, and BC's Okanagan Valley. A rose garden greets visitor's arrival. And an archway marks the entrance to the winery grounds. On Monday night, Mission Hill was also hosting a music concert in it's amphitheatres.
It's now a Gung Haggis dragon boat team tradition to take a group picture in front of the Archway, with any of our winery tour travelers on the Monday. We had 11 people for our picture, all made more exciting because of the recent engagement of two of our paddlers who met on the team in 2006. Richard offered to take some “engagement” pictures of Wendy and Jonas at the winery grounds.
Inside we tried the 3 tastes for $5, sharing with each other to try some of the other wines. The wine sommelier asked if we were a tour group. When we identified ourselves as a dragon boat team, she said that Mission Hill had a brand new dragon boat team. We offered a race duel for a wine prize!
I chose to sample the 2005 Reserve Merlot, 2005 Reserve Shiraz, 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. With my friends I also sampled the Reserve Pinot Gris, as well as the 2004 Oculus ($69.99), Mission Hill's signature blended wine. The Oculus is a very smooth full-bodied wine that is saved for special occasions. I opened a bottle of of the 2002 Oculus in Victoria, when we celebrated my receiving the BC Community Achievement Award. It seemed fitting to celebrate BC excellence together. I walked out taking the Reserve Cab Sauv and the Reserve Shiraz with me.
Next we went to Quail's Gate Winery, which is a short 2 km from Mission Hill. Both wineries also have restaurants. But last year, Quail's Gate opened up a new tasting room and wine store, as their previous “cabin” had been outgrown. This year it had been Mission Hill's turn to expand their wine store and tasting bar, nearly doubling their space. But it is Quail's Gate's tasting bar that has a large window that overlooks Okanagan Lake. It is so tempting to just stay there all afternoon sipping wines and gazing at the scenery.
Quail's Gate serves up samples of their dessert wines in little chocolate tasting cups. As a special engagement treat, I bought tastings of the Riesling Icewine ($34.99) an Optima ($32.99) for Wendy and Jonas. The wine host slowly poured the icewine into the chocolate cups until it just rose just above the edge. He said to be careful handling the cups, and described it as “liquid gold.” Wendy really liked the icewine. My girlfriend usually likes the Optima because it is less sweet.
Wendy and Jonas bought the Gerwertztraminer, and we decided to have a dinner party and I would bring the Gray Monk Gerwertz for comparison tastings.
Nice wines… always good for an excuse to go dragon boat racing in the Okanagan