Winemakers in the Okanagan Valley know they’re blessed by geography: the lake provides water for irrigation, the semi-arid climate delivers more than 2,000 hours of sunshine annually and the mountains shield the valley from rain during grape-growing season. It’s little wonder it has given rise to a cottage industry of wine tours that take advantage of that natural splendour. Whether you want to tour wineries under your own steam or have someone else chauffeur you around, you will be captivated by the Okanagan’s breathtaking vistas.
Ten years ago, there were about 75 vineyards here—now there are more than 300, according to Valhalla Helicopters chief pilot Blair Savege. When you want to visit as many as possible, Valhalla cuts out the long drives with custom, multi-stop sip-and-soars, flying past awe-inspiring scenery all the while. “It’s rock-star,” said Savege, who is also a co-owner. The pilots are tour veterans who know their stuff, and, if you find a wine you love, the helicopters can be loaded up with bottles to bring back. “My house is ridiculous with wine,” added Savege.
Stand-up paddling only started to gain popularity in the past five years in B.C., but 3 Phase Adventures learned quickly that if you add wine, the paddlers will come. Partnering with LaStella Winery, they offer one-hour lessons that end at the winery’s beachfront vineyard. “With paddleboarding, you don’t feel like you’re working out, but you get that nice mellow feeling,” said co-owner Jason Jennings. “Your endorphins are released, and the wine really hits the spot.”
As a tour guide in New Zealand, Lyndie Hill couldn’t ignore the popularity of “paddle-to-the-pub” excursions. Today, she’s the owner of Penticton’s Hoodoo Adventures, which offers guided adventures geared to families or corporate getaways, and she’s looking to replicate that experience with two kayak-to-winery routes on the Okanagan Lake—either the Naramata Bench or Bottleneck Drive. A shuttle picks customers up after they’ve had their fill. “Everybody feels like they deserve the wine more when they do something physical first,” said Hill. Hoodoo also offers beachfront picnics with locally sourced cheese and fruit.
Ask David Stein, chief pilot at Air-Hart Aviation, about his favourite spots to fly guests in his Cessna bush plane, and it’s hard to stop him. There’s Mount Boucherie, the remnant of an ancient volcano; there’s the architecture at Quails’ Gate and Mission Hill (with its 12-storey bell tower); there’s a dive down a canyon, where it’s likely you’ll spot mountain goats on the craggy outcrops. “Words,” he says, “can’t do this view justice.”
The 2014 Wine in Canada guide digs deep into the terroir of wine and food, featuring profiles, interviews and stories on the hottest winemakers, chefs and regions that will shape the industry in the years to come. It’s now available on newsstands, online at www.rogerspublishingestore.com and on the Maclean’s app.