The Okanagan. “You are going where, Elena?” Three weeks into my Western Canada travel adventures, exploring both Vancouver & Vancouver Island, as well as Seattle to the south, I am standing at Vancouver airport, heart pounding for two reasons. It’s goodbyes with my dear friend Janett, who has travelled with me and is now going back home to Germany. It’s also a time where I am just short of reaching my next travel destination in British Columbia, the Okanagan Wine Valley, about four hours’ drive east of Vancouver.
However, at all the car rental counters: “Sorry, Miss, but there are no more cars available.”
What? Caught out with all my luggage, I stand staring at my phone: There must be options. And then: “You are lucky. We actually have a flight leaving for Kelowna at three, and I can see it’s a bit delayed, so you’ll be able to make it just fine.” (That’s the Air Canada ticketing officer at Vancouver airport, smiling breezily just after two o’clock in the afternoon.) I take up his offer and decide on flying over driving instead. My heart stops pounding once I reach the boarding gate. Phew!
Never in my life have I bought, and taken, a flight within an hour of the plane’s scheduled departure. It’s exhilarating, yet also very natural these days, I find.
“If you can’t rent a car, it’s because something much better is about to happen to you …”, my dear Marc writes to me as I go over my decision-making. Naturally, he is right. Well yes.
My 24 hours in Kelowna: Where to sleep and sip wine, beer or coffee in style.
So how to organize yourself on such a spontaneous flying #winelover visit to an area you’ve barely had the time to read about prior to your trip? My answers are: Google search based on your interests (wine tours), booking accommodation over your iPhone app, tweeting out to @TourismKelowna for immediate tips & travel ideas on what’s happening in town. Easy as, right. Even, or especially, in such a well-connected winelover travel destination as the Okanagan.
Altogether, an astounding variety of 86 (!) white & red wine varieties are grown in the entire Okanagan valley, covering an area of 11.000 acres on a north-south extension of 160 kilometres. Very little is known or tasted abroad, as virtually none of the wines are exported further afield than British Columbia, or Canada, for that matter. Several microclimates come together here to create a very unique setting for wine growing: The cooler influences of the nearby Rocky Mountains, lakes and rivers, as well as the (semi) desert of the Sonora valley, where the Okanagan joins up with the US border & wine growing areas of Washington.
Fascinating. I love being here and learning more about this special part of Canada, only an hour’s flight east of Vancouver and still under the influence of the Pacific Ocean climate, shielding it off from more “Arctic outbreaks” to the north. After all, we are at a latitude of almost 50° north, which has many of us wonder: Wine doing well here?
Wine is doing incredibly well here. Charming Lyse Collins, of Winelicious Tours, has a way of telling that story by taking us out to selected wine producers along Naramata Bench and Summerland areas.
Lyse is one of those people who is like a friend you simply haven’t met yet. In just about no time, she is able to create a warm-hearted, welcoming group atmosphere between people, keeping the size of her operations deliberately small to focus on a better engagement and tour experience for us. At no point are we hurried along, and it always feels as if she is taking us to her friends around the valley: Small-sized, family operations focusing on quality (wine) storytelling.
Grape Escapes Tours & Wine School: Moving on to exploring the Okanagan Falls wine region.
My second #winelover exploration day in the Okanagan continues with a private tour with Dino, of Grape Escapes Tours & Wine School. As he picks me up from my accommodation in Penticton, we take a quick stop at the visitor information centre for a “wine discovery tour”, which sets the palate for visitors like me before actually heading out to tasting wines. During the quieter months of the year, from November until March, Dino and his team also run a “Wine School”, giving sensory evaluation as well as wine & food pairing courses. I make a mental note of coming back for that one day!
“The Okanagan”, Dino explains in his calm, soft manner, “means ‘valley floor’ in the native tongue of the First Nation people. It must have referred to the fertile aspect of the soil for planting. To this day, the Okanagan has managed to retain a certain quaintness, despite its recent rise to fame and development. There are still a number of what we call ‘bedroom communities’ between Penticton and Osoyoos, including lots of little ‘mom & pop stores’.” I like living here, he seems to add. And explains: “Grape Escapes allows me to fully live two of my three big passions: Telling people about the Okanagan. Sharing and tasting our excellent wines. Then later in the year, I go to the Caribbean for kitesurfing as part of living my third big passion.” He laughs: Another typical (Canadian)? story of how to work to live, not to live to work. They really seem to do that very well around here, especially in a place like the Okanagan …
And you, when will you head to the Okanagan?
I have also produced a travel video that highlights some of my travel adventures in Western Canada, all the way from Vancouver to the vast open plains east of the Rocky Mountains. A fascinating, funky take on what has truly been a life-changing journey. Enjoy with sound & smile 🙂
Disclaimer: I have been hosted by Winelicious Tours & Grape Escapes for exploring the Okanagan valley. All opinions are my own.