Red, white, bubbles or rosé—I love wine. I can talk about it for hours. And, not surprisingly, my ideal holidays always centre on a wine region.
Wine brings together some of life’s wonderful things: history and the outdoors, travel, farming, food and friends. And a wine country holiday offers the opportunity to enjoy those passions first-hand. These spots offer world-renowned vino, beautiful scenery and touring options to suit every taste.
More than a decade ago, Tracy Clark moved to the Okanagan Valley from British Columbia’s Lower Mainland to work at a newspaper. That job has long since vanished, but Clark’s love for the valley has never waned. Now working at the BC Wine Institute as the communications manager, she says she can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“Pour a glass of your favourite B.C. wine, sit back and simply watch the sun dip behind the mountains, its warm glow glinting off the lake,” she says. “That’s what makes the Okanagan special.”
From the casual beach vibes of Penticton and Okanagan Falls to the shops and nightlife in Kelowna, there’s something for everyone in the Okanagan Valley. And, as Clark knows, there are excellent wines, too. Home to about 130 wineries, the valley offers everything from big reds (don’t miss the Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot) to crisp whites (Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and more) to Canada’s famous icewine.
A good time to start exploring the region is during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival (Oct. 3 to 13 this year). It features parties, dinner and tastings throughout the valley.
Tours to try
SUP and Sip
You’ll truly earn your wine and carbs after attempting North America’s trendiest water sport, stand-up paddle boarding (a.k.a. SUP), on Osoyoos Lake. Launch from La Stella Winery for an hour-long paddle, balance as best you can and pray you don’t fall in—especially if it’s a cool day. Afterward, let your abs recover while you enjoy an hour-long wine tasting on La Stella’s scenic patio.
Row Your Boat
Work up an appetite on a 90-minute kayaking trip on Lake Okanagan with Hoodoo Adventures. You’ll start at Penticton and paddle to pretty Three Mile Beach for a picnic of local fruit and cheese, as well as wine from Upper Bench Estate Winery and Creamery. Following your meal, you’ll hop in a chauffeur-driven van and visit four or five wineries, big and small, on the Naramata Bench.
Impressive work by some of North America’s top artists, including Brent Comber, Martha Sturdy, Charles Malinsky and Jeff Burgess, are scattered throughout the gorgeous Liquidity Wines, located close to Penticton. Go on a short self-guided tour of the paintings and sculpture park, then stop at the bistro for wine-country cuisine at its best.
About an hour and a half from Toronto, the Niagara Peninsula is home to more than 80 wineries scattered throughout picturesque old towns like Beamsville, Jordan, St. Catharines, Vineland and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Pick up some locally grown apples from a roadside fruit stand, then spend time admiring the towns’ pretty-as-a-picture buildings, often made from local stone and brick.
When you get tired of taking pictures, start the tasting. Together, the wineries here make about 1,350 wines; common varietals include Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
To cram as much in as possible, head to the Niagara Wine Festival (Sept. 13 to 28 this year). Then return in June for the Niagara Integrated Film Festival. One of this past year’s offerings, Filmalicious, included dinner and a movie under the stars in a vineyard. And the festival’s Niagara Film Feast encompasses four winery visits and short films.
Tours to try
Spend an afternoon biking through the bucolic countryside with Grape Escape Wine Tours. Visit wineries like Lailey, Marynissen Estates and Riverview Cellars, taste more than a dozen wines and go for a picnic on the Picnic Lunch Bicycle Tour. You’ll bike around 12 kilometres over a span of about four hours, and the ride is easy enough for beginner cyclists. Best of all, the folks at Grape Escape will deliver your wine, so you can shop without having to schlep your purchases.
Land Rover Ramble
Tootle around wine country with your own driver in a luxurious Land Rover. Based in Beamsville, Crush on Niagara Wine Tours can create custom tours for groups, or you can sign up for one of its many package offerings. The Fancy Fare, Savoury Bites and Flights package includes behind-the-scenes tours of five wineries, a winery lunch with (big surprise) wine, and free pickup from hotels and B&Bs in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls. You’ll be escorted by a Crush wine country host and, of course, there will be plenty of space for your purchases.
With Niagara Segway tours, you can pick a winery—Henry of Pelham, Creekside Winery and Vineyard, or the Niagara Teaching College—and then take a 75-minute jaunt through the vineyards on a two-wheeled, self-balanced scooter known as a Segway. Yes, you get to ride through the vineyards. It’s wacky fun and then, afterward, there’s wine, too.