It’s the weekend and you’re ready for an Okanagan wine tour!
Visiting Okanagan wine country is about cruising past perfectly pruned rows of grapevines while taking in breathtaking views of gorgeous lakes, framed by the rolling mountains that make up the valley.
It’s about catching up with friends over glasses of wine, finding out if your tastes are entirely different or totally the same.
It can also be about learning the details of where your wine comes from: the Okanagan terroir and meeting the people responsible for making what’s in your glass.
Best of all, you get to take home a taste of your adventure to share (or to keep for yourself!). Wine is the best souvenir. Face it, tasting and buying wines right where they’re made is way more fun than a trip to the liquor store!
Whether you’re going on a wine tour for the beautiful views, an adventurous experience, or simply to stock up your cellar, the following tips will help you to make the most of your Okanagan wine tour.
Planning Your Okanagan Wine Tour
Map Out Wineries Before You Start
There’s a lot of wineries in the Okanagan! I would plan to cover between three to six wineries in a given day. Any more than that, you run the risk of palate fatigue. Your day can become a bit of a blur and it can be hard to remember where you went or which one you liked. Don’t worry, you can always come back for more.
Start by picking a region
There’s Lake Country, Kelowna/West Kelowna, Penticton/Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver, Osoyoos, or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, the Similkameen Valley. If you visit wineries in the same region or on the way to your accommodation you’ll cut down on driving time and still get to experience Okanagan wine country.
Choose a couple of wineries you’d like to visit
At this point, you might choose one more or all of the other wineries to visit or you might decide to wing it once you get there. Each winery has their own personality and wine style. Exploring new wineries is one of the best parts of wine touring!
The Wine Route signs around British Columbia will point you in the right direction – they are frequently updated and easy to follow. If you’d prefer, a GPS always comes in handy when wine touring.
It’s a good idea to start your day at the farthest winery from where you’re staying and work your way back.
Think about lunch
Eat something, preferably delicious and local. One things for sure, after all that wine you’re going to be hungry!
The winery restaurants all offer outstanding food, but can be very busy, especially in the peak months between June and September. Make a reservation as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.
If you have the time, pack a picnic! This is what we do for our tours in the warmer months. While the winery restaurants are great, our favourite way to fuel up on tour is a picnic made up of a variety of fresh, local food items.
Some cured meat, cheese, fresh local fruits and veggies, and some sort of carb (like crusty artisan bread) is just what the doctor ordered to soak up some of the wine you’ll be drinking. We shop at the Kelowna Farmers’ & Crafters’ Market, Waterfront Wines, and pick up cheeses from local producers.
Consider a winery/vineyard tour
A tour of a winery is a great way to start the day! Many wineries in Kelowna and West Kelowna offer facility tours. It’s your chance to see behind the scenes and get a glimpse into the production side of the wine business. You’ll learn a thing or two about grapegrowing and winemaking while your attention span is at its peak (before you taste too much wine).
Keep an Open Mind
I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again a couple of thousand times: Just because you’ve tried some wines from a particular grape before and not liked them DOES NOT MEAN you’ll dislike the others.
Every winemaker makes wine differently (see my post on how winemakers create endless styles of wine). Here’s the thing: You’re already at the winery… You have no obligation to purchase the wine so who’s it going to hurt if you don’t particularly care for it? Just dump it out if you don’t care for it.
Have fun with it! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Chances are you’ll be surprised and find a wine you really enjoy. Time and time again people tell me at the beginning of the day “I don’t like Pinot” or “I only drink red wine.” These people often end up expanding their horizons a little bit on a day of wine touring.
Spit It Out
Although it may seem blasphemous, spitting wine is common practice for those of us in the industry. Newsflash: you can taste considerably more wine if you’re spitting! Tasting more without getting tipsy is a good thing… especially if you’re driving! Spitters are not quitters when it comes to wine tasting.
Have a Designated Driver
This one is pretty self-explanatory. A DUI charge is a great way to ruin your wine touring day.
Get a Tour Guide
If everyone in your group wants to taste wine without worrying about safety, a guided wine tour is the best way to experience BC wine country. Instead of navigating old country roads you can enjoy the view of the vineyards on the way to your next stop.
Your guide can answer all your questions on wine, the history of BC, and the latest happenings around the Okanagan. Once your guide knows what types of wine you like they can steer you toward more possible favourites at BC’s top wineries.
I’m obviously biased, but it’s a great idea to enlist the help of a professional tour company. A knowledgeable guide with local knowledge on both wines and the local area can make for an excellent touring experience.
Big Groups – Call ahead!
If you’re traveling with a larger group (eight or more), you should definitely call wineries ahead of time to let them know you plan to visit.
You wouldn’t just show up to a restaurant with 10 people and expect to be sat right away… Show the same courtesy to wineries.
What to Bring
Capture your memories on camera! Okanagan wine country is full of gorgeous views from hills overlooking lakes, rugged mountains soaked in sunshine, and green vineyards gently swaying in the wind. If that isn’t snapworthy, I don’t know what is. As for the wineries, you’ll find stunning modern architecture, artwork from around the world, and walls of wine bottles.
Find a wine you like and want to remember it? Snap a photo to remind yourself later!
Dress for the Weather
While you may want to dress up for all those wine tour photos, you’ll also want to dress practically.
Check the forecast before you go and dress for the weather! For example, no sundress if it’s going to be 15 °C. Layers work well for fast changing weather. Going on a vineyard tour? Bring comfy shoes for the hills and dirt pathways and a hat for sun protection.
Pack a bag filled with items you may need throughout the day: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a good amount of water to stay hydrated are a great idea.
Extreme heat can damage wine quickly! If possible, leave it in an air conditioned vehicle or bring a cooler that’s big enough for your collection of wine bottles. If you’re driving a sedan type vehicle, it is much better to keep your wine in the passenger area where the wine can benefit from the cooling benefits of your air conditioning.
Leave strong scents at home!
Yes, even expensive colognes and perfumes. While these often smell fantastic, it’s advisable to not invade people’s nostrils with strong aromas while they are trying to focus on enjoying the wines. It can lead to a bit of sensory overload. Please save your strong scents for another time.
Your Okanagan Wine Tour Awaits
One last tip: Have fun!
With these tips, you’ll be sure to have an amazing time exploring BC wine country, filled with natural beauty, friends, and a case full of wine to bring home for even more good times.
Pro Tip: What to drink after a wine tour? COLD BEER. It is scientifically proven (not really) that cold beer is a good idea after a day of wine touring. Who are we to argue with science?
What are your top tips for wine touring in the Okanagan?
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