Wine. If you enjoy it, then Oliver in late September/early October is a great place to be. Tourist season has slowed and temperatures have cooled, but the wineries, for the most part, are still open. It is also time for the fall Okanagan Wine Festival, a collection of wine-related events throughout the Okanagan Valley from wine-paired gourmet dinners to grape-stomping family festivals.
Though some wineries offer free tasting, many charge a small fee, which is waived with a purchase. To avoid spending $5 on a tasting you need to purchase a bottle of wine each for $20, $30, $40 or more. The wine is often so good that it’s hard not to purchase a bottle or two at every winery. As nomads without a wine cellar, this is not a sustainable activity. With almost 3 weeks to explore the area, we eventually had to curtail our wine-tasting outings.
One of the big fall events in Oliver is the Festival of the Grape (FOG), an outdoor family affair that includes plenty of wine tasting and grape-stomping competitions. Our housesit homeowners, Anne and Keith, wondered if we might want to volunteer for this event as they had done in the past (and wouldn’t be this year since they would be travelling). Anne told us how to find the volunteer manager and, after dropping them off at the airport, we stopped in and asked if we could be of service. Indeed we could and that’s how we ended up in the role of Deputy Wine Police at the Sunday afternoon event wearing shocking orange hats (embroidered for a different event altogether).
We wandered among the wine-tasting tents, monitoring the pouring levels to ensure the wineries didn’t create infractions that could lead to the loss of the festival’s liquor license. It was great to be part of the event and see what it was all about, but I think I would choose a different role in the future.
If wine isn’t your thing (or even if it is), the region is also home to increasing numbers of artisan craft breweries and distilleries. We are not gin drinkers as a rule, but tasted (and bought) an amazing gin at Dubh Glas Distillery. Ken loved the complex flavours of their Noteworthy Gin. I don’t like straight spirits, but they cheated by mixing it with a hot spiced cider, creating a perfect apres-anything drink we both thoroughly enjoyed.
At Maple Leaf Spirits in Penticton, we tasted (and bought–see the problem?) their Lady of the Cask VSOP brandy (Ken says he will be sharing this with brandy-appreciating family members–we’ll see), and Cherry Liqueur, which is based on their Kirsch (cherry spirit) with added sour cherries.
Produce markets line the highway throughout the Okanagan and, at this time of year, the orchard boxes and displays are overflowing with pumpkins and squash of every kind, crisp red apples, sweet peppers, Russian garlic, and tomatoes.
The Okanagan is also a region where friends live (full- or part-time), vacation, or are in the process of building, which means visiting this area includes some great social connections when the stars align. We spent the night before our house sit at high-school-friend Elizabeth and her husband Joseph’s beautiful home up on Anarchist Mountain, had a wonderful dinner with old and new friends at Soren and Liana’s Osoyoos vacation home, and met up with Vancouver friends, Janet and Dom, at the Hester Creek Estate Winery-hosted Garlic Festival (fun fact: there are several hundred varieties of garlic). On this repeat housesit, we also reconnected with our temporary Oliver neighbours for a traditional Friday night at the local pub and dinner at our place.
On the same day we rode the Myra Trestles on the Kettle Valley Railway trail, we made a stop in Kelowna to check out the magnificent lake views of our Calgary friends’ home-in-progress. Next visit to the area we are hoping to add them to our reconnection list.
The scenery in the Okanagan region is beautiful in the fall with rows upon rows of grape-dripping vines, espaliered or traditional orchards spotted red with ripe apples, and orange-speckled pumpkin patches. There are plenty of opportunities to get up onto the rugged cliffs to view the lakes and valleys.
Since we were housesitting in the area, home included the companionship of two affectionate cats, Boots and Molly. Whether we were sitting on the patio enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun or curled up on the couch, they were always nearby, demanding attention and providing a rhythmic audio track to our activities.