A Day in Lake Country BC

Okanagan wineries

There are a lot of wine areas to explore in the Okanagan, each with their own unique sense of place. Recently I decided to head north from Kelowna to explore the Scenic Sip route in Lake Country BC. Located between Kelowna and Vernon, this area is easily accessible for a daytrip. It is a beautiful area which is nestled in between Okanagan Lake to the west with much smaller Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake to the east, close to the city of Winfield BC. 

Lake Country is a located just north of the mid-point of Okanagan Lake however it is getting to the northern edge of winemaking in the Okanagan. In fact, many of the vineyards straddle the 50th parallel which is the same latitude as the Mosel wine region of Germany. It is no surprise then that the grape varietals that do best here are the same as in Germany. Aromatic whites such as Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer as well as Pinot Noir and Zweigelt all thrive in this area and create some of BC’s finest wines.

For those of you wine geek types (like me) that are interested in soil; the area was once covered by glaciers and once they started melting a massive glacier lake was formed named Lake Penticton. Eventually it receded to create the lakes we have today and the result is soil that is largely sand and gravel with some clay.  

Lake Country Wineries

Ancient Hill Winery

My day started at Ancient Hill Winery since it is the first one heading north from Kelowna. It is located very close to the Kelowna airport. Ancient Hill is an estate winery since all of their wines are grown from the 27 acres of grapes on site. They do small case lots, usually around 200-300 cases, so if you like their wines you should get them while you can.    

Ancient Hill Winery
Patio area at Ancient Hill Winery

The gardens surrounding the winery are beautiful and they have a large patio area as well as intimate spots tucked away in various corners of the garden. They don’t offer food service except for some cheese and cracker assortments, but they allow you to bring a lunch and enjoy it overlooking the valley. It would be a wonderful date spot.

I brought home a bottle of their 2011 Lazerus which is a blend of 46% Zweigelt and 54% Lemberger 54%. It is a light bodied, unoaked, summer weight red. A nice combination of spice with red fruit and chocolate. I found it well balanced and smooth which makes it an easy drinking wine you can enjoy on it’s own or with food. For $ 14.78 + tax it is a great wine to have on hand.

Overall, I found Ancient Hills to be very charming. I personally like small boutique style wineries and wine rooms that have a rustic feel. If you are looking for a country setting for a picnic lunch or to spend a few hours enjoying some good wine in a garden, this is a perfect spot.

Arrowleaf Cellars

In contrast to the rustic, country charm of Ancient Hill, Arrowleaf Cellars is a stunning modern winery overlooking Okanagan Lake. They have a large picnic area that is shaded where you can enjoy wine by the glass or bottle, as well as a patio deck off of the tasting room which offers a light lunch menu.

Arrowleaf Winery
Arrowleaf Cellars

They also offer free tastings, which is a rarity in the Okanagan, but not every wine is available to taste. I was surprised to learn all of their wines are available in the Save on Foods in Kelowna, and that will be expanding to other Save on Foods in BC as well.

Since I knew I could pick up their wines locally I only brought home 1 bottle, although I enjoyed all of the wines I tried. I brought home their 2015 Snow Tropics blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer. It’s an off-dry style perfect for patio weather. It has refreshing tropical fruits like pineapple and mango with lime and grapefruit notes. The off-dry sweetness is very well balanced with crisp acidity. You can drink this one on it’s own or with a spicy dish like curry or thai food. Price is $ 15.40 + tax.

Overall, it is an impressive winery and I can see why the architecture won some awards. They were ranked #2 winery in Canada in 2015 at the WineAlign National Wine Awards. Definitely worth stopping by or picking up a bottle to try at home.

Gray Monk Estate Winery 

Heading back towards the lake I arrived at the oldest family owned winery in the Okanagan, Gray Monk Estate Winery. When the  George and Trudy Heiss  moved to the Okanagan and began planting grapes in 1972, they became pioneers in the BC wine industry. Today, all three of their sons work in the family business.

Grey Monk Winery
view from Gray Monk Winery

Both the tasting room and restaurant have amazing lake views. I didn’t have time to stop for lunch (too much wine to taste, not enough time) but I did go on the free tour they offer. One was starting just as I was finishing my tasting so I jumped at the chance.

The 45 minute tour tells you about the history of the winery and shows you the production area, bottling area and lab. Yes, there is a science to wine and they have a state of the art lab on site. Usually after the tour you do a tasting, but since I had already done mine, I grabbed my many bottles and headed out. I ended up buying 8 bottles of wine ranging from their Odyssey Rosé Brut to the Odyssey III Port.

The tasting room is large and bright with lots of staff to help you. They have a great selection of wines as well as wine accessories and clothes. They also offer locally made jams and preserves for sale. Whether you are going for a wine tasting, lunch or dinner, Gray Monk is a must stop on the Scenic Sip route.

Intrigue Wines

Next stop was a short drive into the country to visit Intrigue Wines. The tasting room has a cozy rustic feel and the tasting bar is a good size. There is a picnic area in the back with lovely views of the vineyards. They don’t offer a hot food service, but you can buy some of the local cheeses, sausages, jams and preserves they sell and enjoy them with a glass or bottle of their wine.

Intrigue Winery
Intrigue Winery Social White

They focus mainly on the white varietals that excel here; Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gew­ürztraminer but they do offer a few red wines as well. I tasted their sparkling Rosé called I Do (smart marketing for wedding season) which was very good. Since I was still recovering from the haul at Gray Monk, I only bought 1 bottle. I opted for the Social white which is a blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat Canelli. They call it their perfect Summer sipper and I agree. With notes of lemon, apple and pear it will pair well with food or can be enjoyed on its own on a sunny patio. Plus I love the labelling and yes that does influence my buying decisions on occasion. At $ 14.90 + tax it is a great value wine.

Intrigue Wines is a boutique winery and you can feel that in the casual, relaxed atmosphere. It’s not as well know as some of the other bigger wineries on the route, but it is worth a visit to taste some of their award winning wines.

50th Parallel

Heading north and back towards the lake I arrived at 50th Parallel. I had been hearing about this winery and their Pinot Noir all day so I was excited to check them out.

50th Parallel Winery
50th Parallel view

The winery is a striking modern building with parallel lines of concrete, glass and metal. Add in the amazing lake views and you know you have arrived at a special place. It is also unique in it’s soil…wine geek alert…in that is has red granite sand which is similar to soils in some great Alsatian vineyards.

When you enter, the tasting bar area is quite small. What is impressive though is this area is open to the production facility so you can watch the winemaking process. They are expanding (construction is underway) the facility to include a larger tasting room with floor to ceiling glass windows, a restaurant and event centre with completion the Summer of 2017.

I was greeted with a glass of their 2014 Gewürztraminer, which I thought was a nice touch. 50th Parallel is known for it’s world class Pinot Noir, and it was outstanding. I’m kicking myself for not taking any home (an excuse for another trip) but it was the Gewürztraminer that had my attention that day.

I was trying the 2013 Gewurztraminer when Curtis (the owner) strolled in and poured himself a glass as well. It was getting later on in the afternoon so I was the only one at the tasting bar. He asked me how I was enjoying my tasting and I said I thought the 2013 Gewurzt was excellent. He suggested I try the 2012 vintage, which won double gold (Best in Class) at the 2013 All Canadian Wine Championships. Not available to taste, and not listed as an option to buy, they went into their cellars and found me 3 bottles of the 2012. I can’t wait to try it.

50th Parallel is already creating world class wines with young vines (planted in 2009) and with award winning winemaker Grant Stanley (of Quails Gate fame). There is little doubt they will be the benchmark of Pinot Noir in BC if they aren’t already.  

There is one other winery listed on the Scenic Sip route, unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop in at Ex Nihilo Vineyards. I heard good things about their wines from the other wineries though and apparently they have the best wood fire pizza at their bistro, so it sounds like another trip is needed. Lunch anyone?

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