DISCOVERING CANADA’S LAKE OKANAGAN VALLEY
DISCOVER CANADA’S LAKE OKANAGAN VALLEY
by Gerrye Wong September 15, 2019
When people usually thought of going to Canada for vacation they mostly considered vacationing in Toronto Quebec, Vancouver, Whistler resort area, or Ottawa. Our travel group of six seniors instead ventured to the small town of Kelowna which boasts of 300 wineries to visit and 19 golf courses to play. So what more could you ask for in an area with those two travel desirable destinations?
Parkside legendary creature Ogopogo welcomes Maelene Wong, Gerrye Wong and Carole Yamaguchi
Our plan was to visit as many wineries and golf courses in 6 days primarily but we found the town and the area itself is beautiful country with many forests, hillsides filled with winery grapes growing as well as other agriculture, and a quiet calm lake that ran up and down the Kelowna Valley called Lake Okanogan. Even its legendary dragon type creature Ogopogo didn’t scare us away and we had a marvelous one week time in the Lake Okanogan area of Kelowna British Columbia, Canada.
Admiring the giant wire sculpture of a bear in Kelowna park
First day in town we looked around the area and went to the Harborside where many yachts of all sizes were moored and we got to meet the creature Ogopogo himself made as a sculpture for children to climb on. We also saw a large bear sculpture made out of wire.
Beautiful sculpture of a sail welcomes nighttime visitors to the harbor walk.
The harborside tourist bureau was very helpful to us and sent us to an Art Walk which was an annual art show put on by local citizens just a half an hour away in Lake Country. Obviously this is a major event in the valley because the art show was filled with people who were enjoying an afternoon out at the local school where resident artists were displaying fabric art, paintings, sculptures, and jewelry.
My travel mates Jim and Carole Yamaguchi had never tasted donuts from Tim Hortons so we had to add that to our itinerary that day much to their happiness and smiling faces.
Jim and Carole Yamaguchi visit Tin Hortons
Bright and early the next day The Okanagan Golf Club was our destination where we met General Manager Dan Martheson who graciously welcomed us to his beautiful facility which was busy with local and out of country visitors like us. When two famous golf architects take on 384 acres of exquisite terrain to carve out golf courses, that’s the Okanagan. Dan equipped us with new Taylor Made clubs and sent us to his Quail Course with advice to enjoy the Les Ferber design which featured dramatic elevation challenge and multi-tiered fairways with occasional rocky bluffs to give us breathtaking views of the valley below.
General Manager at Okanagan Golf Course and daughter Gracie welcome us to the course.
The very personable Matheson had been in the golf business for many years, he said, both as a high school team golfer, amateur on tour, and eventually became a golf pro managing BC Golf at the Okinagan. His high school daughter, Gracie, was on the course helping set up the players ready to go. He told us the course closes end of October until March the following year, but in their short season, they are very busy with visitors from all over Canada.
Enjoying patio lunch with Dan Matheson at Lake Okanagan Golf Course
Enjoying the Okanagan Golf Club facility, we lunched again on the patio overlooking the 18th green hosted by a very friendly waitress Cheryl and played the Bear Course, which Dan laughingly said could be as ferocious as a grizzly or gentle as a teddy with dramatic sculpted fairways surrounded by the forests and sage brush hills of British Columbia’s sun-drenched southern interior. He claimed that many have echoed that the Bear Course is unlike any other golf course in Canada. For beauty, it won my vote as one of the most scenic I have ever played myself. Kudos to BCGolf which is maintaining the course in full fall splendor!
Golfers heaven enjoyed by Wongs
A September rainy day caught us at another BC Golf facility, the Gallagher’s Canyon Golf Course, but it did not dim the special experience of golf in this pristine and course friendly facility. GM Peter Hopley was away treating his management staff to a retreat but the very friendly welcoming staff took care of us very well. Starter Barry told us to look for a mother bear and two cubs who had just been sighted on the sixth hole crossing the fairway to search for a food at a neighboring apple orchard, but alas, she was gone when we arrived in that area.
Californians enjoying Canadian scenery at Lake Okanagan course
On the course we could see miles of orchards and vineyards punctuate the surrounding hills that rise above Lake Okanagan. While playing the challenging Canyon Course we passed throngs of Ponderosa pines that routed in and around a steep canyon. We saw the adjoining Pinnacle Course, a 9 hole course perfect for beginners or those with limited time to get out to this very welcoming golf course.
Okanagan Golf Course Golf Shop is well equipped.
And of course, at the 19th hole, we women rushed into the Golf Shop to shop for their September discount pricing in preparation for October closure. Why else would our husbands look so spiffy on the courses each day if it were not for our daily purchases for their golf attire?
VISITING THE WINERIES OF THE VALLEY
Although we are wine novices, knowing that this area is now noted for its locally grown wine, we decided to take a tour to see but a few of the 300 wineries said to be operating in the valley now. We had the good fortune to meet with Melanie Evans, award winning CEO and owner of WEST KELOWNA WINE TOURS – “The Cup of Life” who whisked us through a busy morning visiting four of the top rated wineries of the area – SUMMERHILLS, VOLCANIC ESTATE, MISSION HILLS AND QUAIL’S GATE WINERIES.
Melanie Evans shows us her touring bus for our Wine Tour adventure
In 2017 Melanie was given the award for GLOBAL LUXURY TRAVEL GUIDE WINE TOUR OPERATOR OF THE YEAR in London award ceremonies, so it was indeed our fortunate experience to have her showing us the Kelowna Valley wineries.
Wine Tour CEO Melanie Evans and Gerrye admire wooden sculpture at Summerhill Winery
You can tell why she received glowing accolades for her tours because she is very passionate about her love for the valley and she has guided visitors with her tours for over ten years. She said, “I love personally guiding visitors along the panoramic Okanagan Lake to some of the most recognized award winning wineries where their quality vines produce exceptional wines. Her tours include wine tasting and tour fees, and she has designed wine with helicopter tours, wedding tours, golf and wine tours, cruise and wine tours, and can do specialized planning to client’s wishes. Because of Melanie’s guidance, our group was able to have a private staffer guide us and tell us about each winery’s specialty products and how they were produced. Check website www.WestKelownaWineTours.com to experience what Melanie titles the Tuscany Side of the Okanagan.
Enjoying unique decoration at Summerhill Winery
Our first stop was to the Summerhill Pyramid Winery which even sells to California wine market, we were informed by Winemaker Michael Alexander. An organic winery that specializes in light wines including Rieslings, Syrahs and ICE wines, it is well sought after to visit because of its unique pyramid structure which oftentimes holds weddings, special events and even once was the site where the owner’s wife gave birth in the peaceful interior of the pyramid. Owner Stephen Cipes built it as a first nation pit-house ceremonial location.
Ready to enter Summerhill Winery’s pyramid
Its grounds were filled with visitors at its tasting bar and had a peaceful yet unique view of the scenery below. Even without any tasting, we could see the enthusiasm of the wine tasters of this organically grown and produced wine. The wines are brought in to be aged in the pyramid. In one study group, people tasting the same wine were asked to make a choice vote. One glass had wine that had been aged in the pyramid and one had not. Blinded wine tasters overwhelmingly chose that which had spent time in the pyramid as the best tasting of the two.
Proud owner Bobby Gidda shows off his wines
Volcanic Hill Estate Winery was Melanie’s next stop, and due to her calling ahead, one of the family owners Bobby Gidda showed us around the grounds where his family had opened the winery in 2010. He explained the wine making process there and explained how his uncle had the foresight to come to Kelowna in 1958 and started the family in the wine business.
Barrel room at Volcanic Estate Winery with owner Bobby and Tour Guide Melanie
We learned that his vineyards are set right in the surrounding area below Mt. Boucherie, an extinct volcano, hence the winery’s name. Our tour included visiting their processing plant with the processing tanks and their barrel room where Bobby explained how the barrels are marked with their origins, age and contents, further explaining how the oak and barrel history can affect the taste of the wine.
Extinct volcano Mt. Boucherie where Volcanic Estate Winery is located
In her nattily painted West Kelowna Wine Tours bus, Melanie next visited the largest of all the wineries – MISSION HILLS WINERY. The grounds of the winery far surpass anything Napa has to offer in scope and acreage, and as the viewer walked towards the shop, she sees a giant grassy amphitheater where concerts by celebrities such as Leanne Rhymes, Tony Bennet and Michael Bolton have been enjoyed in an intimate outdoor seated experience.
Seeing the grassy amphitheater at Mission Hills Winery
We saw photos where then President Barack Obama and family came here as well as England’s Royals Kate and William in 2016 AND 2017. The Royals invited 300 disabled children to be their guests when they dined at Mission Hills.
Boutique Supervisor at Mission Hills Winery Patrick Helman gave tour of of facility
Boutique Supervisor Patrick Helman showed us around the shop and led us to visit their beautiful underground barrel room which contains barrels that can produce 3.5 to 5000 cases of wine. Fellow travelers Aaron and Maelene Wong enjoyed seeing a small enclave where owner Anthony von Mandl keeps his collection of ancient wine vessels dating back to the 6th century.
Owner’s wall of ancient wine vessels
We admired the metal art sculptures placed all around the grounds and can easily see why during the summer the winery can have as many as two thousand visitors daily.
Imitating the metal sculpture at Mission Hills Winery
Mission Hills setting on a knoll above the Lake Okanagan was beautiful and its campanile bell chimed for the visitors on the hour. This privately owned family winery has made Canada proud with its purpose to help discover and return to this Kelowna area.
Greeted by Sommelier Mike Lee at Quail’s Gate Winery
As the sun was ready to set, we arrived at our last winery, Quail’s Gate a mere few miles from Mission Hills on the West Kelowna side of the bay. Sommelier Mike Lee led our group down for a walk through the vineyard with vines 50 years old from the first vineyard when owner Patrick Stewart opened in 1956.
Walking grounds of Quail’s Gate Winery
The winery produces approximately one million bottles of wine per year. We visited the Library, a refrigerated “wine cellar” on the second floor that contains over 300 bottles of wine and saw an elegant dining table used for special visits. Our extensive tour included seeing their processing rooms with tanks, and a unique igloo one for temperature controlled fermentation. The winery is uniquely situated with the vineyards sloping down to the lake shore.
Dinner at Quail’s Gate Winery
Known for its cuisine as one of the best in Kelowna, we enjoyed dinner there for a quiet relaxing dinner par excellence, with our menu pairing food and wine together throughout each new dish.
Alas it was time the next day to leave this regrettably overlooked area. I encourage anyone who loves the outdoor, whether it be biking, hiking, camping or golfing take a trip to Okanagan Valley tourist bureau site to find out what is being offered during your stay time. Our three golf games and our half day wine tour encompassed all of our short 6 day stay and we left many places undiscovered before we ran out of time. Easy short flights from San Jose, California to Seattle was my route before catching small plane to Kelowna’s airport.
Love wine? Enjoy new golf experiences for sportsman golfers on the prey? Enjoy catching waterfalls on nature walks? Kayaking on the river? This is that out-of-the-way place for you to bring family and friends. Thank you Lake Okanagan and Kelowna Valley welcoming us to your shores.