5 Fabulous Winery Restaurants in the Okanagan
The Okanagan, a central valley in the Canadian province of British Columbia, has a beauty that cannot be compared to any other place on Earth. The weather is the best in Canada. It is a secret that has been kept in the past, but it has not been lost on Canadians and people around the world over the past 30 years.
Wine has been produced in this valley for many years, but fortunately in 1990 an Alliance of Winegrowers for Quality (VQA) was created to develop, maintain and guarantee the quality of production. With quality wine comes the development of an epicurean culture attentive to the holistic experience of food, wine and atmosphere. The number of wineries in the area has grown too quickly even for locals, and many of them also offer dining options.
My son Brannen is a chef at Okanagan and we decided to join our passion for food and wine and give a very small sample of these possible wine restaurants. My wife, Magali, and her brother, Thierry, have also joined the oenogastronomy adventure. A common denominator for all of our visits was the incredible views to be had from each of the dining terraces. Our approach to each visit was the same. Arrive unannounced, choose our meals and wines, followed by dessert, and with our impressions in place, ask the owner, or manager at the time, for specific highlights.
Now find out why these five places make a fabulous combination of wineries and restaurants.
1. Poplar grove
poplar grove is a beautiful setting, overlooking Okanagan Lake, with solar collectors aesthetically serving as shade above the terrace. We started with a white wine Blanc de Franc and white Cabernet Franc. It was the first time for us to try this red grape, but a white wine due to the lack of skin contact during the process. Brannen, with his chef’s experience for tastes and nose, hit the description with “herbal and elderflower notes.” It went really well with homemade parker rolls and was a decent balance for our various first plates.
My choice of Syrah was almost too powerful a pairing for the balanced spice of the Chicken Mafalda. We all found our portions to be generous and creatively presented. Brannen noted the interesting use of crispy rice fried with egg yolk to create a kind of donut-like sandwich for his beef tartare. A wedding was planned mid-afternoon, so we had a little time to try a dessert. We had a moment with Restaurant Manager Michael, who spoke of a desire for “refined nostalgia” and discussed the overall appeal of the Okanagan and the vibrant, developing wine scene.
2. Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery
Terrafina offered a table for Magali and me, under the vines, overlooking the vines with the lake somewhat obstructed by the parking lot. Generally an inspired site, which might as well have been in Tuscany. A starter of beetroot hummus for Magali and roasted olives for me was particularly delicious, with a roasted and smoky taste for both, with the addition of local blue cheese and hummus. It was a wonderful balance of strong flavors, paired with a lightly buttery/almond chardonnay for the hummus and a delicate citrusy pinot blanc for me.
The main plate of mussels for Magali was accompanied by a wine tasting “trip”, very kindly offered by Robin, the manager. We were generously served a sample of their Trebbiano, Pinot Gris and Ros to compare. Just the kind of trip we both enjoy. I chose a strong Syrah for my tuna. Magali continued with great pleasure the sweet citrus and green apple notes of the Trebbiano. Throughout the meal, we admired Robin’s attention to detail, concern for customers and willingness to get down to any task. When asked for a highlight, she immediately replied, “privacy, never a table of more than eight” and a clear concern for each individual.
3. Mission Hill Family Estate
Mission Hill aims for exclusivity and refinement from the checkpoint to the car park entrance, and at each stage of a visit and a meal. The winery is located on the Boucherie mountain, overlooking the vineyards and the lake. The architecture is perhaps renaissance/modern and very impressive. It is almost another world to find this unique site, perhaps reminiscent of an Italian mission/monastery, not far from Kelowna and its rapidly growing architecture, but juxtaposed against the ancient beauty of the First Nations of the British Columbia. It’s a special experience.
Brannen and I arrived for lunch. It begins with the offering of a glass of rosé. Brannen with his refined nose and taste buds noted the excellent balance between the acidity of the grapefruit and the subtle sweetness of the strawberry. This was paired with focaccia and olive oil combined with rosemary, thyme and strawberry vinegar. The lunch menu was very professionally balanced with two offerings for entree, two for meal and three for dessert. Brannen and I were able to try everything on offer. Each dish was accompanied by a suggested food and wine pairing. Brannen was particularly expressive about his Scallop and Kohlrabi Vichyssoise, saying, “Delightfully light but bursting with flavor as soon as it hits your tongue. The balance between the scallops that melt in the mouth and the sweetness of the pork is exquisite. The wine paired with a Reisling brings out the sweetness to counter the saltiness of the dish. Superb presentation.”
I enjoyed the starter and main course, but found the wine pairing of their Cabernet Franc for my plate of chicken and Espelette pepper a bit overwhelming. We shared the three desserts on offer, and again Brannen is particularly expressive for the sour cherry and apricot coffee cake, “The coffee cake is a wonderful blend of spices and wonderful to see it deconstructed . The tangy tartness of the cherries offsets the sweetness, and the spice is present but not overpowering. The coffee cake itself is more like a sponge cake, because such beautifully polymerizes the whole thing. By far my favorite.”
The manager at our meal time was young and perhaps intimidated by my “highlights” question. However, his answer was perfect. She treated us both to a tasting of four wines, culminating with their elite, “Oculus”. Brannen and I both thought this was a place for very special occasions.
4. Dirty laundry
Dirty laundry The winery is nestled in the vineyards, overlooking the lake, above the town of Summerland. There is an atmosphere to the South of France market that makes visitors feel immediately welcomed and at ease. A canopy of several individual red parasols gives color and shade to this wonderful terrace. Like a market, there are different stalls for wine, food, beer, coffee and ice cream. The visitor moves from place to place at a completely relaxed pace, mingling and chatting with other visitors and staff. We started with a 2021 Reisling and again Brannen’s descriptions were most insightful: “Light colour, sweetness, notes of honey and elderflower nectar (syrup). Refreshing because the aroma is a little more bitter than sweet. Green apples.”
After a meal of pizza and pulled pork, we went to an excellent red Hush mix for wine. In the spirit of the Italian market, we ended with a tasty light and tasty black currant ice cream. Throughout the meal, we observed a man attentive to everything and everyone. Herman turned out to be an owner. Asked about the highlights, he replied with the ambiguous answer of “expectations”. With the name, location, and perhaps preconceptions of other wineries, visitors come here with unclear expectations. They leave with a sense of complete comfort and contentment, and a desire to return. There is no ostentation here, only the desire for a particular experience that we would like to renew.
5. Nk’Mip Caves (Inkameep)
Nk’Mip Cellars is located in the town of Osoyoos, the southernmost tip of the Okanagan in Canada. True Canadian desert country. It is the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America, and this depth, history, beauty and uniqueness can be felt in the stunning location overlooking Osoyoos Lake, in the winery’s beautiful architecture , the surrounding village and in the food and wine. My wife (Magali), her brother (Thierry) and I started with an excellent wine tasting: a blend of Méritage blanc from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc that was light, delicate and complex with hints of vanilla and almond; a chardonnay with the perfect balance between light butter and vanilla; a pinot noir with a little spicy tannins and finally a syrah with the desired complexity and sweet notes of violet and pepper.
Our meals were excellent with a special recommendation for the pickled sailor bean salad, grilled aioli, sourdough and bacon bits. The strengths here were expressed as the careful attention paid to the balance of earth, water, fire and air in the food, with excellent choice and coordination between chef and winemaker for food and wine pairings.
Winemaking in the Okanagan was started by a priest, who presumably made wine for the sacrament. It has become an industry targeting epicurean experiences. The region and the industry are very dynamic.
Pro Tip: We took the time to research wineries and spoke to several people in the business when choosing our five wineries. Lots of information can be found online, and speaking with professionals will guide you through the vast array of food and drink options in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. The offer is so wide and diverse that everyone should be able to find their favourites. Enjoy the trip.
For more information on travel in British Columbia, check out these articles: