Whether you live locally or are travelling in from afar, time spent touring and tasting at some of Kelowna's wineries is a fine way to spend a weekend. Situated in the Okanagan with its verdant valley, rolling hills, bright blue lakes and imposing mountains, Kelowna offers a picturesque setting in addition to the ideal conditions for grape growing. With around 130 wineries in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, there are plenty to keep you busy. Below is a selection of places offering something more than the traditional vineyard tour to provide inspiration for your winery weekend.
What better way to enjoy the best wines the region has to offer than by pairing them with locally sourced, exquisitely prepared food. An excellent way to spend an afternoon in Kelowna is by topping off your tour and tasting with a lavish meal accompanied by the vineyard's wines. Kelowna has some outstanding winery restaurants, with Mission Hill's The Terrace restaurant having won accolades in previous years from Vancouver Magazine's Restaurant awards, who are keen on using seasonal produce in their culinary creations all served up overlooking the stunning Lake Okanagan. With a number of tour options including the Sommelier Guided Tour and the offer of custom tastings, Mission Hill goes out of their way to accommodate guests. Another popular and sophisticated winery restaurant is Quail's Gate Winery's Old Vines Restaurant (this year's Gold winner of the Vancouver Magazine awards) whose menu even features produce from their own kitchen garden. Quail's Gate offers a variety of tour and tasting options from the indulgent Signature Tour & Tasting to complimentary tastings and tasting flights. As the Okanagan wineries are situated in such stunning surroundings, many are opening up their vineyards and views to diners as well as wine tasters; with Cedar Creek's Terrace Restaurant, Little Straw Vineyard's Barrel Top Grill and many more, there are plenty of opportunities to dine while touring the wineries of the region. Visitors should be aware that some vineyard restaurants are extremely popular and also only open seasonally so it is worth calling ahead to avoid disappointment.
Visiting wineries is not the reserve of adults; as Kelowna is a popular family vacation destination, many wineries welcome children and can provide a fun and educational outing for the whole family. Summerhill Pyramid Winery runs tours daily at 12pm and 2pm and welcomes children of all ages, encouraging them to partake in a juice tasting (the winery's own organic sparkling apple juice nonetheless) while parents sip the Summerhill specialty wines. Tours such as those run by Summerhill often cover topics like organic growing and the traditions and origins of wine-making, making a vineyard tour interesting for all the family. Other estates which welcome the younger guest are Mission Hill who offer raspberry juice tasting; and Volcanic Hills who provide a children's play area where youngsters can rollick around and let off steam while parents relax on the sofas to sample their wares after an educational tour.
It's not all wineries in the region, Kelowna also has a number of breweries and distilleries offering tours and tastings for those who have had their fill of the local Pinot and want to explore something different. A visit to Urban Distilleries is definitely an interesting alternative to wondering amongst the vines of the valley. Tours around this artisan micro-brewery will teach you about the distillery's history in addition to demonstrating the entire process of creating their "ultra-premium spirits" which include vodka, gin and whiskey. After your tour enjoy a flight tasting of all of Urban Distillery's spirits and take home a souvenir glass as a memento of your day. Those more partial to a beer than a gin might enjoy a tour of the Tree Brewing Co. Tap Room in downtown Kelowna to find out more about their craft beers. Tours include samples and a branded glass to take away, and kids - while they cannot partake in the sampling - can tour for free.
Those travelling into the region from outside of North America will likely fly into Vancouver, Calgary or Seattle first before taking a connecting flight into Kelowna International Airport with one of the several airlines operating this service. Many who come to Canada like to explore as much of this vast country as possible, so those who have rented a car and are travelling in from other towns and cities or are driving from coast to coast will find driving in the region easy with excellent highways and stunning scenery along the way. There are a wide variety of accommodation options for tourists coming to Kelowna from the small and bijou to the larger scale luxury hotels, there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. For iPhone and Android phone users, Tourism Kelowna has produced the ingenious Kelowna Wine Trails App, which makes both planning your weekend of wineries and documenting your experiences simple and fun.