Friday, October 3, 2008

Okanagan Fall Wine Festival: More Than Close Contact Wine Tasting

By Julianna Hayes

Elaine Fraser doesn’t drink. Yet for the past four years, the Calgary resident and her husband Tom have been making the pilgrimage to the Okanagan for its celebrated Fall Wine Festival.

“Tom is really into the wine,” she says. “I go for the food, the scenery and the entertainment.”

Fraser has never been disappointed. Indeed, the annual vinous event, which kicked off October 2, is no one-trick pony. There’s as much going on outside the glass to seduce teetotalers like Fraser, as well as those who fully appreciate wine.

It could easily be re-packaged as a culinary extravaganza or promoted for its art and music components. There are events to appeal to moms and dads with kids in tow, outdoorsy types, even dog lovers.

Perhaps that is why the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, now in its 28th year, is consistently voted one of the top 100 destinations in the continent by the American Bus Association.

But as the festival’s popularity has grown, so have the choices on how you can spend your time over the next 10 days. That may seem like a good thing – variety being the spice of life and all that – but the sheer volume of wine-soaked options, 180 at last count, is enough to make one’s head spin before ingesting a single drop.

Even people like Fraser are overwhelmed. “I don’t even drink the wine. Yet every year it gets tougher to decide what events we want to go to. There are so many attractive options.”

A good place to start is with the official Okanagan Fall Wine Festival guide, which is available at wineries, tourist information centres, liquor retailers, as well as online in PDF format by clicking the link to the right of this page or by visiting http://www.thewinefestivals.com/.

It’s a good idea to flip through it and circle the events that fall on the dates you plan to attend, then eliminate them one by one, depending on your criteria – price, location, available time, interest.

To help you out with your last-minute planning, here are a few picks based on theme. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so check out the guide for additional dinner options, seminars, tours and more. Events, dates and times are subject to change, so please contact the organizers before finalizing your plans:

Wine on the cheap

Free….

I hear a lot of whining about the expense of wine fest. But there are plenty of pocketbook friendly events for the more frugal enthusiast – even free stuff. First of all, most wineries are hosting open houses so there is absolutely no excuse not to participate in some way. There may be a nominal charge for tastings at some wineries, but most will reimburse you if you purchase.

Rootstock ’08: Two Days of Wine & Entertainment Naramata Style features the Bench wineries throwing open their doors for an eclectic blend of wine and the performing arts. At each venue you’ll find an interesting array of musicians, belly dancers, roving minstrels, mimes and magicians. Oct. 4 and 11. All Free. Visit http://www.naramatabench.com/ for more details.

Five art galleries in Kelowna offer an annual Progressive Tasting, Oct. 4 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., where you can view art and taste the ware from a local winery stationed at each venue. It’s all free and no reservations are necessary. You can start at any one of the galleries – Turtle Island, Art Ark, Picture Perfect, The Evans Gallery and Hambleton Galleries – and make your way to each at your leisure.


Next best thing to free…

Test your sensory evaluation skills with a Blind Barrel Tour at Rollingdale Winery located on Kelowna’s Westside. Participants will get a chance to guess varietals, compare wines made from single vineyards or how they present themselves with certain pairings or in different glasses. All this for $8! Offered daily. Call 250-769-9224

For a little more money you can throw a Shrimp on the Bar-by’-eh! at Greata Ranch October 4. The winery, located between Peachland and Summerland, will offer up a tasty barbecued snack with its wine to drop-ins willing to drop $15. No reservations necessary, but weather permitting.

Not exactly free but great value…

Icewine Discovery Tours – Inniskillin’s specialized tour focusing on Icewine, running daily through October 7 for $10; Nk’Mip Cellars – Cooing With Wine seminar, Oct. 1-5, $25; Harvest lunch at St. Hubertus, Oct. 3-4 and 10-11 – you won’t go away hungry, thirsty or starved for ambience, $27.99; Tinhorn Creek’s Vineyard and Habitat Walking Tour and Lunch, Oct 1-3, $25; Autumn Patio BBQ at Wild Goose, Oct. 4, $20.


Early Risers

If you must have a drink before noon, consider one of the festival brunches or breakfasts. Join the Nk’Mip Cellars Breakfast Club at 9:30 a.m. daily through Oct. 5 for a tutored tasting of wines. The idea is a clean morning palate is the best to taste with – well, that’s their theory and they’re sticking to it. Or you can choose from one of several brunches: The Thanksgiving Brunch at Manteo, which gets under way at 9:30 a.m., Oct. 12; Summerhill’s Wild and Organic Brunch, 11 a.m., Oct. 5; Tiny Bubbles Brunch at Gray Monk, 11 a.m., Oct. 5; Quails’ Gates’ Harvest Brunch, 11:30 a.m., Oct. 5 and 12.

Wine-O-Rama

If a bottomless glass is all you're after, you’ve got a few options including the WestJet Wine Tasting, Oct. 3 (Oct. 4 is sold out), at the Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna, $55, and the Grand Finale Consumer Tastings at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, Oct. 10-11, $50. Each give you a choice of hundreds of wines to sample representing dozens of B.C. producers. Plus you get to keep a souvenir wine glass and get a free cab ride home. Phone 250-860-1470. There’s also the People’s Choice Awards, Oct. 2, at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna, where you get to decide who wins the medals. Cost is $50, call 250-860-6060.

For a bit more money, you’ll see a bit more action along with your overflowing glass of wine at the Going Once…Going Twice Benefit Wine Auction, Oct. 4, at the Ramada Inn in Penticton. The cost is $78.75, 250-770-3272 x 4412. Careful how much you tipple or you might find yourself bidding on a barrel of wine.

If you love a winner, consider the Medal Winners Tasting, Oct. 10, at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. What sets this event apart is being able to taste only those wines awarded medals in the Okanagan Fall Judging Competition, $65. There’s also Lunch With a Winemaker option for $60. Call 250-860-1470 for details.

Art and Music Buffs

Going along with the adage that wine aficionados also seem to appreciate fine art and music, several events combine these elements into one big cultural package. Organizers Wine Occasions have put together Art & Wine – A Perfect Pairing, a progressive tour of private artist studios in Kelowna, where participants can nosh on canapés and wine as they view the art, Oct. 5 and 9, 250-215-1368.

WAM! Wine, Art and Music, is an evening of the three in Kelowna’s downtown Cultural District, Oct. 11. It features live music and an open house of the resident galleries and studios within the Cawston Avenue block. The cost is $50 and includes 50 WAM dollars towards the purchase of art from participating venues. 250-860-1470.

Calling Art and Wine Enthusiasts features a tutored wine tasting and a seminar on the fundamentals of collecting art, Oct. 7, at Hambleton Gallery in Kelowna. Cost is $80. 250-860-2498.

For Flesh and Fur Families

The Oliver Festival of the Grape, Oct. 5, is one of the few family-friendly events where the young ones are kept busy by the Oliver Cubs & Scouts in the Kidzone, while adults savour wines poured by more than 30 Okanagan wineries. All this for $19 for advance tickets or $22 at the gate. 250-498-6321.

Rover gets some loving too at the Dog Days of Summer, an annual event welcoming canine companions at See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls, Oct. 4. Furbabies get eatable treats while their flesh parents partake in treats of the liquid persuasion. The cost is free, but a donation to the BC SPCA is encouraged. 240-494-0451.

Brain Candy

If you’re only here to drink, fine. But if you’re here to learn, then consider one of several terrific seminars being offered during the festival. Several blind tastings are featured that will test you palate in a light and friendly atmosphere. Among them are the Wine Fest Warm-Up offered by the B.C. Wine Museum in the Laurel Packinghouse, Oct. 2, which will pit men against women in a battle of the sexes. The evening also features an educational overview of the tremendous growth of the Okanagan wine industry. Cost is $40 – 250-868-0441.

Mission Hill’s Blind Wine Tasting, Oct. 12, will include a “double blind” component where wines will be poured in an opaque black tasting glass so you can’t see the colour. $40 – 250-768-7611.

What’s in the Bag? at the Keg in Kelowna, Oct. 8, features is six mystery wines paired with six mystery cheeses. $40 – 250-860-1470.

And for people concerned about their carbon footprint, the 100-Mile Diet Wine Pairing, Oct. 5, at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, aims to address the issue of sourcing out local produced foods with samples paired with local wines being served. $40 – 250-878-8050.

Foodies’ Choice

Once the signature of the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, The Masters of Food and Wine: Cooking with Terasen Gas, Oct. 5, is a delightful mid-day event that’s a no-brainer for a fall Sunday when festival goers are seeking a low-key but intelligent event to fill their time. Located in Kelowna’s Laurel Packinghouse, it features an interesting mix of restaurateurs serving everything from lamb burgers and kangaroo loin carpaccio to dark chocolate and double cream brie. $55. Call 250-860-1470.

Don’t forget to check out the numerous luncheons and dinners offered throughout the festival.

And now for something completely different….

If you are looking for something with an original spin, look no further than Blasted Church’s Midnight Service events, where attendees will flock to the venue that inspired the winery’s name and hear the Gospel Experience Choir on Oct. 10 or the Ruthie Foster on Oct. 11. Food will be served by Memphis Blues. Courtesy bus service is offered from the Grand Finale Tasting in Penticton. Cost is $90. 888-222-6608

Or how about Savour the Shuswap, a progressive winery dinner/wine tour of North America’s northern most wineries? You start at Larch Hills with appetizers, wine and autumnal views of the northern part of the valley, plus witness a live chain saw carving (only in the north) before moving on to dinner, wine and music at Recline Ridge. The evening concludes with dessert and dessert wine at Granite Creek. The event is offered on October 4 and 11 and the cost is $119. Call 1-866-632-3456 for info.

Think wine can be paired with just about anything? Wine not? That’s certainly the thoughts of the organizers of Taste the Aromas of Coffee and Wine with Starbucks, Oct. 5 at Manteo Resort. Participants will get a chance to sample six different roasts with six different wines. $40. 250-860-1470

Not to be outdone, Manteo Resort offers an intriguing World Tapas Tour Oct. 9. You’ll get to stroll around the resort’s villas where you partake in the culinary delights of Canada, Italy, India and Korea, all paired with B.C. wines. The cost is $89. Call 250-860-1031.

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