FIND YOUR PACE IN OLIVER OSOY­OOS WINE COUN­TRY

Sign up for this wine-tast­ing marathon.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY RE­BECCA FIELD JAGER

The sound of run­ning shoes pad­ding along a dirt trail wind­ing through the vine­yards of Bri­tish Columbia’s Oliver Osoy­oos Wine Coun­try has be­come fa­mil­iar to me as I run the Half Corked Marathon. This un­likely an­nual event sees par­tic­i­pants wear­ing elab­o­rate cos­tumes trot along an 18-kilo­me­tre route through the vine­yards, stop­ping ev­ery kilo­me­tre for a wine tast­ing.

Al­ready, I’ve been over­taken by folks dressed as a syn­chro­nized swim team; the rock band, Kiss; a fruit salad; and a pair of run­away brides, so I don’t mind Bar­bie-ina-box leav­ing me in the dust. Af­ter all, as the or­ga­niz­ers will tell you, win­ning the Half Corked Marathon is not the ob­jec­tive. In fact, if you cross the fin­ish line first, you’ve missed the point.

What be­gan a decade ago as a fun mar­ket­ing

idea in­spired by France’s Marathon du Me­doc and with only a few hun­dred run­ners has mor­phed into a wildly pop­u­lar ex­trav­a­ganza with 1,100 en­trants ran­domly se­lected from a lot­tery of thou­sands.

In the hottest re­gion of Canada, it is the hottest ticket in town.

Hap­pily, for non-run­ners, the event is flanked by a week­end full of other fes­tiv­i­ties draw­ing lo­cals and tourists alike, from a party at the fin­ish line to barbecues and out­door con­certs to a fancy al­fresco din­ner wherein the wine­maker is not only seated at your ta­ble but pours your wine.

Held in May, Half Corked serves as an early kick-off to sum­mer and a host of other events that cel­e­brate the gor­geous wines and culi­nary of­fer­ings be­ing served up in Canada’s only desert-like re­gion.

FUN AND FRI­VOL­ITY

If the run is zany, know that Oliver Osoy­oos takes wine­mak­ing se­ri­ously. Named af­ter the two towns that an­chor the re­gion— Oliver to the north and Osoy­oos 20 kilo­me­tres to the south near the Wash­ing­ton­state bor­der—this wine­mak­ing mecca lies at the south­ern­most part of the Okana­gan Valley.

If you have had the good for­tune of vis­it­ing many wine re­gions you’ll be happy to know the vis­tas hold up to those on the world stage. Miles of vine­yards set against a back­drop of moun­tains, rivers and lakes nes­tled next to quaint towns ooz­ing ru­ral charm, oo­dles of eater­ies and 41 winer­ies beckon vis­i­tors to sip and savour.

My bal­cony at Spirit Ridge, a fam­ily re­sort with a laid-back south­west­ern de­sign that suits the desert vibe, over­looks Osoy­oos Lake. From my perch, I can al­most hear the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit of the re­gion—the gasps of dis­ap­point­ment and gig­gles of glee as wine­mak­ers, ar­ti­sanal food­ies, restau­ra­teurs, hote­liers and out­door out­fit­ters fid­dle and fuss striv­ing to make their mark.

ROOTED IN HIS­TORY

But let’s peel back the his­tory of this land. Let’s take away the jet skis and new de­vel­op­ments that dot the lake and go back to the early 1990s when, just be­fore the wine in­dus­try took root, the area was a sleepy

place for re­tirees. Go back fur­ther to the 1920s, when, thanks to the con­struc­tion of an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, the land be­came alive with farms and or­chards. Rewind even more to the late 1800s when the re­gion saw its hey­day dur­ing the Gold Rush. And then, to the thou­sands of years when Canada’s In­dige­nous peo­ple oc­cu­pied these lands. Ac­tu­ally, I’m sit­ting on Band land right now. Spirit Ridge rests on a small part of the 12,950-hectare Osoy­oos In­dian Re­serve. The Band owns Nk’mip Cel­lars (pro­nounced in-ka-meep), North Amer­ica’s first abo­rig­i­nal-owned win­ery sit­u­ated right next door. Af­ter con­sult­ing with Band el­ders, Nk’mip wine­mak­ers name their wines in the Okana­gan lan­guage. Its pre­mier tier, for ex­am­ple, is called Qwam Qwmt (pro­nounced kw-em kw-empt), which means “achiev­ing ex­cel­lence.” If you’re look­ing for a lovely red with an in­ter­est­ing story, to me, the Qwam Qwmt Mer­lot is the bot­tle to take home. And, it pairs beau­ti­fully with ched­dar. I know this be­cause I took Nk’mip’s wine and cheese tour. Af­ter a walk­a­bout com­plete with a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural lec­ture, we sat down to five lo­cal cheeses paired with five wines in the pri­vate un­der­ground cel­lar. An un­beat­able ex­pe­ri­ence for $25.

But that’s the thing about Oliver Osoy­oos that’s even cra­zier than the Half Corked run. It’s af­ford­able.

ABOVE: Kismet Es­tate Win­ery is one of the pre­mier award-win­ning grape grow­ers in the Okana­gan Valley. Nora Hamade

OP­PO­SITE TOP: Cos­tumes are all part of the fun in the Half Corked Marathon. LEFT: In­dulge in de­li­cious food and fine wine at Nk’mip Cel­lars, North Amer­ica’s first abo­rig­i­nal-owned win­ery. Leila Kwok

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