SPLENDOUR IN THE VALLEY
Take a few sips of the sumptuous Okanagan
As a wake-up call, it’s hard to top. We’re high up on a rooftop, facing the ochre-hued Anarchist Mountain in the South Okanagan to salute the early-morning sun with a hypnotic mix of sage, cedar and sweetgrass scents wafting over us.
To the beat of a drum and the quivering osprey and eagle feathers in his hat, Kx Hall — host interpreter at the nearby Nk’Mip Desert Culture Centre and member of the Osoyoos Indian Band — chants his gratitude. “We’re greeting the day,” he announces to the seven of us here for the smudging ceremony (known as smanxw). Using traditional, locally and Prairie-grown cleansing, and medicinal herbs, to create a cleansing smoke he moves from one person to the next.
Hall is keeping an eye on our auras, during the ancient ritual held at the Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip Resort in Osoyoos. Holding the burning bundle in front of each person in our semicircle he’s aiming to shake off any mischievous imps. “It’s just a feeling,” he says, tapping his heart. “It’s all about bringing a positive energy.”
Indeed, it’s a positive energy that lasts throughout our trip. With 39 wineries found in the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country, there’s an obvious sybaritic splendour to touring the valley. Whether you’re on electric bikes that take the strain out of any hill while allowing you to journey around at a gentle pace (and see the odd rattlesnake, perhaps), or on a wine shuttle, the area makes joining a tour to feted wineries, and their tastings, a breeze.
We’re spoiled for choice, travelling from the larger Tuscan-esque estates of Tinhorn Creek (including its Miradoro restaurant), Burrowing Owl, Road 13 and Gehringer Brothers to the smaller gems of Intersection, Hidden Chapel (complete with, you guessed it, a cute chapel tucked away in a verdant backyard) and Lariana Cellars right on the Canada/U.S border. Today, for dedicated oenophiles, there’s even a greater definition to a specific part of this region’s all-important terroir — the soil, the climate, the way it’s grown — with B.C.’s first newly created sub-appellation known as the Golden Mile Bench.
But compared to the more populous Kelowna farther north, for example, there’s also a chance to lap up an even more rustic feel in this southern end of the Okanagan. As you journey down Route 97, rugged hills switch to rolling mounds and benches beyond Penticton, passing the majestic McIntyre Bluff, and on to Oliver — long touted as the wine capital of Canada — and Osoyoos, famed for having Canada’s only desert. An iridescent landscape emerges beyond its welldocumented phalanx of vines: from cherry and apple orchards to a diverse spread of farming crops such as asparagus, cucumber and tomato. It’s a rural dream.
For beautiful proof, you need only join the horde that swoops into the farmers’ market at Penticton every Saturday. It’s where you get your fill of organic, farmto-trunk, just-picked fruit and veggies — and meet the growers, to boot — surrounded by the usual trimmings of musicians, ice cream vendors and ceramicist stands. Garnering a reputation as one of the best in the Okanagan (and this year’s hotter-than-usual spring is already boosting the yield), it’s easy to see why this was awarded the 2015 Market of the Year in its category by the British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets.
Then there’s the sumptuous serving of the often-homegrown feasts, epitomized by such chefs as Chris Van Hooydonk at his Backyard Farm Chef’s Table. Hooydonk, who swapped working in a larger winery restaurant for a schedule that allows him to create delicious meals and spend time with his family, is in the next-door building. Tonight he’s upped the ante on local ingredients: arugula foraged from his 0.8-hectare lot (no kilometres away), Willowdale Farm organic asparagus and apple wood-smoked Arctic char harvested down the road at Road 17 Arctic char ( both just a few kilometres).
We’re dining at a long wooden table overlooked by his state-ofthe-art kitchen, where he invites us to watch his and apprentice Kyle Campbell’s culinary chops. Outside, his chickens strut and the cherry trees are in full burst ( incidentally, his homemade ketchup partly made from these stone fruit will have you converted from shop-bought varieties at first bite).
Just as dawn brought us positive energy, being sated from such a meal and a day spent in this Okanagan playground now brings serenity. And as I look down from my room’s balcony at Nk’Mip on Osoyoos Lake — a warm breeze coming up the valley, glass firmly in hand — I definitely feel imp free.