It doesn’t take much effort to drop $500 when touring Napa. In a day! Not on insanely rare wines or dinner at an exclusive restaurant, either.
That’s not to disparage Napa Valley. Lovely place, that Napa, full of wonderful vineyards and terrific wines. Five hundred dollars-a-day good times just don’t fit within the typical RVers budget.
Trouble with Napa is, for a huge number of Americans, it’s just a short day trip away.
So how does an RVer drink great wines amid breathtaking natural beauty without blowing out a couple of credit cards? Easy: go to Canada.
And, no, you won’t have to bundle up like the kids from South Park.
Instead, consider an autumn jaunt to the Southern Okanagan wine region in British Columbia. Obscure? Compared to Napa, sure. But it’s also possibly the most scenic wine region in North America, and a place where RVers and other normal people can afford to taste wine.
Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”). Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area.
Wine tasting here is as much about the surroundings as the wine itself. Wedged between the Cascades and the Columbia Mountains, the Okanagan Valley enjoys hot summers and mild winters unique to Canada—it constitutes the country’s only temperate desert region.
The wineries sit on the eastern benches and western foothills of the gentle mountains, allowing you to enjoy the morning sun on the patio at Tinhorn Creek as you look east. To end the day, there’s a sunset tasting across the valley on the eastern bench at Burrowing Owl as you take in the westerly view. All of it overlooking the 12-mile-long Osoyoos Lake, which stretches south across the Washington State border.
So what will you be tasting?
Forget the ice wine—it is actually more prevalent in southern Ontario, where temperatures drop below freezing during baseball season.
The South Okanagan makes wine like the Pacific Northwest (think Washington, Oregon, and Northern California) with pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot, and syrah dominating the reds; chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer the whites.
As with any wine region, some wines you’ll like, and others you won’t. But if you’re not a connoisseur—as the vast majority of RVers are not—the wine here serves the purpose of your RV trip: trying small-production wines you’ll likely never find again, then taking home some fantastic juice.
The wineries have character that hasn’t been compromised amid platoons of tourists.
But the best thing about the wineries here? They’re inexpensive. You’ll rarely see a tasting over $5 while some are complimentary. Tasting fee, when applied, is normally waved when purchasing a bottle.
The valley’s abundance of you-pick farms and fruit stands (think cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, and pears) along Highway 97 gives a visitor the first inclination of the food ahead. The larger wineries all have restaurants, where chefs have relationships with the local farms, and menus take advantage of the local produce.
And the restaurants all come with a view. The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate feels like eating in an old hunting lodge over a lush desert valley. And the corner table on the patio at Tinhorn Creek’s Mirodoro might be the best table in the region.
So yes, Canada might not be the first place you think of when considering a wine-tasting vacation. But if you’re more into the quality of your experience than name recognition, it’s a tough destination to beat. The wines are good, the food is fresh, the scenery is unbeatable, the locals are friendly, and it won’t cost you a fortune.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.
―David Hyde Pierce