An Overlooked, Affordable & Scenic Wine Region

Forget Napa and head to Canada for your next wine tasting trip

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. 

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tinhorn Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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?

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Sample the bounty of the Okanagan Valley

There is magic in the air as August turns into September—a ripening of the season as fruit trees grow heavy with red apples and pale yellow pears; leaves turn golden to reveal a harvest of pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the field; and grape vines hang heavy with clusters of newly turned red and purple/black grapes.

Skaha Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Okanagan Lake between Penticton and Summerland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

The S.S. Sicamoos moored on Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a hillside overlooking vineyards, sagebrush, and the old gold mining creek that is its namesake, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has been owned and operated by the Shaunessy and Oldfield families since1993. The winery is located south of Oliver at the junction of Highway 97 and Road 7 in the famed Golden Mile wine-growing district.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek sources fruit exclusively from its own vineyards: 150 acres of prime land on two benches. The 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench is planted with a mix of red and white varieties, primarily Pinot Gris, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench is also planted with a mix of red and white grapes.

Hester Creek Estate Winery

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek Estate Winery is situated within some of British Columbia’s oldest vineyards in the bountiful Golden Mile region. The 95-acre, Mediterranean-influenced grounds, winery, and guest Villa evoke an old-world sense of tranquility.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek Estate winery boasted a green and shaded patio perfect for a picnic and a bottle of wine. The tasting room was a work of art in its own right, as were the wide variety of wines we sampled. The staff were friendly and accommodating

Burrowing Owl Winery

Burrowing Owl Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Resembling a cross between a castle and a pueblo, Burrowing Owl winery rises from the sandy southern end of the Okanagan on some of the most coveted grape-growing land in the valley. The venue is gorgeous; set among rolling silver-brown hills and green vines.

Burrowing Owl Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winery is named for the Burrowing Owl, and the winery owners have been working to help preserve and repopulate this endangered species.

Nk’Mip Cellars

Nk’Mip Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Osoyoos, one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada), have lived in the southern part of the valley for centuries. They own 24 percent of the grape-growing land in the valley and established their own vineyards in 1968. Nk’Mip (pronounce it “IN-ka-meep”) Cellars is the first native-owned winery in North America. It’s part of a whole constellation of buildings make up the tribe’s new resort, including a luxury hotel in glowing ochre and cinnamon, with a spa featuring indigenous and desert-based treatments, and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, a beautiful building made of rammed earth, with a roof planted with local vegetation.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste your way through the Okanagan. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Recommended RV Parks: Desert Gem RV Resort in Oliver and Nk’Mip RV Park in Osoyoos

Worth Pondering…

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

Exploring Canada’s Unexpected Wine Valley

The Okanagan Valley is British Columbia’s largest and oldest wine appellation and has experienced unprecedented growth over the last two decades

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 90 mile-long lake, wildlife including big horn sheep, cougars and rattlesnakes, rainfall of less than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards you can imagine.

Welcome to the Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia, Canada’s most western province.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving through the Rocky Mountains we enjoyed the spectacular mountain scenery and lush pine forests. Now we are in Canada’s only desert.

As we approached Armstrong from the north we saw an amazing visitor attraction called the Log Barn 1912. This is operated by a Mennonite family and it is a combined restaurant, store, tourist attraction, and great place to stop.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try their old-fashioned sausage, butter crust pies, and Gouda cheese, watch the goats climb the special goat walk, and check out the many other attractions from an Indian tepee to a model dinosaur.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading south to Vernon and into the heart of the valley, vineyards start appearing on the hilly slopes but it’s not until you reach Kelowna that it becomes obvious this is serious wine country. The city is home to outstanding golf courses, scenic trails, museums, and plenty of beach and water-based fun but visitors flock here for wine tourism.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grape cultivation and wine consumption date back 6,000 years so this wine country is just a baby in comparison. It has only been in the last 30 years that wine production has been taken seriously here. Now there are over 120 wineries and many have sales and tasting outlets open to the public.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vineyards are often side by side with orchards of cherries, apples, pears, peaches, and apricots, many with fruit stands offering fresh picked fruit to the public.

Further on, there’s the Kettle Valley Railway in Summerland and an old paddle-steamer at Penticton.

The old paddle-steamer in Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Penticton is nestled between two scenic lakes with sandy beaches. Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south offer a myriad of summertime activities to cool you down while you relax.

Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 60 wineries within a 20 minutes’ drive, local farmers markets, over three miles of golden sandy beaches, and many wonderful festivals and events throughout the year, the Penticton area has something for everyone.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oliver is appropriately known as the Wine Capital of Canada because it has the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in the country. Where there are no vines, there are fruit trees on lush rolling hills.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prior to the development of the wine industry, almost all of the agricultural land in the Oliver area was planted first to ground crops and later to fruit trees such as cherries, apples, apricots, and peaches.

Today the Wine Capital of Canada is one of the best wine-growing areas in North America. The sun, the soil, the climate, and the topography have created special and unique terroirs that are evidenced by their thriving vineyards.

Tinhorn Creek Winery in Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With dozens of wineries and more popping up every year, being thrifty with time is essential. With many wineries in their toddler years, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards presides as one of the most mature residents. Established in 1993, the winery is one of the best known from the region and, perhaps, all of British Columbia. Its roster of award-winning wines is impressive.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We visit a couple more wineries in the area before continuing to Osoyoos, the southern town just north of the U.S. border.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before becoming a wine destination, the Okanagan was a family holiday spot, best known for its “beaches and peaches”—the lakes with their sandy shores, boating, and waterskiing as well as the countless farm stands offering fresh produce and fruit.

The beaches and peaches—and cherries, apricots, apples, and pears—are still there, and the Okanagan still welcomes families.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But now the RV also comes back loaded with cases of wine.

Where to Stay: Desert Gem RV Resort, Oliver; NK’mip RV Park and Campground, Osoyoos; Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort, Osoyoos

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

The 6 Best Places to Travel in 2019

Ask me where I want to RV in 2019, and I will answer, honestly, where don’t I?

Ask me where I want to RV in 2019, and I will answer, honestly, where don’t I?

When it comes to compiling my list of the places I’m most excited about in the coming year, narrowing down the field is easier said than done.

I pore over tourism reports, and consider scenic landscapes, culinary experiences, historic significance, outdoor activities, temperate weather, fall foliage, and my bucket list.

Minor consideration is given to where people are actually going, and the trendy places that the so-called travel experts are watching in the coming year.

And, of course, there are the off-the-beaten path destinations and hidden secrets that we haven’t heard much about—places like British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, an emerging wine destination.

After all, isn’t dreaming about places totally new to us—and seeing old favorites in a new light—why we travel in the first place?

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

With rolling hills dotted with sagebrush and ponderosa pine—and thousands of acres of vineyards—the Okanagan Valley can no longer be considered a nascent Napa. Lying between two mountain ranges and stretching roughly 125 miles north from the U.S.-Canada border, the geography varies from the desert-like conditions in the south to the green plateau of the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Lake’s sandy beaches.

Mesilla

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high quality restaurants.

The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Newport

There are plenty of things to do in Newport but the seaside city really shines brightest during the summer. After all, the million-dollar mansions that Newport is known for were built as warm-weather retreats, for those perfect days spent on yachts and lawns.

There are many ways to soak in the culture. The Cliff Walk, where you can peek into well-manicured backyards, remains free, while some of the mansions are open for tours and special events. And the who’s who of Newport will be out in spades at two big festivals in July: the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival.

Santa Fe
Founded in 1607, Santa Fe is America’s oldest capital city and also houses the oldest public building in the country, the circa-1610 Palace of the Governors which was originally the seat of government for the Spanish colony of Neuvo Mexico. To wander the Downtown Santa Fe Plaza is to immerse one in traditional adobe structures. There are time-warped old buildings and churches including the stunning Loretto Chapel famous for its miraculous staircase and San Miguel Mission, reported to be America’s oldest church built between 1610 and 1626.

But, history’s not the only thing going down in Santa Fe. The city’s unique cuisine and renowned art galleries are integral to the area’s charm.

Lodi

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes. Wander historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. You’ll love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

Shiner

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week, where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Worth Pondering…

America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.