Franc’ly, My Dear

Cabernet Franc is a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Sauvignon Blanc). The crossing occurred sometime during the middle 1600’s around southwestern France (Bordeaux).

Franc(ly) my dear, I DO give a damn…about good wine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Puns aside. Yes, you guessed it, my focus today is on that black grape, Cabernet Franc—a peppery little number that needs attention and can demand it when given the limelight and not blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot which used to be its only end.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s appealing about Cabernet Franc is its family resemblance to Cabernet Sauvignon. But while Cabernet Sauvignon can be hard-edged, especially when young, Cabernet Franc is less tannic and quicker to mature. That means Cabernet Franc can be an easier-drinking wine sooner.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabernet Franc’s flavor is intriguing. On the plus side, it has lots of ripe raspberry-like flavors, sometimes with hints of anise. But when Cabernet Franc is grown in cool areas, it tends to be more herbaceous, sometimes leaning toward green bell pepper, a negative characteristic for many fans of red wine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While ironically overshadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc remains the unexpected parent of Cabernet Sauvignon (having been partnered with Sauvignon Blanc), which is believed to have been crossed during the Middle Ages near the Basque region of northern Spain. The grape itself is rather thin-skinned and prefers well-drained soil structures for optimal ripening. When ripeness levels are lacking the grape’s green themes, which steer towards green veggie aromas and bell pepper streaks, tend to dominate. However, when it’s on, it is on and wows with a medium body, solid acidity, medium fine tannins, a lively, welcoming personality and savory flavors.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aromas and flavors includes raspberries, strawberries, black currents, plum, green pepper, green olives, stone, tobacco, violets, graphite, stone, and spice.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the years, Cabernet Franc has been successfully grown in places like Australia, California, Chile, Italy, South Africa, Washington State—and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While used in Bordeaux more as a blending grape, as a single variety Cabernet Franc is a pillar of the Loire Valley. In the Okanagan Valley, where its embraced as much as anything for its ability to ripen earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, it has also been used for blending, although in recent years its popularity as a stand-alone has also been steadily on the rise.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Compared to the brawny characteristic style of many Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs tend to be lighter in color and a bit fruitier and softer on the palate. The main big difference between the two varietals is that most Cabernet Francs are not made for ageing—they’re meant to be drunk young.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is the Cabernet Franc grape the next red wine trend waiting to happen? 

Cabernet Franc is considered by many to be the iconic red grape for British Columbia because of its ability to produce wines more complex and intriguing than its big brother Cabernet Sauvignon.

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As optimistic as that is, as of the 2014 BC Wine Acreage Report, Cabernet Franc only accounts for 10.44 percent of all red grape varieties and a mere 5.32 percent of all grapes planted in the province with a total of 546.13 acres. Compared to Merlot at 29.90 percent and Pinot Noir 20.53 percent respectively, Cabernet Franc rank fourth below Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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

Oft referred to as “the other Cab,” Cabernet Franc continues to distinguish itself as a grape well suited to South Okanagan growing conditions. Cassini Cellars earned its first ever LG Award for its 2012 Collector’s Series Cab Franc. Fairview Cellars, River Stone, Tinhorn Creek, Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl, Le Vieux Pin, Poplar Grove, Stag’s Hollow, and Painted Rock also produce standout Cabernet Franc wines.

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

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for 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 with juicy peaches, apricots, and cherries—and you’ve got a wine country experience like no other.

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

Now is the time to taste your way through the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

Worth Pondering…

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.

―Plautus

Farewell My Summer Love

The RV lifestyle allows those of us who travel in our coach or towable to visit wineries in many different locations

As summer comes to a close, it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming change in seasons. What better way to end an amazing summer than to dive into a wine country extravaganza? We’ve handpicked 4 unique wine country regions that we think will make the perfect final getaway to end your summer with a bang! So, grab a glass of vino and cheers to another amazing summer getaway.

Michael David, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi, California

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, the Lodi Wine Region enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes.

With a grape-growing history that dates back to the 1850s, the Lodi Appellation boasts over 750 growers and is home to more than 85 wineries (65 of which boast boutique tasting rooms) specializing in small-lot, handmade wines.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 100 varieties currently being cultivated, Lodi offers a diverse portfolio of wines. While long renowned for its high-quality Zinfandel production, including an estimated 2,000 acres of pre-Prohibition vines, the area also produces award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay.

Van Ruiten Vineyards, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine enthusiasts will enjoy a warm welcome and a friendly face as they travel Lodi Wine Country and enjoy a diverse range of wines, delicious foods, and great hospitality. 

Helwig Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador County, California

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley is the heart of Amador Wine Country. The valley offers country roads with breathtaking views, charming postcard-perfect farms, unique tasting rooms, and relaxing environments. This undiscovered California gem features rolling, golden hills studded with majestic oaks and rolling vineyards producing exceptional full-bodied wines.

Cooper Vineyards, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Amador winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

Moon Crusher Vineyards, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape growing region and boasts 131 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. 

Hester Creek Winery, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From world-class operations to family-run boutique vineyards, Okanagan wineries are rich with character and consistently ranked among the world’s best at International competitions. 

Tinhorn Vineyards, Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable wineries are Mission Hill, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek, and Nk’Mip Cellars, Quails Gate Estate, and Tinhorn Creek. If you’re pressed for time the Penticton Wine Shop pours just about every wine made in the Okanagan.

Murphys, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Calaveras County, California

At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with numerous tasting rooms and many excellent restaurants in an historic downtown.

Ironside Vineyards, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Murphys was one of the Gold Country’s richest diggins. The picturesque village is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns, a charming Main Street, unique shops including art galleries, and spectacular wineries. You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.

Four Winds Cellar, Calaveras County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county.

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

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