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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Planning a Wine Country Road Trip

Explore three beautiful wine regions on this fall road trip

All roads lead to wine. Isn’t that how the saying goes? No? Well, maybe it should.

With summer winding down and autumn approaching, now is a great time to plan a road trip through wine country.

Black Hills Winery, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re like me, you don’t miss the opportunity to visit a winery. In the same way I seek out farmers markets while on the road, wineries present the chance to mingle with locals who know and till the land and who have made it their occupation to bring us its wares. 

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

When planning a wine country road trip, pick a single region. That is, unless you have limitless time and finances. Research the region—you’ll be doing more than just touring wineries and tasting.

Lucas Winery, Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t have a region in mind to visit, consider planning a road trip around a favorite wine. Or plan a trip around a regional wine festival or event. This will open all sorts of doors.

Choose no more than two to four wineries to visit per day.

We begin our grape-centered quest with region-by-region recommendations along with suggested campgrounds. All RV parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

California

Bella Piazza Winery, Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California is home to a legendary lifestyle embracing sunshine, beaches, the ocean, mountains, valleys, and vineyards that stretch in every direction. For wine lovers, there’s a treasure trove of wine regions and wine tasting experiences to explore.

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

Unless you’ve been living in a fallout shelter since the 1950s, you know that Napa Valley and Sonoma is California’s viticulture star. With close to 400 wineries, the twin valleys are second only to Disneyland on a list of the state’s most visited landmarks.

Grace Patriot Wines, El Dorado County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The legendary Napa Valley welcomes an estimated five million visitors each year. They come for wonderful wines, top-notch cuisine, and picturesque scenery. Beautiful and remarkably diverse, the Sonoma has some of everything from coastal breezes to inland mountains, to pancake-flat valleys, to rolling hills.

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

Commonly known as California’s Gold Country, the Sierra Foothills offers a fascinating landscape with an amazing variety of soils and elevations. Tour the counties of El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras and discover the region’s new gold in the tasting rooms you visit.

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

The Lodi Wine Region is home to more than 50 varieties including  amazing Zinfandel and remarkable Portuguese, Spanish, French Rhône, and Italian varietals.

Recommended RV Parks: Jackson Rancheria RV Resort in Jackson (Amador County) and Flag City RV Resort in Lodi

Washington

Yakima Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the second largest premium wine produces in the United States, Washington State has a booming wine culture. Currently, there are 13 distinct AVAs, from Lake Chelan in the northwest, to the mighty Columbia River in the southeast, home to Walla Walla Valley, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, and Naches Heights. In the northeast, just outside of Seattle, Woodinville Wine Country has wines and tasting rooms representing the grapes of nearly every appellation.

In the southeast, make the Tri-Cities your home base as you explore Washington Wine Country. Prosser is a nearby wine town to check out.

Columbia Sun RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recommended RV Park: Columbia Sun RV Resort in Kennewick (Tri-Cities)

British Columbia

Tinhorn Creek, Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Okanagan Crush Pad © 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. 

Nk’Mip Cellars © 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. Our favorite is Tinhorn Creek, near Oliver, and their Miradoro Restaurant is worth the sit down. If you’re pressed for time the Penticton Wine Shop pours just about every wine made in the Okanagan.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Amador Wine Country

Take a drive through the rustic vistas and rolling scenic vineyards of Amador Gold Country

What do miners do when they don’t find gold? They settle down to plant zinfandel, or at least that’s what they did in the Shenandoah Valley, the heart of Amador Wine Country.

Amador County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The California Gold Country first rose to prominence during the 1849 gold rush, but now, people come to experience the region’s natural beauty, the balmy weather, and the wine.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, where gold once reigned, some forty wineries produce a new treasure: superb wines which have earned Amador County international acclaim.

The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors alike to enjoy all year long.

Borjon Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we first pulled into Plymouth, we asked ourselves where the “there” is—this tiny burg is the epitome of the one-horse town. But Plymouth is the real working heart of Amador wine country.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turning off Highway 16 (an extension of California Highway 49) onto Shenandoah Road, we find ourselves amid rolling, oak-studded hills where cows or sheep graze on one side of the road and tidy rows of grapevines climb the other.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards.

Amador’s first wineries arose in 1849 when European immigrants discovered that wine grapes thrived in the Sierra Foothills. By 1880, Amador had more than 3,000 acres of grapevines that thrived until Prohibition closed all but one of its wineries. By the 1970s, Amador had declined as a source for low-quality jug wine.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador wines were revived due to the rediscovery of zinfandel. Zinfandel arrived in Amador in 1852, thrived in the Sierra Foothills, and became the wine of choice in the Gold Rush and one of the most widely planted grapes in California.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During Prohibition, many zinfandel vineyards were destroyed. Fortunately, Amador maintained several old zinfandel vineyards dating to 1890 or earlier. Amador’s abundance of zinfandel grapes, combined with its complex raspberry and spice flavors, enticed a new generation of winemakers in the 1960s who ultimately made zinfandel California’s signature grape varietal.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the late 1960s, a new generation of pioneers began migrating to the Gold Country’s Amador County, this time drawn by the region’s rolling, sun-drenched hillsides, warm daytime temperatures, and volcanic, decomposed granite soils—ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes. When their robustly flavored wines, especially zinfandel, began attracting the attention of wine lovers, the historic Sierra Foothills wine region was reborn.

Borjon Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Cooper Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It began when Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley tasted Amador Zinfandel for the first time in 1968. He was hooked and decided to produce wine from Sierra Foothills grapes. A few years later, Sutter Home developed White Zinfandel, a major success that put Amador on the map.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1970, Montevina Winery became the first post-Prohibition winery in Amador County. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, new wineries sprang up and Amador shed its status as a backwater wine region.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the past 20 years, Amador vintners have begun producing a diverse array of varieties, especially those of Italian and southern French origin. While zinfandel, with over 2,000 acres, remains Amador’s signature variety, the region’s wineries also vinify superb examples of barbera, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc, and syrah; limited bottlings of pinot grigio, verdelho, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, grenache, mourvedre, petite sirah, aglianico, and tempranillo; rosés made from a wide variety of grapes; dessert wines made from muscat grapes; and port-style wines made from zinfandel and traditional Portuguese varieties.

Amador Flower Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

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

Temecula Valley Named Best Wine Destination for 2019

The Southern California wine region was named one of the best destinations for 2019

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast has named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The esteemed annual list is a product of extensive travel and tastings that Wine Enthusiast editors and contributors undertake throughout the year.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We seek locales that offer world-class wines as well as unforgettable restaurants, hotels, and cultural activities suited for the intrepid wine lover,” says the publication’s executive editor, Susan Kostrzewa. “The list balances classic, famed regions with emerging, insider gems that have yet to be discovered.”

This marks the first time that Temecula Valley was selected.

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The wines have never been better,” says Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Matt Kettmann, “and I’ve sensed an increased focus on grape growing and quality winemaking in just the past five years that I’ve been covering the region. Plus, there’s a lot more excitement surrounding their hospitality offerings now than ever before.”

Temecula Valley has been producing notable wines since the late 1960s, when early adopters discovered that a wide range of varietals could flourish here. Now, winemakers have had time to take their craft to the next level. In addition, some have opened hotels and gourmet restaurants to round out the experience.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Not long ago, Temecula Valley was just beginning to create tourism experiences with only a handful of wineries and offerings,” says Kimberly Adams, CEO of Visit Temecula Valley. “The pioneers had a dream and persevered; it was their passion—and that of those who followed—that continue to make this a destination people fall in love with.”

Fazeli Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Relative newcomers are making an impact, too—like Robert Renzoni and his vineyard, which he opened in 2008 on the west end of the De Portola Wine Trail. The tasting room is located on 12 acres of rolling hills featuring nine acres dedicated to classic Italian and Bordeaux grape varieties, uniquely planted in six segmented micro climate blocks.

The Renzoni family began creating wines over 100 years ago along Italy’s northern coast. Today, Robert Renzoni Vineyards continues the tradition begun by their ancestors.

“Back in the day, people used to laugh at Napa and Paso Robles,” he says. “It took determination and experimentation for those regions to get to where they are now.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

He says Temecula is following the same trajectory: Dedicated winegrowers are settling here, doing their homework, and continually experimenting. Now they’ve had time to figure out what grows best; with a terroir and elevation similar to Tuscany, that’s been mainly the Mediterranean varietals.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Syrah and Sangiovese will make this region famous,” he says, but Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and Vermentino are flourishing as well.”

Robert Renzoni Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a recent visit we tasted a portfolio of five wines in their Tuscan Villa tasting room that included Barile Chardonnay, Barbara, Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Montepulciano. Tasting fee is $15 ($20 on weekends). We purchased two bottles of Zinfandel.

Renzoni also jumped on the flourishing hospitality trend by opening an on-site trattoria, Mama Rosa’s, a few years ago. And he’s happy to see the area begin to receive national attention for all of its offerings. “Eventually, we’ll get to the point where people will say, ‘Remember when people laughed at Temecula?’”

Pechanga RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Pechanga Casino RV Resort, Temecula

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

Lodi’s Legendary Vines

With a grape-growing history that dates back more than 100 years, Lodi is home to more than 85 wineries and 113,000 acres of premium wine grapes

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.

Downtown Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For decades, Lodi has been a quiet, but far from a sleeping giant, producing an astounding amount of wine grapes for countless wineries throughout California. Today, Lodi boasts 113,000 vineyard acres—more than Napa Valley and Sonoma County combined. Some of these acres date back to the region’s earliest days, when Lodi’s first farmers planted Zinfandel, Cinsault, Carignane, and other hearty cuttings in its promising soils.

Abundance Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 50 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. More recently, Lodi has begun gaining consumer traction for its other exciting varietals such as Albariño, Tempranillo, Graciano, and Vermentino.

Lucas Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Over the past century, the number of family farms has spiraled downward nationwide. But in Lodi, family agriculture remains a viable enterprise with many farming families that have prospered for generations.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although farming practices have changed drastically over the past century, multi-generational farmers look to past generations for their foundation. Many Lodi farming families have recently expanded their enterprise from grape growers for neighboring wine regions to winemakers themselves.

Michael David Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named for brothers Michael and David Phillips who represent the fifth generation of the Lodi grape growing Phillips family, Michael David Winery has a knack for producing premium quality wines with eye-catching labels. With more than 800 vineyard acres and more than 30 years experience making wine, the winery is considered one of the nation’s fastest growing wineries.

Michael David Seven Deadly Zins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Offering an exciting portfolio of wines, perhaps the most quickly recognizable in the lineup is the iconic 7 Deadly Zins, a sinful blend of Zinfandel from seven of Lodi’s best Old Vine Zinfandel vineyards. Other wines, like Petite Petit, a non-traditional blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, and Sixth Sense Syrah, produced from one of California’s oldest Syrah vineyards, have also developed quite a following.

Michael David Freakshow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the winery building itself pays homage to the Phillips legacy. It was built in 1972 around the family’s original roadside fruit stand. Today, it also features a café serving farm-style breakfasts and lunch, a bakery with famous pies and gourmet cookies, and a tasting room where Michael David wines are proudly poured.

Van Ruiten Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Van Ruiten Family Winery was founded 15 years ago, but its wine-growing history dates back more than 65 years. The winery was founded on John Van Ruiten Sr.’s philosophy that “exceptional grape growing should focus on the quality of grapes that come out of the vineyard, not the quantity.”

Van Ruiten Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Van Ruiten family harvests its fruit from 1,000 acres of vineyards farmed by Jim and John Van Ruiten. Currently, three Van Ruiten generations are involved in the operations ranging from vineyard management to production and sales.

Van Ruiten Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Van Ruiten Family Winery tasting room was voted Best Winery and Tasting Room by The Record’s Best of San Joaquin in 2011, 2012, and 2013. It’s a wonderful place to sample from the winery’s superb portfolio of 12 varietals, including Carignane from 107-year-old vines and Zinfandel from the first vineyard John Sr. planted in the 1950s.

Jessie’s Grove Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s true that wine reigns in Lodi, it’s not all that the region has to offer. In fact, Lodi is a place where both wine aficionados and those simply seeking a different kind of escape are equally comfortable.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For visitors of all ages, there are museums and galleries to explore, local wildlife to admire at Lodi Lake and the Cosumnes River Preserve, and the Mokelumne River to idly paddle down. You can also casually stroll through the charming historic shopping district, making stops at antique stores, designer clothing and jewelry boutiques, artisan shops specializing in local olive oils and cheeses from around the world, and more than a dozen tasting rooms.

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966

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