MANY years ago, when the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival was still in its infancy, there were more than a few rumblings about the timing, slap-bang in the middle of harvest - assuming a good year, of course.
A few things have changed since those days, not the least of which is that the lone festival has morphed into four events, one for each season, with the fall fest the major anchor. As for the harvest? Well, it's still there too, of course. And for many visitors it offers their first glimpse of winemaking from the ground up.
We're lucky to have seen more than our share of vineyards, wineries and bottling lines around the world. But, regardless of where, nothing compares with the palpable excitement of harvest itself, whether picking, the action on the crush pad or the aromas of grapes freshly dispatched in the auger.
Plan a trip to this year's fall festival (Sept. 28-Oct. 7) and it's impossible not to be caught up in the excitement, although the lineup of events can be daunting. Best to choose your activities by region, which is easily done at thewinefestivals.com.
Events now span the Okanagan, Similkameen and beyond, as even Lillooet has a presence, thanks to the Third Annual Lillooet Beer & Wine Festival, Sept. 15, at Fort Berens Estate Winery.
Two other ingredients which have greatly evolved include the calibre of dining - not just at wineries but throughout the Okanagan; as well as the range of top quality accommodations from north to south. Walnut Beach Resort (walnutbeachosoyoos. com ) sports luxurious, wellequipped, self catering suites (not to mention a beach, lakeside pool, and, as available, "Wine Lovers Rate": 25 per cent festival discount).
Similarly luxurious, some with positively spectacular top end kitchens, are the suites at The Cove (covelakeside. com ) in West Kelowna, barely a screwcap's toss from Mission Hill, Quails Gate and Westbank's growing community of wineries. Also not to be overlooked down south are Spirit Ridge and Watermark (while Tinhorn Creek's Miradoro has quickly become one of the area's hottest restos).
What to taste? Where to dine? There's a wealth of information on the festival website. But if you're planning to go, best book now.
With so much on offer, it's tough to single out specific events. But here's a few which are guaranteed to more than convey the spirit of the season.
Sept. 29: Stag's Hollow Harvest Dinner with Joy Road Catering
Sept. 29 and Oct 6: St. Hubertus Harvest Lunch, vineyard long table
Sept. 29: Gray Monk vineyard stroll "Wines, Vines & Vistas"
Sept. 29: Garlic Festival at Hester Creek
Sept. 29: 12 Year Nota Bene Vertical Party, Black Hills
Sept. 29: Second Annual 10k. Similkameen Wine & Harvest Dinner
Oct. 3: Burrowing Owl Harvest Dinner
Oct. 3: Eat Local . Drink Local . Be Local. BS, Haywire & Bartier Bros at Local Lounge & Grille
Oct. 4: Harvest Work Day and Lunch, hands on experience at Noble Ridge
... and more.
Belly's Best Lighthouse Deckhand Belgian Saison. In honour of Labour Day (and because we can't favour one winery today), a truly "serious" beer in a big (650 ml.) bottle that at eight per cent alcohol by volume you could easily share. We love its big head and fruity aromas, rich, complex texture, rounded malt and decent hop and dry end with a touch of spice. They say use a bowl or tulip glass and we agree. It rocks with English Coastal Cheddar (from Costco); BCLS $5.99.