North Okanagan Tasting Tour, Part 2: Planet Bee Honey Farm

Someone should really start a honey blog. It’s not going to be me but if you are reading and decide to take on honey as a topic, please let me know because I will totally read it religiously.

I’ve written about honey before and have a bit of a history with it. A neighbour of mine where I grew up had bees and made his own honey and I remember going there to get some with my dad. I learned early on that it was a very natural product but most importantly for at the time was that it was sweet and yummy and I loved it.

Fast forward a few years and I’d moved to the big city (no, not Vancouver – a big city) and honey became something that was served in little plastic bottles shaped like bears or in tiny clear plastic dipping packs with McNuggets. The honey that was available (and affordable) to me was only the highly processed stuff and I never paid it any attention at all. Until one sunny day in Port Coquitlam one fall when we were visiting a farm that sold pumpkins. They offered us a tasting of different honeys made from different flowers and that was it – I was hooked. I had no idea that different flowers produced different flavours in the honey or even that honey’s flavours could vary by so much.

IMG_0875Planet Bee Honey Farm is a short drive west of Vernon on Bella Vista Road. Even if you don’t like honey, the view is worth the trip, hence the appropriate road name. If you do like honey, or honey-derived products (candles, mead, skin care products, etc) then this place is a metaphorical Disneyland. It was a slow time of year and we were able to take our time. We were guided around the displays and told about the bees that live in the two indoor demonstration hives. There was all kinds of information about bees and how honey is made. We learned the difference between honey bees, bumblebees, yellow jackets, and hornets along with the life cycle and hierarchy of the bees in the hives.

IMG_0876Then we got to taste the honey. There were a lot of them. There was no way to get through all of them but by tag-teaming the task with the family, we were able to cover a lot of ground. There was no sequential order to the tasting in the same way that wines are tasted as none of the flavours tended to overpower any other particular flavour. That tendency seems to only exist in the wine world for some reason as I didn’t experience any flavour masking at Olive Us the previous day either. Tasting order just did not matter.

Some of the honeys were infused but most of them were made from different flowers. Pollens on different species of flowers taste different and will yield honey with distinctly different tastes. I found that the flavours of those honeys differed not by a way that is familiar to me as a wine taster. All of the honeys were equally sweet, equally textured, and similarly intense. The only difference that I found was in the retro-nasal, mid-palate flavours that weren’t always immediately apparent. Sometimes it would take a couple of seconds to really get the full effect and on the most complex honeys, they would change slightly as the flavour progressed. This was an equally amazing experience to tasting wine.

And then there was the mead. Planet Bee also makes a big selection of mead and most of it is available for tasting. While I confess that mead has never really drawn me in the way that wine has, it was at least familiar to be standing there with a wine glass chatting about some of the flavours.

Just like grape wine, they ranged in sweetness from relatively dry to very sweet. Of course the discussion turned to which was actually the oldest beverage in the world. Of course mead has a very long history and presumed archaeological evidence puts it in a dead heat with wine in some respects. However I contend that wine is the older beverage since making it requires less intervention. A vessel of grapes will turn into wine naturally and of its own accord without human intervention over time since it already contains all of the necessary ingredients – sugar and water are in the grapes, tannins in the skins and seeds to preserve it, and yeast cells on the bloom (skin) to ferment it. It’s all right there. It only needs some cave man to forget a batch of grapes for a while and then it’s party time. Mead requires obtaining the honey, deliberately mixing it with water, and adding other flavourings. All things that require deliberate human intervention and would not be able to happen naturally.

Of course, we will never know the real story of either beverage’s provenance but I still maintain my position that wine is the eldest of the two. Regardless, the mead was very good – balanced and with lots of interesting flavours. But when it comes to figuring out how those tastes and flavours fit into my family’s culinary world, I was at a bit of a loss. What would I drink it with? Does it benefit from ageing? I have made it a goal to be able to study the world of mead this year and I know that I will write more about it over the coming years.

Our purchases made, we said good-bye to the staff at Planet Bee and kept going on our drive. We were glad to have been able to take out time and see the store at our own pace as it was solidly in the off-season. Being there in the summer with many more visitors and their children running around with access to that much sugar, it’s pretty obvious that the bees wouldn’t be the only thing buzzing around the place.

Planet Bee Honey Farm is well worth the visit and it promises a taste adventure like no other. Do not miss it when travelling through Vernon. They were in the middle of a renovation while I was there so it will likely look a little different over the summer. I absolutely plan on returning to see how it will look.

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North Okanagan Tasting Tour Part 1 – Olive Us and Tita’s

Perhaps there is more to savour than just wine tasting?

This is a shocking statement on a wine blog but it’s true. While I’ve written about other tasting experiences involving things like honey before, whenever I take a trip anywhere I’ve always taken a lot of pleasure from trying local things: cool restaurants, unique stores, and of course wineries. Challenging my taste buds with things that aren’t wine is good because I like to think that it makes me better at tasting wine. It also makes be appreciate wine even more because it reminds me that when all is said and done, wine is still the most complex, nuanced, varied, and debate-inducing thing that humans can consume. However, tasting new things is also just fun.

IMG_0878I recently went on a family trip to explore the North Okanagan, staying 4 days in Vernon, BC. After seven and a half years living in the south, it’s almost shocking that I’ve only managed to come here once before. Like most places in the Okanagan though, this place is a destination in and of itself, meaning that you have actually want to come here in order to appreciate it. While I have travelled through Vernon in 2009 on my way home from a drive across Canada, I never got a chance to stop and try out some local shops and restaurants on that trip. And I haven’t really had a reason to go back since then. There are no wineries in the immediate Vernon area and little in the way of wine culture at most of the restaurants that I was able to visit (with one notable exception – see below).

We really lucked out after we arrived. Within 5 hours we had managed to find two amazing places to challenge our taste buds.

Olive Us is an “olive oil and vinegar tasting room” on 30th Avenue in downtown Vernon. My wife discovered it listed on the Tourism Vernon website as we were planning the trip. We knew we wanted to get there at some point but with our kids in tow, making fast plans was not something that we could count on. However, it happened to be close to where we’d parked so we stopped in.

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Many flavoured salts at the Salt Bar

Refreshingly, the kids were welcomed and had a small chalkboard-painted fun room and games ready for them. My wife and I were told about the amazing selection of olive oils (fused and infused) and vinegars (white and dark or balsamic), shown the sampling spoons, and then let loose in the store to freely taste both. It was a refreshing experience and challenging at the same time. I’m used to explaining bizarre complexities of wine to people and here I was on the other side learning about the bizarre complexities of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was an informative and humbling at the same time. There is so much to know about it and I wanted to remember as much of it as I could.

Thankfully, there was no quiz afterwards. Spoon in hand, I tasted my way through an amazing assortment of olive oils infused with ingredients like basil, toasted almond, and tuscan herbs. One of my favourites was an oil that was fused with mandarin oranges. Fused oils, I learned that day, are created by co-pressing flavouring ingredients with the olives, in this case whole mandarin oranges, so that the flavours develop and integrate together right from the beginning. It’s hard to describe the difference between fused and infused but if I had to try, I’d say that the fused flavours are blurred together; they aren’t two distinct flavours that are joined (like infusions) but are rather a unique flavour of its own that has elements of both. I found it harder to pick out the distinct elements of the fused oils. The only exception was the distinctive tang of the mandarin rind that floated over the whole experience for that particular oil.

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Premium pasta selection

The vinegars were equally interesting. There were white vinegar infusions including coconut, peach, and cranberry pear. Dark vinegars had a list of slightly more robust infusion flavours but were equally well balanced, something that I noticed with all of the products in the store that I was able to sample. The Strawberry balsamic got my attention right away (I love spinach salad) and the flavour was pristine. The dark chocolate balsamic was unbelievable, rich as would be expected but not cloyingly so.

Interestingly, they also had the base balsamic (not infused) available for tasting, as well as the base olive oil. I think that this is the strongest testament to the high quality of their products. They are not just simply flavouring sub-standard oils and vinegars so they can synthetically increase its value (or “polishing a turd” as a winery manager I used to work with once called it, referring to wines that had been unduly processed and sold for a much higher price). These are quality products from the get-go and you can buy them in their base elements if you want. They are delicious.

The big kicker for me though was the single-variety olive oils – an amazing opportunity to try unblended oils to find out what the differences are between the varieties. This is commonplace in the wine world and occasionally you can find specialty apple juices in the Okanagan that are made from a single variety of apples, but otherwise this is a rare opportunity. Olive varieties can vary enormously based on polyphenol content (just like red wines) and other elements that make each one unique.

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Olive Us co-owner Ray Morin with the selection of single-variety olive oils.

Since Vernon is not very convenient for me to just go and pick up another bottle of olive oil when my stock runs out, this will really only be a special trip for me. But for you residents of the North Okanagan, and maybe even Kelowna, this place is an absolute gem to frequent. Even occasional purchases here will result in a small collection of amazing products that will enhance any special dinner.

Speaking of a special dinner – We happened upon a small bistro called Tita’s Italian Bistro on 41st Avenue, just off Highway 97. Even the parking lot was cosy. (The parking spaces were perfect for Italian sports cars. Less so for Toyota minivans.) We walked inside and were welcomed like long-lost family. Just getting this far was a victory for my wife and I as our kids are solidly in that picky-eater phase. Once we sat down and saw the menu, things didn’t pick up for them since there was a lot of Italian words that they didn’t recognize. With help from our server and a little bribing with Italian sodas, we found two dishes that the kids would enjoy.

**I should interrupt this ‘restaurant review’ by pointing out that I don’t think I’ve ever done a restaurant review on this site at all, nor am I seeking to make this a regular feature. While I will be the first to point out that absolutely nothing qualifies me to judge restaurants, food, and / or service quality, this place was probably the best dining experience I’ve ever had with my whole family and for that reason alone, I will shout about Tita’s as loud as I can and plan my next trip to Vernon based on their business hours.**

My wife had the special of the day while I had the Filletto di Maiale Pisa. Before the kids had time to complain about anything, the sodas were on the table and there was warm focaccia and dishes of olive oil and balsamic. Soon after that, two unexpected salads with house made balsamic reduction dressing was placed in front of my wife and I. Once the salads were done, the main showed up shortly after that and they were amazing.

71416_TitasItalianBistroSo amazing in fact that my daughter proclaimed that her Fettuccini Alfredo was the best pasta that she’d ever had. She then ate 3/4 of a small adult portion of it, which is far more than the 3, possibly 4, noodles that she’ll eat at home before giving up. (I like to think that this says more about the quality of Tita’s pasta dishes than it does about our home cooking but only she knows for sure.) My son, though being less adventurous in his choice of main, was also enthusiastic about his Spaghetti Bolognese.

As for wine, Tita’s had a small but varied list of quality wines at many price points, including Larch Hills in Salmon Arm. The wines were priced fairly and nothing seemed out of place for the style of cuisine. It was also not populated only by wines from one particular corporation or supplier (e.g. Peller, Constellation, or Mission Hill) that I’ve seen often at restaurants. (Maybe I’ll write more on that subject in another post…)

Essentially, Tita’s over-delivered. We expected nothing more than a plate of food each. Instead we were treated to amazing bread, amazing salads, and amazing food. Based on that, we quickly decided to stay for dessert and guess what? It was amazing as well – Tiramisu for my wife, limoncello for me. I have no photos because I was too busy actually tasting the food and enjoying the experience and I’m glad I did because this kind of thing can’t be tweeted. (I’m not into instagramming my food although I’ve been known to tweet photos of empty plates and pizza boxes.)

So far, it was two amazing tasting experiences in one day and all within hours of arriving in Vernon. This was shaping up to be a great trip.

Part 2 will be coming soon…

Domestic Market Pride

20140806-204556-74756105.jpgMy first real BC wine ever was a bottle of Sumac Ridge’s 199? Blanc de Noir sparkling wine. I bought it on my first ever trip to Vancouver where I spent New Year’s Eve 1999-2000. For anyone who is over 30 today, it was an extremely special New Year’s because, if we believed all the scare-hype about it, there was a good chance that planes were going to crash out of the sky and our debit cards might not work the next day because of the buzzword of the time – “Y2K”. So we all partied like it was 1999 and everyone remembers where they were (or at least where they ended up) on that most memorable of New Year’s Eves.

The bubbles from Sumac Ridge were purchased to celebrate Y2K with friends and it was a blast for a lot of reasons. I knew very little about BC (this being my first time in the province) and nothing about BC wine other than that I’d heard that there was wine produced here. One of the big memories I have of the evening though is that the other people at the party all knew about Sumac Ridge and recognized it as a special wine. I felt I’d done a good job shopping for wine (which I was very timid about doing at the time – wine was still very strange to me then) and the congratulatory praise for my purchase was the seed that has since grown into the petulantly stubborn but keenly guided focus that is only slightly tainted by pretentious elitism. In other words, I liked BC wine enough to buy more.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m not that keenly guided.

My point is that without the wine world of Vancouver really getting behind the home team of BC wine, there is little doubt that this industry would exist as it stands today. We don’t need to depend on an export market the way other regions have to (can you say “Australia”), depend on the market whims to keep them in business (will NZ Sauv Blanc always be popular?), or suffer through XXXX years as we await the ultimate doom of a wine that has not been widely consumed for nearly 3 full generations (Sherry). Currently, BC wine is both diversified (absurdly so, for better or worse) and resilient (what downturn?) because the “buy-local” mentality has permeated our daily habits. Events like Orofino’s “1.6 Mile Dinner”, the Similkameen BBQ King, or any of the locavore type events held in the Okanagan would have been nearly impossible to hold profitably a generation ago and would likely have been seen as just a hick country event that no one from the city would care about much less understand the need or appeal.

But somehow, folks from Vancouver and Victoria, and maybe Calgary too have started riding the “BC Wine” train more frequently. I meet people everyday from these places and they are all enjoying themselves as they explore the nearly limitless amount of experiences that they can have when touring through wine country. It’s exciting for me too because I get to share and have a small part in their enthusiams. Wine people love to share. That’s something I noticed when I first starting working in this industry.

But there’s also been a shift towards pride in local producers that extends beyond wine. I don’t know which one has influenced the other but I know that for myself, wine was the doorway to all kinds of other things that I never considered searching for locally – cheese, berries, meats, and vinegars. Take the changes that have happened coincidentally with a place like Krause Brothers Berry farm in Langley. I remembered going there to pick strawberries or raspberries one time in 2001 or something. It was a little building in a big field. It was a u-pick and I remember getting a good amount of something that we made into jams and jellies. I went back a couple years ago and the place was like Disneyland for berry lovers – it was insane! The building and the parking lot were tripled in size from my last visit and there were people everywhere. I was amazed and glad to see that they had become so successful.

Have other businesses like that grown up at the same rate because of the same zeitgeist that has supported the BC wine industry? Maybe. Is it beneficial? Sustainable? I think so. Will I support that in any way I can? I will do what I can. (Thanks for reading.) Was wine the genesis of this particular zeitgeist? Maybe. I’ve written about that before where wine starting with honey and then chocolates but it could easily be extrapolated out from anything grown or produced locally. Wine draws your attention into a particular place because the flavors of the wines are going to be different depending on the location where the grapes are grown. It doesn’t surprise me that people are starting to look around for other things once they get to that place. Have fun looking around.

Cheers from wine country.
~Luke

 

New Winery: Visiting Lusitano Estate Winery

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20140617-083320.jpgIt was a small sign that I noticed on the Oliver Ranch Road which runs south out of Okanagan Falls. It’s a route that is fast becoming the ‘Main Street’ of the Okanagan Falls wine region. In traveling through wine country to visit friends, interview wineries for this blog or other publications for which I write, or just to get off of the main road once in a while, I tend to notice when new wineries put up their signs. It’s fun to discover new things and as I’ve been searching for winery signs for well over a decade now, it’s almost become second nature.

My first visit to Lusitano was short out of necessity. I was on my motorcycle and was quickly running out of time to be back home. Seeing their sign on Oliver Ranch Road, I turned east onto Rolling Hills Road until I saw their main sign. The steep, inclined, loose gravel driveway made getting my motorcycle up it a little tricky and like a cat that climbs trees but can’t get back down, I soon realized that the trip down would be even harder.

The wine shop is a small room off the house with a high tasting bar and shelves for the wines. Fernanda Ganhao welcomed me into the wine shop and told me a about their new winery that sits on the top of a little hill with vineyards cascading down on all sides.

I was finally able to taste the wines on my second trip when I made it easily up the hill in the comfort and stability of my van. The winery currently offers 4 wines – Chic Sauvignon Blanc, Rolling Hills Chardonnay, Luscious Rosé, and Marco’s Pinot Noir. The will be another wine – a Cabernet Sauvignon – that will be joining the lineup later this year. The Pinot Noir was the only wine to see oak in any way. The whites were both crisp and refreshing while the Rosé has just a touch of residual sugar to be nicely balanced. The Pinot Noir was the one that grabbed me the most so I returned the favour and grabbed a bottle of it. It’s an elegant style and I’m very interested in seeing revisiting this wine after it has had some time to settle in the bottle.

It was on this trip that I realized just how unique the landscape is in Okanagan Falls. There aren’t really any wine growing areas of the Okanagan that are built on such diversely oriented portions of land. Just driving through on the 97 and you’d think that the land is pretty straightforward and predictable. It’s a valley bottom just like all the others, right?

Well, no. If you’ve been to Blue Mountain Vineyards and been able to take your eyes off of the spectacular sights of MacIntyre Bluff and the Vasseaux Lake and instead looked west towards the valley bottom, you’d notice that the terrain is beautifully undulating. There are a lot of little hills, valleys, kettles, and geological bizarre-nesses that make this one of the most diverse and varied landscape in all of BC wine country, perhaps on par with Naramata and its motley collection of erosion-scabbed silt bluffs and outcroppings. Standing outside Lusitano gives a different impression of the valley than standing outside Noble Ridge, Liquidity, or Stag’s Hollow. The valley floor south of OK Falls is really BC wine’s fun-house hall of mirrors where everywhere you look, there is a completely different and altered view of the world.

It’s a fascinating world to explore and stopping in at Lusitano will only add to your enjoyment. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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BC VQA Golden Mile Bench is on its way

The Golden Mile Bench wineries are now well on their way to having the Okanagan’s first sub-appellation. It represents the first serious step in narrowing the focus of BC wines, stratifying the growing regions, and shining some light on what those many microclimates can contribute to the wines we drink.

This could be an ugly can of worms in some respects though and I can see a lot of people not agreeing with this if it goes through. Having worked on the Golden Mile and having followed many of the wineries there for a relatively long time, I’m curious to see who will really take advantage and benefit from this. There are very few wineries in BC who create there entire portfolio of wines from an individual area although those that do can’t indicate this in any meaningful way on their labels. “BC VQA Okanagan” is about as specific as it gets and everyone knows that grapes grown in Osoyoos are different than those grown north of Kelowna. Cherries are different too, but I’ll leave that issue to the cherry bloggers out there.

If this starts the ball rolling towards more legal geographic indications of origins, I’m all for it. But I don’t think it will change much in consumer attitudes, at least not right away. People seem to be accepting of tasting a wine labeled “VQA Okanagan” at a wineries on Vancouver Island so I don’t see it influencing their purchasing decisions of a Naramata winery with a merlot labeled as “VQA Osoyoos” or something like that.

Will consumers start to question the sources more closely? Perhaps. Certainly the exclusivity and rarity of a geographically marked wine will automatically rank it above a more general appellation in the same way that the specific AOC Margaux is deemed to be superior to more general AOC Bordeaux. The same goes for other regions with more specific indications of origins like Burgundy or Beaujolais where there are extreme differences in quality levels. Can we really taste those differences in BC when everyone is making wine with 20 different grape varieties? Is it really worth separating it out just to have a different origin on the label? It remains to be seen.

I visited wineries in Niagara in 2007 after they introduced sub-appellations and at the time it appeared a little chaotic. I wonder if anyone in Ontario has any research on consumer attitudes towards their sub-appellations since that time?

In any case, this should be a very interesting discussion. Here is a copy of the original press release from Hawksworth Communications:

Golden Mile Bench Proposes to become Okanagan Valley’s First Sub-Appellation

Oliver, BC (May 21, 2014) – Wineries located on the Golden Mile Bench wine growing area near Oliver in British Columbia have submitted a proposal to become the first official sub-DVA “Designated Viticultural Area” of the Okanagan Valley DVA. An in-depth scientific analysis by scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre – Summerland (AAFC-PARC Summerland) has shown the area has a combination of landform, landscape position, mesoclimate, air drainage and soil materials that make it distinct within the Okanagan Valley, contributing to the production of unique wines.

A group of producers in the area have been exploring the concept of proposing a Golden Mile Bench DVA since 2009. After much discussion, debate and an in-depth study of the region’s terroir by Scott Smith, M.Sc. Soil Scientist with AAFC-PARC Summerland in conjunction with Dr. Pat Bowen, Ph.D. Research Scientist, Viticulture and Plant Physiology also at AAFC-PARC Summerland, the final boundaries were decided. Wine consultant, Rhys Pender MW of Wine Plus+ helped to compile the proposal.

With the Okanagan Valley DVA comprising around four-fifths of all British Columbia’s vineyard area, yet producing wines from many different mesoclimates and terroirs, it is a widely held belief that there is a need to break this large, single appellation into meaningful, scientifically unique sub-DVAs that produce distinctive wines. Golden Mile Bench is the first such application to the BC Wine Authority.

The proposal was submitted to the BC Wine Authority (BCWA) on May 20th. The BCWA will conduct consultations within the region and a vote by ballot amongst the relevant stakeholders within the proposed region’s boundaries. Once the due diligence has been completed and assuming the BCWA determines that all requirements have been met, it will then submit the proposal to the Minister of Agriculture for approval.

Any enquiries about the status of the proposal should be directed to the BC Wine Authority (http://www.bcvqa.ca).

Let’s go food truckin’ – The Food Trucks of Oliver

** Update July 2015 – Food trucks are sometimes transient and their locations can change often. Some changes have happened to the food trucks in this article since it was written. The Beach Bums have “upgraded” to an actual location but in Osoyoos at the Petro Canada on Route 3 heading east out of town. Hammer’s has recently moved north of town to the parking lot of Lion’s park. Follow both of them on Facebook for the latest information since they don’t have websites of their own. **

I started Wine Country BC for a number of reasons. One of which was to provide a little local knowledge for tourists who come to visit BC’s most famous wine region. Why was that an issue, you ask? It’s because when I was working at a busy wine store in Penticton, I would get questions like this:

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Customer: Do you have any suggestions for where the best wineries are?
Me: Sure, there are lots of places. What kind of wines do you like?
Customer: Big reds.
Me: Well those are all around but most of those varieties are grown in the south between Oliver and Osoyoos. The valley looks different in the south and if you’ve never been, I’d recommend going there for the day.
Customer: Um, yeah, we looked at that on the map, but, it looks really far. Are there any gas stations there?
Me: Uh…
Customer: We weren’t sure if there were going to be restaurants or anything down there.
Me: …
Customer: We’ve been to Naramata before. Maybe we’ll just go there again.

With apologies to my sister, who is a writer, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. Although it many ways, I wish that I had. Apparently, the world beyond McIntyre Bluff is seen as a wild, untamed hinterland, inhospitable and dangerous for urbanites to explore without a standard-issue SUV and a Starbucks. Misinformed though it was, this was not the only conversation of this type that I had that summer.

The idea for Wine Country BC began that day.

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This leads me to a more recent addition to our list of secret wine touring information that may not yet be on the radar of wine tourists. The food truck phenomena has come to the Okanagan. Food trucks have been all the rage in cities like Portland for years and Vancouver has caught on lately as well. You may be surprised to know that the town of Oliver (now with 3 traffic lights) has 4 – count ’em – 4 food trucks – all on Highway 97 and each with their specialty.

Hammer’s House of Hog – The second truck to appear in Oliver in 2011 set up shop south of Oliver on Highway 97. Hammer specializes in authentic southern BBQ, not grilling, but real smoked brisket, ribs tips, and pork shoulder roasts cooked in two large smokers. Like an olfactory billboard, it is impossible not to smell the wonderful smokey aromas when you pass on the highway. The pulled pork sandwiches are unbeatable and come with a choice of 4 house-made sauces and coleslaw.

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Beach Bum Lunch Box – My heart skipped a beat when I first tasted the Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches made by Quebecois Marguerite and Charles. As a frequent visitor to Ben’s in Montreal when I lived in Quebec, I learned what smoked meat should really be and smoked meat at Beach Bum is the closest to the real thing that I’ve tasted outside of Quebec. The most diverse menu of the food trucks, you can get pizzas, nachos, wraps, and paninis. Et biensure, ils ont des hotdogs steamé.

Jampee’s Thai Kitchen – The most recent addition and the farthest outside of the town of Oliver, Jampee moved her business from West Kelowna to set up shop at the EZ Fuel station north of Oliver on Highway 97. From her truck you can see Covert Farms to the west and the Jackson-Trigg’s winery east across the highway. The intersection is the beginning of the famous Black Sage Road so starting or ending a tour here is easy. The portions are generous and tasty. I recommend the pad thai with prawns.

20130813-221309.jpgMr. Spud – The original food truck in Oliver has been here for as long as I can remember (although I’ve only lived here for 5 and half years). They are also frequent vendors at the Festival of the Grape, which is where I’ve indulged in their fries often over the past few years. Their home base is usually in the lot next to the government liquor store across from A&W.

So there you go – creative choices for some great quick eats when on a wine tour in the Oliver area.

Cheers from wine country!

Podcast 129 – BCWine 101 Oliver Osoyoos

Riverstone Estate Winery, north of the town of Oliver.

20130218-203437.jpgWelcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

There’s a reason that the town of Oliver calls itself “The Wine Capital of Canada” and you’ll know why when you see it. There are vineyards everywhere here. But there are other crops here – cherry, peach, and apple orchards, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, and more. It is a farming community and, for BC at least, it’s a large, high density one. For wine grapes, it’s the quality and consistency to grow grapes that are more difficult or impossible to grow elsewhere that draws wineries from other regions in BC to proudly proclaim that the grapes for this or that wine come from “the Golden Mile” or “the Black Sage Bench” or simply, “Oliver.”

Back Camera

Looking south from White Lake Road. The Golden Mile is on the right side of the valley, Black Sage Road on the left.

Map courtesy of Wine Tripper – BC Edition available on iTunes.

A little disclaimer about this region: I live here. Although it’s pretty safe to assume that I will have something personal to disclose about every wine region in this series, the fact is that I live and drive through this area everyday and have for over 5 years now and have worked at wineries here for most of that time. I run into winemakers picking out bananas at the supermarket. My kids go to school with their kids. It’s a community built around wine, farming, and central air-conditioning. The summers here can get very hot.

Which is why grapes, and those who grow them, love this region. Some of the best vineyard land in the country is located here. In this podcast, Tim Martinuk, president of the Oliver-Osoyoos Winery Association, talks about what makes this area worthy of the name, the Wine Capital of Canada.

The wineries of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association and the South Okanagan.

OOWA Member Wineries

Adega on 45th Black Hills Burrowing Owl
Cassini Cellars Castoro de Oro Church & State
Covert Farms Desert Hills Fairview Cellars
Gehringer Brothers Hester Creek Hidden Chapel
Inniskillin Intersection Jackson-Triggs
Moon Curser Nk’Mip Cellars Oliver Twist
Platinum Bench Quinta Ferreira River Stone
Road 13 Rustico Silver Sage
Stoneboat Tinhorn Creek Young & Wyse

Other wineries in the South Okanagan area:

La Stella Winery Le Vieux Pin Winery Platinum Bench Winery
Looking north from Burrowing Owl Vineyards on the Black Sage bench.

Looking north from Burrowing Owl Vineyards on the Black Sage bench.

Overlooking the town of Oliver from Hester Creek Estate Winery's vineyards on the Golden Mile bench.

Overlooking the town of Oliver from Hester Creek Estate Winery’s vineyards on the Golden Mile bench.

Fall colors in a vineyard near the town of Oliver.

Fall colors in a vineyard near the town of Oliver.

Sunset from Nk'Mip Cellars looking northwest over Osoyoos Lake.

Sunset from Nk’Mip Cellars looking northwest over Osoyoos Lake.

Podcast 106 – The Sim, Part 1 – John Weber of Orofino

Wine touring is all about meeting your expectations. The chance to breeze through the vineyards in wine country as you seek and sip your favorite bottles. If you are looking for a lively wine touring experience filled with grand showcase wineries, majestic lake views, quaint gift shops, and opulent destination resorts, then keep moving down Route 3 to the Okanagan. There’s nothing like that in this valley.

Welcome to the Similkameen Valley. Forget about Starbucks, there aren’t even traffic lights in this part of the world. The focus here is on living a natural lifestyle. It’s not hard to forget about natural since it literally towers over you in this deep and extremely scenic valley.

20120228-140325.jpgIt is in Cawston, in the most southerly region of the Similkameen that John and Virginia Weber have chosen to build their winery, Orofino. Crafting mostly single-vineyard variety-based wines along with a blend or two, the emphasis at Orofino has been quality. The roster of growers, many of whom are also neighbors, are luckily in simpatico with their desire to create intense, complex, age-worthy, and tasty wines. The relationship between grower and vintner can be tricky waters to navigate because each may have different goals in mind regarding quality and quantity. Orofino has managed to create a spectacular lineup of wines with their growers because the focus extends beyond the simple goal of selling products. The goal here is great wine made in a great community. The relationships in this region are evidently stronger than the need to be competitive.

Evidence of this comes through even in the best of times. When I sat down with John Weber in mid-February, it was just days before Orofino’s Syrah 2009 took home the gold medal as the top wine at the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna on February 11th. In a Similkameen Wineries Association press release soon after, John thanked the growers of the winning Syrah, Murray and Maggie Fonteyne of Cawston’s Scout Vineyard “for their terrific work in growing these grapes for us.” When one wins, everyone wins. Welcome to the Sim.

Wines Tasted in this podcast:

Riesling 2007

Gamay 2010

Pinot Noir 2009

Syrah 2009

Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Beleza 2009

(EXCLUSIVE! If you listen very carefully, John will mention a special new wine to be released this coming spring! You heard it here first!)

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Podcast 97 – Interview with Stephen Wyse

I like talking about wine. I can and do talk about it all day long sometimes. Most of the time, I’m lucky enough to get payed to do that.

Stephen Wyse from the boutique winery Young & Wyse in Osoyoos, BC, likes to talk about wine too. When I got to talk to him in his wine shop recently, the time went by quickly and the result is this podcast which pushes 45 minutes. It’s a great conversation with a guy who knows wine. He also has some great advice for anyone who is feeling a little burned out with their job.

We’ve featured Young & Wyse before – exactly 2 years ago in fact – when Amber, AJ, and I tasted their Shiraz from their first vintage in 2008. Their winery has been on our radar ever since with unique blended wines like the “Amber” (our Amber bought one, of course) and the Black Label aka the “33,30,24,13”. Now with new vintagea of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and a cozy wine shop just outside of town, this is one winery that should be on your must-visit list.

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