Planning your trip to wine country

50thIt’s that time of year again! The time when Google searches, dog-eared Wine Trails magazines, and copies of John Schreiner’s tour books start occupying all of your reading time in anticipation of your trip to the Okanagan this summer. Where are you going to stay? What are you going to do? Which wineries will you visit this year?

It’s almost as fun to plan a wine country vacation as it is to take a wine country vacation. Some people can plan things down to the minute while others enjoy following their nose to find places. It’s all in hope of finding your next favourite wine, tasting room, or experience. Sometimes it’s fun to revisit places you’ve been before. It all adds up to a lot of fun and based on the number of people that are landing on my Big List of BC Wineries these days, I hope that I can be of some help when it comes to figuring out where you want to go.

So as I work on updating the list to include the most current new and soon-to-be-open wineries in the wonderful wine regions of BC, I will let you in on some locally known tips and advice about wine touring from professional wine groupies like myself to help you get the most out of your excursions. Along with a previous post about Wine Touring Secrets, this should give you a good start if you’ve never been to wine country before or if you’re looking for new ideas. There’s a lot to see, especially in the Okanagan Valley, which leads me to tip #1…

Tip #1 – You aren’t going to see it all in one week, so don’t try.

I’ve lived here almost 8 years and there are still a handful of places that I haven’t been yet. There are too many wineries with too many wines that it would be nearly impossible to get through them all. I’ve been to a lot of wineries for interviews for writing stories, blog posts, and podcasts along with regular wine tastings. I’ve seen some people completely haggled from trying to cram in too many stops on their journey. While it’s nice to cover lots of ground, there’s very little chance that they are able to appreciate all of the experiences at each place. Plus, palate fatigue can really set it making everything taste a little more neutral than it otherwise would and you might miss out on something spectacular. From my own personal experience, I know that on a good day I can hit about 6 wineries before it all starts to taste like mush. 2 wineries in the morning, lunch, 2 wineries, snack, 2 more wineries, dinner. I’ve done days that are longer but it becomes a slog and that’s not what wine touring should feel like.

If you have never planned a day at the wineries, I suggest you plan to visit 3 to 4 wineries on each day that you allocate to wine touring. Start at a winery in the morning, have lunch somewhere (or stop at a winery that has a restaurant), and then two more wineries. Call it a day in the late afternoon and head to the pool or beach before dinner. It takes away the slog factor and you won’t feel burned out after one day.

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Tip #2 – There’s more to taste than just wine.

OMG, did you see what I just wrote up there?? Holy #$%^ I don’t think that’s ever been written on a wine blog before! But I wrote it because there are other fine beverages available for tasting in most regions of BC now. The Okanagan has many other beverage manufacturers including breweries, cideries, and craft distilleries and are as uniquely interesting and worth a stop as any of the wineries out there. Plus it is a great way to refresh your palate mid-tour and get you back in the game for more wineries later on. If you really want to go for a full day and cram in as many wineries as possible, this is probably the best thing to do to keep your palate fresh. I’ve done it a few times and it works great. Check out my list of other fine beverage makers in BC (which I am also in the process of updating). The Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Valley are both starting to see more of these places appearing on the maps. Plan a little detour and check them out.

Tip #3 – Have someone drive you

This should go without saying that driving yourself to multiple wine tastings is a bad idea. Even pros like myself that spit everything can find that wine can have an effect on you and possibly make driving unsafe. From my experience, tasting wine all afternoon makes me hungry. If I forgot to bring snacks or if there is no food stops for a little while, I’m essentially a driver that is distracted by my tummy rumbling when I should be fully alert and concentrating on driving safely. If, like 95% of wine tourists that I have seen, you drink all of the wines that are offered to you, the alcohol can add up quickly. All winery staff are trained through the Serving It Right program to observe customers and we can often tell how “far along” you are before your tasting even begins. Think that winery always pours skimpy amounts of wine? Most tasting bar staff will short-pour for people that are beginning to show signs of the happy-hoopla.

The alternative is to get on with a professional wine tour company that will drive you around. There are tons of options now available for this so check out travel websites to find one that suits what you are looking for.

If you are going to be driving your group around, have someone navigate for you – preferably someone who is actually good at navigating. Valley and island roads are not an obvious urban grid and even the best quality GPS’s give ludicrous route suggestions. Some towns here also have a strange habit of changing their street names every 20 years. Forget the electronic and go with the Wine Route markers along the highway. They are (shockingly) updated quite quickly and often more current than the maps

Tip #4 – Large groups have different experiences

It all depends on what your expectations are but from my own experience as a tourist and as a tasting bar staff member, large groups (more than 6 people) have a wildly different experiences than smaller groups. If having a good time with a lot of friends is what you want to get out of spending the day at wineries, then touring in a large group is going to be fun for you. But if you are really interested in learning about the finer details of the wines, the winery’s story, and maybe more about the region itself, stay on your own in a small group of 2-4 people. You will be able to ask questions a lot easier and wine shop staff will be able to converse with you more directly than having to project the answer to a larger group of people, all of whom (from my experience) will have varying degrees of “give-a-shit” when it comes to actually listening to the answer or adding their own “smart” comments.

While there are some wineries in BC that can handle large groups, many can’t cope as easily. Sometimes it’s a space issue, sometimes staffing, and sometimes it’s a winery that is just too darn popular and gets overrun easily. Wineries that have the extra space will sometimes bring groups into another room away from the main tasting bar area so that they can focus on the group without distracting other people in the wine shop. This is a good thing for both the large group (who are getting special treatment in a way) and the other patrons in the main tasting bar.

Groups get goofier as the day progresses so little can be experienced in that situation. Wine shop staff know this and most inwardly groan at the mere site of a large group because they know that they will have to work very hard but won’t be able to actually sell very much. Many wine shop staff have trouble with groups because it requires a lot of extra energy to keep a group’s attention focused on what they are saying. Using the same sales pitch as a small group on a large group doesn’t work either and so a good staff member will have to tailor their spiel to suite the group.

When I worked in winery tasting rooms, I actually enjoyed presenting to groups because I found it fun, challenging, and was a change of pace from the rest of my day. I was comfortable with improvising so I rarely said the same things twice. I’m sure it also helped that I can be loud when I need to. However I recognized that the experience that the groups were getting was far different from the ones that a twosome would get. At one winery I remember a couple that had been part of a group came back the next day and did another complete tasting. They really enjoyed the wines and wanted to try it but without their friends in the large group. I conducted both tastings and it was completely different because I could answer their questions directly and clearly without the extra distractions.

Tip #5 -You will buy more than you planned

Especially if you hit a series of wineries with especially well-trained tasting bar staff who can really chat up the wine. Wine touring is weird that way because, if you think about it, you are essentially travelling from sales pitch to sales pitch. Imagine cruising down the potato chip aisle at the supermarket with a person representing each potato chip maker there lined up with their portfolio of chips ready for you to taste. It’s a little bit weird if you think about it but wine touring is essentially like that. What other industry relies on product tasting before purchase?

Ok, stop thinking about it.

The point is that you will probably try a wine that you didn’t expect to like, fall in love with it, and buy half a case. You only had two spaces left in the case of wine in your car when you went in but there you are buying more. It happens and it’s not a bad thing at all. (Although you should control your finances – Wine Country BC does not assume any liability for indebtedness incurred by or related to extraneous wine purchases made under the advice of the tips hitherto presented.) It’s what makes wine touring that much more interesting because I guarantee that you will remember your trip each time you open one those bottles.

Tip #6 – Put the phone away

The best way to experience something is not to hold up your phone right in front of it. Contrary to what you would imagine, it’s the older generation that seems to be more distracted by playing with their phones at a wine tasting. Rarely have I seen anyone under 30 not be fully attentive at a tasting bar because they are texting, Faceplanting, or Tweetgramming. Of course if there is something interesting that you like to have a picture of, go for it. There is absolutely no shortage of stunning imagery in wine country. For whatever reason, vineyards are rarely planted in ugly places so capture those memories. But please don’t forget to fully experience standing at the top of the vineyard with no sound except the wind blowing the vine leaves or the woody and fruity smell of a barrel room. These things can’t be stuffed into a phone or camera and I can guarantee that you will be missing out.

Tip #7 – Have fun

Visiting wineries should be fun. If you aren’t having fun at a winery, then leave. It’s as simple as that. There are plenty of wineries out there and you are under no obligation to buy anything. If you aren’t having a good time, then you aren’t going to enjoy their wine and I would even go farther and say that you will never enjoy their wines again. I’ve had bad experiences with a small number of wineries and to be honest, it’s hard for me to enjoy anything produced by those wineries. It’s probably a psychological association but it happens all of the time. That’s why it is so important for wineries to do everything that they can to make sure that their customers enjoy their experience. It’s also up to customers to keep their expectations within the realms of reality and not make silly demands. Unless you already know someone at the winery, demanding a private barrel room tasting with the wine maker for free is not going to get you the status and respect that you are craving.

Customers should enjoy what the winery is offering you and if you don’t enjoy it, move on to one that you do enjoy. Thankfully, not all wineries are the same otherwise it would be a very boring wine tour. Find a winery you enjoy and you will relive that experience every time you open a bottle of their wine or see their label in the store months or even years later.

Wineries should offer more than just a few dribbles, a plate of stale crackers, and tasting bar staff that only offer canned conversation and get their wine information from the back label. Customers don’t travel all the way to your wine shop for that. Time to up your game.

Tip #8 – Plan local

Keep things close to where you are staying. If you are staying in Kelowna, don’t plan a trip to Osoyoos because you will spend more time driving than sipping. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful drive and well worth it, but make it part of the trip and stay in Osoyoos. Penticton, being fairly central in the Okanagan with lots of amenities, is nicely situated with quick access to many different regions – Naramata, Summerland, OK Falls, Oliver/Osoyoos, and the Similkameen.

Another good idea to drive father in the morning and then work your way back to wherever you are staying. That makes for less driving at the end of the day when you might be more tired.

Enjoy yourself on your trip and let me know how it went! Share your touring tips and comments here or on my facebook page.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Off-Season Wine Touring

No crowds means lots of time to learn about the wines.

No crowds means lots of time to learn about the wines.

Touring off-season is awesome. Here’s why.

  • Lots of winery action to see (in the fall during harvest).
  • No crowds.
  • Special wine tastings.
  • No crowds.
  • Undivided attention of the wine shop staff.
  • Beautiful scenery (colours in the fall, snowy vineyards in the winter)

Sometimes there’s other treats to be had, especially if there’s a regional festival or promotion going on such as OOWA’s Winter in Wine Country or Summerland’s Light Up the Vines.

This biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to tour wine country in the off-season is this:

Call first.

Like, with an actual phone. Call the winery and find out if they are open and what their hours are. Do not rely on Google, websites (wineries are notoriously slow at updating their own sites), app or blog (including this one) to tell you what the current hours are for any winery.  (I had a customer complain to me the other day that Google told her that we were open until 6pm. I told her that we had changed our hours and that we were now open only until 4pm. She then asked why it was listed on Google as being open until 6. I calmly explained that we can’t control Google’s content but in my mind, I face-palmed.) Use the phone and talk to a human.

I used to create a list of wineries that were open in the off-season and some of them are still generally open throughout the year. I’ve stopped trying to update the list since it becomes a crazy case of tracking down information that just isn’t easily available. The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the winery, the more likely it is to be open year-round. They will also be closer to larger towns and on main routes like Highway 97. Some of them may have restricted their hours (again, call first, don’t Google) for the off-season and likely have reduced staff as well. Always book ahead if you’re thinking of arriving with a big group (more than 6).

Wine Availability

It’s important to know that not all wines will be available. If you are looking for that fresh and lovely aromatic white wine in the late fall, chances are pretty good that it will have sold out long ago at the winery. Likewise touring in the early spring might mean that the next vintage of your favourite big red won’t be released until mid-July. Some wineries have set schedules for releasing their wines because they know how their wines react in production and plan accordingly. Others release their wines as soon as the previous vintage has sold out. Very few wineries release their wines only when the wine is deemed ready by the wine maker or winery owner. These last two scenarios mean that any particular wine could very likely be released at any time of the year. The best thing is to follow the winery’s website or through social media in advance of your trip and actually ask them directly.

A new experience

Plan on taking your time. I’ve had some of the best experiences in wine shops in the off-season both as a customer and as a wine shop sales person because I wasn’t in a rush. I’ve had many great conversations and learned a ton of information about wine at these times. I remember going to visit a winery for the first time in July and feeling irritated that there were so many other people around. I didn’t get have even half of the experience that I’d hoped for. It wasn’t the winery’s fault, it was mine because I expected to have an experience that was just not possible at that time of year. I still avoid going to wineries in the height of summer if I can. I also see very little industry visiting the wineries during the summer where I’ve worked.

Be considerate of their time

Also note, if you are going to call your favourite small winery and get them out to open their wine shop for you, you’d better be in the mood for making a big purchase. And just so we’re clear, 4 bottles of wine is not a big purchase at most small wineries. It may be big for some but it’s hardly worth opening up a wine shop for only a few bottles. You should be willing to purchase upwards of a half-case minimum (6 bottles) but a full case is more like it. This precludes the whole ‘shopping around’ experience that is much easier to do in the summer. I recommend only visiting wineries that you are at least somewhat familiar with and know that you enjoy their wines. Nothing is more annoying to a winery owner as opening up a wine shop, talking about and maybe pouring wines for a half-hour only to have the people say thanks and leave. Do your research first and be ready to load up the car. Buy a bottle at a VQA or private liquor store first to see if you like the wine before making the call to the winery.

Have a great time touring wine country in the winter. Don’t forget your camera – it’s pretty here all the time! Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

The Highway Stars of BC Wine

20140806-000807-487912.jpgOn my first visit to the Okanagan’s wine country in 2003, it was rare to see an actual winery while driving south from Kelowna to Osoyoos on Highway 97. Most of the wineries in business at the time were set back from the highway closer to wherever their vineyards were located. The industry has grown much since then and wineries have started popping up in convenient locations on the biggest (and only, in some spots) traffic corridor in the valley. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the signs along the highway between Oliver and Osoyoos.

Visibility is an important aspect to any business and as the wine industry in BC moves from a hinterland-supply backwater to an argi-tourism destination, frontage is going to become a valuable part of the business plan. The dustup last winter concerning overly large and potentially distracting highway signs along the 97 in Oliver is a signal that visibility is becoming an issue here. Wineries closer to the highway are going to be at an advantage when it comes to visibility. Do you think Harry McWatters and Lloyd Schmidt purchased the golf course in Summerland in 1979 because it had a great view? Not likely. It was right on the highway and every traveler and commuter in the Okanagan was going to drive right by their sign for Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. I did in the fall of 2000 on my first ever visit to the valley while travelling for work. 3 years later I remembered exactly where it was and made sure that I stopped.

I should probably qualify what it is that I mean when I say that a winery is ‘on the highway’ because some of the wineries that I’ll be mentioning here are not directly right on Route 97. For me to consider a winery to be located ‘on the highway’, it must be visible and quickly accessible from the 97 and traffic noise must be omnipresent. So while Kismet, Hidden Chapel, and La Stella are all on side streets off the highway, La Stella and Hidden Chapel are farther and are not overwhelmed with traffic noise while Kismet is still quite close to the highway. For me, traffic noise is the biggest issue that wineries on highway locations have to deal with.

The first to appear on the highway in the south was what is now Constellation Brands’ Jackson-Triggs / Inniskillin production facility, which originally opened as T.G. Bright’s in 1981. The building itself is off the northernmost end of Black Sage Road but looks directly onto the highway and may have had a driveway directly from the 97 at one point. The first modern boutique winery with highway frontage was Gersighel Wineberg in 1995. “Who is that?” I hear your ask. Modern wine tourists would know the property better as Castoro de Oro or its previous monicker “Golden Beaver”. It’s a brilliant location that is easily accessible from the highway and clearly visible heading south (although less visible heading north). Two new wineries have recently opened a stone’s throw away from Castoro – Kismet and Maverick – making this a convenient trio of wineries to visit easily on a trip.

CC Jensch is a short drive north and Cassini – who was probably the first to construct a purpose-built winery facility with deliberately large highway frontage in 2008 – and Intersection Winery just beyond that and VinPerdu, a new winery yet to open, just after the highway turns to Oliver. Heading north out of Oliver, Cana Vines is on the right just before Vasseaux Lake and Lixiere is just after the gas station in Kaledon. Heading south towards the border, Young and Wyse is right off the highway as you approach the border.

So what’s the value of this? Are the best wines going to be there? Is it a real wine country experience to stop into one of these places?

The wine is going to be what it is. There are certainly good and bad wines made in any location so you’ll surely be able to find something that you like. These wineries are going to be able to profit from the visibility more than anything else. With visibility comes recognition. Wine tourists who may not even stop at the winery on their travels will at least recall it when they see those names on bottles in the liquor stores which itself may be enough to generate a purchase. That makes little difference to the consumer in Vancouver who has never been to the Okanagan but if they do, that recognition with easy access may just pull the novice tourist off the highway more easily than having to venture down a small side road that isn’t on a GPS.

Will we see a day when highway wineries overtake those who are off the main road in terms of sheer numbers of visitors? Perhaps this will make it easier to get things started. I have no doubt that other regions like Okanagan Falls have been slowed in their development because of lack of visibility. In all of my wine jobs at wineries and wine stores, I have frequently met customers who have driven through OK Falls completely unaware that they were passing some of the most interesting wineries in the province. The first winery to open in a convenient location on the highway in OK Falls is going to have a huge advantage because of that.

But is it a real wine country experience?

I think it depends largely on what you are looking for. Ambient noise level is irrelevant to some people. Certainly people who live in cities are likely more used to it although they may not enjoy it. I personally find it irritating and won’t hide my preference for the quiet acres of vineyards offered by wineries located off the beaten path. Highway noise is louder and more persistent than city street noise, which can ebb and flow with traffic patterns. Highway noise is hard to defeat. I expect traffic noise in a city or town but not in a vineyard. I spent many days working in a vineyard in Keremeos that was right near Route 3 and I remember finding the traffic noise irritating at times. Other vineyards that I worked in were absolutely quiet and I loved it.

Overall, I think that it will be your own threshold for sound will influence your experience at these highway BC wine venues. From what I’ve seen so far, there are some truly amazing wines to try and wineries close to the main road will have an undeniable marketing advantage. Just like any winery anywhere, the experience is ultimately yours alone so enjoy it while you’re here.

Cheers from wine country!
~Luke

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!

Five BC Wine Touring Secrets

20130509-213823.jpgIt’s wine touring season again! Time to squeeze up to the wine shop bar, taste a few wines, buy a blingy t-shirt with a half-case, and head to hotel lounge before dinner. Wine country touring can sometimes feel a little more rushed less vacation-like at times, but the fun is always there for you to find. Here are a few of my tips from the many seasons spend touring and living in wine country.

Here are few things to think about as you plan your trip:

Seasons

Riverstone Estate Winery

Riverstone Estate Winery

Firstly, there are seasons to wine touring. The busy season generally runs from mid-May (Victoria Day weekend) to Thanksgiving in October. The truly crazy months are July, August, but September has been punching above it’s weight class in recent years and October is remarkably busy for the Fall Wine Festival. Expect crowded wine shops at this time of year unless you know this: Wine touring secret #1: wine shops are not as busy in the mornings. You can get all the help and information you want from wine shop staff at that time and all without having to jostle for a place at the bar. If crowds and getting more than an arm-width at the bar is more for you, this is a good thing to know. Tour early, have a long lunch, then maybe head back late afternoon when it starts to slow down again. Call ahead though because sometimes smaller wineries don’t open until later in the day.

The shoulder seasons (March break to May 24 and Thanksgiving to Christmas) are also good times to get in some quality wine shop time. Again, some smaller wineries may not be open at this time of year, so check their websites or call ahead to make sure they are open.

Only middle to large production wineries (those are the ones with big parking lots) are open in the winter but it seems that there are more wineries trying out off-season hours. If you’ve ever toured in the winter, wine shop staff (who are usually owners or managers at that time) are more than happy to chat with you for as long as you want.

The biggest thing that people seem to forget is that wine production is also naturally seasonal. Wine can only be made once a year. Wineries harvest grapes in the fall and then make wine out of them. The whites are generally released the next spring while the reds will be released a year or more after that. If you are interested in fresh whites, the best time to get them is in the spring when the new vintages are released. If you decide to come to wine country in the fall, you may not be able to find your favorite Pinot Blanc or Ehrenfelser because it likely sold out in the middle of the summer. Wineries can’t just make more wine at any time like making soda pop or cookies. (I wish I was making this up: I had a customer ask me to call a winery to find out if they could make more of her favorite wine. This was in late July and she truly believed that wineries could just manufacture more on demand.)

What to not wear

Wine touring secret #2: Wear comfortable everything – shoes, shorts, shirts, hats, whatever.There are very few wineries that offer comfortable places to sit. Shoes are important and well as clothes for the heat (in the summer) or layers (for the unpredictable spring and fall). Hats are especially valuable in all seasons, especially when the sun is out. In most places the sun “shines” but in the Okanagan summer, the sun “beats down” more often than not. (At my very first job at a winery, I noticed that I was the only one sitting in the sun during a lunch break – everyone else was in the shade. I mentioned it and a coworker said, “You know, I’m kind sick of summer.” He might as well have said, “You know, I’m kind of sick of oxygen” but I learned to understand it the more I lived here. The heat and sun can be oppressive here at times.

Another thing to not wear: perfume, hairspray, or scented products beyond light deodorant. You might think that you are blending in but trust me, you would stand out less in a wine shop wearing day-glo pink unitard and a sombrero. People who work in wine shops use their noses, a lot. We smell wine everyday. We can tell when a glass is truly clean by how it smells (it shouldn’t smell at all). It’s not just the people behind the bar though; anyone who has spent a day or 2 with their noses in glasses of wine will be more tuned into that sense, and they will find it distracting as well. Interestingly, I find that synthetic odours (perfume, etc) will stand out and interfere with wines’ aromas more than natural ones (mild body odour, bouquets of flowers, etc).

Protect your wine

Looking south from the northern edge of Clos du Soleil's vineyards.

Looking south from the northern edge of Clos du Soleil’s vineyards.

Mostly from the sun. The interior of a car can heat up to dangerous temperatures before you even get to tasting the reds. Wine left in a car can heat up and will “cook” in minutes. Ever wondered why the wine doesn’t taste the same when you get it home? That might be why.

There are 2, maybe 2.5 wineries in the Okanagan, that have any shaded parking at all. Kudos go to Silver Sage and Mission Hill for planting a tree or two. (Honorable mention to Cedar Creek.) The problem has more to do with the fact that trees create shade which is not what vines need – they need sun. I have personally walked through vineyard where the grapes closer to trees (i.e. in shadow part of the day) ripen weeks later than vines that are farther away (no shadows ever).

Wine touring secret #3: Bring a big, warm blanket. It seems weird in the summer, but it isn’t. Keep your wine on the floor of your vehicle (the lowest and therefore coolest part) and insulate it with the big blanket. That keeps it out of direct sunlight and gives you a chance to make it through the tasting before the temperature in the car gets to the wine. Don’t forget to use your car’s air conditioner between stops.

Have a Designated Driver

This should be stupidly obvious by now. Since most tourists aren’t comfortable spitting wine (which is totally acceptable – that’s what the pro’s do), you need to have someone drive you safely where you’re going. If you are doing multiple days, take turns being the DD. Many wineries have added special perks for the DD of a group.

Wine touring secret #4: Buy a wine for the DD at every winery you visit. It’s a great way to say thanks and also keeps them involved in the touring experience. I’ve seen DD’s wander around the wine shop and miss out on some of the great conversation at the bar. Also, there’s no harm in just smelling the wine and you can learn a lot about a wine that way.

The other option is to book a trip with one of the valley’s many wine tour companies. Most will take you around to wherever you want to go and even have some great ideas on wineries that you may not have heard about. (Well, not you personally, because as an avid Wine Country BC.ca reader / listener you are already most likely ‘in the know’…) Look for a podcast featuring interviews with local wine tour operators coming soon.

Eat something between wineries

Here’s a shocker: Wine makes you hungry. At my WSET classes years ago, only a visit to my favorite sushi restaurant right before my class could keep me going through the 2 hours of tasting and talking about wine each week. Even that was no guarantee however. Wine, for whatever reason, stimulates our digestive system and we react accordingly. Plus, eating between wineries refreshes your palate and can really extend your wine tasting day.

Wine touring secret #5: There are some great local bakeries, delis, and coffee shops in all of the towns from Osoyoos to Lake Country. Non of them have paid me for advertising though, so you’ll have to search for them yourself. Pick up an assorted selection of eats for the day – breads, fruits, and cheeses can go a long way. Bring a bag or a picnic basket to use or just store them under that big warm blanket next to the wine. You will be much happier that way, even if you go for meals at winery restaurants. Snacks between wineries also helps to cleanse your palate so you can try even more wine. That’s how the pro-wine tourists like myself build up endurance. Practice makes perfect.

So there you go, wine touring secrets from someone who has done my fair share of touring for over a decade. Leave a comment if you have any other tricks or secrets that you’d like to share.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke