It's that time of year again. The wineries may be working hard all year round, but for us wine and wine-country lovers, the season for tasting, grazing, and exploring is just about to start. And the Okanagan's good at that: they've got one of the hottest spring wine festivals in the entire wine world.
If you've never been before, the events run the gamut from cellar tours, food pairings both extravagant and casual, viticulture and sustainability sessions, to blending your own wine, and even star-gazing and cheese-making!
Even us wine fest regulars will be psyched to check out a few new shiny things: the Time Winery's new urban winery in the old Penmar movie theatre opens its doors for the public to tour; and we've yet to see new winery, The Chase that opened last fall in Lake Country.
We're also keen to check out how newer wineries are settling in and establishing their products and interesting ways to enjoy them. I'm looking at you Fitzpatrick Traditional Method sesh; and Play Winery – your hillside patio's unique Skaha vista is a promising backdrop for an al fresco afternoon.
As the Okanagan solidifies its place in the serious wine scene, we are developing some great traditions: winemaker's dinners, well-known locavore chef appearances, barrel tastings and more. If it was a hit in past festivals, no doubt it's back again (just book early). Road 13, Mission Hill, Quails' Gate, Tinhorn Creek, Black Hills, Poplar Grove are among the OGs to hit up for these classic wine country events, with the other wineries offering up some fun and creative wine hangouts.
Wine Festival Specific Date Events
This section highlights all the one-off, specific-date events for the final weekend of the fest. Many of these sell out, so to help you get a handle on your picks, we've organized them into the main broad categories: winemakers dinners and casual gourmand gigs, soirées and cool hangs, and finally, the popular wine (and wine-adjacent) educational, and hands-on events.
Indigenous World Winery (May 11, 5pm - 9pm) A tepee dinner and an intimate candlelight dining experience in their custom Mukwa Tepee. Enjoy a four course dinner prepared using modern and old cooking techniques, local BC products, while surrounded by the natural elements. Very limited seating. Call 778-755-6360 to book. $75
Quails' Gate Sustainable Seafood (May 11, 6pm) Award-winning Chef Ned Bell (Executive Chef for Ocean Wise) will join Quails’ Gate Winery Chef Roger Sleiman for a spectacular celebration of sustainable seafood to commemorate Ned’s recently launched cookbook Lure. Each guest will receive a complimentary signed copy of the book. It has a section on sea greens, and my food-boyfriend, Eric Ripert, endorsed it so you know it's pretty cool. Call 250-769-2500 to book. $160
Mission Hill Spring Epicurean Dinner (May 12, 6pm - 10pm) The Spring Epicurean Dinner is an elegant evening celebrating the arrival of spring flavours. Join Mission Hill for a decadent welcome reception and five course wine-paired dinner, seated in the Chagall Room. $149 (SOLD OUT)
Casual Gourmand's Gigs
Lake Breeze Debuts New Cellar Series (May 12, 13, 11am - 4pm) Welcome Spring by joining Lake Breeze at their table for the debut of their cellar series including Zephyr, Berg, Mistral, Tempest and Chinook. Each wine is accompanied by an amuse-bouche. Available every hour on the hour. The Patio at Lake Breeze reopens for the season with an ‘A La Carte’ spring inspired weekend brunch. $20
Hillside Wine & Food Tasting (May 12, 11:30am) Discover the true flavours of the Naramata Bench. Taste two styles of Pinot Gris and three unique Merlots from their premium, small-lot vineyards. Each wine reflects the diversity of the local terroir and is perfectly paired with a small bite. Offered at 11:30am & 2:30pm; Pre-purchase tickets online or call. Call 250-493-6274 to book. $25
Soirées and Cool Hangouts
Poplar Grove Rare Barrel Tasting (May 12, 1pm - 4pm) Enjoy a rare barrel tasting conducted by Poplar Grove's winemaking team in their Library Barrel Hall. Sip on award-winning wines while enjoying one of the finest views of the Okanagan. Guests are welcome to picnic on the lawn and enjoy live music. Free with purchase
Blasted Church's Sacrosanct Cabernet Franc 2016 (May 12, 10am - 5pm) Enjoy a tasting of the exclusive Sacrosanct Cabernet Franc 2016 and the rest of the Small Blessing series with winemaker, Evan Saunders. Learn the unique way these small lot wines were produced to allow the fruit to shine. Come early for pizza, stay until the afternoon for live music. Free
Floral Garden Party (May 12, 2pm - 4:30pm) This Alice in Wonderland themed garden party – floppy hats and sun dresses are encouraged, features favourite BC wineries, food from Nesters Market, live music, the infamous donut wall and oversized games such as giant Chess, jumbo Jenga, and Connect 4. $59.00
Hands-on and Educational
50th Parallel Estate Grape to Glass Tour (May 12, 11am - 2pm) Enjoy a private Grape to Glass Tour followed by a private barrel tasting and blending session. There's a special Chef’s lunch at 50th’s new regional seasonal restaurant, Block One, where you will sip and savour culinary creations surrounded with panoramic views and world class architecture. Call 250-766-3408 to book. $150
Oliver Twist Winery Cheese Making (May 12, 1pm - 3pm) An intimate, hands on cheese making class hosted by Naomi from Birdsong Farm. Participants will learn how to make and take home the cheese, plus learn about various recipes that pair with Oliver Twist wines. Enjoy a glass and some appies, while listening to the stories from a modern day milkmaid. Call 250-485-0227 to book. $75
Hester Creek's Old Vine Wines (May 11, 1pm - 3pm) Join Hester Creek as they celebrate 50 years of premium grape growing and taste the difference a half-century makes to a vine. Their winemaker will lead a tasting of old vine wines that illustrates the concentration and flavour intensity they have to offer. $10
Noble Ridge Tasting (May 13, 10am - 4pm) Taste their award winning "The One" Sparkling and King's Ransom wines paired with small bites. $10 tasting fee, complimentary for mom. Book your spot with the above link.
Mother’s Day Wine Brunch at Watermark Beach Resort (May 13, 10am - 1pm) Treat mom like the queen she is at this brunch featuring a selection of local handpicked wine and an array of savoury and sweet treats created by Watermark Beach Resort’s talented chef, Adair Scott. $39.00
Wine Festival Ongoing Events
The following is an outline all the spring wine festival's ongoing events – the ones that are here for you throughout the final weekend. Just pop by when you need them.
Multi Course Wine Pairing Dinners
- Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove 6 course -$135 menu reserve ahead
- Burrowing Owl five course -$75 spring festival menu reserve ahead
- Ex Nihilo at Harvest Golf Club three course -$62 menu reserve ahead. Call to 250-862-3103 to make a reservation
- Quails’ Gate four course tasting menu -$75 menu reserve ahead
- Gray Monk a farm-to-table, locally sourced four course, wine paired latest of Gray Monk signature wines. Reservations recommended, $89
Casual Sipping Scenes
- Seated Portfolio Tasting at Black Hills Home of the beloved Nota Bene, they do a great seated tasting. This event features six wines. Book ahead for a seat, they are pouring all day, every day of the festival. Call to 250-498-0666 to make a reservation.
- Cedar Creek Open House An open house featuring some spring releases, drop in and see the exciting changes in store for their new wine shop and restaurant opening this summer. All day.
- Hillside Winery & Bistro (weekends only) Taste two styles of Pinot Gris and three unique Merlots from their premium, small-lot vineyards. Each wine reflects the diversity of their local terroir and is perfectly paired with a small bite. Offered at 11:30am & 2:30pm; Pre-purchase tickets online. $25. Also their bistro is open with a new spring features menu.
- Hidden Chapel Features new 2017 releases. Visit the winery nestled in the pines all day.
- Gray Monk Terrace Tastings Happy hour in wine country! Join Gray Monk for a delicious trio of their award winning Estate Wines and show stopping cheese and charcuterie platter. 3pm - 5pm. $39
- Black Sage Food & Wine Pairing Experience six delicious food and wine pairings at a harvest table seated experience in the Black Sage Hall. There will also be a Black Sage Meritage served. 1:30pm - 2:30pm. $25
- Time Winery Tour Be among the first to take a tour of new Time urban winery located in the old Penmar theatre in downtown Penticton. 12pm - 1pm. $10
- Se Ya Later Ranch's Major's Favourites A great time at everybody's favourite dog-lovin' winery. Snacks and wine flights are $20 all day.
- Lake Breeze Vineyards (weekends only) debuts their Cellar Series, each accompanied by an amuse-bouche. Available every hour on the hour all day. Also, the patio at Lake Breeze reopens for the season with a spring inspired weekend brunch.
- Okanagan Crush Pad Learn the benefits of concrete fermentation and ageing while tasting Haywire and Narrative wines made with minimal intervention and organically grown-grapes. 11am - 4pm. Free
- Kitsch Wines Sunday Fundaze Kitsch Wines will have you covered for all your Sunday Fun day needs with rotating food trucks, local purveyors, artists, and DJs spinning everything from down tempo to hip-hop beats served up with some Kitsch releases. Sundays only. Free
- Monstrous Wines are opening wines that are fun, feisty and ready to be set free! Open daily for tastings 10am - 6pm. One of the first wineries along the Naramata Bench, it's the perfect beginning or end to a leisurely day of wine tasting. Live music on the patio, May 12th only, 1pm - 4pm. Free
Bubbles: From Frizzante to Traditional Method
- Evolve Cellars Bubbles & Bites All four Evolve Effervescence Sparkling Wines are paired with light tasty snacks as they guide you through their sparkling portfolio. 12pm - 1pm. $25
- Steller's Jay Bubbles & Bites at Sumac Ridge Five sparkling wines paired perfectly with small bites. Relax in a seated harvest style setting in the Steller’s Jay sparkling wine cave. Discover their portfolio of handcrafted traditional Methode Classique sparkling wines and learn the traditional process of making sparkling wine. 3:30pm - 4:30pm. $25
- Fitzpatrick Traditional Method A traditional method tour and tasting. Enjoy an educational tour of the historic Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards and the traditional method sparkling wine process. The 30 minute tour will be followed by a flight of five sparkling wines. $30