Choosing only one region from British Columbia’s incredible Okanagan Valley is a challenge, but if you have just one day to tour, it’s got to be the Naramata Bench near Penticton.
Naramata enjoys one of the most beautiful views I’ve even seen, perched over sparkling Okanagan Lake. This area is blessed with gently sloping vineyards and orchards, refreshing breezes, and lots of charm.
This is my perfect day exploring Naramata’s winding country roads, which are packed with excellent small wineries:
1) Start the day with sparkling wine at Bella Wines, a specialty winery that focuses on bubbly made using the traditional method, from Chardonnay and Gamay grapes. Seek out their Methode Ancestrale, one of my favourite BC sparkling wines, made using an old French technique that results in soft bubbles and a hint of sweetness.
2) Build up an appetite sampling the robust reds and aromatic whites at Van Westen, in a slightly hidden warehouse setting near the family’s historic orchard. The winery’s not fancy, but they make iconic BC red wines that you can lay down for a while to enjoy with a rich steak, and whites that don’t shy away from flavour.
3) Just down the lane, get cozy at a table overlooking the vines and lake, while you sip on JoieFarm’s delicious wines and tuck into a freshly made wood-fired pizza at picnique, their casual outdoor snackbar. Visiting this winery is like stepping into an ‘escape to the country’ dream out of Dwell Magazine. Joie (French for ‘joy’) is very popular with Vancouverites, especially their Riesling, Pinot Noir, and refreshing PTG (passe-tout-grains) made of Pinot Noir and Gamay, but my pick has to be their En Famille Reserve Gewürztraminer. It’s packed with incredible rose and spice notes, which will show you just how good BC Gew can be.
4) Finish the day at perpetual award-winner La Frenz, which produces a spectrum of superb whites like Semillon, Viognier, and my personal choice, their Muscat-based Alexandria. Tip: pre-book your tasting here via their website. Their reds range from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, and I especially enjoy their popular blend called Montage. They also do a few fortifieds, in the style of tawny and vintage port. What a lovely way to finish off the day: the La Frenz patio, a glass of sweet wine, and the sun slipping down into the hills across the lake.
There are many hidden gems in Naramata, too many to include in this brief article (like silky whites at Terravista, luxe everything from Little Engine, and some of the best in BC Pinot from Foxtrot... ok stop me now!). If you're visiting Penticton, make sure to leave time to explore the excellent wineries on this bench.
Rachel von Sturmer is a wine writer based in Vancouver & the Okanagan / Similkameen, BC. For more information on her BC wine recommendations, see her Winetripping guidebook.