Spotlight :: Osoyoos :: The High Life

[trip style = wine tasting + weekend getaway + sun + luxury]

{Editor’s note: This month we’re doing a four-part feature on the Pacific Northwest’s off-the-beaten-track destinations. See below for this month’s earlier selections that sit in the shadow of bigger, fancier or legacy locales. This week we're going to a summer town that works hard year-round.}

Last week I found a place that layers trip styles with the same attention to detail a winemaker uses when creating a 90-point blended white. You just don't expect to see, taste and feel such depth in a town of 5,000, but Osoyoos' roots dig deep to produce a time-tested getaway and wine region with international acclaim.

Maybe it's Osoyoos' depth that enhances its height. Ten years ago, it wasn't easy to find the high life in the Okanagan. With lakefront RV parks, motels and condos flooding the vacation market, if you wanted a luxurious summer vacation or tasting trip, you needed to fly south to California.

Then a few trailblazers, one of whom has roots that stretch back to BC's beginnings, had a vision to draw vacationers back from below the 49th with the promise of award-winning wines, sunset vistas and rolling hills painted with vines. The aboriginal-owned Nk'Mip resort area and Cellars occupies a large plot of land overlooking lake Osoyoos and the town below. This trailblazer was my home base.

The resort area's signature property, aside from the Cellars, is aptly named Spirit Ridge. True to its name, it sits higher than most properties in the area providing a retreat from the summer frenzy below. I arrive in the late afternoon and open my door to a waft of lavender-infused heat flooding my air-conditioned vehicle. This scent did not come from the spa; the purple bushes are planted throughout the resort.

After sitting in a car for four hours, I have one goal in mind: get to the pool! En route I'm distracted, again by my nose. This time, the scent is more savory---like fresh-baked, herb-dusted focaccia. Dry and pale green sage and rosemary bushes are everywhere, not just planted strategically, but scattered throughout the surrounding desert ridge. Vegas' resorts spritz signature scents into their properties, but in Osoyoos this is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

If you want to get back to civilization, walking down to Osoyoos Lake or the main road below only takes 10 minutes with your choice of route: stroll through vineyards and along an orchard-lined street or along a dry, crunchy, well-maintained desert path with signs that warm against rattlesnakes. What? Don't worry, there are few sightings and protective fences keep most of these heat-loving, tail-rattling desert dwellers out. I walked the trails multiples times without a hint of rattle.

After a morning walk and sun-therapy beside the pool, I'm ready for more of the high life sipping fine wines in an area known as "Napa of the North." But forget California, hundreds of award-winning wineries await your palate. Just don't forget the baguette and brie picnic, which is an essential in wine country fashion and function.

Must-Visit Wineries

Nk'Mip is unique. As North America's first Aboriginal owned and operated winery, it employes a winemaker from Saskatchewan who is now training two young men from the Band to take over. In addition to shadowing winemaker Randy, they've studied the craft for 11 months in New Zealand and taken night school classes to help manage the vineyard's 32,000 acres and white, red and ice wine production. Don't miss the tour, focusing on the wine and impressive collection of Native art. Plus, the restaurant has some of the best food, wine {obviously} and views in the vine-saturated region.

Road 13
Part of the Golden Mile wine route, Road 13 is on ... Road 13. I visited on a Friday, and I think it must have been good luck because three deer, some of the region's most authentic tour guides, led us up to the winery for our tasting after spotting our car from the side of the road. We were then met by two dachshunds, one of which is depicted in the winery's recognizable logo. The highly-acclaimed, complex yet medium-bodied wines seemed like a metaphor for the castle tasting room and adjacent modern facility sitting side by side at the top of the vineyard.

Le Vieux Pin
Le Vieux Pin is named after the old pine tree that sits on the French farmhouse-inspired boutique property. The owners felt the old pine was a symbol of what they wanted to achieve: stand out and stand the test of time. I think they are well on their way to meeting that goal, given their highly selective approach to harvesting grapes---they produce approximately 3,000 cases per year, but could do 16,000. Severine, the head winemaker, must be doing a great job, because during my 20-minute tasting, flocks of spandex-clad cyclists and lakeside vacationers pulled in to purchase her Pinot Noir Rosé. I had to follow suit and leave with a bottle too.

Church & State
If Church & State's boxy, concrete tasting and production hub hasn't already been featured in a design magazine, I'd be shocked. Pair this with Merlot-coloured Turkish carpets and a Springsteen music video playing on two flat-screen monitors in the background and you've got a pretty unique tasting environment. It's as if Glee's Don't Stop Believing {or Journey - whichever version you prefer} was playing in the background, because we purchased more wines at Church & State than any other winery in the area.

Hester Creek
The moment you walk into to Hester Creek's Tuscan tasting room you are fittingly greeted with a glass of wine. The day I visited, a glass of Pinot Blanc was on the welcoming committee. A trip up to Hester is worthwhile for more than just the wine; there are six guest villas and a restaurant with a vine-covered terrace. I hope you get a chance to talk to the winemaker Rob---he's as much of a science guy as he is a people person.

Silver Sage
Silver Sage has made its mark with sweet wines and The Flame, a chili-infused dessert wine. It's a tasting experience you'll remember, especially for the laughs. I'm convinced the wine host is part comedian and must moonlight in comedy clubs when not running his wine operation.

Trip Styler Tip: If you want to experience the high life for less, visit just before or just after summer in May or October for highly discounted rates and a more personalized tasting experience.

Getting There
Four hours from Vancouver, five from Seattle. Once there, there are tour and shuttle options to visit wineries if you prefer not to drive: OK Wine Shuttle & Uncorked Okanagan Wine Tours.

More Off-the-Beaten-Track Features
A Magic Carpet Ride
Lodges and Cabins
Spotlight on Bellevue, WA
OK Wine Tasting
Beat the Heat in Sonoma

[photos by @tripstyler]