Rocky Road Trip Day 2: Okanagan Wine and Cheese

Waking up in the Okanagan is really awful. That sense of peace that floods the brain can be unbearable. But I got over it, and managed to leave the house for a day of wine touring and picnicking. Uggggg.

Our AirBnB suite in Oliver
Our AirBnB suite in Oliver

So on this ugly warm and pine-scented morning, we said hi to the Okanagan sun (which was actually playing hide-and-seek, uncharacteristically) and drove north from our base in Oliver to the Penticton and Naramata areas.

Vaseaux Lake
Vaseaux Lake

First, we saw a sign for the Vaseaux Lake boardwalk and decided to take a quick jaunt, which led us to a bird hide. We saw surprisingly few birds, but there were some attractive black-and-white damselflies dancing on the reeds.

Vaseaux Lake
Vaseaux Lake

Then, we hit up two wineries in the Okanagan Falls area. Blue Mountain was the first. I was just telling Josh that I have a special affection for wineries that are vertically integrated, meaning they grow their own grapes and produce the wine. Blue Mountain happens to be a grape-to-glass winery. They also happen to have a ginormous piece of land with a view that is heart-stopping, even by Okanagan standards.

Blue Mountain's vineyards
Blue Mountain’s vineyards

Official policy at Blue Mountain says there’s a tasting fee, but we didn’t get charged partly because the lady liked Josh and also because we could only sample whites because the reds were all gone. All gone? Never mind that, Josh and I had already made a pact to open our minds. Stalwart fans of full-bodied reds, we often sneer at whites. We told this to the woman at Blue Mountain. She enthusiastically informed us that while we were on the mission of palate-expansion, why not try her favorite regional rosés? I made a note of her tips and vowed to try them later, and we did.

Blasted Church's setting
Blasted Church’s setting

Although Blue Mountain has a superb picnic spot, we were not yet ready to eat. We headed a few miles up the road to the Blasted Church winery. The Blasted Church winery also has a picnic table with a view, but we didn’t stop here to eat either. The winery charges $5 for a tasting. A few of their wines were tasty: most notably Nothing Sacred (tobacco and tannins in the finish following a berry-rich nose, but unfortunately thin-bodied like most Okanagan reds). Holy Moly, which is made with 100% petite verdot, was even more unique, though, and quite complex. And their label art rocks.

Blasted Church wines
Blasted Church wines

Now on to my favorite spot in the Okanagan, Naramata! Getting hungry, we plan to have a picnic at our next stop: Poplar Grove winery. It was another tip from the lady at Blue Mountain, and turned out to be my favorite stop of the day for many reasons: the wines were super, and the setting even more so. However, part of the plan was to buy Poplar Grove’s cheese. When we get to the winery, we are informed that “there was a divorce,” and the cheese is no longer part of the family! The wine and cheese divorced. How sad is that?

Poplar Grove's facility
Poplar Grove’s facility

Poplar Grove charges a tasting fee so we shared ours, of course, and we tried the rosé recommended by the Blue Mountain lady. It was nice. Not necessarily our “thing,” but we bought it anyway as a picnic wine.

Poplar Grove's picnic area
Poplar Grove’s picnic area

But first, we needed to leave the premises to get cheese. She told us to check out Upper Bench Creamery. I’m glad she did. We took this cheese (which was NOT Poplar Grove cheese) back to Poplar Grove for our picnic. Maybe this was why the divorce happened in the first place?

Good thing I didn’t ask the prices first, because Upper Bench makes some crazy expensive cheeses, but superb as well as unique. We got the Sun-squared (the expensive one) because it is very special cheese (a fluffy-textured washed-rind!) and the delightful Grey Baby.

Superb local cheese
Superb local cheese

After the picnic, on the way to the Naramata Bench wineries, we did stop at Poplar Grove Cheese and bought their renowned sharp, intense blue.

Baby grapes
Baby grapes

Then onto the core Naramata Bench area for three wineries: Elephant Island, Kettle Valley, and Nichol. Elephant Island only does fruit wine, and does them quite well. It’s one of the most delightful of all the wineries in the Okanagan from a visitor’s perspective. Tasting at Elephant Island is not only free, but eminently pleasant as you can sit at one of the many tables in their lovely shaded courtyard and get table service. Table service for a wine tasting! Sweet. I usually buy something here, too. This time, I bought the cassis dessert wine as a gift.

Ripe cherries
Ripe cherries

Kettle Valley and Nichol both charged for tastings. It had started to rain at this point, and I don’t remember if they had picnic tables but I’m pretty sure they did, and both are situated nicely. As with all wineries that charge for tastings, we shared the flights. There were some decent pours, but nothing memorable. Nichol’s were all oddly acidic wines, and this was a first–they have you taste the reds first.

Done with wine for the day, we hit our last stop in Naramata: the Lakeview Cemetery. Josh has a friend named Timothy Luck who is buried here. I never met him, but he must be a really special guy because not only does he have an awesome resting spot, but also a few resident birds who are looking out for him. We paid our respects and then walked along the Kettle Valley Railway trail, which is a super (and flat!) trail that extends practically the entire Okanagan. Makes you want a bicycle.

Lakeview Cemetery, Naramata
Lakeview Cemetery, Naramata

And that’s a wrap. We cooked dinner in our suite in Oliver, and ate on the patio overlooking the lake. Life in the Okanagan sucks and I can’t wait to leave. Tomorrow morning can’t come soon enough. Just dying to get out of here and never come back.

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