Okay, now that you have stopped at Painted Rock winery just out of Penticton, and made a slight — but very worthwhile – detour to Okanagan Falls to visit Blue Mountain, you are back on Hwy 97 heading south.
The vast majority of people would just keep going until they hit Oliver, Osoyoos and the bulk of the Okanagan wineries.
But I’ll let you in on a secret! Turn onto Hwy 3A instead and you will experience what may be the next great wine region in BC — the Similkameen Valley.
Even before you get to the first winery (it is about 30 minutes from Penticton), you will enjoy the drive. A good road, not that busy and check out the sloping hills on both sides. Dark black and rising high up, it makes it seem like you are in a different country altogether!
And then, before you know it, you are in Keremeos. There are only about a half dozen wineries in the whole valley, but what potential, and what bargains! In this case ‘undiscovered’ can translate into $18 – $22 wines that can be half as much as the ones further south (and often much higher in quality).
Below are my top 3 wineries in order of preference.
1. Eau Vivre
Eau Vivre is just a little place with the tasting room incorporated into the house (something you will see in most of the wineries here). But wow, was I blown away by the wines in when I visited a couple of years ago!
Leading the way was their Pinot Noir, which had just won one of those coveted Lieutenant Governor’s Award. More Burgundy than California in style, it had ripe cherry fruit, spice and earth – and some tannin to boot. And get this – it was $18! Needless to say, I snapped up a couple of bottles.
For the whites, I liked the Chardonnay, which was made in a Cali style with vanilla, butter and ripe, citrus fruit. And it was also only $19!!!
With those prices and that quality, Eau Vivre should definitely be a winery to stop at in the Similkameen.
2. Robin Ridge
I was almost as impressed with Robin Ridge. For the reds, it was Pinot Noir again, as well as a very nice, ripe Gamay. Both are made in that fruit forward style that I like and at around $22, they were more expensive than the wines of Eau Vivre, but still very good value.
For whites, I liked the Chardonnay (which was also a Cali style) and the Gewurztraminer, which is just slightly off dry like its Alsace/German counterparts. Both are under $19…again, very good value.
My last recommended winery in the Similkameen is Cerelia. They make a full range of wines, all worth tasting, but the one I really like is called Misceo. It is a rare find, at least for my taste buds – a Bordeaux-style blend (Merlot/ Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc) that is actually “more fruit than wood”. The dark cherries do have lots of cedar overtones, but the fruit shines through. And for $22.95, it is one half to one third the price of most of the other so-called “big red wines” further south!
So there you go – three wineries which, together with the side trip down Highway 3a and then Highway 3, may add an hour or two to your trip south to Oliver and Osoyoos. But I think it is worth it!