I love sipping my pinot noirs from some of Niagara's best wineries or gallivanting through Prince Edward County's vineyards. But I never made it to the Okanagan Valley until this past summer for a wine-fuelled weekend getaway to Osoyoos.
From the Kelowna airport, it's a two-hour drive south through mountains and twisting roads that sometimes got so close to the water's edge, you forgot you're in a car and not on a boat. I was chasing daylight, and the last warm breath of summer on route to Canada's only desert.
Located on the southernmost tip of the Okanagan Valley, Osoyoos is home to the country's warmest average temperatures. Thanks to all the sunshine and dry desert climate, grape varieties that typically take longer to shine, like cabernet sauvignon and syrah, thrive here.
Sip and savour while you can at the nearly 50 wineries in both Osoyoos and the neighbouring region of Oliver. The best way to see as many as you can is on a private or small group tour with Wine Tours Gone South (the owner Natasha is the best and so accommodating).
You can go big at estate wineries like Phantom Creek or Burrowing Owl, but I recommend checking out the smaller boutique wineries like Platinum Bench for big, bold reds and artisan bread, and Rust Wine Co. for glasses of rare Zinfandel along the aptly named Golden Mile Drive. Over on the Black Sage Bench in Oliver, check out woman-run winery Nostalgia Wines for laid-back vibes and gorgeous sceneries.
No matter where you go, you’re guaranteed a spectacular view. One minute you’re gazing up at the majestic McIntyre Bluff, a steep ridge rising over the valley, the next, you’re roaming through rolling, sun-soaked vineyards.
Don't let the word 'desert' fool you, Osoyoos is the opposite of a barren wasteland. Lush orchards bearing the sweetest fruit line the roads, which take you from the glistening Osoyoos Lake to rugged mountains and down to valleys so wide and green they seem to stretch on forever. Abundant with activities from golfing to cycling and landscapes as bold as the wines, Osoyoos is the perfect place to de-thaw from winter's chill, with a glass of red in hand, of course.
Where to eat in Osoyoos and Oliver
Covert Farms Family Estate
Bring out your inner kid at this 650-acre regenerative farm and winery in Oliver, just a 30-minute drive from downtown Osoyoos. From spring to autumn, Covert Farms hums with live music and laughter. It's an easy-going place that doesn't take itself too seriously, where you can bounce on a giant jumping pillow before or after (if you're sure) tasting their organic and biodynamic wines. On the weekend, book a campfire cookout with a ready-to-grill kit and s'mores (duh).
The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry
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The name "Osoyoos" originates from the First Nation word "sw̓iw̓s" (pronounced "soo-yoos"), which means the "narrowing of the waters." First Nations culture runs deep here, and you can get a taste of it at The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry restaurant on the traditional land of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation. The menu is divided by its four namesake food chiefs. Highlights include the salmon platter, and bison ribeye with desert sage roasted carrots.
Wines from the south Okanagan can be hard to get outside of B.C. because they’re so good, they barely make it out of their home province. Thankfully, Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has plenty, along with unbelievably fresh seasonal cuisine that celebrates the bounty of the region. When you make a reservation, ask for table 110 — it sits at the very edge of an overhanging, elevated deck with panoramic views of the valley.
More awesome wineries in Osoyoos and Oliver
Hester Creek Estate Winery
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During the summer months, Hester Creek buzzes with live music and pop-up markets featuring local vendors selling anything from jalapeño jelly (still thinking about it) to heaping plates of paella and, of course, lots of vino tasting. Post up on the grassy hill and have an impromptu picnic.
District Wine Village
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Can't make it to every single tasting room in the region? You can knock off 13 wineries, one brewery, one distillery and an eatery all in one stunning place at the contemporary District Wine Village. The indoor-outdoor circular winery cluster is the first of its kind in Canada and makes for the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Taxis can be tricky to get in the region, so book a wine shuttle from your accommodation to the Village.
Where to stay in Osoyoos and Oliver
Watermark Beach Resort
After a day of winery hopping, put your feet up at Watermark Beach Resort overlooking Osoyoos Lake in the heart of town. Its central location makes this sunny resort a prime jumping off point for shopping, beach-ing, or lounging by the pools (take your pick). Plus, a trip down the swirly water slide can't hurt (well...). Then, raise a glass at 15 Park Bistro, their lakeside restaurant with a stellar wine list.