The South Okanagan and Similkameen Valley are a food-lover’s dream destination. While the wine might bring you to the area, the food will capture your palate and your heart as the passionate people of the area take good food seriously. Here are a few must-tastes near Osoyoos, Oliver and Penticton.
You know you’ve done it. You’re on the road to your summer vacation and you’re making good time. Your tummy begins to growl. You know there’s a McDonald’s in Kelowna, but you know you’re better than that. Signs for this farm and that winery are zipping by and you think to yourself: “I wonder what’s back there…” Do yourself a favour. Go find out.
15 Park Bistro at the Watermark Resort, Osoyoos
Calgary-born chef Nick Atkins leads the culinary team at this tucked-away gem. The view of Osoyoos lake is exceptional as is the wine list (but of course.) With an in-house sommelier (the GM is also a sommelier,) the team is dedicated to pairing the region’s best sips with delicious food made from local produce. We loved the hummus and tzatziki paired with the Bartier Bros’ Winery’s Project B Sauvignon Blanc…available only at 15 Park Bistro. The wonton nachos are also the crispiest, yummiest nachos we’ve had in a while. The 12 oz bone-in pork chop with apple thyme glaze was generously portioned and delicious with the unique crispy mashed potatoes, which find creamy spuds wrapped in wonton paper and fried to the perfect crisp. For dessert, the white chocolate soup is a chef-favourite and a spectacle as it’s prepared tableside.
If you decide to stay at Watermark (and you should, as it makes the perfect home base for the rest of our tour and offers tons of great amenities for the whole family,) treat yourself to an in-house chef’s tasting menu that has one of the restaurant’s chefs visit your suite to prepare dinner. It’s a great way to hear all about the fabulous local produce and witness the skill and passion of the culinary team.
Reservations at 15parkbistro.com
Row Fourteen at Klippers Farm, Cawston
If you’re a food lover and you make one stop on this journey, make it this one. Chefs from Kelowna to the coast boast the use of Klippers’ organic produce on their menus. Deemed one of two Outstanding Young Farmers in 2011, Kevin and Annemarie have built their farm, market, cidery and now restaurant from five acres in 2001 to the 60 they work today. Row 14 is the ultimate farm-to-table experience for any gastronome as chef Derek Grey prepares beautiful food grown right where you’re enjoying it. Treat yourself to the harvest lunch or dinner menu, which walks you through the best of what’s in season. We loved the whole wheat farmer’s bread with smoked butter, sea salt and black pepper and the Sieglinde potato featuring cucumbers, oyster mushrooms, dill and aioli to start. The beets with whey cream hazelnuts, plums and tarragon were beautiful and for the carnivores, the cider sausage is also great. Pair your meal with a flight of the farm’s Untangled Craft Cider made with passion and creativity by Annemarie. We loved the black plum and basil so much we brought a bottle home with us. The farm also offers an immersive experience with guest suites available on site.
Reservations at klippersorganics.com/row-fourteen/restaurant
Grist Mill, Keremeos
Food nerds (present!) will want to make sure they stop at Grist Mill where you will find a big part of the region’s historical food story. We were particularly enamoured with the apple orchard of lost souls (our name, not theirs) where apples of unknown variety grow – waiting to be discovered. Some, we’re told, are being sent for DNA profiling to help find the answers. The beautiful gardens here are home to summertime concerts and other events, while a stream-powered mill rolls charmingly towards the back of the property. Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive at mealtime, but the Kitchen at Grist Mill offers soups, sandwiches and baking made fresh with local ingredients. We’ll plan a lunch stop next time for sure.
Fun fact: the ambrosia apple was discovered nearby and every ambrosia apple grown today comes from a graft from a single tree in Cawston, B.C.
Check website for seasonal hours at oldgristmill.ca
$15 for adults
$10 for students, seniors and kids
$30 for a family
Covert Farms, Oliver
Wine tastings and kids don’t often go together. Fear not! Covert Farms has something for everyone all summer long. Take a fun ride in the back of an old Mercury truck and tour the grounds of this innovative, regenerative, organic farm and estate winery high on a mesa near Oliver. Family run since 1964, this destination offers harvest tours, picnic and firepit experiences, wine tastings and a farm-sized playground for the kids. While the littles bounce on the giant pillow (yep), the grownups can have their own tasting of the winery’s award-winning lineup with a gorgeous charcuterie featuring local products.
Tours $89 per person, $20 for kids
Tastings start at $15 per person
Check hours and reserve spots at covertfarms.ca/visit
Phantom Creek Estate Winery, Oliver
If you’ve left the kids at home, indulge in a visit to Phantom Creek Estates for the Founder’s Cellar Experience, which takes you through the history, terroir, sustainable farming practices and winemaking philosophy. Following the steps of the winemaking process, you’ll descend two levels into the impressive underground cellars. Then, you will be escorted to the Founder’s Cellar, where an original Dale Chihuly glass sculpture presides over a meticulously curated five-course menu paired with library and exclusive wines from Phantom’s cellar.
Founder’s Cellar Experience: $255 per person (minimum of four people)
Reservations at phantomcreekestates.com
Similkameen Wineries, Cawston/Keremeos
We had the opportunity to visit a few wineries between Cawston and Keremeos in the Similkameen Valley. With its own Geographical Indication (GI), the steep mountainsides, narrow valley and river (as opposed to the lakes of the Okanagan) of the Similkameen allows for heat-loving grapes unlike anywhere else in B.C. A visit to any of the 14+ wineries of the region would be a good bet, but we particularly loved the offering at Clos du Soleil and their delicious red blends. We brought home the 2020 Celestiale a delicious Bordeaux blend we can’t wait to share with friends.
Clos du Soleil reservations at closdusoleil.ca/visit
$10 per person or $20 per person for a private tasting
Bartier Bros Vineyard and Winery, Oliver
Since we mentioned the Project B Sauvignon Blanc, we’d be remiss if we left this delightful hidden gem out of the tour. Tucked in among the many wineries along the Black Sage Bench between Osoyoos and Oliver, Bartier Bros. is a small, family-run vineyard that has you sipping wonderful wines beneath a vine-draped pergola watching a game of bocce ball and admiring the view of the Okanagan. While we liked everything we tried there, we fell in love with the 2020 Cab Franc and brought one home. The good news: you can order yours online!
Reservations at bartierbros.com
The District Wine Village, Oliver
How someone didn’t think of this sooner is a mystery. This jewel in the desert finds 12 are wineries circling a gorgeous central plaza with burbling water features keeping everything cool – including the vibe. With food for all wineries provided by Langley-based Trading Post Eatery, one can munch and sip and catch some live music with a concert program happening all summer long. Shared equipment and low overhead, provide smaller wineries an opportunity to test their concepts without the major financial investment required to start an estate winery. Shuttles are available from Oliver, Penticton and Osoyoos.
Check website for seasonal hours at districtwinevillage.com
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