Exploring Napa of the North: Osoyoos’ Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa

Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa offers pampering, wine tasting, culture, desert hikes and lakes: the perfect warm-weather getaway all year long

Credit: Spirit Ridge

Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa is the only five star vineyard-resort in the South Okanagan

The luxurious Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa marries wild landscapes with sophisticated accommodation and tasting palate

Five hours east of Vancouver, past the white monoliths of the Cascade Mountains, the peaks switch to dusty brown. Desert sage clutters the landscape. The sky brightens from slate to robin egg blue. Cattle graze. Fruit stands dot the roadsides. And wineries abound. We’re motoring into the Napa of the North.

I spot Lake Osoyoos and I look out for Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa – the only five star vineyard-resort in South Okanagan, the region’s warmest grape growing area. Overlooking the lake and situated on the Osoyoos Indian Band’s (OIB) 32,000-acre reserve, Spirit Ridge offers a unique opportunity to combine wine tasting at adjacent NK’MIP Cellars and cultural exploration at the OIB’s Desert Cultural Centre with fine dining, spa pampering and outdoor recreation.

I’m too floored by the epic landscape in the world’s only warm northern desert to keep DJing. My husband is too. We turn off Zeppelin out of respect for Nature. We’re quiet until we roll past a “Rattlesnake Crossing” sign on the road up to the resort. The western rattlesnake is endangered, but the place you’re sure to clap eyes on one is the sage desert of Osoyoos. We hope to hear it first.

Spirit Ridge Year-Round

Image: Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa

Although the tourist season gets into full swing in the summer months, the Spirit Ridge parking lot is half full of winter bird watchers and those of us who can’t resist wine tasting in March. We March sippers know the secret: in the off-season, tasting room staff has the time to gossip about icewine harvests, and open that rare vintage.

The Bellstar property is expertly designed to showcase vistas of Osoyoos Lake and the vineyards spreading across the OIB reserve. NK’MIP Cellars stands tall near the pueblo-style Spirit Lodge check-in building, which also houses the Solstice Spa and brand-new Mica at Spirit Ridge restaurant, by the renowned Burrowing Owl Winery restaurateur Dave Keeler. With a dining out option of that calibre across the path, there was no way we were going to cook.

We unpack, but don’t stay in the room long. Just long enough to note the primped, vacation condo‘s vista of the vineyard and lake. On a sunny day the view from bed had us leaping up in the morning, ready to hike and sip. It wasn’t until evening that we fully appreciated the fireplace, porch with barbecue, sleek dining/kitchen area, televisions (x2), deep bath and soaring 9 ft. ceilings throughout. I wasn’t keen on getting back to my Vancouver-flat, especially after discovering the resort’s heated pool (x2) plus hot tub…

Wine Tasting at NK’MIP Cellars

NK’MIP 2012 Qwam Qwmt Reisling Icewine and NK’MIP 2009 Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir; Image: NK’MIP Cellars

NK’MIP (pronounced in-ka-meep) is Canada’s first native-owned winery situated next to Spirit Ridge Resort. The winery opened in 2002 when Osoyoos Chief Clarence Louie got proactive about bringing real jobs and revenue to his people. His success is evident by the wine awards that have been rolling in ever since.

We tour the winery, capable of producing 18,000 cases or 162,000 litres, before our tasting. Grainy black and white photos storyboard the the first vines planted on the reserve by the OIB in 1968, imbuing the wines with cultural history.

NK’MIP placed an impressive fourth out of 25 in the Wine Access 2011 Canadian Wine Awards. It’s hard to go wrong quaffing any of the vins on offer, but we both fell hard for NK’MIP’s 2012 Qwam Qwmt Reisling Icewine, an icewine for grownups that puts marmalade-style icewine peers to shame with its well-balanced acidity and lingering pear notes.

Our fave red was the butt-kicking, intense NK’MIP 2009 Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir – an old-world pinot with cherry, red plum and leathery tannins that took home the gold medal at the Wine Access 2011 Canadian Wine Awards.

Exploring the NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre

Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven

While the tour of the NK’MIP Cellars offers an easy intro into the environment and culture of Canada’s warmest wine region, the Desert Cultural Centre is a the way to meet the Osoyoos people.

Watch a live pow wow, visit the summer teepees and winter pit house in the onsite village, view an illustrated timeline of Osoyoos history painted by the reserve school children in the 1930s, and hear a historic chaptik – a story the OIB elders tell the next generation to teach them about the land. You may even meet some of the endangered and unendangered reserve species (snakes, gophers, coyotes and salamanders) while there.

6.2-mile Kettle Valley Railway trail; Image: Taraneh Ghajar Jerven

Hiking and Wine Tasting Around Spirit Ridge

Although you may be tempted to camp out at Spirit Ridge’s Solstice Spa after trying the Desert Glow facial, the breathtaking Okanagan scenery is well worth the exertion. Grab a lunch – I recommend the 10-mile chopped salad and a pulled pork panini on naan – from Mica at Spirit Ridge before heading out. You can easily pair wine tasting at another vineyard with hiking one of the valley’s many tempting trails, before enjoying a well-earned dinner at a winery restaurant.

Situated at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley, Spirit Ridge offers easy access to several other award-winning wineries. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, halfway between Oliver and Osoyoos, also offers tasting in the wine shop, epicurean dining in its on-site restaurant and rugged hikes up the rocky outcrop known as “The Throne”  overlooking Osoyoos Lake. We encountered bighorn carnage on our ascent; the product of coyotes or a cougar.

At the nearby Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, you can taste/tour, hike the Golden Mile trail and then have dinner in the stunning Miradoro restaurant, overlooking the vineyard.

Drive 30 minutes north to Pentincton and the Naramata Bench and take your pick from the award winning vineyards on Lake Okanagan, including Red Rooster and La Frenz. The 6.2-mile Kettle Valley Railway trail connects Pentincton to Naramata, marrying rural sensibilities with a sophisticated tasting palate. And another gorgeous, silver-blue lake.