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Okanagan farms, hotels and wineries are pairing up with top-notch culinary talent to create agritourism packages and foodie experiences that'll tempt your tastebuds
The South Okanagan, already famed for producing award-winning vintages, and a favourite spot for West Coasters to warm up and dry out, is ramping up its agritourism offerings in fun and scrumptious ways.
Towns like Osoyoos, Oliver and Cawston are creating value-added offerings that will endear this slice of BC to anyone with a taste for epicurean delights.
How about a personal tour of a working organic farm, or an on-site al fresco food and wine pairing, or perhaps you’d prefer to stay in and have a chef come up to your suite and prepare a gourmet meal from locally sourced edibles for you and your guests?
If you haven’t been to this part of BC in a while, you might be surprised at how cosmopolitan it’s become. Where once this region was dominated by ‘50s-style cottage-y motels, sleepy cafes and old-school fruit stands by the side of the road, now it boasts some outstanding talent and amenities.
Click through for my top five picks for fun, interactive and inspiring value-added gems you’ll want to try the next time you’re in the Southern Okanagan.
Start your tour of Covert Farms by popping into the back of its adorable shiny red 1952 Mercury farm truck, where you’ll be taken to various sections of the 660-acre property featuring its organic, biodynamically managed vineyard, a close-up of McIntyre Bluffs (featured on its wine labels) and a cruise through its U-pick vegetable patch.
During the tour you’ll learn about organic farming, permaculture, viticulture, indigenous wildlife and biodynamic farming practices from your expert guide.
Don’t snack on growing edibles during your visit, though, because you’ll end your tour with a lovely selection of tasty bites created by the very charming Chef Derek Uhlemann, using fresh, seasonal produce from the farm to enhance your flight of four Covert Farm Family Estate wines.
$40 per person.
The cooking classes at Hester Creek Estate Winery allow you to combine your love of exquisite food with luxury vacations, while having someone else do all the prep work and clean up afterward. All you need to do is ensconce yourself around the island in its state-of-the-art gourmet demonstration kitchen (with wine in hand, natch) and let the pros do their thing as you watch appreciatively.
Hester Creek’s vineyard not only boasts some of the oldest producing vines in BC (1968) – garnering awards and accolades locally and internationally – but is also home to the much-loved and highly acclaimed Terrafina restaurant, so you know they’re serious about food.
Hester Creek’s cooking classes run year-round so check their schedule for updates on menu themes and guest-chef instructors, which include some top culinary talent including Terrafina’s own Chef Natasha Schooten. Seats are limited to 14 per class, so you’ll be guaranteed an intimate and entertaining experience, and you’ll leave with enough recipes and inspiration to get you through at least another season.
And don’t forget that Hester Creek’s estate includes six Mediterranean-style villa suites, providing you with breathtaking vineyard and orchard views… should you wish to keep your commute as short as possible.
Classes are $110.00 per person for food and wine, plus applicable taxes and 15% gratuity.
If Harker’s Organics in Cawston sounds familiar even though you’re not sure where Cawston is, it’s most likely because you’ve seen signs for its produce in your local Whole Foods or Choices, or walked through its tent at various wellness shows like Farm Folk City Folk.
Or if you have kids in school, perhaps you know it from its participation in the BC School Fruit & Vegetable Nutritional Program, where Harker’s delivers organic fruit and veggie snacks to some of the 492,000 K-12 students in schools across the province.
Seemingly everywhere, but based in the Similkameen Valley – the organic capital of Canada – Harker’s is a five-generation strong family-run organic orchard. It provides school tours and behind-the-scene peeks to other interested groups, so stop by its store front and pick up some fresh organic produce, check out its award-winning fruit wines and, if you’re lucky, you might get invited to venture into the farmlands as well.
During my visit, we were treated to lunch made from items we literally picked along the way – heirloom tomatoes, crisp peppers, tender microgreens – and sat under the near-100-year-old apple tree (complete with swing) as two-month old kittens scampered in the grass around us.
After this experience, you won’t want to buy your produce anywhere else.
During this intimate sunset gourmet barbeque, you’ll not only dine on delectable morsels prepared by chef Heinz Schmidt, but you’ll have an opportunity to talk with industry experts.
You’ll start your culinary adventure at the Jackson-Triggs tasting gallery by sampling five of its VQA wines. Then you’ll proceed to the SunRock vineyard where you’ll meet Troy Osborne, vineyard manager, who shares what it’s like to oversee such a vast and bio-delicate estate. Round off your evening by meeting Derek Kontkanen, winemaker, at SunRock’s gazebo where he and Troy will join you as you settle in for your sunset barbeque dinner.
Throughout your evening meal, you’ll hear Troy and Derek talk about their work and their passion for wine, wine making, grapes, varietals and how they balance the art of wine production with some high-tech advances. You’ll get a chance to ask them questions about the wine pairings and anything else your oenophile heart can dream of.
3:30pm – 8:30pm, May-September. $150 per person, plus taxes and service charge. Price includes return transportation to your local hotel.
Take advantage of Watermark Resort’s incredible resources and host a fabulous dinner party in your suite with minimal effort. Let Watermark’s executive chef, Jonas Stadtlander, do all the work in your kitchen while you relax on the patio (complete with killer view of the lake) with your friends.
Watermark can also help you purchase the ingredients through a local CSA box (Community Supported Agriculture) organized by Covert Farm. You’ll get the freshest seasonal organic produce delivered directly to your personal chef for the evening – how civilized!
Sadly, chef Jonas won’t be available to prepare all your meals, but you can still enjoy the benefits of local organic produce throughout your stay in the Okanagan. Cover Farm’s CSA Vacation Home Delivery Packages is perfect for vacationers who’d rather spend more time eating than grocery shopping. Boxes start at $32.60 (including delivery) and you can always customize your order with special add-ons such as wine from its Dunham & Froese Estate Winery, local cheeses and meats, fresh-cut flowers and even home-made pies.
Visit Tourism BC for more information about travelling in the Southern Okanagan.