B.C. winery tour a belt-stretcher
Why visit a winery if you don't drink wine?
For the food.
That's the conclusion this confirmed beer drinker reached after the belt-stretching experience of visiting three wineries in Penticton, B.C., in less than a day.
First up was Popular Grove,which moved last year to Munson Mountain, overlooking the Okanagan valley city, and opened a 9,500-square-foot winery.
An expanse of windows provides 180-degree views of two lakes, but my eyes were on the meal presented by executive chef Bruno Terroso of the Vanilla Pod Restaurant, Poplar Grove's newest addition.
Garlic goat cheese crostini was followed by gazpacho, made from some of the 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to which Terroso has access, then roasted rack of lamb with grilled eggplant and black beans, and creme brule.
Their regular menu lists 10 shared plates, most in the $8 - $10 range, pizzas for $14 and a choice of six "large plates'' ranging from $19 (pasta) to $32 (lamb).
The Okanagan Valley's newest winery, Upper Bench Estate Winery, had been open just a week when I visited in early May.
It doesn't have a restaurant but does boast a creamery. Visitors can watch through the window while Shana Miller, wife of winemaker, Gavin, turns out brie, blue and washed rind cheeses. Bread and locally grown fruit are also available.
Supper was at Hillside Winery and Bistro. I would have been happy with a salad, but executive chef Robert Cordonier's special menu was too intriguing to pass up.
Their Eat 'em to Beat 'em Wine Festival featured a three-course meal of invasive species: miyagi oysters, Humboldt squid and yellow perch. That's right -- yellow perch. The sweet-tasting fish we relish in Ontario is targeted out there because it eats the eggs of more valuable species.
Their regular menu lists three-course, fixed-price dinners for $35 and $49. As to the wine, ask about the four that won gold for Hillside at the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships.
For a change of pace, climb aboard the Kettle Valley Steam Railway, a volunteer-run tourist train in Summerland, just north of Penticton.
Their century-old steam locomotive is a big draw, but what a kick it was riding in an open-sided cars once used for hauling cattle. (Conventional coaches with windows, circa 1949, are also available).
A singer/guitarist entertained during the 90-minute run past pine-clad hills and a fertile valley bottom dotted with apple and cherry orchards. At the halfway point, they stopped the train, uncoupled the locomotive, attached it to the other end and backed over a trestle for a photo op.
A few minutes from the train station is The Vinegar Works at Valentine Farm, where John Gordon and Kim Stansfield turn their grapes into wine vinegar, then infuse it with fruits or herbs. Like the wineries, they offer tastings, but with vinegar it's definitely not a sip-and-spit. Instead, Kim Stansfield suggested putting a drop on the fingertip and then on the tongue.
Prices range from $14 to $20, and they ship across Canada. Visit www.valentinefarm.com.
IF YOU GO
Where to stay: God's Mountain Estate,a gleaming white, Mediterranean style villa on 46 hectares of vineyard, gardens and natural habitat high above Lake Skaha. The most unusual B&B I've seen, this oasis of calm and serenity has all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies and enough antiques to stock a shop. The views from the verandahs and balconies are stunning. Rates: $169-$199, double occupancy, including full breakfast.
Information: Penticton & Wine Country Tourism, www.tourismpenticton.com, phone 1-800-663-5052. Visitor guide available on request.