Back to the Okanagan

Wine and cameras: A sign of things to come

Through my life I’ve been luckily enough to travel constantly through British Columbia. With family vacations, my own adventures and more music tours then I can count, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every city of note, or at least that’s my memory because it all happened a long time ago. Over time, Port Alberni has merged with Port Hardy, and yes, even parts of Kamloops and Kelowna have melded into one memory.

When I received an invitation from Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) to come and tour the same regions I’ve visited often though long ago forgotten, my curiosity and interest was sufficiently piqued. Besides, the invite contained the magic words: wine and food!

In what was a whirlwind travel day, I was returning from another trip at 3:30AM just prior to a 9AM departure for Kelowna. While I love traveling, this turn around time was a little tight and left me with just enough time to unpack/repack the suitcase and grab a few hours sleep. The itinerary, sent a few days earlier, lay unread so I had no idea what lay ahead for the next few days. Besides, what’s to read? Last time I was there, the Okanagan was all vineyards and peaches. What could really change?

On the flight up I began thinking about potential narratives to write about. By the time the plan landed Monday morning in Kelowna, I had all but committed to talking about the exploratory and discovery aspect of vineyards that I had heard Dr. Donna Senese talk about at Vinocamp ’09. Yes, that will do nicely. Meandering down Kelowna back lanes to discover the greatest vineyard no one had ever heard of makes a great, though oft told, story.

This notion quickly vanished as the few days had a frantic pace always running from location A to location B. One of the few downsides to being chauffeured around and having a guided tour is that all aspects of exploration and discovery are removed. Meandering is replaced with “10 more minutes and then we have to move on”. Of course the trade off were some local hosts to tour us around and provide backstory, introduction and general lay of the land.

Kelowna’s tourism used to be focused on “Peaches and Beaches” (still not sure if the referenced peaches were in the orchards of on the beach) and this is what my memories are of. Sitting on the beach, going to waterslides and stopping off for fresh fruit and Summer Land Sweets syrup on the trip home.

The view from the tasting room at Quails Gate

As the region evolved, so did the local industries which is reflected in their identity. What was once a fledgling wine industry lead by local giants Mission Hills now boasts over 140 vineyards which accounts for just under 70% of BC’s total. Everywhere you turn are signs pointing you towards vineyards, each promoting their own unique identity and story.

Once we landed, Monday started with breakfast at The Jammery. I was surprised to find out that legally to call a product jam, it has to have 66% sugar! Though, for all inquiring minds, the tour guide couldn’t answer the often asked question as to the difference between jam and marmalade.

Dinner at the El Dorado Hotel

From there we were whisked to Quails Gate Vineyard for lunch and a tasting, Tree Brewing for a tasting, Tantalus Vineyards for another tasting, a quick respite at Okanagan Lavendar farm before checking in at the Eldorado Hotel for dinner at the hotel restaurant prepared by Michael Lyon.

The next day we said goodbye to Kelowna and set off to Kamloops for a change of scenery, and pace. The contrasts in the two regions identities were immediate.

Gone were the wine tours and focus on culinary tourism. Instead we toured sports facilities, art galleries and other cultural and activity based events.

Shaved roast beef & yorkshire pudding at the Noble Pig

The culinary highlight was dinner at the recently opened Noble Pig. It opened two months ago and we got a tour and had the opportunity to share a pint (or three) with brewmaster David Beardsell Sadly you can’t (currently) get their beer in Vancouver as their rapid growth has all their supply being used locally. Great for their business, but not so much for Vancouver based beer lovers.

One of our final events was to the Kalmoops Art Gallery. One of my favourite thing to do when I travel is visit art galleries but I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for the Kamloops Art Gallery when compared to the Tate Modern, Smithsonian etc. What I failed to consider in advance was that this wasn’t the aspiration or goal of the gallery.

The exhibit was not only an authentic representation of the region but also a poignant end to a whirlwind few days. The show was about identity, and perceptions of identity. An identity is made up of multiple facets and stories. For me, these stories for Kamloops and Kelowna had become muddled and forgotten. Any regions identity is an algimation of experiences and perceptions. Tourism associations can foster and promote a regions identity, but really have very little control over it compared to the brewmaster, wine maker and art gallery curator.

Full gallery of photos from my trip on Flickr.


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