The Grape Escape

 
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“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it
and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes
as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”

~ Galileo

The Perfect Autumn Getaway

Let me take you to the heart of western Canada’s wine country in Penticton, a town cozily nestled in the sunny Okanagan Valley in the southern interior of British Columbia, Canada. The drive from Calgary to Penticton is a scenic 8 hour drive, winding over two stunning mountain passes and passing through three contiguous National Parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains (see my previous post). Once we are over the mountains, the road glides down into the valley and hugs the shores of scenic Lake Okanagan for 132 km (84 miles), making for lovely vistas all the way south to Penticton. For my partner and I, the road trip itself is one of the best parts of our getaways to the Okanagan Valley and we milk it to its fullest.
 
The Okanagan is a pretty valley stitched together with picturesque patchworks of fruit orchards, vegetable farms, vineyards and small wineries. A few days spent basking there is what we call a perfect getaway. It is pure balm for the soul.

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“The juice of the grape is the liquid quintessence of concentrated sunbeams.”

~ Thomas Love Peacock

Vineyards and Wineries: The Grape harvest

In 2004, Wine Spectator Magazine dubbed the Okanagan “The Napa Valley of Canada”. If you enjoy partaking of wine, it is great fun to visit the wineries and do a bit of wine-tasting in the valley. There are several good wine areas in the Okanagan wine country, but for me, the heart of wine country is known as the Naramata Bench, a long stretch of vineyards beautifully situated on the eastern shores of the Okanagan Lake, between the town of Naramata and Penticton, which itself sits between two large freshwater lakes in a cascade of gentle rolling mountains. Stunning vistas meet the eye at every turn as one meanders through the vineyards and fruit orchards, making it a great place to explore by car, whether or not you stop to taste the wine. The valley is also home to many artists, craftsmen and artisan cheese-makers, all of whom add to the character and charm of the area.
 
Autumn is a lovely time to be in the valley. The frenetic effervescence of summer gives way to the tranquil, relaxed energy of fall. It’s as if the land knows that it’s done all it can do for the year and it seems to breathe a huge, happy sigh, resting in the satisfaction of a job well done.

 

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As we wandered through the scenic vineyards of the Naramata Bench (home to over 24 wineries), we saw that some vineyards had already harvested their grapes, while in others the plump, ripe berries, satiated after a summer of soaking in the sunshine, hung heavy, waiting contentedly on grapevines to be harvested. A big part of the art of making wine is knowing when to harvest the grapes, so the grape harvest varies widely from vineyard to vineyard. The winemakers and viticulturists for each vineyard must determine the optimal sugar levels for their particular wines; thus, the grape harvest can range anywhere from mid-September to early November. Several of the wineries we visited were lined with many large crates overflowing with freshly harvested grapes ready for “the crush” (as seen in the slideshow below), an exciting time for the winery.

 

Scenes From Wine Country

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“In an orchard there should be enough to eat, enough to lay up, enough to be stolen, and enough to rot on the ground.”

– James Boswell, 1740-1795

Orchards and Small Market Gardens

Autumn is also time to celebrate the bountiful fruit and vegetable harvest in the valley as the growing season winds down. A veritable cornucopia of apples, pears, plums, table grapes, winter squash, pumpkins and other autumn vegetables were on prominent display at very fruit stand and market garden. We sampled all the amazing varieties of grapes and stocked up on crunchy, freshly-picked apples and several delicious varieties of pears—nothing is better than getting fresh fruit right from the orchards and small farms—the sunshine seems to ooze right out of them!

One of my favourite sights in the valley is coming across California Quail. They have a way of running across the road that I find totally endearing. We often spotted them wandering about the orchards (as seen in the slideshow below).

 

Scenes from the Orchards

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“I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined…”

~ William Wordsworth

Natural Beauty, Birds and Wildlife

You don’t have to be a wine drinker, or even a fruit eater for that matter, to enjoy the Okanagan Valley. The valley is full of natural life. A morning hike through Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park opens to breathtaking vistas of the lake and rolling mountains. We passed bushes filled with the sweet murmurings of coveys of California Quail, a Stellar’s Jay came to say hello, and a Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead, hunting the grasslands. Growing next to the trail are pretty semi-desert plants, such as the showy, bright yellow Chamisa, also known as Rubber Rabbitbrush (seen in the slideshow below) and blossoming Tumbleweed with its countless teensy pretty pink blossoms (also in the slideshow), sagebrush and golden grasses. Ponderosa Pines with their long needles are a favourite tree of many birds and we spotted several warblers enjoying them. We happened to be alone on the trail, well, almost alone—there were the two of us, the birds, the trees, the grasses, the gentle breeze, the warm sunshine and all the beauty that surrounded us. Sweet.

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The vista from Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.

Flora and Fauna

Photos: Red-tail Hawk; Close-up of Tumbleweed Blossoms, Male California Quail; bright yellow Chamisa blossoms; two female California Quail; White-crowned Sparrow; Ponderosa Pine needles and cone; unidentified duck (a gadwall perhaps?); Deer; Chamisa; Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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“I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.”

~ William Wordsworth

 It seems that everywhere you turn in this lovely valley, there is something beautiful to behold.

 

Image Credits:

All photography by madlyinlovewithlife and BJC Photography.

© 2015 madlyinlovewithlife and BJC Photography.

 

18 thoughts on “The Grape Escape

    • Thank you so much, Inger! I know you travel a lot, so I’m not surprised to find you’ve been to the Okanagon a few times. Isn’t it a wonderful place to have a little vacation? It’s so easy to get there from Calgary and it’s such a beautiful drive. Thanks again for stopping by! Have a Happy Thanksgiving Weekend! :)) ~ Jeannie

  1. What a surprise to see your subject was on the vineyards & winery’s of the Okanagan Valley. Hubby and I were just talking about visiting the vineyards of the Niagara region here in Ontario. After reading your blog and seeing your shots Jeannie we definitely will plan to visit in 2016. Thanks for visiting my photo stream & your lovely remarks & faves

    • Oh, I do hope you and your hubby do indeed plan a little getaway to the Niagara wine region. It’s such fun to visit wine country, no matter where it is. My brother has been to the Niagara region a few times and really loves it. I have no doubt you will enjoy it a lot. Thanks again for stopping by. Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving! :))

  2. Wow, what an awesome way to spend a tasty day ~ there is always something a bit magical with wineries and walking through the vineyards…and these are some great photos you share of such a day – and the photos you share of the valley is something else.

    • Hello Randall! Thank you! The vineyards are truly beautiful and I feel blessed that we have such easy access to them (here in Canada, grapes only grow in a few places). But what I’d truly love to visit are the tea plantations you so beautifully photographed. Your images are so beautiful, I keep seeing them in my mind. :))

  3. This is one of, if not the, best blogs yet, your powers of description just take you there. Loved the journey so much Jeannie.
    Mark

    • Thank you so much for your very kind words, Mark. I’m so happy I could take you along on this very fun journey and that you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for stopping by! Have a great week ahead! :))

  4. What a “grape” great escape indeed! This is just what I needed to see after a particularly long and stressful day. Truly, your work is like chicken soup for the soul :) I hope you and your partner are enjoying the beautiful autumn days in your beautiful, beautiful country. And thank you so much for your messages. I’ve been delayed in replying, but I have read them and will be in touch soon!

    • Dear Takami, I’m so glad that you enjoyed this post about wine country and that it was a balm for your soul. But more than that, I sincerely hope that, no matter what, you too can take a few moments each day to enjoy the changing of the seasons in your beautiful country. And please, no worries ever about responding to comments or visiting my blog. Sending you all my best, dear Takami.

  5. I sure enjoyed your trip to the Okanagan Valley, Jeannie. You did a great job of capturing the essence of the wine country, and your photos are spectacular. I looked through every gallery you displayed, and marveled at your skill in photography, as well as your written appreciation of the beauties that surrounded you. I didn’t know there were Calif. Quail up in BC, so that was great to know too (I love the way they run too). Great post! :D

    • Thanks so much, Jet! I know how much you love the natural world, so I appreciate your comment very much. From what I’ve read online, California Quail were introduced somewhere around Victoria in the 1830’s and there was some success on the island. There were more releases after that around other parts of B.C. While they are found in other parts of B.C., they are now most common in the dryer Okanagan Valley (the southern interior of B.C.). Enjoy the rest of your weekend! :))

  6. Pingback: Morning Light and the Bluebirds of Happiness « madlyinlovewithlife

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