“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.”
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.
“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.
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
“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
“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.
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.
“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.
All photography by madlyinlovewithlife and BJC Photography.
© 2015 madlyinlovewithlife and BJC Photography.