The tang and texture of fall foliage, the plume of smoke from the campfire, the crunch of apples newly separated from their perches and the teasing aroma of uncapped fruit cider waiting to be savoured. There’s nothing like harvest time, and there’s nowhere in BC where it can be enjoyed more fully than the Okanagan – that fecund grape, fruit and vegetable growing area that has become famous for its wines and its long, lazy growing seasons.
The best way to enjoy all this? Why camping, of course!
For us, harvest season means picking our own fruit and vegetables, sampling the juices of fruits and grapes both fresh and in their spirited incarnations, and stoking up the campfire. This year, I added another dimension and threw my jars, my canner and my recipes into the van, determined to pick and preserve as well as party.
Day One found us pulling into Nk’Mip in Osoyoos, a large, well-equipped 400-site campground on 15 hectares adjacent to the last remaining 364 hectares of the Canadian Sonora Desert. This oasis is rapidly becoming an alternative winter playground for snowbirds. On the ridge above hunkers a world-class winery, the restaurant at Spirit Ridge, a resort and the Desert Cultural Centre, so first things first. Up we walk to check out the cultural centre and then take a winery tour of what is the only aboriginal native winery in the world, we are told. All the work is done by hand, and all the grapes come from the property, over 141 hectares of vines. Merlot, Cabernet, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and ice wine - we tasted them all and pronounced them good. With a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, the King of the Reds, under my arm to enjoy later, we headed back. There was “work” to be done. The harvesting awaited.
Osoyoos is a vibrant city that has somehow managed to cram itself between orchards and vineyards (or the other way around), so there is a plethora of produce to be had in the area. We headed to one busy u-pick and got down and dirty – choosing only the very best, ripe, perfect tomatoes.
Fourteen kilograms and a sore back later, we loaded up the van and backed away from all temptation. So much more to pick, so many choices, but a glass of “Cab” by the campfire beckoned while we decided whether to eat at Spirit Ridge or grill “dogs” on the flames.
Day Two, and under the incredulous eyes of our neighbours, we unpacked the boxes and started in washing, boiling water, and sterilizing jars. Two electric cords ran over to two kettles on the picnic table, space was cleared for jars and pots, and the fun began.
A sunny morning and a few curious late season bees kept us company as we canned. Funny how doing this at home with all the proper equipment and supplies would have been tiring but here, out in the open while camping, it felt like an adventure. We were finished by noon, not bad. Thrilled and triumphant, we stowed away the two dozen pint jars and prepared for an afternoon of wine tasting along the “Golden Mile,” three terraces between Osoyoos and Oliver with a slighter warmer climate, good soil and airflow, and home to a dozen lucky wineries.
Being a lover of Hester Creek’s Cab-Merlot, I insisted that be our first stop. Sarah greeted us, took us outdoors for a tour, showed off the demonstration kitchen where cooking classes were held and food and wine pairings were offered for a mere $10, and then led the way to the tasting room. Starting the afternoon off with a lightly oaked Chardonnay seemed a fine idea to us, and it got finer. They’ve got it right at Hester Creek, but we knew more tastings lurked ahead.
Further along the mile, my eye was caught by a small building surrounded by flowers, Castoro de Oro Estate Winery. I wanted to try a new winery and was hooked by the Italian look of the colourful entrance.
Co-owner Stella Schmidt introduced us to Siegfried. (They’re one of only five wineries producing this fruity, Riesling-style wine). Pinot Duretto and Pinot Noir followed. The rosé was as lively as our host. She and her partner, Bruno Kelle, produced their first wines in 2006 from their tiny 2.8-hectare property and the fruit of their labour exemplifies the “quality over quantity” maxim. With bottles of Siegfried and Pinto Duretto in our arms, we left for Tinhorn Creek.
A smiling hostess greeted us there with glasses of Gewürztraminer, which we sipped while watching the crushing of 20 tons of Pinto Gris grapes, and then went outside to the demonstration vineyard. What a great idea to allow visitors to wander, check out and taste the various grapes while reading the informative signs. Now we wanted to see how some of these tasty grapes translated into wine, so in we went for a tasting with Samantha. We loved the fact that we could create our own flight of four wines from a dozen selections.
Time to head back to Nk’Mip where my partner, David, could enjoy a full glass of Siegfried without having to worry about driving, and we could meet up with friends around the campfire and swap stories and wine. Preserve and party – what a perfectly balanced day.
Day Three and apple picking at Davison Orchards was in store. Located on the outskirts of Vernon, this well-run family enterprise, operating since 1933, has become a landmark. Employing 154 people year-round, the 40-hectare property is operated by three generations of family. It’s not just a place to buy fruits and veggies, though; it’s a whole day’s outing. Much of the produce gets transformed into delicious jars of relishes, jams and preserves, while still other fruits like apples become dried treats or juice. There’s apple and juice tastings, orchard tours in the Johnny Popper Apple train, made from apple crates and pulled by an antique John Deere Tractor, the Crazy Cow Kids’ Corral - an inventive children’s play area, a café in the old farm house offering freshly made pie with apples from the orchard, a super store, and all those fruits to pick in season. From May 1 to October 31, it’s hard to find parking in here but, happily, we’ve arrived quite early and after the apple tasting decide to try the ice cream. Can you imagine a flavour called maple pumpkin butter ice cream? David tries it out skeptically and then won’t share.
After our pie, we pre-purchase a bag each, have our short “picking” lesson and then board the train into the orchard to fill them to brimming. It doesn’t take long before rosy globes spill out the tops, and then we’re off to the Silver Star RV Park, just one kilometre north of Vernon, on the shores of Swan Lake, a friendly family campground where we’ve often stayed in the past.
Day Four and our harvest camping trip is about to wind down. Today, we prowl the farms and orchards near Vernon, stocking up on pears, peaches, and squash. The peaches are past their prime, but we’ll be home tomorrow and the ones too ripe for the jars will go into the carboy for wine. The pears can be wrapped in newspaper and stored for a while and some will be dried, frozen or made into chutneys.
Our last night, though, is time to party and Gray Monk Winery has to be the place. The oldest family-run winery in the Okanagan, it has a spectacular outlook overlooking Okanagan Lake, and its Grapevine Restaurant is pure culinary heaven. We’re early, so we decide to do what comes naturally – visit the tasting room. Rebecca is pouring and it turns out she is the granddaughter of the owners, George and Trudy Heiss. She pours a Pinot Gris, and tells us about how they were the first to bring Pinto Gris into Canada in the late 1970s. Next, we try a Staff Pick, a peachy Pinot Blanc. It’s six o’clock, no time for the reds. When seated, we sip glasses of sparkling Odyssey White Brut, while admiring the view and pondering the menu. The Pinot Gris is the recommended wine with my succulent seared wild salmon fillet and lemongrass butter, and David goes with the unwooded Chardonnay with the Pine Nut panko crusted chicken breast. While anticipating the entrees, we start with a curry carrot soup with crispy spicy tortilla strips.
Tomorrow, we’ll be home, but with more than memories to remind us of this special autumn camping trip. The wines, the apples and pears we’ve dried and frozen, and the tomatoes we’ve canned, will rewind the experience every time we open a lid or undo a zip-lock baggy and the memories will come wafting back.
IF YOU GO:
* For campsites, RV rentals and other details about camping in BC, visit: www.campingrvbc.com
* Why not plan your harvest trip around the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival held in early October? Check www.thewinefestivals.com for dates.
* A good way to tour the Golden Mile wineries is to book a tour and let someone else do the driving. We wished we had done that. www.LandseaOkanagan.com
* Davison Orchards. www.davisonorchards.ca
* Silver Star RV Park: www.silverstarcampground.com
* Nk’Mip campground: http: www.campingosoyoos.com
* Area Travel information: www.hellobc.com/thompson-okanagan.aspx
* BC Ferries for travel to and from Vancouver and Gulf Islands and packages: www.bcferries.com
* Gray Monk Winery and Grapevine Restaurant: www.graymonk.com
* Tinhorn Creek Vineyards. www.tinhorn.com
* Hester Creek. www.hestercreek.com
* Castoro de Oro Estate Winery. www.castorodeoro.com
AUGUST 2015 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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