Tastes Much Sweeter than Wine
Kelowna is Ripe with Surprises
By Bill Nestor
 
Kelowna on Okanagan Lake
(Photo by Enviro Foto Inc. J.F. Bergeron)
On the banks of 84-mile long Okanagan Lake in the heart of eastern British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is the city of Kelowna, home to a host of wineries that buoy a bustling tourism industry. The valley and thriving conurbation offers a rich and varied play list of great hits--golf courses, wineries, restaurants, places to stay, places to play and things to do.
 
Diversity is essential to creating stability in communities. The Okanagan enjoys a healthy environment that’s been preserved and harmoniously blends with a prosperous and growing business community, farming and vacation destination.  
 
Golfing and tasting at some of the areas 150 distinctive and thematic wineries, and savoring a smorgasbord of culinary specialties at selected restaurants left me gasping for a respite that included bees, beer, whiskey and goats. 
 
The Okanagan Valley tenders an extended hot and dry summer and fall. Its excellent climate in combination with many vineyards, orchards, hills, lake and lovely high desert semi-arid terrain make for enjoyable and picturesque golf on more than 50 golf courses, including 19 in and around Kelowna. I teed it up on a few of them during my visit.
 
ABOVE: Predator Ridge Golf Resort (Photo by John Henebry)
BELOW: Ridge Course - Hole #5 Par 3, 244 yds(Photo by John Henebry)
Predator Ridge Golf Resort, a bit north of Kelowna, is one of my favorites anywhere. It’s the complete package--fabulous setting, challenging and pleasant golf routed through archetypal western landscape, attractive and comfortable lodging, and dining offering a succulent cuisine under the direction of Executive Chef Jeff O’Neil. Chef Jeff’s cheerfulness and a 10-handicap made for good company on the Ridge’s eighteen. His classical European training and 30 years of experience have evolved to a culinary style of mixed-ethnic fusion.
 
Renowned Canadian golf architect Doug Carrick crafted the Ridge Course that opened in 2010. It is considered tamer and more player-friendly than the Predator Course, but the 6,655-yard gem is no piece of cake.
 
Carrick captured distinctive features of the setting’s natural environs and integrated them into the layout.  A series of holes cascade down in elevation before leveling out, accentuating the scenic panorama of this dramatic location. The manicured bent grass greens, tees and fairways blend and complement the adjacent irregular shaped landscape.
 
“It is spectacularly routed through Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir stands with views over the lake, valleys, and ridges that take you on a western golf adventure,” said Rod Cochrane, Predator Ridge’s GM.
 
The Resort’s 1991 Predator Course, designed by venerable Canadian Les Furber, is another treasure. Undulating fairways, wheatgrass meadows, ponds, streams and rocky pine-covered ridges define the layout that stretches to 7,000 yards from the tips. Predator is perennially ranked as one of Canada’s best. 
 
Core amenities at the Resort--golf courses, spacious full-kitchen guest suites, fitness and swimming center, tennis courts, salon, spa and dining-- have attracted an active upscale clientele. Man-made structures fashioned with materials and features from nature fit effortlessly and create an ambiance that feels like it was laid gently on the land.  PredatorRidge.com  Phone: (888) 578-6688
 
The first tee at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club plays from a rooftop patio adjacent to the clubhouse.
The first tee at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club plays from a rooftop patio adjacent to the clubhouse, a fitting introduction to the impending layout and terrain. Vistas of distant forested mountain and rocky ridges frame the back drop of the 6800 yard Canyon Course, a 1980 Bill Robinson design and Les Furber re-design.
 
The manicured course with short rough and fringe of high grass is punctuated by canyon drop-offs that make driving accuracy a premium. Orchards and vineyards interspersing the panorama add variety to the landscape and balance the natural terrain to enhance the visual experience. “Gallagher’s Canyon is the quintessential Okanagan golf experience, rugged yet refined,” said Director of Golf Jon Kadin.
 
The semi-private club with 350 active members also has the nine-hole Pinnacle Course and a residential development. golfbc.com/courses/gallagherscanyon Phone: (250) 861-4240
 
The topography and landscape of Tower Ranch adds to its uniqueness. Spruce forest peaks serve as a backdrop and silhouette an upper canyon valley.
The Club at Tower Ranch is just minutes from downtown and proffers views over Kelowna and Lake Okanagan. There are many appealing golf courses in the area, but few with a more interesting routing than Tower Ranch. The 2008 Thomas McBroom designed track provides four sets of tees to 7,212 yards from the tips. 


The topography and landscape add to the uniqueness of Tower Ranch. Spruce forest peaks serve as a backdrop and silhouette an upper canyon valley. The grass covered steep hillsides adjacent to the fairway support scattered clumps of spruce trees 50-60 feet tall, making for a charming storybook-like setting.

The course opens with holes running across a valley floor before rising and following another plateau level. The routing follows this switchback pattern that repeats itself before dropping in elevation. The elevation changes 800 feet throughout the course, including a tee to green drop of 100 feet at the Par 3-14th.
 
The elevated putting surfaces protected by greenside and bunker complexes require target golf, but large greens and wide fairways lessen the challenge of 130 sand traps and rolling upland terrain.
 
The Bear Golf Club in Kelowna, BC. Kelowna Golf Club's #2 fairway.
Travel and Leisure Magazine, Golf Digest and Score Magazine selected Tower Ranch as one of the best new golf courses in Canada by in 2009. Website: TowerRanch.com Phone: (877) 491-8211, (250) 491-8211. 

A crop of notable and challenging courses routed through appealing grounds and surrounded by lovely landscape foster a fertile golf industry in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley.  Website: GolfKelowna.com
 
Kelowna's Culinary Scene
Equally impressive is the richness of Kelowna’s culinary scene. The development and growth in this sector is a natural with the moderate climate, bountiful agricultural and sumptuous wine industries. The region now produces more than a third of Canada’s apples and much of its soft fruits.

 
The Cabana Grille in the hip and trendy Mission district touts a loca-vore dining experience.   Its casual and relaxed ambiance, live music, novel drink options and friendly service attract a festive crowd. Internationally inspired dishes are presented under the direction of Executive Chef James DeLong. Two-Way Tuna-a Pacific yellow fin with tamarind chili sauce, BC albacore with asparagus cream, and a dry rub Alberta black-angus tenderloin shallot merlot reduction, each paired with Mission Hill wine were especially flavorful. Cabanagrille.com Phone: (250) 763-1955
 
Twisted Tomato serves up an assorted Italian inspired menu with daily specials.
Twisted Tomato is a happening casual restaurant. Its modern urban setting, open-air roof top patio dining and ground floor bar and dining room are a short walk to Kelowna’s cultural district. 

Twisted Tomato serves up an assorted Italian inspired menu with daily specials,” said Chef Michael Lyon. “Encouraged by the season, our eclectic fusion style flatbread and gourmet pizzas are topped with fresh and local ingredients.” 
 
Their pizza special, and uniquely crafted phyllo encrusted tacos, braised Brome Lake Duck and Dungeness Crab nachos were delicious. It’s a laid-back scene with a friendly staff and interestingly prepared and tasty food.Twistedtomatokitchen.com Phone: (250) 868-8947)
 
Summerhill Pyramid Winery has won numerous awards for its sparkling wine and Ice wine. Its well-developed unique market niche is a prime example of the eclectic nature of Okanagan’s young and booming wine industry.  As with many of the valley’s boutique wineries, Summerhill's place is driven from a distinctly passionate perspective---a strongly centered spiritual lifestyle.  
 
Their production of biodynamic and organic wines is consistent with its unique position.  Its wines are aged in a four-story tall pyramid built according to the specs of Sacred Geometry, a 1:16 ratio of the dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. In addition to wine tasting, the onsite Sunset Bistro offers daily servings of 100% wild and organic foods prepared by Chef Jesse Croy. summerhill.bc.ca  Phone: (800) 667-3538, (250) 764-8000
 
Monteo Resort’s lakeside setting, waterfront restaurant, outdoor-patio dining and menu created an atmosphere for great expectations that didn’t disappoint. The Wild Apple Restaurant offers an appealing and classic lineup of Executive Chef Bernard Casavant’s Wine Country Cuisine
 
I savored pan seared BC Ling Cod and mountain berry crusted roast duck breast with roasted apple risotto prepared by Chef Danny Capadouca. The Chefs’ talents made it easy to understand why the Wild Apple is a gastronomic favorite.ManteoResort.com Phone: (800) 445-5255; Wildapplerestaurant.com Phone: (250) 860-4488
 
Mission Hill Family Estate (Photo by Enviro Foto Inc. J.F. Bergeron) Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Family Estate.
Mission Hill Cellar (Photo by Enviro Foto Inc. J.F. Bergeron)

Mission Hill Family Estate is well known for its award winning wines. The setting and distinctive mission style architecture, décor, celebration of art and culture, and the Cuisine du Terroir based Terrace Restaurant overlooking Lake Okanagan are awe-inspiring. The estate occupies but a small portion of the winery’s 9,000 acres in the valley where two billion bottles are produced annually. Impeccably kept grounds complement the classically understated elegance of richly styled interiors and exteriors.
 
Dinner in the open-air Terrace Restaurant on a sunset glowing eve was a sensory treat. “The cuisine is created specifically to complement our wines,” said proprietor Anthony von Mandl. The culinary staff works with local farms that grow organic produce and fruits specifically for the winery kitchens. Herbs, fruits and vegetables that come from Mission Hill’s on-site gardens balance the supply. Travel & Leisure Magazine selected the Terrace as one of the world’s top five winery restaurants. 
 
Predator Ridge Lodge and Spa (Photo by John Henebry)
Mission Hill’s Oculus, a signature Bordeaux-inspired wine, was especially pleasing with selections from the Terrace’s five menus: Artisan Cheese, The Beginning, Middle, Legacy Series Signature and Sweet Ending, each a delicious collection of melt-in-your mouth dishes. Missionhillwinery.com Phone: (250)-768-7611; Terrace Restaurant 768-6467
 
The Okanagan Street Food Café is an extension of Chef Neil Schroeter’s food wagon and catering business. The classically trained Canadian previously showcased his culinary flair at fine dining restaurants of Quebec, Toronto and Whistler, and as Chef du Cuisine at Kelowna’s Sumac Ridge Winery Cellar Door Bistro.
 
The quality, style and taste of his offerings belie the eatery’s breakfast and lunch blackboard menu in its out of way location, but its well worth a visit, gastronomically and price wise. Chef Neil’s vision reflects a spirit prevalent throughout the region, an independence of small business owners pursuing their passions. The Brie and ham sandwich with chutney on freshly made honey bread along with a Caesar salad was simply delicious and beautifully presented. Okanaganstreetfood.com; Chef@okanaganstreetfood.com Phone: (250) 469-1915.
 
Pop Goes the Cork, Kelowna’s gala Summer Wine Festival, provided an opportunity to sample local artisan cheeses and wines from 40+ area cellars. I also traveled parts of Kelowna’s five wine trails, visiting and tasting at wineries along the way, each with its own unique revelation, story, passion and entrepreneurial adventure. Kelownawinetrails.com
 
I tasted handcrafted wines at SpierHead, a small boutique operation opened in 2010. “I got into making wine because of the romance of the grape,” shared owner and photographer Brian Sprout. He and partner Virginia Stanton, a landscaper, musician and painter ply their tradecraft and display their art at the shop built over a basement barrel room. Spearheadwinery.com Phone: (250) 763-7777
 
Conversation with Winemaker Tony Lewis, whose bottles carry 3D psychedelic labels at Vibrant Vines Vineyard, was enjoyable, as was tasting their 2010 vintages. I appreciated his invitation--“Come chill, sip and stare. The winery is all about fine wine, great music and mind blowing art.” Tastevibrantwines.com (250) 575-8173
 
Along with the wineries, golf courses and restaurants are boating, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and additional places to visit worthy of note.
 
Beekeeper Helen Kennedy at Arlo’s Honey Farm offers a hands on opportunity to explore the world of bees.
Beekeeper Helen Kennedy at Arlo’s Honey Farm offers a hands on opportunity to explore the world of bees: watching pollen and nectar being gathered on the farm’s 14 acres of gardens and fields, suiting up and getting close with the bees, savoring many flavors at the Honey Tasting Bar or visiting the interpretive center, Pollinator Park and Honey Shop. Arloshoneyfarm.com/ Phone: (250) 764-2883
 
At Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan, owners Ofri and Ofer Barmor make 20 different kinds of soft-ripened and hard aged goat cheeses and a selection of goat milk gelato from the on-premises herd. Carmeilsgoatcheese,com Phone: (250) 764-9033
 
Urban Distilleries is a small batch micro-distillery producing top-shelf gin, vodkas and rums, including their signature "Spirit Bear" line. Each batch is hand-crafted in an Artesian copper still from premium grains and filtered spring water. Owner/Distiller Mike Urban enjoys sharing the story, tour and tasting of spirits. Urbandistilleries.ca/ Phone: (778) 478-0939

I was introduced to Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale at Tree Brewing Company. Munich educated Brewmaster Stefan Buhl directs the creation of Tree’s craft-brewed lineup of Hop Head India Pale Ale, Cutthroat West Coast Pale Ale, Kelowna Pilsner, Beach Blonde Lager, Vertical Winter Ale and Thirsty Beaver. Special releases also appear from time to time.
 
“We brew small batches using only water, malt, hops and yeast to produce the highest quality, all natural, un-pasteurized beer,” said Buhl. Tree Brewing introduced Dukes Dry Apple Cider in 2011, the only 100% BC such product on the market. “Tree Brewing has quadrupled growth since 2000, growing 30% in the last two years.” Treebeer.com Phone: (250) 717-1091
 
After my first trip to the Okanagan Valley, I was awestruck by the warmth of climate and people, the rich agricultural production and the variety of brilliant golf layouts. This time I discovered even more; Kelowna is truly ripe with surprises. 

Bill Nestor writes about travel, golf and lifestyle from his home in Vermont. (nestor@sover.net