52km (32 miles) S of Penticton
The absolute center of the Okanagan fruit-growing orchards is Oliver (pop. 4,300). What makes the area interesting to travelers, however, is its many wineries. Scarcely a tourist town, Oliver exists to serve the needs of local farmers, orchardists, and winemakers. It makes a reasonable stop if you're not obsessed with the resort and watersports lifestyle prevalent in the rest of the Okanagan Valley. For more information on the region, contact the South Okanagan Visitor Info Centre, 36205 93rd St. (tel. 250/498-6321; www.sochamber.ca).
Many of the long-established wineries that put the region's name on the wine-producing map are within a short drive of Oliver. Especially proud of their location are the wineries along the "Golden Mile," situated on the slopes of the mountains west of Oliver along Road 8. Festival of the Grape (tel. 250/498-6321; www.sochamber.ca) occurs in the first weekend of October, and is part of the larger Okanagan Wine Festival. Another notable winegrowing area is just north of Oliver, near the town of Okanagan Falls.
Notable Oliver-area wineries that welcome visitors include Burrowing Owl Winery, halfway between Osoyoos and Oliver at 100 Black Sage Rd. (tel. 877/498-0620 or 250/498-6202; www.bovwine.ca), which makes exceptional wines; its award-winning merlot is one of B.C.'s top wines. Their Sonora Room dining room is an equally excellent vineyard restaurant (closed in late fall), and the 10-bedroom Guest House at Burrowing Owl is a top boutique lodging .
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, Road 8 between Osoyoos and Oliver (tel. 250/498-3537), offers German-style wines, including Riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, and pinot blanc, plus a notable ice wine. Try the crisp Ehrenfelser white wine, which carries intense flavors of apricot and almond. The tasting room is open June through mid-October daily; call for off-season hours.
Near Oliver, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Road 7 (tel. 888/846-4676; www.tinhorn.com), is one of the top Okanagan wineries. Specialties include Gewürztraminer, pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot, and ice wine.
The town of Okanagan Falls is 20km (12 miles) north of Oliver along Hwy. 97. Adjacent to a wilderness area and bird sanctuary overlooking Vaseaux Lake, Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars, 2385 Allendale Rd. (tel. 250/497-8244; www.bluemountainwinery.com), operates a wine shop and tasting room by appointment only. Blasted Church Vineyards, 378 Parsons Rd. (tel. 250/497-1125; www.blastedchurch.com), has impossible-to-miss wine labels, and delicious and affordable wines. One of my favorites.