A reference to “Napa of the North” caught my attention while researching a trip to the Canadian Rockies and Columbia River Valley last September. Quite a fan of central and northern California coast bounty, I was compelled to check out the region and wines of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Rich resources are accessible through internet search. The result: pure pleasure.

Departing the Kootenays, five bighorn sheep grazed roadside on route 95.  TransCanada Highway 1 cut through Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks featuring stunning jagged peaks and bowls of ice above and beyond.  South from Sicamous on 97A, logging, agriculture and back country becomes lake country. On the largest of these, Okanagan Lake, the tasting began. 

A 48 hour self-designed tour featured 10 wineries. One server reported the number of Okanagan wineries had grown to 170 with a spurt of boutique offerings and unprecedented growth.
#1 In the North Okanagan, Summerhill Pyramid Winery features an organic portfolio. The tasting area borders its organic bistro and a patio above the lake featuring an enormous glass of bubbly.An earthy 2008 Foch was our choice.
***A bit south is Carmeli’s Goat Cheese, offering handcrafted goat cheese tasting and a close-up of their goats. Goatgonzola stood out. We purchased panini, goat cheese and gourmet crackers to complement future tastings.
#2) Cedar Creek Winery has a grand gated entry, formal gardens, a bistro and fine lake view. Though tempted by the lobster bisque, we continued on our journey with a 2010 Gewurztraminer. 
#3) Crossing the bridge to West Kelowna, we opted for a food and wine pairing at Quails’ Gate Winery. We could not complain as we took in artistry created by designated rows of grapevines in this lakeside vineyard from a sundrenched patio. This setting was perhaps our favorite and we left with their 2009 Chardonnay. As we crisscrossed the lake, each town boasted its own character, and each region a unique terroir, resulting in diverse wine selections. 
#4) Part of Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery greeted with aromas from its Cellar Door Bistro. Tasting was friendly and a 2010 Gewurztraminer was our choice here.
***A forty-five minute afternoon drive through Penticton to Naramata found a stunning and more familiar Central California coast-like terrain and our B&B, YKnot. Owners Colin and Gail Ballance have created a log cabin retreat and winery replete with gym, sauna, pool, spacious, private accommodations, sunsets and delicious breakfasts.  Our hosts offered savvy advice for our itinerary as well as local eats and events. 
#5) Nk’Mip (pronounced ink-a-meep) Cellars, is the farthest south, in arid Osoyoos, adjacent to the U.S. border. The aboriginal influence defines this winery and conference center. We bought a 2009 Reisling which won awards in London UK and USA in 2011. 
#6) Burrowing Owl Estate Winery perches above neighboring vineyards in Oliver.  It is part of the Black Sage Bench region, which boasts the most annual sun in the Okanagan Valley. The Wine Shop charged a minimal fee for tastings which is contributed to the Burrowing Owl Society. We so enjoyed our gregarious servers and the marvelous reds here and left with the 2008 Syrah. The Sonora Room Restaurant and Guest House featuring wine country breakfasts seemed to invite us to return.  
#7) Minutes away, across 97 on the Golden Mile Bench, Hester Creek Winery had appeal in its grand Italianate setting and sumptuous wines. This portfolio of wines was proudly presented by remarkable, knowledgeable Wendy. We adored all of these, particularly the red and white Character wines. The Reserve Cabernet Franc was our choice. We stuck with our original plan with a yummy blue cheese, prosciutto and fig pizza on the patio at Terrafina restaurant. 
#8) Nearby Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards is where the virtues of icewine, including a red made with Tempranillo, were shared by a very enthusiastic Jacob, who grew up listening to his father talk of his work there. Surprised by how much we enjoyed this sweet wine, we purchased a Riesling Icewine with hints of honey and peaches.
#9) Tinhorn Winery was our last stop. Also on the Golden Mile, a taste of Pinot Grigio was a nice welcome. A tour of the vineyards and cellars was offered. We liked the “Sip Happens” mousepads found here. 
10) Red Rooster, on the Naramata Bench, was the single stop on day 3 after departing YKnot,  hearing from the hosts of the not-to-miss Malbec.  Striking sculptures abound inside and out. Penny, our server,was well-humored and informed, and we felt fortunate to obtain an award-winning Chardonnay and a Malbec.

The Okanagan/Similkameen Valley, BC’s largest wine appellation covering over 100 kilometers, is a splendid find for the wine and food lover-explorer.  You may leave the itinerary to one of many tour companies in the region, who offer to customize trips for tasting with lunch or dinner. Okanagan Wine Festivals which are held annually in spring, summer, fall and winter as a reason to go. Fall Wine Festival is September 28-October 7, 2012 (now!).  Winter Festival dates are January 12-20 in 2013.  Create your own adventure: there are a myriad of possibilities! Salud! 

10 Wineries in the Okanagans
 Summerhill Pyramid Winery: 4870 Chute Lake Road, Kelowna, BC. 250.764.8000 www.summerhill.bc.ca
 Cedar Creek Winery:  5445 Lakeshore Road, Kelowna, BC. 250.764.8866 www.cedarcreek.bc.ca
 Quails’ Gate Winery: 3303 Boucherie Road, West Kelowna, BC. 250.769.4451 www.quailsgate.com
 Sumac Ridge Winery: 17403 Highway 97, Summerland, BC. 250.494.0451 www.sumacridge.com
 Nk’Mip Cellars: 1400 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC. 250.495.8180  www.nkmipcellars.com
 Burrowing Owl Vineyards: 100 Burrowing Owl place, Oliver, BC. 250.498.0620 www.burrowingowlwine.ca
 Hester Creek Estate Winery: Road 8, Oliver, B.C. 250.498.4435 www.hestercreek.com
 Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards: Road 111 West, Oliver, BC. 250.498.6663 www.inniskillin.com
 Tinhorn Winery: 32830 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver, BC. 250.498.3743  www.tinhorn.com
 Red Rooster Winery: 891 Naramata Road, Penticton, BC. 250.492.2424 www.redroosterwinery.com

To plan:
www.hellobc.com: the official travel website of British Columbia www.winesnw.com: online wine cellar for the Pacific Northwest, including BC, Oregon, Washington and Idaho
www.bbcanada.com: many unique bed and breakfast choices, including YKnot.
www.TheWineFestivals.com: Okanagan Valley wine festivals 250.861.6654
www.alaskaair.com: Alaska Airlines offers flights from the west coast to Kelowna BC via Seattle.