In this post, I’ll describe an amazing touring day with a friendly and adorable group of 4: I call it The Snowshoe Adventure Adorable Double-Date Winter Wine Tour! (It’s a bit wordy, but we’ll go with it…no regrets!)
Roots and Vines has been operating for 4 seasons now in the Okanagan, offering wine tours from Lake Country to Osoyoos and accommodating anywhere from groups of 2 to groups of 50. A year or so back, we added four unique tours to our roster which we call Adventure Tours. These tours combine outdoor experiences in the morning with wine tasting in the afternoon – the best of both worlds in the Okanagan. Most of them are summer tours, but we also have the perfect adventure tour for the winter months – the Winter Wine Tour!
Right from the time I picked up my four guests, we hit it off splendidly. They were relaxed, polite, and good-natured. I had a good feeling about the day. Of course, my priority is always for my guests to enjoy their day and feel well-informed and well-treated, but one of the great perks of this job is that it tends to attract a great crowd of people, and (being the extrovert that I am) I love connecting with all sorts of people. I was right on time, and we made our introductions – Kyle and Amanda, and their friends Will and Britney. They loaded up some backpacks, and we headed out across the lake to the West. All our tours include door to door service, and today I was driving the Ford Expedition, which can easily handle the snowy roads up to the lodge. (For larger groups, we drive in style – one of spacious and comfortable Ford Transit passenger vans, which we call “the Twins,” for groups of 15-30)
The Telemark Nordic Club has a quaint and homey lodge, with a real wood fire crackling one side of the room. I set up my group with passes and rentals, trail maps and route recommendations. They stashed bags, added layers, emptied bladders, and adjusted and cajoled various straps until they were satisfied. It takes no time at all to adjust to the stride of wearing skateboard-sized ovals on your feet, and soon they were motoring over the deep snow. They headed down a 4 kilometer loop called Pine Forest Trail.
At this point, I leave the group to their hike. At Roots & Vines, guides typically accompany a group along the whole tour. Our philosophy is Taste, Laugh, Connect; and so instead of being a silent chauffeur like many companies, we believe that having an above-average interesting human at the wheel makes a big difference! When I take a group out, I want to hear where they’re from, what they like, what you love, what makes you tick! And You’ll learn about me! And I want to share local Okanagan history, challenge your perceptions, share wine-tasting knowledge and tell the stories of the wineries and the wines. But all that comes later, with the lunch and the tastings. For Adventure Tours, we like to let the group tackle the lake or mountain on their own before we join back up for the Guided portion of the tour.
I’ve been out on Pine Forest myself, many times, and it’s something special. Granted, it’s hard to convey here; in the same way that a picture of the moon never captures its true beauty, never quite manages to preserve the sense of majesty and size, it is always difficult to describe in words the feelings I have when out in nature. It’s restorative…. It’s invigorating? To be honest, it’s like a big, fat reset button. Pine Forest Trail is everything that it promises – a trail crowded with pine trees, heavily laden with thick layers of snow, looking like frosting on an elaborate cake. The day I took this group out, the sun peeked out every once in a while, but the temperature was low enough to keep the snow at a soft, dry, smooth texture, even at the deep parts.
I pass the time reading my novel, but I imagine that they are experiencing the forest as I do: the further you go, the more the forest enacts its magic, and it feels like a haze slowly lifts. When I snowshoe, I feel as though I am step over a threshold which heightens my senses. My mind feels a freshness and clarity of vision that I seldom feel, a sense of perspective that seems to diminish the petty problems of life. The complex politics that plague me in the city seem suddenly simple.
From my recollection, the trail starts into an upward climb for about the first half of the hike, but a brisk pace keeps you warm enough. Soon, the incline lessens, and flattens out, and they emerge into a wide field, a huge white plateau dotted with tiny shrubs, and swallowed up again by forest in the distance. A clearing in the woods, and a cause for celebration. I imagine that they spend their time talking about life and work, laughing, gossiping about friends back home, and making jokes. The crisp, clean air is almost intoxicating, and every once in a while, someone lets out an exultant “WHOOP” into the sky. At least, that’s how it works when I’m out with my friends 🙂
So this is where the fun started for me! The group returns, triumphant, cheeks red and eyes sparkling, and we head out on the Wine Trail.
We head back into West Kelowna for our lunch reservation at the illustrious Old Vines restaurant at Quails Gate Winery, owned by the Stewart Family. The view is gorgeous, overlooking the sloping vineyards of the winery property, down to the lake, still shimmering in the cold, with the Okanagan Mountain Park bluffs as a snow-capped backdrop. Lunch was very delicious – I think 3 out of 5 of us ordered the Duck Fettucine – confit duck, shallots, smoked apples, swiss chard, thyme, and cream – with the suggested pairing of the 2015 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay. [Are you hungry yet? My mouth is watering as I write this.]
We also did a full tasting at Quail’s Gate, our medicine administered by Jan, who has a wonderfully warm and inviting presence. Some of the favourites were the Pinot Noir, the Reserve Chardonnay, and the fortified Foch (which happens to be one of my personal favourites in the realm of fortified wine).
With bellies full and tastebuds tantalized, we left Quails Gate for our second tasting at Little Straw Vineyards. Family owned and operated by multiple generations of Slamka family, Little Straw is a very welcoming place, and my guests thoroughly enjoyed the experience with our tasting host, Trevor. He is a fantastic chef who crafts food for the winery restaurant during the summer months, but his true talent shines when he gets behind the tasting bar – talking! His quick wit, even quicker delivery and outlandish descriptions of the wine profiles had my guests busting a gut. It’s never a dull moment at Little Straw, but the charm of a family owned and operated winery is also apparent, and the wines are delicious. My favourite among them has long been the Old Vines Auxerrois, a rich and lightly-oaked white varietal, but the Tapestry white blend and the Southern Cross red blend made their way easily into boxes for my guests to take home.
We ended our tour at Indigenous World Winery, which is owned by Robert and Bernice Louis. Robert was the Chief of the Westbank First Nation for many years, and Indigenous proudly declares their status as the first fully indigenous-owned winery in the world. Showcasing beautiful wines, beautiful artwork, and a beautiful view, it was a perfect ending to our day on the trail.
By the time I dropped them off, we felt like old friends! We had laughed, joked, waxed philosophical, and enjoyed some world-class wines. They invited me to join them at a local gastro-pub called BNA, but tragically I had other plans – what a great connection!
What can I say? A very satisfying and successful day.
So, that’s a highlight of one of my most enjoyable tours so far this winter. At Roots & Vines, we understand how important these “resetting” moments are. Go get reset! Enjoy life, enjoy nature, enjoy wine! If you want, come out with us: the Winter Wine Tour starts with a morning of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing and ends with gourmet lunch and tastings at up to 3 wineries.
Thanks for stopping by, friends! See you on the trail!
Feel free to comment on the post if you have any questions, or email us – firstname.lastname@example.org
To check out the details on our Winter Wine Tour, including wineries we visit, click here!
To see more of our Adventure Tours series, click here!
– Nygel “The Tour-minator” Metcalfe, on behalf of the Roots & Vines Fam