Okanagan life! Swirling wine, touring barrel cellars, picking succulent fruit directly from the tree and picnicing with a view of the lake are just a few of the joys offered by the Okanagan Valley, a wine region in British Columbia. When my dear friend Dawn moved there, I knew a road trip was in my near future. There’s lots to see and do in the region, but we were looking for unique experiences. One sunny morning, after getting our caffeine fix, we drove the winding lakeside roads towards Oliver, pulled off the highway and made our way through acres of vineyards to reach Covert Farms. Farm chef Campbell Kearns directed us to hop in the back of a restored candy apple red, 1952 Mercury pickup. As we bumped down dirt roads, we stopped to check out the animals. A grazing herd of Scottish Highland cattle, included two babies all living with a group of llamas, who act as their protectors against predators. While visiting with the animals, we chatted with Campbell about the history of the farm and the choices they make with their land. After escaping the busyness of California farming, the Covert family arrived in 1959 and settled into the Okanagan, switching up their crops over the years from vegetables to stone fruit to grapes, now used to make organic wine. When the land was passed onto Gene Covert, he switched to certified organic farming. This involves considering the land as one big organism, with everything connected. By creating their own composts and fertilizers, using principles from biodynamic management, seeding cover crops, pruning heavily, and spending time with the land and making decisions based on their observations, they learned the advantages of organic winemaking weren’t merely ethical; Managing their land this way creates better grapes, which in turn creates better wines! The vineyard was created during the last ice age when a frozen dam broke and the escaping water sculpted the pateau. It’s located in the narrowest part of the Okanagan, nestled between rocky bluffs where the copious sunshine creates ideal growing conditions and stirs up a steady wind. As we walked through the rows, tasting grapes right from the vine, we asked Campbell for his favourites. Zinfandel won hands down, but he also loved Pinot Blanc on hot, summer desert days. After coating our tongues with grape juice, we hopped back in the truck and drove past the sunflower field, which was in the tail end of its season. Sunflowers protect the grapes by acting as a sacrificial decoy; Birds prefer their crunchy seeds to the fleshy grapes. Before heading back to the wine barn, we stopped off at the u-pick part of the farm. With our hands filled with juicy strawberries and tomatoes, we took a moment to admire the sprawling farmland, fenced in by enormous cliffs. Back at the wine barn, we grabbed patio seats and continued to soak in the amazing view. Campbell produced a charcuterie platter overflowing with Tuscan-style sour pork, elk salami, applewood-smoked cow cheese, Quebec baluchon, unpasteurized honey and a grainy dijon, then filled our glasses with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. Dawn and I didn’t talk much as we mixed and matched the different flavours, and tried two more wines, the Roussanne Viognier and Amicitia, but our contented sighs and smiles spoke volumes. In a 24/7/365 world where we are exposed to much but often experience very little, this unrushed savouring of food, wine and atmosphere was wonderfully civilized. Covert Farms excels at this laidback, European style of tasting and at making you feel like one of their happy family. We capped off our day by picking up some Roussanne Viognier and bouncing on the giant jumping pillow, giggling like legal-age kids. I’m not a huge tour person, but I highly recommend Covert Farms Culinary Journey Through Canada’s Desert, a personalized tour, wine tasting and platter. Pack comfortable shoes, sunscreen and a hat for those hot summer days. A lot of their wines sell out, so go earlier in the year if you want to taste their full range. A late September visit, which meant fewer crowds, was perfect for us as we loved the wines we tried. We didn’t get the full selection but we’ll be returning earlier next year to sample more! The Okanagan is a unique region with a mix of agriculture from grapes to vegetables and fruits. The wining and dining opportunities, combined with the spectacular beaches, lakes, mountains will keep you entertained for weeks. The farm-to-table culture keeps me coming back, eager for more sunshine days filled with laughs, food and plenty of wine!
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