Wine On at Save On Foods
by Chris Dias
You don’t need a vacation to Sonoma or Tuscany to experience wine country when there are over 300 wineries in BC. In August of 2016, my girlfriend and I embarked on our first (and not last) full-fledged viticulture-themed vacation, traveling from Prince George to Osoyoos. My girlfriend ran up the tally as we unpacked on our return. We had acquired 120 bottles from sixty wineries.
That might have been a tad excessive.
What’s the biggest lesson to take back from such a trip?
For one, don’t feel pressured to buy wine from every winery, because you may end up trying to squeeze over a hundred bottles into a Nissan Versa Note, a car the size of a Dixie cup that’s so underpowered, it has trouble crossing the painted lines on the road. The irony was that two months later, the Spruceland Save-On opened its Wines of British Columbia department.
Such a vacation is worth it if you have the time, though you may not be able to afford every bottle, and if you could, the transport could be impractical given vehicle temperatures and distances traveled. This is where the Wines of BC at Save-On comes in. Not only can you acquire the wines you couldn’t get while on vacation, but you can also replace empty souvenirs without the burden of having to repeat a vacation (darn). But even more than that, Save-On allows those incapable of the journey the opportunity to see what fuss is about. There is a common saying that dining on the cuisine of a nation equates visiting it; this extends to wine as well. Only here, it’s not some broad cultural swathe but rather the focus of a particular location, and in some situations, a particular winemaker. What makes the Wines of BC so essential is that it truly embodies the broad collection of wine unique to BC without distraction or compromise.
The average liquor store will only offer a handful of BC wine; even the largest stores can only scrape the surface, preferring to focus on the recognizable brands. Wines of BC offers bottles found nowhere outside the wineries making them. Allow me only to give you the briefest examples of such wineries you could visit in the Okanagan, wineries represented by the Wines of British Columbia at Save On.
The desert between Osoyoos and Oliver is populated by some of the largest wineries in the country, spread across a twenty-minute drive. You can find Burrowing Owl, Cassini Cellars, Road 13, Church and State, and Hester Creek, the latter having a local connection. It feels less like British Columbia and more like Southern California, including the potential temperatures in the summer. Although you may expect to purchase bottles from quite a few of those, you may be shocked by one sure to earn your business, Desert Hills.
Desert Hills appears quite reserved, with only its picturesque vineyards to add any grandiosity. Tanned ceramic roof tiles are the only mark of pageantry amongst the concrete yards and garage doors. Inside, you are welcomed by an immense tasting and a memorable host who will blow you away with his charisma and knowledge of winemaking. A consummate salesman, he will expertly pour, swirl, and extol the virtues of his collection. You will swallow everything, words and wine.
Unlike other regions, Okanagan Falls can be a little tricky to navigate. Kraze Legz, Wild Goose, and See Ya Later Ranch are all worthwhile destinations, but most tourists will drive up the east side of Skaha Lake, and hit up the six famous wineries including Painted Rock, Pentage, and Blasted Church. However, the most beautiful view of all is claimed by Nighthawk. It’s a narrow margin, I will admit when you consider Bench 1775 or Arrowleaf. But at the end, Nighthawk takes the top prize. There’s a valley with a lake sitting at the base. Vineyards are crawling up to the winery. A solemn log house fringing freshly cut grassy hills. This place is incredible, and if you are coming out this direction for See Ya Later Ranch (another must-see location), hitting up another justifies the diversion even more. The wine is good as well, an obvious requirement.
It cannot be stressed more how consolidated this region is. The drive along the Naramata Bench is maybe seven minutes. Maybe. And in that time, you’ll pass thirty wineries that you’ll notice, overlooking the ones you missed while lamenting the previous thought. You can see many of them as you drive by, their parking lots just an expansion of the road without a curb. Smaller estate wineries only have their signature buildings and their passion, lacking the funds and infrastructure to build great architectural testaments to viticulture. And there are such wineries to be found here—Terravista, Serendipity, and Hillside. However, there is no place I could recommend more than D’Angelo. Ignore the view. Ignore the pageantry. Ignore the architecture. It’s about the people; it’s about engagement. D’Angelo is the exemplification of a perfect winery. Sal D’Angelo, in fact, and that’s why I love privately owned wineries. There is no filtration, no suppression of passion, no performance.
The Vatican of BC wine, which can be divided into four regions. To the west, you have the icons of Mission Hill and Quails Gate. To the north, Ex Nihilo and Gray Monk await you. Tantalus and Cedar Creek sit in the south. However, the wines many people forget but shouldn’t are the Fab Five in the east, including my personal favorite, The Vibrant Vine.
From the outside, Vibrant Vine is unassuming, Inside, within a minute, you’ll figure someone had slipped you LSD. I can’t say for certain that the idea for The Vibrant Vine came about via recreational drug use, but I’m going to assume something stronger than Advil was involved. Even with 3D glasses off (yes), the winery is a colorful mélange of animals and landscapes. The star wine is the Whoops 2015, named after a mistake in its creation when it’s label was wrapped upside down. One of these days, I will buy all the bottles just to keep in a collection.
…bottles, I might stress, which are all available at the Wines of BC at Spruceland’s Save On, and nowhere else in town. The department runs tastings as often as it can, and there is rarely a moment I go in where I don’t get to sample something new. It’s worth a visit, as are the wineries Save-On represents. Begin your journey.