Bigger than ever, Okanagan Spring Wine Festival gets creative

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      If you’re loving spring in Metro Vancouver, there’s more of a good thing in the Okanagan.

      “The air is fragrant and the valley is green,” enthuses Blair Baldwin, general manager of the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, on the line from Kelowna. In fact, he notes, when the first Okanagan Spring Wine Festival was introduced in 1994, it was almost named the Bud Break Wine Festival in celebration of the end of the vineyards’ dormant period and the rebirth of the grapes.

      Fast forward 20 years, when the festival still celebrates spring but in a much bigger way. Back then, it was a daylong event with 16 participating wineries. This year, the festival spans 10 days and involves 119 wineries; it kicks off next Thursday (May 1) and runs until May 11. Significantly, the events aren’t just about tasting wine.

      “Twenty years ago, many wineries thought an event was, ‘Well, we’re open,’ ” Blair says with a laugh. He acknowledges that the Okanagan is seen as a summer destination, but he maintains that the shoulder season is a great time to visit because it’s not only a beautiful time of year but quieter. That means less expensive hotel rates, more opportunity for interaction with the winemakers, and easier access to festival tickets than during the busier fall wine festival.

      “The wineries work very hard at creating innovative events,” he says, explaining that they do so to attract visitors.

      The festival’s website lists more than 70 events from which to choose. The signature wine events include the Best of Varietal Wine Awards on May 1 and the WestJet Wine Tastings on May 2 and 3. Many wineries will be premiering their new-release white wines.

      For those who want to do more than sip and spit, other events have built-in culinary components. For example, Covert Farms will host an outdoor pig roast on May 3 with entertainment and the latest releases from the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country wineries. Later that day, Hillside Estate will host an oyster roast spotlighting Pinot Gris for its Pinot and Pearls reception.

      Another variation is combining wine with more activity than merely lifting a glass to your lips. On May 10, there will be a free afternoon lawn party with live music at Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery; guests are invited to bring a picnic, kick off their shoes, and learn the Charleston. That same day, Cedar Creek Estate Winery will host a light hike and progressive picnic along the trail that winds through its vineyards.

      According to Baldwin, spring is when many wineries in the area release their white wines. This year, it also marks the opening of several new wineries and tasting rooms.

      Near Oliver, these include Culmina Family Estate Winery, TIME Estate Winery (which is founded by Okanagan icon Harry McWatters), and Kismet Estate Winery. Privato Vineyard & Winery will debut in Kamloops. And Kelowna’s Sandhill wines, which has been offering its tastings at Calona Vineyards, is slated to open its own tasting room over the latter half of the festival.

      To peruse the events, see