With more than 200 wineries and dozens of award-winning pours, the Okanagan is a dream destination for wine lovers.
Yet while it's one thing to sip your way from one vineyard to the next, it's quite another to sit with a glass of of Cabernet in one hand and a paint brush in the other while overlooking robust vines that slope their way to Lake Okanagan as a trained artist shares her tips and techniques on how to capture that very breathatkaing scene on a canvas you get to take home with you.
A company called Okanagan Experiental Tourism is about just that: creating experiences that are unlike any other. A painting class with Penticton artist Jenny Long set at Red Rooster Winery is one of them.
Long specializes in abstract-expressionist portraits in her own work but brings things down to a more accessible level for painters of all skill sets in these unforgettable outdoor sessions. She has a warm manner that makes those of us who got a "D" in Grade 9 art feel comfortale enough to pick up the paint brush. She encourages people to use other tools too, like palette knives, to create texture and teaches them how to come up with affecting new colours.
Being able to pause between strokes to drink fine wine while taking in the Naramata Bench winery's views of the vineyards, lake, and mountains makes for a few hours that are somehow relaxing, fun, silly, inspiring, stimulating, and invigorating all at once. You may or may not want to hang your finished acrylic-on-canvas in your own home once you're done with it, but at least you'll have had a hoot painting it.
I got to experience the Art in the Vineyard session as a guest during a visit to the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. Now in its 36th year, the fest, presented by the Okanagan Wine Festival Society, features events like a grape-stomping party, winemakers' dinners, brunches and lunches paired with award-winning wines, and more.
Back this year was a Blind Wine and Cheese Social, where participants had to guess what they were sipping, with wines placed in brown paper bags to prevent any cheating. Then there was an evening called Alexis de Portneuf Presents: The Young Chefs held at Okanagan College, in which 12 apprentice chefs from throughout the province competed to creante a unique small plate consisting of at least 20 percent Alexis de Portneuf cheese from Quebec. Each dish was paired with an Okanagan wine.
The festival finished off with Cropped, a massive wine tasting and farmers market held at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. It featured more than 80 wineries (including Arrowleaf Cellars, Clos du Soleil Winery, Wild Goose Vineyards, Meadow Vista Honey Wines, Lake Breeze Vineyards, and Burrowing Owl Winery ) buskers, food stations, and dozens of vendors offering everything from beard oil to maple syrup.
With so many diverse wineries to check out in the Okanagan (like the newly-launched-but-already-winning-awards Ciao Bella Winery; the sustainability-centred, chemical-and-pesticide-free Tantalus Vineyards, B.C.'s first LEED-certified winery; Westbank's exquisite Quali's Gate Winery, with its stunning Old Vines restaurant and lakeside accommodations, all open year-round; the contemporary Poplar Grove Winery, with barrel tastings and an exquisite collection of framed letters and old paintbrushes from some of Canada's top artists, including Gordon Smith, Mary Pratt, Ken Danby, and Alex Colville), early autumn is an especially choice time to visit the region. Winemakers are in full harvest (volunteer grape-pickers, anyone?) while brilliant fall reds, oranges, and yellows abound all around you.
If the crisp fall air doesn't make you want to reach for a glass of wine, time spent grapeside in front of a blank canvas might.