You can follow Cathryn Wellner on Twitter @Storyroute. Here’s what she sent us about her part of the country.
When Kelowna sun makes hovering over the computer hard, even someone as connected to a laptop as I am enjoys a mini-vacation. We already live in something of a paradise here in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Our communities are scattered like beads along the 135-km length of Lake Okanagan (map). The valley even offers some of the best weather in this climate-challenged country.
One of my favorite destinations for a day’s outing is the Naramata Bench, a plateau that lies along the southeast corner of the lake. The “Bench” designation is relatively new, linked to the transition from a fruit-growing region to a setting for vineyards and destination wineries.
Naramata named for a beloved wife
The land is traditional territory for the Okanagan people. When the Cariboo Gold Rush lured thousands of hungry miners north, cattlemen discovered the South Okanagan had miles of bunch grass to fatten livestock.
Plentiful water and a relatively mild climate made farming attractive. Settlers gradually spread out throughout the Okanagan Valley. One of those was John Moore Robinson. The Manitoba newspaper editor purchased a ranch he called Peachland and began selling off parcels for orchards. He went on to found a town named after the ranch, another he called Summerland, and then, in 1907, Naramata.
Moore got the name through a medium, who channeled the spirit of a Sioux Indian Chief. The chief spoke of his beloved wife, Nar-ra-mat-tah (“smile of Manitou”). Moore was so impressed he knew he had a name for the town.
Village of Naramata
But it wasn’t the history that drew me there recently. Friends were visiting from Christchurch, New Zealand. I’d met them through a couple who live here in the Okanagan. They had been so welcoming when my partner and I stopped en route to Australia that I jumped at the chance to return a little of their hospitality.
We stopped first at the north end of our tour, in the village of Naramata, where we had lunch reservations at the Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa. The Cobblestone Restaurant there prides itself on the fresh ingredients (some from their own garden) and carefully paired wines they offer. Our lunch choices were enhanced with local asparagus, greens, walnuts, and a selection of cheeses from the boutique cheesery tucked into the nearby Poplar Grove Vineyard.
Our visitors were travel weary so we did not take the time to wander around the village or stop by Naramata Centre. I’ve taught intergenerational storytelling classes at the Centre, threading the labyrinth and enjoying the lake from the nearby beach. So if we’d had more time, I’d have wanted to stop at a couple of my favorite haunts.
One is the Village Grounds. I’m a fan of good coffee so could never quite accustom myself to the brew-and-sit brown liquid served along with the otherwise delicious fare at the Centre. I’d tuck my notes for the day’s session and my trusty Moleskine notebook into my pack and walk over to the village’s haven for java addicts. Their breakfast and lunch offerings look like standard fare on the menu, but the quality of the ingredients, some special touches, and an appreciation of fresh, wholesome food lifts them above the ordinary.
My other stop would have been Shades of Linen Clothing. Friends who know I’m a reluctant shopper will likely be surprised to know this little shop is a favorite of mine. The locally made, natural-fibre, simply styled clothing from this little shop is attractive, durable, and comfortable. Besides, how often do we get a chance to buy directly from the designer and seamstress, at affordable prices?
Wineries along the Naramata Bench
Except for a road more suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles, the only route in and out of Naramata is the one that leaves Highway 97 in Penticton and winds through small farms, vineyards and wineries. Perspective changes what we see. No one minded having to travel back through sloping farms and vistas that stretch for miles along the lake and the surrounding hills.
We traveled past wineries with such quirky names as Elephant Island, Black Widow, Laughing Stock, and Therapy Vineyards. Our winery destination was the one that welcomed Frank the Baggage Handler, when the anatomically correct sculpture fell victim to some overly sensitive citizens of nearby Penticton. Some of the good burgers figured public money should not be spent on full frontal nudity.
The Baggage Handler (whose nickname, Frank, came later) was the eye of a storm, the victim of vandalism, and a magnet for mocking press reports. The talented sculptor, Michael Hermesh, likely felt as if he’d been thrown into a blender on high speed.
The whole episode makes fascinating reading. Fortunately, the good folk at Red Rooster Winery welcomed Frank. Now he stands mute, surrounded by bags, both icon and piece of fine art. He is likely one of the most photographed sculptures on the Bench, along with the mermaid who swims nearby.
Within the walls of the winery that welcomed Frank are some of the Okanagan’s finest estate wines, as well as a gallery that features a rotating display of local art. Like other Okanagan vineyards with limited production, Red Rooster offers a wine club that gives members access to fine wines and a bi-monthly addition to the oenophile’s bragging rights.
A day wasn’t nearly enough to sample all the delights of the Naramata Bench, but at least we could give a sampling of the best to our Kiwi guests. As for those of us who live in the Okanagan Valley, we’re keeping the spectacular entrances to our little paradise open. Come for a visit.