There’s no doubt that the Golden Mile, Oliver & Osoyoos, is a premier grape growing sub-GI offering both reds and white varietals not commonly found in the rest of the Okanagan wine valley.
I’m located in Kelowna which means Riesling and Pinot Noir at every stop. I craved something different yet still local but making my way down south to the Golden Mile Wine Bench takes a bit more planning. Especially because many of these wineries recommend reservations and tastings are a bit more belaboured than what I am used to at central and northern Okanagan wineries.
Typically wineries offer standing tastings that can last 15 to 30 minutes. On the Golden Mile Wine Bench they do things a little differently but that’s because they are very different than the rest of the valley. Here’s a few wineries that offer spectacular tasting experiences and what you can expect in terms of cost, time and taste that makes them stand out.
Road 13 Vineyards
I was invited by Colley Communications Inc. to do a premier tasting experience at Road 13 Vineyards in exchange for coverage of my experience. Little did I know that it would be my favourite winery of the entire visit.
A faux castle overlooks the vineyards and mountains cascading towards Osoyoos. The property has roots dating back to the 1920s when Honest John Oliver cultivated the land. Road 13 was purchased by the Luckhurst family in 2002 then exchanged hands with Anthony von Mandl in 2018. Manager Joe Luckhurst (second generation) guided us through the buildings, history, sparkling wine cave, technology new and old, as well as all the wines on offer. Despite Von Mandl’s purchase, Luckhurst insists that Mandl wants each of his newly acquired properties to keep their own identity and I can attest that they are doing a good job.
Although the architecture is beautifully set within the Golden Mile Bench landscape it is not as intimidating as the grandeur of Mission Hill. The tastings are intimate, relaxed and straight forward.
The standout for me was the Jackpot Syrah 2016 with notes of ripe plums, dark chocolate and cherry as well as the spiciness I associate with Syrah/Shiraz.
The tasting experience is the most affordable of all the wineries I visited that weekend and the wine prices are varied. Reservations recommended.
Tastings: 6 wines for $5 per person, waived with purchase of bottle or $15 per person for premier tasting in the Road 13 lounge
Viognier 2017 ($21)
Jackpot Syrah 2016 ($44) Currently Sold Out
Blind Creek Collective Petit Verdot 2016 ($65.29)
A small tasting room perched just above Road 13 with a stellar view of the valley, Checkmate Winery is an expensive place. Tastings are $20 which isn’t bad when you compare our valley to Napa or Sonoma, and these wines came to compete with the world’s best. Home to the only 100 point wine in Canada awarded to the Little Pawn Chardonnay 2015 ($110), right now you can only purchase a bottle as part of a tasting flight set which means you’ll need to lay out $330 for 3 bottles.
Odds are the tasting room won’t be pouring it and if you’re able to snag a tasting reservation, or squeeze in between the luxury cars and walk-in, then you best taste everything because most of us won’t buy a $100 bottle of wine.
Tastings: $20 per person waived with purchase of a bottle.
Reservations highly recommended if not required.
Little Pawn Chardonnay 2015 ($110)
Any and all wines that you can because this place ain’t cheap
Toto, we aren’t in Kelowna anymore.
An admittedly belaboured tasting experience with lots of detail about how the owners of Culimina Estate Winery (Don and Elaine Triggs, who sold the winery to Arterra Wines Canada in July 2019) acquired the land, decided which varietals to plant, land development and the science behind it all, this tasting is for wine nerds but then again why else are you here? Unlike Checkmate, this is a seated tasting experience and you can expect to spend an hour tasting their wines with healthy 2 ounce pours per glass of which we received a total of 7.
Reservations recommended but they were kind enough to squeeze us in without one.
Tastings: $10 per person with $5 of it waived if you purchase a bottle
Saignée Rosé 2018 ($24)
Lunch Break at Terrafina by RauDZ at Hester Creek Vineyards
All this wine tasting will make you hungry and after 3 wineries you’ll need something to soak up all that booze so you can keep going. Yep, we aren’t done yet!
I suggest making reservations at Terrafina by RauDZ and, if you can, sneak out on the patio to enjoy the Okanagan sunshine.
This rustic ray of sunshine with Italian inspired dishes, we were able to sample a hearty brunch to fill our bellies. A sinful breakfast pizza with egg and hollandaise, a stellar eggs benny, and DIY charcuterie options, there is something for everyone at this crowd pleasing restaurant.
Black Hills Estate Winery
Sipping wine poolside at another seated tasting is just the thing you need on a hot Okanagan summer day. And don’t forget, in the southern Okanagan we are in desert country (watch out for rattlesnakes), how else do you think we can grow these big bold reds? Only in a hot climate of course and the Black Sage Bench offers just that.
If you want bold reds then check out Black Hills Estate Winery. While there are some excellent white wine options, I again opt for the Syrah, the ever popular Nota Bene (sells out each year), and the Carmenere. You won’t find these reds anywhere else in the Okanagan, at least not realized in their fullest expression. That’s the beauty of this official (and was the Okanagan’s first) sub-appellation; premier land with a terroir uniquely its own.
Tasting: Various options available to suit budget & occasion from $10-$50 per person.
2016 Roussanne ($30)
2016 Syrah ($40)
2017 Carmenere ($60 but often a membership exclusive)
Platinum Bench Estate Winery & Artisan Bread Co.
It’s not often that I recommend a wine place for its bread but this is one of those times. Bread and wine tasting, Platinum Bench Estate Winery & Artisan Bread Co. was made for me.
A classic “shotgun” wine tasting experience similar to what we’re used to here in Kelowna – find a spot at the tasting bar and you’re in! – these boutique wines are paired alongside their house-made breads. You’ll notice locals, bicyclists and the picnic-savvy, coming in just to grab a loaf or three of their freshly baked bread made daily by master baker Fiona Duncan.
This is the perfect spot to end your wine tasting experience, especially if you’ve already had too much wine and just want to munch on some bread. So maybe this is more of a foodie stop but you’ll thank me!
Tasting: $5 per person waived with bottle purchase
What to try:
My favourite pairing was the Gorgonzola & Fig Preserve Epi with the Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)
The Okanagan is an incredible varied wine valley for its size. Sub-appellations like the Golden Mile Bench and adjacent Black Sage Bench offer unique wine varietals that can only be grown to their fullest expression in specific geographical areas of the world. We are extremely lucky to have so many within a short drive of each other making it a gem and truly worthy of Huffington Post’s latest praise as the world’s best.
Let’s cheers to that!
There are so many wineries on the Golden Wine Bench worth trying. You can even check out Ricco Bambino’s latest addition, Crooked Crown Vineyards (newly opened!).
I’m curious, do you have any favourite southern Okanagan wines/wineries?