There’s nothing like the first T-shirt sighting of the season.
Having just arrived from winter-weary Toronto, I pull an abrupt double-take when three sleeveless Kamloopsians stroll into view in early April. They too seem surprised, but not by my woolly sweater. It’s my ride – Tastefull Excursions’ new wine-touring van – that turns their heads.
“Must’ve taken a wrong turn in Kelowna,” one says, referring to the Okanagan Valley, an hour down Highway 97, where 120-plus vintners comprise “the northernmost serious wine region in the world,” according to Travel + Leisure.
It soon becomes clear the magazine should have looked further north. Granted, viticulture is new to the Thompson River basin around Kamloops, with 2010 marking the first vintage year in what’s known as Thompson Country. “Wine region” is a stretch, even with more wineries rumoured to be joining the four already in place.
That’s where the neighbouring Shuswap comes in. The Thompson-Shuswap, as the B.C. Wine Institute calls it, is home to a dozen licensed vintners that are winning awards with rare cool-climate varietals such as Ortega, Maréchal Foch and siegerrebe. Travellers familiar with better-known terroir won’t believe where these grapes thrive – on pine-covered mountainsides and in hoodoo-lined valleys – not to mention the calibre of what’s bottled.
Combine this burgeoning route with an astonishingly active farm-to-table scene encompassing eateries, bakeries, markets and a wide-ranging “Full Circle Farm Tour” guide, and, well, let’s just say my T-shirts have become noticeably tighter.
My tasting tour was inspired by a January visit to Sun Peaks Resort, a 45-minute drive north of "the Loops." I was there for two reasons: To ski the snowy Monashees, and sip my way around the 16th annual Winter Okanagan Wine Festival. I had expected to be charmed by the 10-day event's namesake offerings, but was shocked that labels much closer to Sun Peaks were making such great strides.
"We got into this because we tried the Harper's Trail wines and they blew us away," explains Tastefull Excursions owner Maatje Stamp-Vincent as her 11-passenger Mercedes-Benz pulls away from my hotel. "No one else around here is doing this, so we just went for it."
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