The Road Trip
Saturday July 7th was a memory making kind of day, not only because of everything that went right but also because of a few things that didn’t. Full of accidental purpose and gentle nudges it was determined to remind us that simple is better than complicated especially when it comes to women, road trips and cars.
Many times, we’d pondered turning off Route 97 at the Highway 3 Junction taking the Similkameen Loop to the border but whenever we arrived at the crossroad our intentions were waylaid by a lack of time. We knew that taking the slow road through the picturesque landscape of the Similkameen Valley deserved to be more than a detour, it needed to be a dedicated road trip where it alone was the destination
Times Like These
That’s where our thoughts were when we turned the radio on to the acoustic version of “Times Like These” by the Foo Fighters. “I'm a one-way motorway, I'm the road that drives away, follows you back home”. Slow and melodic it set the tone for the morning providing the perfect backdrop for a fast car, slow play kind of day. Keen to get moving we powered down the convertible top taking time to replace the toolkit in the trunk with a cooler for our purchases, we are responsible like that.
Music blasting, we hit Route 97 anticipating the picture-perfect splendor and succulent bounty awaiting us. The trip from Kelowna to Keremeos is a scenic hour and a half drive featuring some of the most spectacular views in the Okanagan but today was not about exploring the Okanagan, it was all about discovering the Slimilameen’s hidden gems. Clos du Soleil, Corcelettes and Orofino Wineries, Grist Mills Heritage Gardens, River Stone and Vanessa Wineries, and Forbidden Fruit were all planned stops on our ambitious daytrip.
Clos du Soleil Winery
Our first stop was Clos du Soleil, a quaint winery nestled into the landscape of the Valley. A simple tasting room looks over the organic vineyard whose vines were laden with young grapes, the promise of terroir driven wines embedded deep in their DNA. Founded in 2007 this artisanal winery feels older and wiser than its years. Grounded on philosophies of minimal-interventionist winemaking and biodynamic viticulture, their wines are complex yet uniquely uncomplicated which speaks to our palettes and preference for honest agriculture.
We were treated to a sampling of their Estate Reserve Red, which we purchased, as well as a traditional tasting and quick tour of the cellar from the miniature catwalk. We left with an assortment of red and white wines which included the Syrah and Celestial, a rich and full-bodied Bordeaux style wine crafted to hold its own with any dish. Satisfied we had chosen well, we thanked our hosts taking a quick peek at the neighbouring B&B before moving on.
Corcelettes Winery was highly recommended, deservedly so. Reminiscent of old-world Tuscan wineries it is elegant, romantic and produces wines characteristic of a long, hot season and rugged terroir. The tasting room was built in 2017 and provides a cool and inviting reprieve from the penetrating heat. When we first arrived, we were the only ones in the tasting room providing us the good fortune of having Lisa to ourselves. She was a consummate host leading us through a private tour of their impressive wine portfolio.
All of their wines were excellent but we were especially smitten with the Estate Pinot Noir. Harvested from the heat radiating cliffs of the vineyard the vines are rooted in Stemwinder soils which creates the intense minerality and bold character that lingers long after the swallow.
We purchased a case, punctuated with a few bottles of their $21.00 Pinot Noir, which is an entirely different fruit forward experience but a stand out in its own right. We lingered at Corcelettes, learning the nuances of growing figs, Swiss life. and Similkameen hospitality before heading off to Orofino.
Orofino Winery is a hidden gem every wine lover travelling the region must visit. We rolled into the parking lot to discover a homemade lemonade stand and young teenage boy tossing hoops in the breezeway as the vineyard dog lay watching his athleticism from the shade of a nearby tree. He flashed us a welcoming smile as we promised to stop for a glass on the way out.
At its core, Orofino is simply Similkameen good. Canada’s first straw bale tasting room it runs on solar panels, donates tasting fees to the local SPCA and the owners hail from Saskatchewan! Located in the Organic Wine Capital of Canada, Orofino is committed to, as they say, “making wines of place”. Working with six local farmers, it crafts award-winning wines that depict the unique terroirs of the vineyards in which the grapes are grown.
We especially enjoyed their Scout Vineyard Riesling and Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon - partially because its vineyard was formerly a gravel pit that doubled up as the local make-out spot for young lovers but mostly because it really is luscious, spicy, juicy, and lip-smacking.
The Grist Mill and Gardens Keremeos
We arrived at Grist Mill at the tail end of their annual Teddy Bear Picnic. Ravenous, we shared a modest but flavourful charcuterie board, delicious grilled veggie and grilled cheese sandwich as well as a special little tomato flatbread. All ingredients are sourced from local farmers or prepared from items grown in their own gardens. We ate quickly, carving out time to wander through the historic gardens strewn with children and bandaged teddies. The gardens are delightful, as is Grist Mills historic story part of which includes the once idle water mill that has been lovingly restored and usefully purposed to grind organic wheat for the kitchen.
A cute little campground lies nestled in the shade of the cottonwood trees next to the meandering Keremeos Creek. There are eleven creek side sites; power hook-ups, water and picnic tables.
After getting food fueled and back on track we set our GPS for River Stone. The Similkameen runs on a slower frequency than the Okanagan and we were digging it’s laid back vibe as we approached a cool geodesic dome, home to Twisted Hills Craft Cider. Making a split-second decision to stop we cranked the wheel hard left cruising into a shaded parking spot near the orchard picnic tables.
Twisted Hills Craft Cider
The first stand alone cidery in the Similkameen, this organic gem is simply as good as it gets. Jo Schneider, a fifth-generation orchardist grew up in Cawston and Kaylan Madeira a first-generation Canadian grew up in Oliver. Together, they decided to stay in the community planting their own acreage in cider specific apple varieties, dessert apples, pears, and cherries. By 2017 they purchased the upper acreage that is now home to Ciderdome, the tasting room, an abundance of awards and Twisted Hills Craft Cider.
All their offerings are amazing, refreshing and true to character. Practicing organic methods of farming and cidermaking they are the only cidery in BC to have a full line up of Certified Organic ciders made with Organic Estate Grown Cider Apples. Convinced that we had indeed found our newest favourite patio drinks we selected Glo Haven, Paradise Pear and Pacific Gem – which filled the last three spaces in the cooler in our trunk. Wanting more but knowing space was limited we exchanged business cards and promised to connect – than we were off. Or so we thought….
A Lesson Learned
Sometimes the best laid plans are unceremoniously interrupted, this time ours were waylaid by a broken-down Beamer. Our trusted travel companion simply refused to start preferring the shade of a gnarly old apple tree to the open road. Doing what Vagabonds do best we popped the hood and gazed in at her shiny engine. It looked good to us, so again we tried to coax her to start. Nothing – lights on, music blasting, all things go but the car. Joel, our DD, believing it may be the battery, off-loaded our booty to check. News to us, the battery’s in the trunk next to where the tool box and booster cables used to be. Nothing left to do but call for back up and Instagram our peeps for suggestions.
Seeing our post on her feed, Kaylan our host and cider-maker extraordinaire, responded to our SOS arriving with chilled glasses, complimentary cider, and Jo in tow.
He was great, cleaning our very dirty battery terminals and making sure nothing had shimmied lose. For an hour he tried everything to get the car running before determining that maybe, the starter wasn’t engaging. Hum, I thought to myself, just had that replaced last month – couldn’t be.
Hubby arrived just as it started to sprinkle! In a final attempt to coax the car into action he pulled out the abandoned cables, winked at me and applied the boost before saying, you know it’s the starter. Loading our wine into the back of the pick-up truck I nodded recalling the quick left-hand turn, nothing new but enough to loosen a few wires in a gal that’s not as young as she once was. I smiled, thanking my dear old friend for holding on until we were at a safe place, keeping company with new friends, while sharing amazing cider under sheltering orchard trees. We will definitely return to this special Valley to continue our tour and visit old friends.
When the tow truck arrived, I watched my car load as the mornings music echoed in my mind, “I'm a one-way motorway, I'm the road that drives away, follows you back home”. Today it was my turn to follow baby on the slow road home.
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