After three memorable days on the Naramata Bench, our itinerary tells us we are supposed to be heading west to Whistler. The Okanagan has sucked us in though so we add a quick side-trip to Kelowna in the northern part of the valley.
After an hour drive and a rather harrowing last 8 km up a sandy and surprisingly steep road, we pull out our mountain bikes and check out Myra Canyon, a segment of the Kettle Valley Trail best known for its wood-framed trestles and scenery. We are welcomed with volcanic rock, snow capped mountains, long stretches of tunnel, and numerous bridges (aka -trestles) connecting the trail.
The terrain is easier than picking up the trail from the Naramata Bench as noted by the plethora of families and retirees hiking and biking this stretch of the trail.
In a way, it feels like we are in a western themed ride at Disneyland with telegraph poles, donkey engines and accompanying placards explaining the history of the trail. Nevertheless, the views are breathtaking.
After the ride, we are faced with the types of hard decisions that one experiences when on vacation. Should we:
- Play golf - There are golf courses everywhere in Kelowna, some within a one block radius from one another. I would normally pick wine tasting over a maddening game of golf, but we scope out one golf course in particular that is a stand-out – The course winds through orchards. Golfers are literally playing in between clusters of fruit orchards with the mountains and lake in the backdrop.
- Or we can check out the highly-esteemed Mission Hill Winery, which came recommended by a Vancouver couple we met last summer. Their words verbatim: “This is the mac daddy of wineries.”
We decide to go the mac daddy route and opt for a side-trip visit to Mission Hill. As we enter the premises, I have to reorient myself and think – Am I sure we aren’t in Italy? The grounds are huge and immaculate.
Led by famed Seattle-based architect Tom Kundig, the goal of the six year project was to create an environment that would stack up against the architecture and vibe in Europe, yet also compliment the natural beauty of the area. I think they succeeded.
If I ever rob a bank, Kundig will build my pimped-out lair.
There are three distinct tasting areas with tons of retail merchandise in the center.
The long-haired twenty-something tasting associate spends a lot of time with us, giving us information not only on wine but also on the history of the estate. Seeing us in our bike clothes, he also gives us some local’s tips on good places to bike. Bonus.
After our tasting, we order a charcuterie and cheese plate to enjoy outside on the estate’s pristine premises.
As we enjoy our snacks, we see a strikingly gorgeous outdoor dining terrace, resembling a scene out of Monaco. We excitedly inquire about a table, but the joint is booked solid for the evening. After sporting a sad face and telling the staff this is our last evening in the Okanagan before heading to Whistler (a bit of a weak sob story if you ask me), victory is ours. The manager sets up a makeshift table for us.
We go with the tasting menu so we can enjoy the view for as long as we can. Each course is beautifully laid out and I respect the chef’s efforts to source locally (some of the produce originated from the estate’s own garden) and try out innovative cooking methods.
The starter dish is a hit as nothing quite beats an ensemble of fresh vegetables.
Our ravioli arrives double-plated, the bottom plate filled with mint so we can smell the aroma of the mint as we enjoy our braised rabbit open-faced pasta.
Not all of the dishes are a hit, though. The lamb is slightly overcooked and the foie gras is pretty, although tastes like carnauba wax instead of deliciously overfed liver of goose.
I have to admit – When I first stepped on the grounds of the gargantuan Roman-style Mission Hill, there was a part of me that wanted to not like the place because I feel like its sole objective is to blow my mind. All show and no substance, I surmise. After tasting some mighty fine wine, I relax my position. The 2001 Oculus, after all, scored 98 points.
The experience of eating my last meal of the day on that memorable terrace seals the deal. I can no longer resist. I like this place and will be back.
Tip: If you have the time, I recommend joining one of the daily tours. I hear the underground cellar is something else which doesn’t surprise me considering Kundig is a genius architect.