A sneak peak at the Okanagan Valley’s brightest jewel.
Looking for something off the beaten path to do this autumn? How about a visit to Canada’s verdant breadbasket- the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan is a sun-drenched agricultural valley that produces some of the world’s best stone fruits, tomatoes, and of course, wine. I recently spent a day educating myself on the unique terroir of the Okanagan that makes it so suitable for certain grapes- Cabernet Franc is one of them, Gewürztraminer is another- and I came away convinced that Tinhorn Creek Winery in particular is world-class enough to warrant a visit by oenophiles across the globe.
Tinhorn’s winemaker, Sandra Oldfield, is a powerhouse in the nicest way possible. She graduated from UC Davis’ esteemed Department of Viticulture and Enology in 1994 and is now one of the few women in the world at the helm of her own winery. In addition to making wine, Oldfield and her husband Kenn are extremely devoted to sustainable living, so much so that Tinhorn Creek enjoys the distinction of being named Canada’s first carbon neutral winery. Tinhorn Creek’s green efforts range from the lightweight glass bottles they have manufactured in Seattle to the high tech “Bokashi” composting system they have implemented to handle the food waste in the winery’s restaurant, Miradoro. As further evidence of Oldfield’s powerhouse status, she is a certified master composter- who knew such a thing existed?
Tinhorn Creek’s tasting room and restaurant are located mid-way up a grape-sown hill and the view goes on for miles. It’s the kind of place you want to spend some time soaking in, which is exactly what they encourage, offering a self-guided tour through the vineyard, and a more adventuresome further up the hillside that goes past the ruins of the old Tinhorn Creek stamp mill, some 100 years old. Attention to detail is the name of the game at Tinhorn, with no detail left unnoticed, from the shady cool-off zone for “hot dogs” to the enormous pig-roasting cage equipped with giant paella pans meant to keep crowds full and happy.
One important distinction between tasting in the Okanagan and tasting in Washington Wine Country is that in the Okanagan, vineyard owners grow their own grapes (by and large) whereas in Washington, we source them from a handful of growers. This shows in the quality of the wine at Tinhorn, because the vineyard manager, very competent and always smiling Australian import Andrew Moon, assumes total control over the grapes, from their inception straight through to crush. It also makes for a beautiful tasting experience, one where it is entirely possible to sip a glass of Pinot Gris and at the same time stroll through the vineyard plucking a few Pinot Gris grapes for comparison.
The wines themselves are award-winning, here is Tinhorn’s Wall of Fame, if you will:
But it speaks volumes about the way they run the winery when you notice this mirror “award” hanging in pride of place amid all the others:
Tinhorn recently opened Miradoro restaurant in order to provide a complete experience for guests looking to linger throughout the day. It is truly one of the best winery restaurants I have ever been to, hitting all the right notes to complement the wines and setting. The restaurant features a wraparound balcony equipped with misters for hot days and heaters for when it’s cool. They’ll even tuck a blanket around you for a truly cozy and luxurious lunch.
The fare is as hand-crafted as their wines, showcasing produce from the valley and local angus steak (must order) that is finished on wine, of all things! The pizzas were surprisingly authentic to what you might find in Italy, and if you ask nicely and enjoy heat, they’ll bring out some ghost chili pepper powder for sprinkling that will have you crying tears of hot and happy joy. The food is intriguing enough to satisfy the more critical among us, yet it’s presented casually, without unnecessary fanfare that might detract from Tinhorn’s wines.
If you’re looking for a truly impressive destination weekend that will get you in the good graces of everyone you invite, run (or drive, or fly!), don’t walk, to the Okanagan and spend at least a day taking in all Tinhorn has to offer. You can thank me with a bottle of Tinhorn’s unbelievable, 100% varietal Cabernet Franc, and be sure to ask the Oldfield’s the story of that wine while you’re there.