There’s a point in the life of every trip when you feel just right. The travelling is behind you, and tomorrow is ages away. The present is the story. And it opens out before you as a glorious uncomplicated moment. Nothing matters but the people you’re with, the laughter, the view, the wine, and the changing colours of sunset.
It happened for us at Tin Horn Creek in the Okanagan Valley. Sonya Konig, who runs the Tin Horn Creek Wine Lovers’ Club, had dropped in with her girlfriend Claudia to see how we were faring. It was difficult to say anything other than just perfect, given we were ensconced in a luxurious guest suite with views out over the valley. The conversation rolled along nicely, out came a bottle of the local produce courtesy of the Tin Horn Creek Winery (notes made at the time tell me it was a very tasty pinot gris), and before we knew it we were having a grand old time, carrying on as if the four of us had known each other since childhood.
Dusk crept in and joined the party, displaying a palette of colours perfectly suited to this wine country: purples, reds and faded yellows blanketing the vineyards below us and the hills beyond. It was a perfect moment, capping a near perfect day.
Located in the south west of British Columbia, and sharing a border with the state of Washington USA, the Thompson Okanagan region is an emerging wine district with close to 40 wineries and 4,200 acres (1,700 hectares) of vineyards stretching from the southern desert of Osoyoos up to Salmon Arm in the north. Many of the wines need a way to go before you could say they’re knockouts, but there’s nevertheless a good number of high quality wineries producing good quality drops.
Take Quail’s Gate Winery, not far from the regional centre of Kelowna. The cool climate conditions allow this producer to explore a pretty wide spectrum of flavours, from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc through to a gold medal-winning pinot noir. The wines here are a treat, as is the terrace restaurant with gorgeous views out over valley.
Nearby is the mightily impressive Mission Hill winery, where no expense has been spared in creating the look and feel of an old European monastery given over to the finer pleasures. New Zealand winemaker John Simes currently does the honours, and is responsible for a trophy-winning chardonnay and the winery’s flagship red, known as the Occulus. This blend of merlot, cabernet, and petit verdot is indeed a cracker, and well worth splurging on as a special occasion wine.
Looking for somewhere to stay? The Grand Okanagan Resort Waterfront Hotel is a good bet for those who want all the trimmings, while the gay-owned and operated Quail’s Nest Guesthouse provides a friendly welcome and a relaxed atmosphere, great breakfasts, private swimming pool, and handy reference point on local gay and lesbian life.
An excellent day of tastings, without the responsibility of driving, can be had with gay-friendly Okanagan Wine Country Tours. They’ll pick you up and ferry you around for the day, offer some local advice if needed, and even laugh at your jokes at the end of the trip. Now that’s service!
Further afield, but still within the Thompson Okanagan, you’ll find the peculiar desert region of Osoyoos. Peculiar because it doesn’t look like a desert should. There’s seems to be plenty of vegetation, albeit of a hardy kind, a lake, and yes, even a winery owned and operated by the First Nations Okanagan Band.
Here, at the Nk’Mip Cellars and the adjacent Nk’Mip Desert and Heritage Centre, visitors can experience a little of the cultural heritage of this First Nations group, and learn something about the ecosystem to boot. If that doesn’t interest you, ask about the two-spirited people, those fellow travellers who we might consider homosexual but who in Osoyoos culture were considered to embody two spirits, and who had special naming powers as a result.
It’s rattlesnake country out there, and bear country, and it originally belonged to the Osoyoos Indian band who, like indigenous people the world over, suffered hugely at the hands of white settlers. The Nk’Mip Heritage Centre and Winery is a community-owned and run operation, and represents a successful move by the Osoyoos band to regain some control over their land and their lives.
Gay life is not hard to find in this neck of the woods either. The Deer Path Lookout B&B is gay-owned and run, and is a stunning adobe-style residence with generously sized guest suites and a separate guest bungalow. A few days could be well spent here, enjoying the hiking trails by day, and the absolute peace at night. The South Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Association, a loose group of local queer folk, hold regular dances and special occasion events such as Halloween for those in the mood.
All roads inevitably lead back to Kelowna, home for a small but active gay and lesbian community, a couple of excellent restaurants (especially Fresco at 1560 Water Street), and the airport. Short-stay visitors usually fly in from Vancouver, hire a car, and spend four or five days on the hustings. It’s a very friendly destination, but also very family-themed. Those wanting to maximise the gay and lesbian angle, along with the food and wine aspect, need only time their visit outside of school holiday periods and do a little online research. Start with the Thompson Okanagan website at www.totabc.com, and for local gay info, visit the North Okanagan Gay & Lesbian Organisation at www.noglo.com, and the Okanagan Gay and Lesbian Business Association at www.gayokanagan.com.
Gay Canada Guide: www.gaycanadaguide.com
Tin Horn Creek Wine Lovers’ Club: phone (250) 498 3743
Deer Path Lookout B&B: phone (250) 497 6833
Grand Okanagan Resort Waterfront Hotel: phone (250) 763 4500
Quail’s Nest Guesthouse: phone (250) 769 9171
Okanagan Wine Country Tours: phone (250) 868 9463
Gay Australia Guide Dominic O’Grady travelled with assistance from the Canadian Tourism Commission. He is managing director of the Gay Travel Guides group, and publisher of the Gay Canada Guide. This column is supported by Gay Australia Guide. Send contributions by one month prior to publication. Phone 9380 4422 fax 9380 4262 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.