The wine glass in your hand holds a spicy pinot noir from the adjacent vineyard; the plate in front of you cradles roasted beets grown from the soil near your feet. It’s the first course at Home Block, the restaurant at CedarCreek Estate Winery in Kelowna — where the only thing that could compete with what’s on your table is what’s just beyond your table. You’re sitting above Okanagan Lake, with surrounding vineyards and orchards filling in dinner’s backdrop. And it’s fall, so the foliage is putting on its own spectacular show.
Kelowna’s reputation as a food and wine destination took root some 20 years ago, when local chef Rod Butters committed to serving local, seasonal ingredients long before “farm-to-table” became trendy. His restaurant, RauDZ Regional Table, is still dedicated to the concept, and others have followed suit. The growing number of wineries, craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries that rely on local fruits and grains have only elevated the city’s gustatory standing.
And though wining and dining here is excellent during any season, in autumn the city takes on those magical hues. It’s easier to get a reservation at top restaurants, to take your time at wine tastings. Here’s why (and where) you should eat and drink your way through Kelowna this fall.
With over 40 wineries pouring everything from cabernet franc to sauvignon blanc, the hardest part about a wine weekend in Kelowna is deciding which wineries to visit.
One reason Kelowna appeals to all wine drinkers is that wineries here welcome folks new to wine tasting. There are plenty of unpretentious spots to ask questions and learn about the wine-making process, such as Blind Tiger Vineyards with its speakeasy vibe, or Priest Creek Family Estate Winery, where the owner is happy to pour your wine and chat about how her kids help out at the adjacent vineyard. The tasting fees are usually modest, too, ranging from free to about $10 for four or five samples (and often refunded if you buy a bottle).
The city also has its share of estate wineries that boast some of the oldest vines in the valley. Tantalus Vineyards is renowned for its old-vine rieslings, while nearby St Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery makes fantastic pinot noirs and a jammy Maréchal Foch. Sperling Vineyards received its certified organic designation in 2017 (vines were first planted in 1920) and continues to produce a compelling range that includes an old-vine riesling, Foch, and pinot blanc and pinot gris blend.
No matter where you go, the vineyards will be busy with the fall grape harvest. Seeing giant crates of merlot or pinot gris grapes adds a layer of anticipation to your tasting experience, and it’s an opportunity to find out which varietals fared best for next year’s sipping.
From arugula to zucchini, so much grows in Kelowna’s Mediterranean climate — it’s no wonder the farm-to-table movement has taken off in recent years (with fresh produce availability peaking during harvest season). Though Chef Butters started the trend, the new generation of chefs continues this commitment by nurturing relationships with valley growers, farmers, ranchers, honey-makers, and bakers.
For a casual take on farm to table, Krafty Kitchen + Bar, opened by Top Chef Canada contestant Chris Shaften, delivers with a playful menu that marries retro apps like devilled eggs with comfort entrees, including truffled mac ‘n’ cheese and buttermilk fried chicken. The chuck burger never disappoints and comes with a thick slice of halloumi.
The latest restaurant serving up produce from valley farmers in innovative and delicious ways is plant-based Frankie We Salute You! Chef Brian Skinner’s “lox” — made from local carrots, chickpea fries, and grilled avocado with tempeh — are so flavourful you’ll forget about the foods they’re replacing.
Many wineries have restaurants onsite, so you can enjoy a meal that pairs estate wines with the valley’s bounty.
In West Kelowna, Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery is Kelowna’s original winery restaurant. Chef Roger Sleiman designs his delicious dishes with wine in mind — try the delicate BC halibut with the winery’s flagship chardonnay. Old Vines also has arguably the city’s best happy hour, with $5 glasses of wine and $8 tapas plates, offered weekdays between 2:30 and 5:30 starting October 12.
Grab a table at neighbouring Terrace, a patio restaurant open seasonally until mid-October at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery. The four-course dinner brims with BC delights such as sunchokes (a local root veggie), wild horseradish, and tender ribeye. The restaurant makes its own honey from onsite hives and partners with local foragers to source seasonal goodies like mushrooms and edible flowers.
Across the lake in south Kelowna, don’t miss the aforementioned Home Block at CedarCreek. Chef Neil Taylor uses seasonal ingredients from the winery’s outdoor garden, plus natural cooking techniques like burning wine-barrel staves to smoke meats, for a sustainable and unique twist on his rustic dishes.
How to tour
If you want the flexibility to pull over whenever you see a sign for a winery (or fruit stand), choose one of Kelowna’s self-drive wine trails. A good introduction to the region is the Lakeshore Wine Route, which hugs Okanagan Lake to the city’s south. You’ll visit two old-vine wineries and iconic Summerhill Pyramid Winery, the valley’s first organic winery — wines are aged inside its small-scale replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Keep in mind many wineries recommend reservations for tastings, so plan ahead.
Another option is to book a tour with a local company that coordinates the tastings and drives you between stops. Or skip the wine altogether for a day or two — Kelowna has an exciting craft beer scene, and it’s possible to walk between the 10 downtown breweries, sipping everything from saisons to sours on a sunny fall afternoon.
Where to stay
After a day of bacchanalian excess, choose a lakeside resort or budget-friendly hotel that will level up your wine-and-dine weekend.
The Cove Lakeside Resort in West Kelowna has spacious suites, a spa, and a restaurant that features food and wine with a local focus. You can paddle a kayak from the marina to Frind Estate Winery for a tasting, or walk next door to Gellatly Nut Farm to pick your own walnuts, chestnuts, and hazelnuts between September and November.
Funky Hotel Zed, located downtown across from City Park, is an upcycled motel that’s been decorated with an eye to the ’70s. Walk to restaurants, craft breweries, and urban wineries including Sandhill and Wayne Gretzky Estates.
For a side of history with your farm-to-table meal, Hotel Eldorado, Kelowna’s oldest property, has an excellent lakeside restaurant and an old-school lounge with tin ceilings, a dedicated whisky room, and barrel-aged cocktails. It’s also a good jumping-off point for the Lakeside Wine Route.
Still thirsty or hungry? We’ve covered only a few of the wineries and restaurants in town waiting to satiate your appetite for BC wine and seasonal food. Browse the full menu on the Tourism Kelowna website to help plan your wine-and-dine tour of the Okanagan Valley.