The Quail's Gate Estate Winery tasting room offers stellar views of Okanagan Lake.

The Quail's Gate Estate Winery tasting room offers stellar views of Okanagan Lake.

La Dolce Vita: The road oft travelled leads to Westside Wine Trail

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Wine tourists who find themselves in the West Kelowna area can spend a very pleasant day simply by turning off Highway 97 at the winery signs that include Little Straw Vineyards, Mt. Boucherie Family Estate Winery, Volcanic Hills Estate Winery, Quail’s Gate Estate Winery and Mission Hill Family Estate. These wineries, along with Kalala Organic Estate Winery, Beaumont Family Estate Winery and Rollingdale Winery comprise the Westside Wine Trail. As a group, they are a wonderful collection of small and large producers, half of which also have restaurants.

On our last visit to the area we only had time to visit four, but each was memorable in its own way.

Little Straw was our first stop, where I had an appointment to chat with Trevor Mayhew, chef in the winery’s Barrel Top Grill and also the assistant winemaker. We’ve been visiting since the winery was called Slamka Cellars, which is the name of the three brothers who started the business on land their parents had first planted to grapes in 1969. It’s been a treat to watch the business grow and progress into one of the finest small wineries, and winery experiences, in the area.

The tasting room is large and welcoming, the staff is small and friendly, and the bistro, which also offers outdoor seating on the deck, is charming. Mayhew is a creative chef who enjoys using local ingredients and adapting the menu to what is available. I was especially impressed with his genuine appreciation at being offered work in the cellar during the bistro’s off-season, and to have the chance learn the winemaking business. He thinks it is a great opportunity and so do I. We loved the Lemberger icewine, which is sold in little 50-millilitre bottles, perfect for an after dinner sip for two.

The next visit was to Volcanic Hills, where Bobby Gidda continues the dream that began back in 1958, when his grandfather settled in what he called “the Land of Wonder”. Bobby’s dad, Sarwan, planted apples in the 1960s and then grapes in 1978. The Giddas were West Kelowna’s first Indo-Canadian family and more than a half-century after Mehtab first arrived, their passion for working the land continues.

Volcanic Hills has a huge tasting room, perfect for hosting large events, and a seasonal restaurant, Lazeez, which serves a mouth-watering variety of lunch dishes, most of which lean toward Indian flavours. A dozen wines are currently listed as available, including whites, reds and a yummy rosé and a very nice late harvest Zweigelt, an underrated grape if there ever was one.

Just up the road is Mount Boucherie Family Estate Winery, where the Gidda family first established its winery business. Sarwan ventured off on his own to establish Volcanic Hills and the two separate businesses, “friendly competitors”, they say, thrive.

We have always enjoyed our visits to Mt. Boucherie and this one was no exception. Pinky Gidda is a very gracious and knowledgeable tasting room host and each of our samplings was lovely. From the usual — Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah — to the not so usual — Ehrenfelser, Blaufänkisch, Zweigelt — the wines are consistent in quality and reasonable in price.

Our final Westside Wine Trail stop of the day was to enjoy lunch at Quail’s Gate Estate Winery, one of the Okanagan’s oldest and most highly regarded wineries. It’s still family owned and operated. You will likely know Ben Stewart as the MLA who stepped aside to allow Premier Christy Clark to run for a seat in the legislature. Ben’s dad, Richard, bought the property in 1956 and first planted grapes in 1961.

Quail’s Gate wines are known for their quality and have earned countless accolades over the years. But our visit this time didn’t include a trip to the wine shop. Instead, we met up with Food and Wine Trails magazine editor Jennifer Schell and her husband, Mark, to have lunch in Old Vines Restaurant and Wine Bar. For nearly two hours, we oohed and aahed over our meals, chatted and laughed in our first face-to-face meeting and generally luxuriated in the room’s ambience. The restaurant, like the entire Quail’s Gate property, is a magical experience.

I was on a tight time schedule but had to accept a delay in leaving when chef Roger Sleiman sent out a tray of tiny, perfect sweets to cap our meal with. There could have been no better way to end our all-too-short visit to the Westside Wine Trail.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneeckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.