Every December, the eight wineries of the Similkameen Wineries Association host a special three-day holiday event. But as my friend and I discovered, this is not your traditional wine country. It’s as far from stuffy as you can get. Some wineries are working organic farms, while at others, the winemaker’s living room doubles as the tasting room. It's the kind of hospitality you'd expect from your good friend or neighbour.
Here's what else you can expect: To chat with the winemaker; step in a little dirt; munch on home-baked Christmas goodies; taste an eclectic variety of white, red, bubbly and fruit wines; oh and if you’re up for it, to play some good ol’ hockey. This is a Canadian winter after all.
With the sun shining and a fresh dusting of snow, we started our tour deep in the Similkameen Valley at the south end of Cawston. Let the good times begin for me! (Important disclosure, my friend is the designated driver.)
Forbidden Fruit Winery (Hosts Steve & Kim)
- What better way to kick off the afternoon than with a sip of Flirt, Forbidden’s famous bubbly. Winemaker Steve then sweetens our palates with Plum Noir and Adam’s Apple fruit wines. My sugar high peaks as I help myself to Kim’s delicious array of gingerbread cookies. I buy two pairs of her handmade earrings, and pick up a bag of free organic apples to bake my own glazed apple pie squares.
Seven Stones Winery (Hosts George)
- After pulling up to a welcoming committee of four-legged friends, I walk into Seven Stones’ warm and inviting tasting room to sample George’s rich and bold reds. A thoughtful tribute to his late wife Vivianne hangs on the wall, reminding visitors of her love and dedication to the winery. Jesce, who is running the shop today, takes us around back to check out George’s latest endeavor. He’s building a massive underground cave where he plans to host future winemakers' parties. Add that to your bucket list!
Rustic Roots Winery (Hosts Troy & Sara)
- Opening the door to this barn-like wine shop takes me back in time. Rustic Roots is after all, part of Harker’s Organics – a 5th generation family farm. It’s got an authenticity about it Martha Stewart could only dream of recreating. The traditional Christmas decorations create a cozy setting in which to sample two bubblies: Pippin and Fameuse. The plum wine was not too sweet and a pleasant change from the usual reds and whites.
Cerelia Winery (Hosts David & Peggy)
- David and Peggy opened up their festively-decorated home to guests for this event. We mingle in their living room for an intimate wine tasting and conversation. A selection of breads and homemade jellies complements a generous pouring of Cabernet Franc. The couple’s daughter, Megan, is their award-winning winemaker.
Eau Vivre Winery (Hosts Jeraldine & Dale)
- Jeraldine exudes genuine enthusiasm for every wine tourist. The highlight of my visit is indulging in my fair share of her mulled wine. This flavourful winter drink, spiked with cinnamon and cloves, warms my insides as I hover near Dale’s outdoor fire. I chat with the couple’s young grandson about how many cookies he can sneak from the table without getting caught.
Orofino Vineyards (Hosts John & Virginia)
- All John and Virginia’s wines are sophisticated and seriously good. But the cool thing about Orofino is that John and Virginia are also cool. They’re laid back and I always enjoy talking with them. Today, they've set up an impromptu hockey rink in their backyard. Everyone is encouraged to join in - including kids and dogs. I even spot Rhys Pender, Canada’s youngest Master of Wine, taking a couple shots.
Robin Ridge Winery: (Hosts Tim and Caroline)
- I pose for a photo with a four-foot-high Santa statue before entering Robin Ridge’s tasting room – home to one of my favourite Reserve Merlots. Tim pours samples as he facetiously tells us about upcoming festivities involving a Christmas party, the Keremeos Fire Department (where he volunteers) and the role tequila may or may not play. How do I get invited to that?! I decide to take home a new red, packaged in a fancy Ho Ho Ho bag.
Clos de Soleil: (Host Felix)
- At our final stop near closing time, Felix is getting ready to harvest the next day. As we sip a smooth white, I admire Clos Du Soleil’s massive novelty bottles of wine – ideal for a wedding or after a day of Christmas shopping. Felix plays along when we ask him to give us his best James Bond pose with a bottle of wine. By this point, I've got a good “buzz” going on. But I quickly sober up after a random encounter with a very dozy wasp. My hand accidently disturbs his resting spot on one of the wine barrels and – ping – he stings me. A reminder these really are working vineyards!
After six hours of chatting, drinking, laughing and eating, we’re done. What I love about this region is that you get to meet the winemakers and owners. Not only do you get to hear the usual wine spiel, but if you’re interested you can also learn about the stories behind the grapes and fruits: growing them, caring for them, stressing about them, netting them, harvesting them, aging them and finally bottling them. What better way to celebrate the season than a truly Christmassy wine experience in the Similkameen Valley!
Note: Rustic Roots is open daily until December 22. The rest of the SWA wineries are now closed for the season – but will open by appointment. More info at Similkameen Wine. Additional photos provided by Kim Lawton.