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Wine Festivals in the Okanagan

Blair Baldwin welcomes winetasters with a tasting glassIn spring, summer, fall and winter in British Columbia's stunningly beautiful Okanagan Valley, the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society organizes a Festival to celebrate wine, food, culture and a wide range of summer and winter outdoor activities.

I was in Kelowna for the May 2010 Spring Wine Festival and met with Christina Ferreira and Blair Baldwin of the Society to learn about the origin and current festivities of these Wine Festivals.

  This year is the 30th anniversary of the first Fall Festival which was an informal gathering of local 5 wineries to party and celebrate the end of harvest. The Spring Festival was started much later but over the 16 years of tracking attendance at these two festivals, it seems that their popularity is now on a par.

Thirty years later, the Spring and Fall Festivals have grown into 10 day events that see approximately 200,000 visits to participating wineries. About 1000 people attend the smaller weekend long Winter and Summer Festivals held at the resorts

Although the Festival Society coordinates the overall event, the programming is a cooperative venture with the  96 entrepreneurial members of the Society. Participating wineries and restaurants create their own unique events whether wine tasting, food and wine pairings or educational programs. This year's Spring Festival had 110 events, including 5 consumer events.

We arrived in Kelowna too late to attend the Best of the Best Wine reception at which the winners of the 2010 Best of Varietal Judging Competition were announced. But we did attend the West Jet Wine Tasting at the Delta Grand Okanagan resort on the night before we left to drive back to Vancouver.

The Best of Varietal Judging Competition is judged by the winemakers themselves - peers judging the work of peers. This year's competition had 355 entries in 21 categories. I was interested to see among the list of finalists  a couple of winery names that were new to me like The View and Intrigue.

On chatting with folks from those wineries, it turned out that the wineries were in fact only recently established as such although the people I spoke to had deep roots (so to speak) within the wine community of Kelowna. We met Jennifer from The View Winery when she was offering tastings at The Greenroom.

Roger of  the new Intrigue Winery at the West Jet  tastingRoger from Intrigue was one of the first people we chatted to at The West Jet Tasting, and as well as telling us a bit about Intrigue, he great at pointing us in the direction of some must-try wines at the tasting.

Other than the West Jet Wine Tasting, some of the events we enjoyed during the all-too-short week that we were in the Okanagan, included the food and wine pairing at The Green Room with The View Winery, lunches at Quail's Gate Old Vines Restaurant, Wild Apple Restaurant and Gray Monk's Grapevine Restaurant, as well as visits to Cedar Creek,  Summerhill, Tantalus, Mt. Boucherie,  Ex-Nihilo and Arrowleaf Wineries. We also ate at RauDZ and the Bohemian.

During  breakfast with Christina and Blair, I learned more about the two upcoming Okanagan Wine Festivals for 2010.

 The Annual Okanagan Summer Wine Festival will be held at Silver Star Mountain Resort, Vernon, BC during the second weekend in August.  In addition to gourmet meals, wine education seminars and a musical outdoor wine tasting event, this festival celebrates local artists and on-mountain activities. As the mountain wildflowers should be in full bloom the   Victorian-inspired mountain resort setting will be quite beautiful.

The vines during Spring Festival time This year's Autumn Festival in Okanagan Wine Country will be held from October 1 to 10. This is the perfect time to see the grapes ripening in the sun and celebrate the harvest. This  is the only wine festival in North America that takes place during the heart of the grape harvest. The Annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival is a chance to experience vineyard tours, lunches, dinners, education and the fall wine harvest . This year will feature  over 170 events throughout the valley which are focused on wine, food, education and the arts.

I realized to my dismay that I will be on a ballroom dance cruise round the British Isles on Cunard's Queen Victoria at the start of the Fall Festival but hopefully I will be able to get to some of the events in the latter half.

But watch this site as there will be draws for  tickets to Fall Festival events coming up. Details will be posted closer to the date of the festival.