We left Fraser Lake and this time really really headed south. We were on route to the Okanagan Valley for the last leg of our trip before crossing the border into the U.S. And as we entered the region, a few vineyards appeared here and there to entice us.
The weather was still cloudy with some rain. So Angel got to wear her raincoat which we bought back in Maine on the first year of our walkabout. She really hates it, so we only put it on her when it is raining hard. But she looks so adorable in it!
We were now in a much more developed area of the country, with cattle ranches and farms along the way. Our plan was to break up the drive into two days, so we stopped to spend the night at the Walmart in Prince George.
The next day we drove to the Emerald Bay Campground, one of two campgrounds that are part of the Green Lake Territorial Park.
The campground was a bit of a drive from the main road, and we got a bit confused on the way there, but a nice lady drove up to us and helped us find our way. We always meet nice people in Canada.
Green Lake has a lot of lakeside homes around it, definitely a change from previous areas. And there were cows wandering about.
Fortunately, there was a cattle grate in front of the campground, so there were no cattle in the campground and there were lots of spaces available. This was the end of the season for the area.
Road Name: Yellowhead Highway to Cariboo Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Condition: Generally good with passing zones
Miles Today: 337
Driving Time: 6:30
After we left the campground, we turned south once again. We had heard a bit about the Okanagan Valley from our friends Doug and Tricia from Calgary but had not taken time to research the area and were not fully aware of what it had to offer.
This is one of the things I love most about our journey, wandering into new and interesting places and learning about them along the way.
We began to gather more detailed information about the Okanagan Valley in the Visitor Center at Kelowna. The folks there were extremely helpful, and they allow doggies inside the building, so we brought Angel in while we used their Wi-Fi.
The Okanagan Valley is British Columbia’s oldest, largest, and most popular, its “premier grape growing region”. The valley has several distinct sub-regions with different soil and climates that allow the wineries to grow a wide variety of grapes.
A visit from a German grape breeder and vine researcher in the 1960s resulted in testing of the European varieties of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer grapes. Then in 1988, in response to the North American Free Trade Agreement, when superior wines from Washington, Oregon and California were imported into Canada, the Canadian government began paying growers to pull out existing inferior grapes and replant their fields with other European grape varieties.
Wine makers imported grapes from France, Germany and the United States that could yield high-quality wines. And the variety of micro-climates in the region allowed them to grow a large selection of grape varieties, including more reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah.
So although many wineries are still run by the families that established them, many of the vines are less than 20 years old.
So even though we were ready to get to the lower 48, we decided to hang back a bit, tour the wine country and sample some wines.
We drove south a bit further and stayed at a territorial park south of Kelowna by the Okanagan Lake. And found out that the territorial parks in this area of British Columbia are expensive – $35. for no hookups.
Road Name: Cariboo Highway
Road Type: 2-lane, 4-lane sections in and around towns
Road Condition: Generally good
Miles Today: 270
We drove back to Kelowna, planning to start our visits in the furthest north winery. I had noticed a food truck that served poutine near the Visitor Center so we planned our lunch there so as not to start drinking on an empty stomach.
We found the food truck. Poutine is a dish we discovered three years ago in Quebec, which is available throughout Canada. French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy is the traditional preparation. It sounds horrible but is quite delicious and I am addicted to it.
Jeff, the owner of Jeffer’s FRYZZ, was a great guy and gave us lots of tips about the wineries. And his poutine was fabulous. Next we were off to the wineries.
Of the wineries we visited, a few stand out. Summerhill, described as exuding a subtle mystique, is one of those. The owner had a pyramid constructed on site meant to draw positive energy to the grounds. Each of their wines spends a period of time in the pyramid during the aging process. The pyramid was oriented to true north versus magnetic north, and built without the use of ferrous metals so that it will not reorient to magnetic north. If a bad wine is placed inside it, the wine will become worse, but a good wine in the pyramid will flourish.
The place is described as shamelessly touristy as was proven by multiple tourist buses taking tours on the premises. But it was also the first winery to be certified as organic by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society of Vernon, and the first to be certified as biodynamic, and the owners are leaders in organic and sustainable practices in the area. Plus they have produced several award winning wines.
The next day we visited more wineries, including Jeff’s favorite (yes, the poutine guy), Dirty Laundry, which has some really reasonably priced wines. In the 1800s, when the railroad came to the area, a Chinese man who helped build part of the railroad started a laundry business with his hard earned money.
Recognizing a need, he later enhanced his profits by creating a “waiting room” upstairs where a man “could have drinks, play cards and have the company of a lady”. People began to refer to his business as the “Dirty Laundry”.
Today the winery is located on that same piece of land. They make the most of the story in all their “naughty” themed products.
While visiting the winery, we met Rob, the president of the company in the parking lot. He showed us around and told us about the vineyards. He even suggested we climb up to the conveyor belt to see up close the dropping of grapes into the crusher and took our photo there. Very nice guy running a very nice place.
Well, we could not put it off any longer, we had to head towards the border. Although we were cautious not to buy too many wines, we were still definitely over the limit to bring to the U.S. Of course we intended to declare it.
I was somewhat paranoid after our last customs experience as we neared the checkpoint. And the officer asked us to pull over. The RV just in front of us had also pulled over, and they asked the one behind us to pull over as well.
It was search time once again, but this time it was a very quick search (for additional people?) followed by a few questions. We had forgotten we had a couple of pieces of firewood left, and they asked if we had any and of course we said yes so they confiscated them. The second questions was about dog food which we had declared. We do know to keep dog food bags so they can check the contents, so that was ok. And no issue with our wine. Thank goodness.
Road Name: Cariboo Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Condition: Generally good
Miles Today: 66
Driving Time: 1:15
Total Miles in Canada: 4920
Total Miles since entering Canada: 7284
It really was the ultimate North American road trip.