They say it lives in the eerie darkness at the bottom of British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan, surfacing only a couple of times in the past 2,000 years. Its ominous form has appeared in ancient petroglyphs, and the First Nation peoples offered sacrifices to appease it. Some eyewitnesses report having seen a bubble the size of an apartment breach the lake’s surface, causing a powerful wave as it burst.
Is it the Loch Ness Monster’s Canadian cousin? Is it a mammoth sturgeon? Or is it simply what Okanagan Valley wine tour guide Jim Harris calls the “Fart Theory?”
“It can be calm on the lake, and suddenly you’ll see some rogue waves,” explains Harris. “It’s a volcanic lake, so maybe it’s a build-up of volcanic gas. It’s like the guy who drank beer after having pork and beans for dinner, and then he gets into the hot tub and just lets go.”
Okay, Jim–we get it. And if anyone’s curious, the monster goes by the handle Ogopogo.
Thankfully, Canadians love their wine as much as they love a good monster story, and you’ll get plenty of both in the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia. Located about 250 miles east of Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley is home to 12 wine subregions producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandel, among 75-plus grape varieties.
My home base for exploring the Okanagan Valley was the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which is where I stayed for Wine Bloggers Conference 2013. Although the wine excursions I attended were arranged by the conference, the town of Penticton is a convenient–and charming–place to stay while visiting area wineries.
British Columbia welcomes about 1.5 million people to its wineries each year. And even though the region is not nearly as large as California’s Napa Valley, it’s definitely growing. In 1990, there were a mere 17 wineries in British Columbia. Today, there are almost 220, and the Okanagan Valley contains 82 percent of total vineyard acreage in British Columbia.
That’s a lot of ground to cover, and being from Los Angeles, the last thing I want to do when I travel is drive a car. So for me, wine excursions by bus are the way to go. Harris owns Uncorked Okanagan Wine Tours, which was one of the companies that shuttled wine bloggers from winery to winery (This is not a paid mention. They had me at Fart Theory).
Depending on the tour operator and the size of your group, you can travel by luxury SUV or by bus. Different tour companies allow you to customize your excursion, and most packages include lunch.
I could go on and on about the myriad wines I tried while visiting the Okanagan Valley, but I’ll spare you. Check out the first two posts in this series for some of the highlights.
If you want the big picture, Wines of British Columbia offers this comprehensive list of area wineries. Browse through it, see which ones appeal to you, and then find a tour company that can take you to your top choices, or rent a car and map out your own itinerary.
As for the Ogopogo, fans of scary monsters may be disappointed to know that the only critters I spotted in Lake Okanagan was a family of ducks.
My run-in with a version of Canada’s own Loch Ness monster happened not in the lake but at a downtown Penticton ice cream parlor. The only frightening part of the encounter: The caloric content of a double-scoop waffle cone.
Getting there: You can fly into Vancouver and rent a car, or you can fly directly into Penticton Airport or Kelowna Airport. Don’t forget your passport.
Getting around: Okanagan Valley wine tour operators: Grape Escapes Wine Tours (1-877-362-3382); Top Cat Tours ((1-205-493-7385); Grape Friends Lounge and Tours (1-250-328-2008).
Where to stay: Penticton Lakeside Resort (1-250-493-8221); Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa (1-877-313-WINE).