For at least a decade or so, Canada’s Okanagan Valley in British Columbia has been on the radar of people who like to travel to beautiful places to sip wine and get a tan. The New York Times even called the area Napa North. It’s gotten to the point where you have to compete with tour buses for parking spots at some wineries. But right next door to the Okanagan is another valley where crowds aren’t a big issue: the Similkameen. Once home to gold and copper mines, the Similkameen has started the slow, gentle slide toward gentrification. For the moment, some great wineries and restaurants have opened up, but it’s still got lots of character. I checked out the valley for Western Living Magazine:
Sweet Valley High: Canada’s Similkameen comes into its own
Remy Scalza; Special to Western Living
Life in the Okanagan’s shadow isn’t always easy. The Similkameen Country, an isolated and starkly beautiful river valley tucked between the Cascade Range and the Osoyoos desert, has long been little more than a pit stop for travellers bound for the lakes and vineyards of interior British Columbia – a place to gas up the car, stock up on peaches at dusty roadside fruit stands and then blast on through to better-known destinations.
But wineries have proliferated in the last decade, with top vintners attracted by the cheap land, spectacular setting and uniquely arid climate. With grapes has come the first generation of progressive restaurants and B&Bs, keen to highlight the valley’s deep green roots and wide-open spaces.
“When I was a conventional grower, anywhere from nine to 15 pesticides would have been put on a pear like this,” says 61-year-old Bruce Harker, owner of Harker’s Organics (2238 Hwy 3, Cawston, 250-499-2751, harkersorganics.com). Like many of his neighbours in Cawston, the “Organic Capital of Canada,” Harker ditched the chemicals decades ago.
His 30-acre farm is a great stop for a gentle primer on organics and a basketful of pears, peaches and specialty produce like organic rhubarb. The Harkers started the on-site Rustic Roots Winery (rusticrootswinery.com) in 2008, turning a portion of the harvest into award-winning organic fruit wines. Try the signature Iced Orin dessert wine, billed as “apple pie in a glass.”
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