Saturday, May 7, 2016

A weekend at Hester Creek Winery villas.

Hester Creek is located just south of Oliver along Highway 97. (file photo)
"It's even more beautiful than in the photos."
These were Sally's first words when we entered our home away from home at Hester Creek Winery last Friday evening. We we were there because I purchased A weekend at Hester Creek at this year's Bacchanalia dinner in support of Christopher Gaze's Bard on the Beach. To be honest, I was drunk at the time, and missed the fine print; namely, it was to be used by early April or after the end of October.
You enter the villas through the rows of grapes
But Melissa at Hester Creek was very accommodating and allowed us to book the April 29/30 weekend. She need not have, since we discovered upon arrival this is one of the busiest weekends in the year in the Okanagan; it's the Spring Wine Festival. Who knew?

Actually a lot of people knew, since 600 people purchased tickets for the sold out 'Pig Out' at Covert Farm Winery. Hopefully we'll be back for next year's event and book tickets in advance.
The tasting room features a variety of wine-related products. One suggestion: why not create gift boxes of assorted wine jellies.
Last year I spent a week in the Okanagan touring the wineries and playing golf in both Osoyoos/Oliver and around Kelowna. I was very impressed. Hester Creek is in Oliver/Osoyoos and in some ways this area feels even more special than Kelowna. The wineries are very welcoming, and some, like Hester Creek, rival what you find in California in terms of the look and feel of the tasting room, restaurant and accommodation. Others may be less impressive, but equally welcoming and informative. Ask me about the pros and cons of aging red wine in Oak barrels for three years.
Our unit was very beautiful with a large, well furnished, cozy room with fireplace overlooking the vineyards. Small details included a place to store luggage. There was a large bathroom with walk-in shower and soaker tub, and lots of nice details and fittings; and a compact kitchen area with microwave, fridge, etc.
Upon arrival, some wine and cheese on our terrace overlooking the vineyards. (Since it was the end of Passover, and Sally suspected they would not serve matzoh, she brought our own.)
There were just six units, which created a very intimate environment, but I was told they are already 98% booked for the coming months. I asked why they didn't build 6 more units, but was told they can't get approvals. Perhaps it's Oliver, or the Regional District regulations; or maybe ALR constraints.
The accommodation has a Mediterranean style and is as luxurious as you would expect to find in the fancier California vineyards.
Somehow, this seems wrong, especially when BC is trying to promote tourism. Yes, you can stay in some nice resorts in Osoyoos or a motel along the highway; but somehow, staying within the vineyards is so much more enticing. We know, because that's where we often stayed when touring New Zealand and the south of France.

We had dinner the first night at Terrafina, Hester Creek's restaurant. I was impressed with both the food and the service. Most of the servers I have met in the Okanagan usually come from the area, and this was no exception. The staff were very charming and delightful to chat with.

I know you're tired of hearing about what I eat, but if you come, start with the antipasto platter, then share some pasta and follow that with the Cornish Game Hen or another main. It was very, very tasty. And prices are 20 to 30% less than what you would pay in Vancouver for comparable food.
Early morning coffee on the terrace while awaiting breakfast
Saturday morning breakfast was brought to our room, and we could enjoy it on the patio overlooking the vineyards. It was magical.
An enticing menu at Burrowing Owl.
The view from our terrace table at Burrowing Owl of their accommodation overlooking a pool and vineyards
On Saturday night we went to nearby Burrowing Owl for a special dinner. While the menu was certainly creative, the food was not as good as Hester Creek. But this too is a very attractive complex, created by a former Vancouver developer Jim Wise. The wines are certainly very special.

Each fall there's another wine festival. But don't wait till then. Check out Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl, and the other nearby wineries such as Tinhorn Creek offering high quality accommodation and beautiful tasting rooms and restaurants.
At a charge rate of 6km/hour, it would have taken 70 hours to charge the car before heading back to Vancouver!
Now I do have one complaint. While many of the Okanagan wineries have installed electric car charging stations, Hester Creek has not. While we made it from Vancouver in our electric car with just one short stop at the Hope super-charging station, we only had 60 km left when we arrived. We managed to avoid 'range anxiety', but plugging the car into a conventional 110 volt service only charged the car 6km an hour.
By the time we reached the 12 hole, we had charged the car another 180 km. When you own an electric car you think about these things!
Fortunately we found a Tesla charging station at the nearby Fairview Golf Course, so we knew we were going to get home. But hopefully by next year Hester Creek will have installed a better service.
While an increasing number of people have discovered the 'new' Okanagan, many have not. With the sun shining, the area offered magical vistas, with expansive rows of grapes viewed from the highway. I have a feeling that in years to come, the spring and fall Okanagan wine festivals will begin to attract world-wide attention. Given the limited number of wineries with good accommodation, prices are sure to rise. My advice is to enjoy these places now
Thank you Hester Creek for a most delightful weekend. We will be back. And if you want to build 6 more units, let me know. I'll be delighted to speak to the authorities on your behalf!