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Penticton, Okanagan Valley

Phantom Creek Estates

Phantom Creek Estates celebrated the 25th anniversary of Phantom Creek Vineyard in July 2022. The vineyard was established in 1996 by viticulturist Richard Cleave. This vineyard is known for producing some of the best red wines in Canada from the lower terrace of Black Sage Bench, sitting just above the valley floor giving it afternoon sun. It is now planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Merlot.

Going back a bit further, the viticulturist Helmut Becker began a project growing over 30 different Germanic white grape varietals at what is now Becker Vineyard to show that traditional European grape vines could survive in B.C. As we know now, it worked. In 1993, Becker Vineyard was replanted to show the potential for late-ripening Bordeaux red grapes. That also worked. Becker is now planted with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, and Syrah.

In 2005, Kobau Vineyard was planted and now boasts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Viognier, and Syrah. Located in B.C.'s first official sub-appellation, Golden Mile Beach, wines from this vineyard have a minerality that comes from the gravelly soils paired with morning sun and afternoon shade.

In 2016, Richter Bai purchased Becker and Phantom Creek Vineyards, followed by Kobau Vineyard in 2017. In 2018, Phantom Creek Estates entered into a long-term collaboration with Olivier Humbrecht, Frances's first Master of Wine. He is the owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, an estate that has been in his family since 1620. It is now of the world's leading producers of Pinot Gris and Riesling. He moved his winery to organic and biodynamic practices in 1997. He is part of Phantom Creek's move to add Pinot Gris and Riesling to its portfolio. Influenced by Humbrecht and having a vision of building a winery that will be here for 100 years, Bai began transitioning the vineyards to organic practices. Kobau became certified organic in 2020, joined by Phantom Creek in 2022. Becker is also certified organic. Evernden Springs Vineyard in nearby Similkameen Valley, planted after Bai purchased it, added a fourth vineyard, which is also certified organic.

Mark Beringer, the Director of Winemaking, is the great-great grandson of Beringer Vineyards' founding brother Jacob Beringer. After getting his Enology degree from California State University in Fresno, he worked at Benziger in Sonoma in the cellars, then moved to Duckhorn in 1992, starting as Enologist and working his way up to VP of Winemaking. In 2009, he went to Artesa as VP and Winemaker, returning to Beringer Vineyards in 2015 before coming to Phantom Creek Estates in late July 2021.

Chef Alessa Valdez helms the kitchen at the Restaurant at Phantom Creek Estates. She took culinary arts in high school and has worked in Toronto at Buca Yorkville, Alobar, Oliver & Bonacini's Auberge de Pommiere and Canoe, and Gusto 101. She worked in the kitchen at Phantom Creek before being promoted to Chef, and works closely with the winemakers to ensure dishes work with Phantom Creek wines, using locally grown ingredients.

Spring risotto

Menu items all have interesting twists, like the Tanto Latte Burrata with apple, green apricot chutney, sunflower seed, pea shoots, and bee pollen. The suggested paring is a 2019 Viognier. 63 Acres Beef Tartare included pickled shimeji, caperberry, xo yolk caramel mushroom dust, and tendon chips. Suggested pairing is the Petit Cuvee. Currently her food can be enjoyed by everyone for lunch in the restaurant, and for private events in private rooms, patios, and the Founder's Cellar.

The winery itself is quite impressive, designed by Napa firm Backen Gillam Kroeger. 78,000 square feet hold a wine cellar, tasting room, restaurant, amphitheater, production area beneath the winery, picnic areas, private rooms, gift shop/retail wine sales, members-only areas, and more. Tours can be booked online. Driving up to the winery is a moment to be savored with landscaping surrounding the buildings and two large angels hovering over as you enter the grounds. If you're looking for a wine experience that is more than just a tasting and you love 'fabulous', Phantom Creek Estates should be on your must-visit list.

4315 Black Sage Rd
Oliver, British Columbia

Penticton Lakeside Resort & Conference Center

Built in 1982, the hotel sits right on Okanagan Lake. Rooms have either a lake or mountain view (really, the lake view is the way to go). We stayed in a room that overlooked a park area with the lake behind and enjoyed an annual festival with live music, a bike race, and more. Each room has a deck with comfortable lounge chairs. The resort offers a gym, juice bar, pool and hot tub, hair salon, water sports rentals, a private beach and marina for hotel guests that is turned into an ice rink in winter.

Before arriving, we'd done some research. There was some whining online about the hotel needing to be updated, that it was showing its age, etc. As well all know, there is continual whining online, so you don't really know. Apparently not all rooms have been updated. We were in a separate building from the main hotel and the room was wonderful. It had an interesting layout that seemed much more functional than many hotel rooms, plus that great deck and view. On the downside, we tried out the hot tub. That area needs serious renovation; enough said.

The Hooded Merganser restaurant

We ate at the hotel restaurant, The Hooded Merganser (it's a duck thing). It is a stand-alone building sitting over the water. This was July, so high season, and the place was packed. It seems to be the place to be and was high energy. Interestingly, they have a farm, Valley View Farms, that grows everything from seed, moves it to the greenhouse, and then to the farm area. It's an organic farm that sends everything they grow to the restaurant and staff kitchen. The farm manager works with the restaurant chef to decide what they will grow each year. The menu is casual with starters like olives, antipasti, calamari, tuna tartare, mussels. There are salads (huge-don't think you're getting a side salad with dinner), pizza, and pasta. They also offer larger plates like duck breast, chicken tagine, and lamb chops, a daily catch, and salmon. Dinner only.

21 Lakeshore Drive W
Penticton, British Columbia

Poplar Grove

We enjoyed the meals we had on this trip, but by far our favorite was lunch at Poplar Grove, one of the five original wineries on the Naramata Bench, founded in 1993. It was purchased in 2007 by Tony and Barb Holler. Their four sons farm more than 140 acres of estate vineyards. Chef Rob Ratcliffe grew up I London on a number of international foods and uses those memories to create some wonderful dishes. Lunch, dinner, and picnic baskets are offered.

We tried the Parker rolls, beef tartare (interesting done with anchovy, so beware if this is not your thing, and they are happy to do it without for you), and a special that was sable fish in a green curry. Naturally, you can pair wine with your meal and the suggestions by our waiter were spot on.

Besides great food and wine, the covered patio overlooks the lake and city with green hills and lush landscaping between. That view alone would make anything taste good.

425 Middle Bench Rd N
Penticton, British Columbia

The Bench Market

Offering all-day breakfast, weekend brunch, baked goods, gourmet lunch, takeaway meals, catering, and grocery items, this place is clearly a local favorite. We walked there for breakfast as we were craving something healthy after overdoing it with high-end meals. Their coffee is made with locally-roasted organic beans and they house-make granola and pair it with organic yogurt. That was just what we wanted, but there was so much more. Bench Eggwich, Bench Breakfast Plate, Bench Breakfast Burrito, avocado toast, vegan bowl. Weekend brunch offers several benny options. Lunch offerings include sandwiches and paninis, a whole-grain veggie burger, and freshly made salads.

The other nice thing about this place is that it ran so smoothly. There was a line-up and people were sorted out by what they wanted: outdoor seating, indoor seating, takeaway. It moved along quickly.

368 Vancouver Ave
Penticton, British Columbia

Crêperie Ooolala

A morning walk along Okanagan Lake to find the paddlewheel boat we could see moored from our hotel room led us to Crêperie Ooolala nearby. A grassy area held the mobile truck as well as several tables and chairs. French music emanated from speakers along the edge of the grass. Perfect!

Both savory (egg/ham/cheese, garlic/parsley/Parmesan/ham/cheese) and sweet crêpes (peanut butter/jam/banana, strawberries/coconut/banana) are offered, a daily special, coffee, and other beverages.

1099 Lakeshore Dr W
Penticton, British Columbia

Connie Adams/August 2022

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