September 29, 2018
This is our fourth autumn trip to this visually sparkling gem of a destination that stimulates one’s other senses as well and which seems a bit of a secret. At the southernmost point in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Osoyoos sits in Canada’s only desert, on the shores of its warmest lake. The name is derived from a Syilz word for “The Place Where The Lake Narrows”. Osoyoos Lake crosses into Oroville, Washington and is eleven miles long as well as about a mile across at its widest point. However, it is just a fraction of the size of Okanagan Lake, about thirty five miles to the north, and draws a fraction of the crowds that flock to Pentiction, Kelowna and other towns on the larger lake’s shores. Osoyoos attracts families in the summer to kid friendly lakeside resorts, yet after the kiddos go back to school, grownups savor lingering desert warmth through the fall.
Over the past two decades the Okanagan Valley has emerged as British Columbia’s premier wine region and 44 of the valley’s 120 wineries are between Osoyoos and Oliver, about 12 miles north. Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling, red Bordeaux varietals, Sauvignon blanc, and Pino Gris grapes are heavily employed in the delicious and beautiful wines produced here.
We love everything about The Burrowing Owl Estate Winery where we stay – set into hillside, exposing stunning views of vineyards, undulating hills and an expansive perspective of sky affording a nature show of weather as it evolves plus a star studded night sky. The buildings here are also inviting, aesthetically pleasing, ecologically designed with obvious love and respectfully using expertise of local artisans and artists. And, they have an Amazing and Delicious breakfast – a fare so many resorts and hotels don’t quite pull off.
Thusly fortified, we decided to head out early into our crisp fall day before the forecasted clouds and rain did. If you’re wishing to get outside and enjoy the wonderful scenery of Osoyoos in BC’s South Okanagan, one of the best undertakings is to hit the trails for a hike. Situated on Osoyoos Lake and surrounded by grasslands, highlands and mountains, Osoyoos is a major draw for outdoor recreation. (and, after a day of hiking, nothing beats a refreshing glass of wine from one of the town’s many wineries and vineyards!)
On the way to our trailhead, we passed a favorite attraction of ours, “Spotted Lake”. Nk’mip Desert Cultural Center tells the story of the Okanagan people as does an adjacent, mile long interpretive loop trail with placards, explaining how the”Spotted Lake” is richly concentrated with various minerals. It contains dense deposits of magnesium, sulfate, calcium and sodium sulphates. It also contains high concentrations of eight other minerals and lower amounts of silver and titanium. Most of the water in the lake evaporates over summer, revealing colorful mineral deposits – large “spots” on the lake, colored according to mineral composition and seasonal amounts of precipitation. Magnesium sulfate, which crystallizes in the summer, is a major contributor to spot color. Originally known to the First Nations of the Okanagan Valley as Kliluk, “Spotted Lake” was for centuries and remains, revered as a sacred site thought to provide therapeutic waters. During World War I, minerals from the lake were used in ammunition production. From the hellobc.com website, “The land surrounding the lake was privately owned for 40 years, but in 2001 the federal government acquired it for the benefit and uses of the Okanagan Nation. This ensures that this historically important land can be protected from development, so that future generations of the Okanagan Nation will continue to benefit, as did their ancestors. It also ensures that future visitors will still be able to view this incredible natural phenomenon.”
Also from hello bc.com, “The Mount Kobau Trail offers amazing views of the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys. This three mile trail begins at the top of Mount Kobau, acessible from Hwy 3 west of Osoyoos. It follows a loop around the summit, offering outstanding views as you pass through sub-alpine forest and open grassland. Upon reaching the top, you will receive an unobstructed view of the valley that will simply take your breath away.” And it did! Though the day was overcast we were still stunned by the far tremendous views. About a mile of our trek was through fire blackened forest with regrowth cloaked in fall’s orange, red and yellow hues evoking an eerie and simultaneously peaceful sensation. It was chilly at the onset yet we quickly warmed up with the sharp inclines of our perfect morning workout!
And since we were surrounded by wineries, we stopped in at Moon Curser Vineyards for a tasting. Several of the wines have won awards and the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. We ended up purchasing four bottles, so they succeeded in convincing us of their quality! Actually, we discovered them a couple of years ago so knew we liked their juice!
And, given that it was Hammer’s House of Hogs’ last day of the season, we had to hit this favorite food truck up for some barbecue. He was already out of ribs so we each had the melt-in-your-mouth tender pulled pork. Bill had his on a bun with the Kansas City Red Sauce on half and Alabama White sauce on the other half. I had just pork in a cup with North Carolina Mustard Sauce. And we made it just under the buzzer as there were only two portions left for the threesome behind us.
There is so much to Absolutely LOVE about this region of British Columbia -Osoyoos and Oliver – yet our biggest draw this year (and pretty much the entire reason we still decided to drive the six hours to get here immediately upon our return from Spain) is Chef Chris Van Hooydonk of “Chef’s Table Backyard Farms”. Once again we chose to partake of the winemakers dinner at Road 13 Vineyards. Besides their excellent wine, this is where we discovered Chris last year and fell in love with this zeal and creativity! He even invited us out to his farm and we sincerely saw firsthand how truly enthusiastic he is about his passion!
“Today Chris cooks and teaches from his home based kitchen near Osoyoos, BC. Consulting, catering and teaching keep Chris busy. His hobby farm orchard with 60 trees supply a steady stream of fresh organic food for his preserves and catering needs.” (www.artisanculinaryconcepts.com)
From the website, backyard-farm.ca, “Chef’s food philosophy encompasses the approachable side to healthy eating and farming, with emphasis put on sourcing the freshest and organic when possible, highest quality, seasonal and sustainable ingredients. Importance is put upon supporting the local, dedicated farmers and producers in the area which share his passion for food. All meats are ethically and sustainably raised non-medicated and without hormones and antibiotics. Seafood is sourced taking care to ensure they are Oceanwise certified.” He has a heartfelt, motivated desire to bring his community onboard in the important relationship between delicious wine and beautiful food in a way that is mutually sustaining. His enthusiasm is palpable! (You can read all of Chris’ biography at http://www.artisanculinaryconcepts.com/?page_id=2)
And the food!! Oh. The. Food!!! His creative, colorful, delectable dishes, expertly crafted by his supremely capable team are fireworks in one’s mouth!! It’s impossible to describe the intricate details involved in each plating, the generous blending of colors and textures in presentation and the variety of nature’s bounty shared with us in our four courses – really it is. So I’ve provided the menu and the best photos I could manage with the lighting and an effort not to disrupt our table mates too much – who by the way, were delightful! Another Over The Top experience with Chef Chris Van Hooydonk and his team!!!