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Word of Mouth: Kelowna

Organic farms, sustainable vineyards and the restaurants making the most of their yields in this scenic British Columbia community

by Karen Day in Travel on 06 August 2014

Situated along the pristine waters of Okanagan Lake at the foot of a range of mountains is the city of Kelowna, a microcosm of all that British Columbia's agriculturally rich Okanagan Valley has to offer. The region is considered to be Canada's answer to Napa and vineyards abound throughout the valley, which runs from the 50th parallel down to the 49th, where the Canada and US borders meet. Touring the majority of the Okanagan's surplus of vineyards is well worth the journey, but there's also plenty to see, eat and drink in Kelowna—from downtown to the hills just 20 minutes away. Below are a few jumping off points for making the most of this uniquely beautiful and bountiful part of the world.

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Arlo's Honey Farm

Helping out the world's dwindling honeybee population is Helen Kennedy, who owns the 14-acre Arlo's Honey Farm along with her husband Rick in the hills of southeast Kelowna. Kennedy tells us that everything they plant is for the bees—one beehive requires one acre of forage all the time, so they interplant crops that grow in different seasons to ensure that there's a constant state of growth. Dandelions, phacelia and Dutch white clover provide an abundance of nectar and pollen for the bees, who also feed on sunflowers, carrots, beets, elderberries, nicotiana, asparagus, corn and more—all of which make up the lush organic garden at Arlo's. If you're lucky, you might get to suit up and interact with the hives, but no matter what, be sure to stop by the shop, where you can pick up different flavors of honey and Arlo's line of purely derived skincare products.

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Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm

Like Arlo's, the family-run Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm encompasses a variety of plants, including calendula, roses, oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary and even a "wishing tree" where you can leave a sentiment or encouraging message for others. A stroll through the gardens provides a tapestry of scents not commonly found in such a small patch of land and is as pleasant to the nose as it is to the eyes. Be sure to have a cup of lavender gelato at the cafe overlooking the garden, and stop by the shop below to pick up lavender oil—which is harvested and distilled by hand each season. They also have teas, soaps, body scrubs, serums, rose water and other ritualistic items that are guaranteed to refresh, relax and restore.

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CedarCreek Vineyard Terrace Restaurant

Owned for decades by Canadian senator Ross Fitzpatrick and turned over to the von Mandl family (who owns Mission Hill estate) in 2014, CedarCreek's vineyards and winemaking process have long been dutifully cared for, and the estate's Terrace Restaurant is no exception. The establishment's open-air, wrap-around terrace is an idyllic place to have lunch or dinner, offering sweeping views of Kelowna and Lake Okanagan. Using local ingredients, executive chef Jeremy Tucker concocts provocative dishes that are as delicious on the palate as they are on the plate: pea and spinach soup with dungeness crab, a juicy, tandoori-spiced pork tenderloin served on a bed of quinoa and pineapple, a British Columbia steelhead trout three bean salad and feta cheese from the nearby goat farm are just a few highlights from the seasonal menu. And, of course, there are plenty of complementary wines to round out any meal (we had an outstanding 100% pinot noir rosé on our visit).

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Tantalus

Tantalus eschews a winery's traditional setting for an ultra modern aesthetic, which is seen everywhere, from the labels gracing their bottles (which feature BC artist Dempsey Bob's meticulously hand-carved masks) to the art adorning the walls (photographs by Edward Burtynsky) to the sleek, LEED-certified winery (BC's first) and sustainable way they farm the vineyards (which includes a 10-acre natural forest and a beehive partnership with Arlo's Honey Farm). Tantalus' operations manager Jane Hatch tells us everything they produce is single-estate, and they currently sell around 7,000 cases a year—a number considered small by world standards. The focused winery is known for their riesling which is made from a German yeast, but they also grow pinot noir and chardonnay varietals, which they let wild ferment with native yeasts. Additionally, they make an experimental riesling from the hard pressings of the estate's grapes as well as riesling and syrah styles of Canada's famous ice wine. For this, they pick frozen grapes in late November (opposed to the usual September harvest) when the outside temperature is around -10°C (or around 14°F), which results in a dessert wine that's sweet but still elegantly refreshing.

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RauDZ Regional Table

The relaxed atmosphere of downtown restaurant RauDZ is where you can see the best of Kelowna's farms come together on one plate. But here, even the walls and furniture pay homage to the local talent; photos of local suppliers make up much of the decor and the tables are made by an Okanagan woodworker. Chef Rod Butters and wine aficionado Audrey Surrao are at the helm (who also own the drinks and tapas bar called micro next door), and their excitement for all the region has to offer is palpable throughout every course. Even the drinks menu—prepared by the restaurant's "liquid chefs"—features cocktails made with Okanagan Spirits, house-made fruit purees and other local ingredients. The co-owners are serious about their culinary mission, but diners will revel in their sophisticated take on comfort food; steaks, burgers, fish and chips, poutine and a house-made blackberry ketchup are classics they put their spin on. Dinner is best ended with a glass of absinthe, produced by Okanagan Spirits according to original European recipes and brought to the table with a flaming sugar cube. Don't forget to take a handmade lollipop on your way out.

Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.

Images by Karen Day

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