It seems like an odd pairing, hockey and wine. But after spending a long weekend in Kelowna, B.C., enjoying both the sport and the grapes, I found it to be a fun mixture, indeed.
Kelowna is a booming city of 100,000 on Lake Okanogan and a quick 50-minute flight from Seattle. It’s 290 miles from Everett, or about a six-hour drive through the border crossing at Sumas.
Kelowna and the region are known for the dry air and bright skies, outdoor recreation, fruit orchards and vineyards of the Okanogan Valley.
And then there’s hockey. Kelowna is mad about hockey. Lucky for me, the Kelowna Rockets were playing at home the first weekend in October against the Prince George Cougars (they face off against the Everett Silvertips in Kelowna on Jan. 26).
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Rockets team captain Brett Palin at Prospera Place, home of the Kelowna Rockets (also a venue for concerts, with upcoming shows including the Tragically Hip and Avril Lavigne). The 20-year-old from Nanaimo, B.C., is now in his fifth and final year with the Rockets, and chatted about his “home” for the past five years.
“We’re mainly a hockey city,” said Palin with a grin, adding that wine and golf are also a big deal in Kelowna. But as 2004 Memorial Cup Champions, the Rockets and fans did go slightly berserk when they won the coveted cup of the Western Hockey League.
Palin isn’t sure what he’ll do next season, but I found out later from Anthony Campese of the Rockets organization that the modest Palin had a recent tryout with the Calgary Flames of the NHL.
So where does a 6-foot 1-inch, 200-pound defenseman like to dine? He didn’t hesitate when I asked him. “Sturgeon’s – order a Paul Anka, it’s the best chicken sandwich around.”
Later that evening, I watched the Kelowna Rockets beat the Prince George Cougars 6-0. I kept my eye on No. 27 during the game and hope to see him play in Everett against the Silvertips on Feb. 9.
Five thousand acres
The Okanogan Valley spans 200 miles and there are more than 5,000 acres of vineyards. The hot, dry summers and moderate winters are conducive to good grape growing.
With more than 60 wineries in the valley and 12 in the immediate Kelowna area, it was hard to choose one or two to visit on a sunny October afternoon.
My first stop was at Quail’s Gate Estate Winery, overlooking Okanogan Lake. It was recently recognized by Wine Spectator magazine as one of the best wineries with one of the best restaurants in the Okanogan Valley. I sat down to sample some wines with Tony Stewart, CEO of Quail’s Gate and co-owner with his brother, Ben. The Stewarts are third-generation Okanogan farmers (his father has owned it since 1956).
The farm was the first homestead in the area, and the winery’s tasting room is in a restored log and stone house built in 1873.
Quail’s Gate focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay, or as Stewart describes it, “small lot winemaking.”
I enjoyed lunch on the Old Vines Patio (chef Judith Knight’s resume includes Bishop’s restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., and a stint as personal chef to Kevin Costner), and sampled a 2002 Limited Release Gamay Noir, a 2002 Family Reserve Pinot Noir, a 2003 Family Reserve Chenin Blanc and a 2003 Optima, a sweet dessert wine.
Although the restaurant is open from May to October, Stewart hopes to offer year-round dining in the future. Wine tasting and the gift shop are open throughout the year.
Stephen Cipes has created a totally different aura at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. As Canada’s most visited winery and largest certified organic vineyard, it’s somewhat New Age as opposed to Old World in feel. According to Cipes, something called “sacred geometry” led to a four-story pyramid being built on the vineyard’s 65 acres.
After a 14-year experiment, Cipes concluded that there is a “definite and profound effect” on liquids placed in “sacred geometry.” Today, all of Summerhill’s wines are pyramid-aged in the 3,249-square-foot replica of Egypt’s Great Pyramid. There are free pyramid and winemaking tours and tastings every day, on the hour.
The vineyard’s offerings include riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, ehrenfelser and pinot meunier. They may be enjoyed in the wine tasting room or at Summerhill Sunset Bistro (open for lunch and dinner year-round).
I wonder if the Kelowna Rockets have ever thought about tapping into Pyramid Power?
Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.