Wine country has a wide range of attractions
Honey farms, lavender farms, goat cheese specialists and a restaurant dealing with local products add to the delights
Jane Mundy
Special To The Vancouver Sun
Saturday, July 16, 2011

“My dad said, If you want to be a farmer, you’re going to work every day so you’d better like what you’re farming,” says Andrea McFadden, as we gaze over a field of purple at her Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm.

McFadden, like everyone connected with food and wine I met over a whirlwind two days, goes way beyond liking her career. Passionate people abound in Kelowna, from Helen Kennedy at Arlo’s Honey Farm to Orfi Barmor at Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan to Rod Butters at AuDZ Restaurant.

It goes without saying that Kelowna has wineries and Mission Hill Winery has it all: Chefs Matthew Batey and Riley Bennett source local ingredients to create exemplary cuisine at Terrace Restaurant, and there’s the jawdropping view. Bonus: As of July 1st, a magnificent sculptural exhibition by French artist Nathalie Decoster guarantees you’ll spend a few hours strolling the estate. Oh yeah, there’s wine tasting and buying, too.

I admit, I love wine but I’m not very “wine savvy,” so trudging from one winery to another isn’t my idea of a good time. To tell the truth I sometimes feel a wee bit intimidated. So with that in mind, I planned my sojourn without wine as the focal point. Of course, a few glasses with lunch and dinner are de rigueur.

This trip proves to be a fascinating education, starting with Arlo’s Honey Farm. “We purchased 25 hives in 2005,” says Kennedy, “then I bought a book on beekeeping, planted Dutch white clover and now we have 125 hives with 60,000 bees per hive (do the math!) and I’m loving it.”

Kennedy invites me to ‘suit up’ and with just a little trepidation, we slowly walk, like astronauts to their spacecraft, into the swarm. Well, not quite. The bees are very well-behaved, and thriving, unlike the plight of many beekeepers worldwide. Did you know that one bee in its lifetime will produce less than one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey? Did you know that three quarters of your dinner is related in some way to the pollination of the honey bee? Bless their hearts. “And bees poop little yellow dots when they fly, hence that expression ‘don’t eat the yellow snow,’ ” quips Kennedy. Hmm, I’m not sold on that piece of bee trivia. “A bee breeder will release the virgin queen so she can have a dirty weekend with up to 17 drones,” says Kennedy, smirking. “She gathers that sperm for life then comes back to the hive and starts laying eggs.”

 

I’m getting rather warm in my attire and just a bit edgy as Kennedy removes the frame from the hives so we can sample their wares, fresh from the comb. Such a vibrant taste, with a distinct note of clover. (I could never say “distinct note” around winemakers!)

The air is intoxicating at the lavender farm. A huge basket of rose petals being distilled to make rose water will make its way into McFadden’s shop that sells all things lavender (my mum would be in shopping heaven). I’m served a refreshing lavender lemonade and sample lavender jelly that pairs perfectly with a dollop of Carmelis goat cheese. “I read about lavender disappearing in Provence; a fungus had wiped out hundreds of acres so I got the idea to grow lavender,” explains McFadden “but the jelly took me four years to perfect.” Indeed, getting the recipe right could be daunting to many, but McFadden loves lavender.

It’s Monday afternoon and Carmelis cheese shop is packed with locals and tourists snapping up more than 20 varieties of handmade cheeses and pondering over too many choices of goat’s milk gelato. I go for the caramel and sea salt gelato, oh maybe some of the lemon too. Wow! “The goats and I have an interesting relationship,” says Barmor, who moved here from Israel in 2003. “They drive me crazy -the neighbours’ grass is always greener. And they’re like little kids, chewing and breaking everything to see how it’s put together, but they don’t put it back together.”

Just one bite of Carmelis “goatgonzola” or the feta, made from a traditional Greek recipe, and I’m so grateful she is tending the flock (her husband is the cheesemaker.) A sign on the shop wall says, “Cheese travellers, buy here or bring a pre-frozen gel pack to insure your cheese.” Have cheese will travel.

RauDZ.chef.

That night we dine at RauDZ. The bartenders are referred to as “liquid chefs” and perusing the ‘field to glass’ cocktails menu I can see why. I opt for the watermelon, strawberry and rhubarb with Spirit Bear vodka (even the spirits are local) concoction -one sip signals wonders to come and more tough decisions: burger of grass-fed beef from Enderby nearby or their signature Arctic char? Easy solution: I’m with friends so we share, but first a sublime crab carpaccio with fennel followed by greens with Carmelis blue cheese and spot prawns. What amazes me the most is how the dishes are made with local and organic ingredients, yet average a measly 20 bucks. How do they do it?

“I run a non-profit society,” says chef/owner Butters, chuckling. “Our overhead is a bit less than restaurants in Vancouver; I have an incredible wealth of people who deliver to us, and over the years my supplier/farmers have become more focused. Farmers typically aren’t business people so when I first opened RauDZ they all showed up with summer squash. Now my purchasing is focused. ‘Hey John, don’t grow so much squash this year, how about green beans instead’? My business model works both ways-if they fail I fail. I know this is cliché but it’s all about community.

For the past 12 years Ingo Grady has been director of wine education at Mission Hill, but he cringes at the title. “I want people to experience wine for what they want it to be, whether serious or fun,” he says, “and even a teetotaller can have a good time here.” (Any wine intimidation I have flies out the door.)

Grady can now include art lovers along with teetotallers. Finding over 50 sculptures of cast aluminum and steel, wrought iron and bronze figures installed around the Mission Hill estate is like a treasure hunt. “One of the first comments came from three kids who said, ‘This swing set sucks,’ ” says Grady, laughing, as we make our way down the stairs from the Chagall room-complete with said artist’s tapestry and a David Foster grand piano-to the swings, which is one of Decoster’s installations (another swing trio is ensconced in the wine cellar, and you really have to look for it.)
pate.MissionHill

“Goat cheese loves this sauvignon blanc,” says Grady, as we tuck into pâté de Campagne, olive oil brûlé and vanilla pears. And there’s the farm-totable connection again. Increasingly visitors are coming to Kelowna to do non-wine things. According to Tourism Kelowna, agri-tourism is now one of the “Big Four Things To Do,” along with picking cherries, visiting the wineries and playing golf. Well, the cherries and golf can wait till next time.

IF YOU GO

Where to Stay: The Cove Lakeside Resort: 250-707-1825 www.covelakeside.com

Where to Eat: RauDZ Regional Table: 250-868-8805 www.raudz.com

Terrace Restaurant, Mission Hill Winery: (250) 768-6467

www.missionhillwinery.com/estate_ winery/terrace.html

You can see the Nathalie Decoster Exhibition at Mission Hill Winery until Oct. 9, 2011

For more information visit Tourism Kelowna: www.tourismkelowna.com 1-800-663-4345

© Vancouver Sun 2011
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.