Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive
The Summerland Bench is famous among wine lovers for the ‘Bottleneck Drive’, a system of interlinked roads where one can visit 15 wineries, all in close proximity. It’s also worth delving into the history and geography of this unique community.
The Summerland Bench is famous among wine lovers for the ‘Bottleneck Drive’, a system of interlinked roads where one can visit 15 wineries, all in close proximity. It’s also worth delving into the history and geography of this unique community. Summerland was the first settled community in the Okanagan, and the first location to grow fruit.
The area is dominated by a gigantic rock formation called Giant’s Head, the remains of a volcano that exploded in ancient times. If you look at Giant’s Head from the right angle in the Trout Creek area of town, you can clearly see the craggy profile of a man’s face on the south slope of the mountain.
Grapes grown in the Summerland area benefitted from this geologic cataclysm; the nutrient rich volcanic debris provided soil that for more than a century made Summerland an important producer of tree fruits, and now produces some of the best wine grapes in BC.
It was this fertile soil that attracted the first settlers. The region has for centuries been home to a sub-group of the Okanagan Nation, a First Nations people with their own language and culture. The first settlers put down roots in 1845, mainly taking part in ranching and small-scale agriculture, and making Summerland the first settled community in the Okanagan. Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, the wealthy head of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, became enamored of the region at the turn of the century, and in 1902 he formed the Summerland Development Company and hired JR Robinson to run it. The two men saw the great potential for fruit growing, and by 1906 they had incorporated a town.
Thanks to wine pioneer Harry McWatters, founder of Sumac Ridge in 1981, Summerland is also the ‘Godfather’ of BC’s wine industry. McWatters founded Sumac Ridge Estate Winery on a rocky crag at the north end of the city, and incidentally, a logical place to start your tour if you are arriving from the north. Prior to the transformation at Sumac Ridge, wine in BC was a dreadful affair. Wineries generally made extraordinarily cheap and forgettable wines that often came in large jugs. McWatters saw that BC wines could only survive increased competition by providing real quality, and he dedicated his work to producing vintages that could compete with the world’s best.
Other winemakers took up his challenge, and thanks to this early spur, the explosion in Okanagan Wines began in the mid-1980s.
If arriving from the north, you can take the Sumac Ridge Estate Winery’s tour of the vineyard, cellar, and their champagne cave. Sumac Ridge is also one of the few wineries to produce sparkling wines. The Cellar Door Bistro is on-site, offering food and wine pairings.
Heading south you come across 14 other wineries between Sumac Ridge and the area known as Trout Creek, where you can end a tour at 8th Generation. Speaking of history, that latter winery is so-named because the owners have eight generations of wine making in their family! See our Directory for more information on each winery, or the Itineraries Section on suggested self-guided tours.
There are other attractions in Summerland that are worth seeking out, and a tour of this area should rightly take two or three days to do it justice. Many people miss some of Summerland’s greatest charms by focusing too much on the wineries themselves.
The town itself is built along a Tudor theme, and has the quaint charm of an English village along the short Main Street strip. Above the town, if you like hiking and are in decent shape, the stroll up Giant’s Head is well worth it for phenomenal views over the South Okanagan.
Down below, for summer travellers, Summerland has what may be the best beach in the BC Interior. Sun-Oka Beach is located in Trout Creek, at the south end of town. This provincial park has a long, sparkling white beach that’s great for kids, because the beach slopes gently for more than 50 metres (55 yards). It also has a great dog beach (off leash) at the east end of the park. From here, you can follow a trail along the Trout Creek that leads under the highway and takes you through orchards to a set of rocky rapids.
Across the highway, and towering above the beach, is the Summerland Ornamental Gardens. Established in 1912 as a testament to the ‘English Garden’, this tranquil spot is now owned by the Pacific Agri-Food Research Station, and operated by volunteers. Next to the gardens there is an historic railway bridge now opened as a walking trail. You can enjoy the dizzying views of the rapids below from what is the largest and highest railway bridge of its kind.
A short drive out of town brings you to the Kettle Valley Railway, where you can take a 16-kilometer (10 mile) ride on a 1912 Steam Engine, along the only preserved section of track of the original Kettle Valley Railway.
With 15 licensed wineries in the area, and plenty of other attractions, it’s best to break up a wine tour of this area into a two or three day trip. Fortunately, wineries along the Bottleneck Drive are very close together, so seeing as many as a half-dozen in a day can still leave room for relaxing at the beach or seeing the sights.