In a way, the wines of the Westside Wine Trail in West Kelowna have been 60 million years in the making.
All eight of the fine wineries in this area were built practically in the shadow of Mount Boucherie, an ancient and extinct stratovolcano that once stood over a mile high, pouring fire, smoke, ash and lava over the region. Thanks to that tumultuous geologic history, the area now enjoys rich but sandy soils with the perfect combination of nutrients and drainage for wine production. Combined with the hot, intense, and relatively short growing season in this area, the Mt. Boucherie area produces wines that are relatively high in alcohol, and for reds, high in tannins as well.
Today, the eight wineries of the Westside Wine Trail huddle along the mountainside, with sheer cliffs soaring high above vineyards, orchards, and the sparkling waters of Okanagan Lake. The one exception is Mission Hill, a world-famous winery with a 120-foot high bell tower that sits majestically on one shoulder of the mountain.
Views from this point, or from Quail’s Gate winery just below, are among the most photographed of any vista in Canada; you just have to see it to believe it!
It’s an easy area to tour and about the right number of wineries for a good day trip combined with lunch at one of the winery restaurants.
Most people stay in Kelowna and drive the 10 minutes across the Bennett Bridge to West Kelowna, turning left off Highway 97 onto Boucherie Road. All the wineries are either on Boucherie Road, or within one minute’s drive of it. From here you can easily visit Beaumont Family Estate Winery, Kalala Organic Estate Winery, Little Straw Vineyards, Mt Boucherie Family Estate Winery, Mission Hill, Quail’s Gate, Rollingdale Winery, and the aptly named Volcanic Hills Estate Winery.
From a wine traveller’s perspective, the Westside Wine Trail makes for a relatively short, easy day trip, with a range of wineries from small farmgate operations, to larger boutique wineries, all the way up to Mission Hill, which is one of the largest and most elegant wineries in Canada. Despite the smaller size of this wine region, it receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, many drawn by the architectural beauty of Mission Hill, which can be seen easily from many miles away.
Mission Hill was built by Anthony Von Mandl, whose family came from Europe before he was born in Vancouver. The winery has a heavy European influence, and the bells in the great tower were even cast in bronze by a European bell maker.
The New York Times called Mission Hill “… the Versailles of the Okanagan Valley,” and Travel + Leisure magazine rated its Terrace Restaurant as one of the top five winery restaurants in the entire world. It also boasts a very entertaining wine tour, which includes a jaunt into its somewhat spooky underground wine cellar, carved out of solid volcanic rock. It’s fair to say no wine vacation to the Okanagan Valley is truly complete without a visit to Mission Hill, but it would be a serious mistake to miss the other terrific wineries in this region.
You’ll want to bring a camera, as the vistas over Green Bay are truly spectacular, particularly in the late spring and early autumn, and there is of course the classic European architecture of Mission Hill. Also bring an appetite; Mission Hill’s Terrace Restaurant has been rated one of the world’s best dining experiences, Quail’s Gate has the spectacular Old Vines Restaurant overlooking Green Bay, and Little Straw has its Barrel Top Grill. Coming soon, Volcanic Hills plans to open an Indian Fusion restaurant on is large patio.
There are other reasons to visit this area as well. During the summers, locals in the know flock to the Westside because it has some of the best hiking trails and beaches in the Central Okanagan. There are several trails that will take you to the top of Mt. Boucherie, but be warned, this is a difficult climb requiring proper hiking boots. Fortunately, the reward is a truly spectacular view from the top of this ancient volcano. On the other side of Highway 97, about five minutes drive, is the amazing Rose Valley Regional Park, which offers trails that climb to a high mountain ridge. On one side of the ridge you get a view of Okanagan Lake stretching off to the distance. On the other, you see the more remote and unsettled Rose Lake. You can hike down and around the lake, but be aware; this is wild country and you may see bears and coyotes here, not to mention herds of deer.
For many, the Westside is preferred over Kelowna for beach life, because its beaches are more natural, more remote, and less crowded. In particular, check out the beach and the absolutely phenomenal views from Kalamoir Park, which lies right in the middle of the West Coast Wine Trail.
One of our favourite activities is to visit some wineries, eat at one of the winery restaurants, and then go hiking and swimming at Kalamoir.
Further afield, there are great beaches at the Bear Creek campground, and at Telegraph Cove, both north of Highway 97 on Westside Road. From the Bear Creek campground, you can also follow yet another spectacular and well maintained hiking trail that takes you around a massive waterfall and through a narrow, precipitous canyon.
While not yet as well known as some of the other wine trails, the Westside winery region is almost a required feature in any wine tour of the Okanagan.