Where there’s a wine country there’s also a budding if not prominent food scene. In British Columbia’s Okanagan wine valley this is exactly the case with festivals and events year round. Here’s a guide to which ones are worth your time. As always, never underestimate the tourist season in the Okanagan. Always book your hotels or AirBnBs well in advance (2-4 months) and make dinner reservations!
Here are the Okanagan’s top food festivals, events and cooking classes.
January: Okanagan Winter Wines Festival
This is prime time to taste Okanagan ice wines. Warm up next to a fireplace in a hotel or at a friend’s and sip on the sweet nectar that is ice wine.
With each season there is a wine festival to accompany it. You can check out the special events that vary from year to year and from winery to winery each year. However, two events always remain – The West Jet Wine Tastings and The British Columbia Wine Awards & Reception. Check out your favourite winery for special events to celebrate the seasonal wine festival.
February: The Canadian Culinary Championships
Canada’s best chefs compete around Canada for it all to come to ahead here in Kelowna. My favourite event is the mystery wine pairing where chefs must create a dish to be paired with a wine they only get to taste that morning. As a guest you get to fill your wine glass and tour around tasting each chef’s dish. Lines can get long so come early and be patient. More often than not you can’t try them all – a problem I hope they can solve in the coming years.
If you want to get to experience the championships it is more of a formal affair. While you still get to wander and taste all the chef’s final dishes of the competition there is also an auction that helps support our Canadian athletes train for the Olympics. Live music, great food and you might even walk away with a trip to Tuscany with a member of the Barenaked Ladies.
March: Devour Kelowna
So much food! Kelowna’s best wineries, breweries, restaurants, pastry chefs and cocktail revolutionists come out to celebrate our food scene. When I attended I was able to mingle with chef Vikram Vij so it is definitely an event for foodies. You can vote for your favourite dish, favourite drink and favourite pairing. It might be wise to share each dish with whomever you go with. I was so full by the end I wasn’t able to try it all!
April: Fest of Ale
Held in Penticton each year people flock to taste craft beer accompanied by local food vendors like Brodo Kitchen, Burger 55 and Smoking Hot Donairs. Book your tickets and accommodations early lest you want to get left behind. Attendees are very passionate and proud of their festival.
A recent addition to the Okanagan festival scene they are still perfecting and growing the GOBF. A weekend VIP pass will fetch you discounts at local taps, skip the line privileges, discounts at local music events and a swag bag at the main event. As with all these events, plan for long lines and get the VIP passes when applicable to save on time.
June: Joy Road Catering (May – September)
Anytime is a good time to book a Joy Road Catering dinner and events. They offer Thursday and Sunday dinners throughout the summer but these events go fast with limited seating at the God’s Mountain Estate location overlooking Skaha Lake. Dana and Cam host eager dinner guests in an al fresco setting with dinners that are sure to be the best you’ve ever had! I love them so much I’m having them cater my wedding. They are truly the best in the Okanagan.
June & July: Cedar Creek King of the Grill
A photo posted by Murissa Shalapata (@wanderfulltraveler) on
This summer Cedar Creek introduced a new culinary event in time for the grilling season. King of the Grill is offered in to ways. You can either have the three-course wine paired meal or attend the tasting where samples are handed out as the various dishes are made. I attended the latter for $99 + tax and thoroughly enjoyed it on Father’s Day with dad.
July: Diner En Blanc
If you’re interested in attending the DEB Okanagan make sure you sign up or get a friend who is already a member to sponsor you. If you’re not sure what this worldwide phenomenon is I suggest you watch the movie. Otherwise, it is a tradition started by a few Frenchies where they all got together once a year at a mystery location, dressed in white and brought their own food for an al fresco dinner. Each year the location is different and kept a secret until the last minute. The tradition has since spread to major cities all over the world with millions of people participating. Not interested in cooking? You don’t have to bring your own food! When you register online before the event (after you receive the exclusive e-mail) you can purchase picnic baskets prepared by local restaurants and buy wine to await you at the mystery venue.
August: Feast of Fields
A beloved tradition of mine provided that the heat doesn’t get to me before the wine does. Feast of Fields is a put on by a non-profit organization called Farm Folk City Folk. Each year a roaming feast is held at a local farm where local vendors are set up offering culinary treats while also creating awareness about the food grown and sold locally. It’s a way to connect the farmers to the food you eat whether it be in your kitchen or at your local restaurant.
September: Hopscotch Festival in Kelowna
Featuring beer, whisky and spirits this festival has grown since it was first introduced as the Okanagan Food and Drink Festival in 2009. It has since adopted the Hopscotch festival name synonymous with the 18 year old festival that first began in Vancouver. If you can’t make the Hopscotch Kelowna festival in September you can try to catch the Hopscotch Vancouver in November. With 5000+ attendees make sure you book your accommodations well in advance!
October: Okanagan Fall Wine Festival
Held during harvest, fall is the perfect time to visit a winery in the Okanagan. The tourists are almost all gone, the vineyards are turning gorgeous colours as the grapes are harvested in the cool air. Check your favourite wineries for special events like Cedar Creek’s Starry Plates Winemaker’s Dinner beneath the stars.
November: Mission Hill Culinary Classes (November – March(ish))
Mission Hill Winery offers wintertime events including their culinary theatre and hands-on workshops where you get to operate in their first class kitchen. The chef’s are always fun to work with and display a wealth of knowledge you’ll come away with a better appreciation of cooking and commandeering the kitchen. Keep an eye out for the schedule on the Mission Hill website. You can find classes featuring Christmas dinner essentials, French, Italian, and Asian cuisines on focus from month to month.
December: Sandrine’s Pastry & Chocolate Classes (Year Round)
A photo posted by Murissa Shalapata (@wanderfulltraveler) on
I am cheating a little bit with this one and am labeling Sandrine’s classes in December for a special reason. In November and December you can learn how to make Bûche de Noël (Yule Logs) or take her chocolate course in time for Christmas celebrations. This is another Okanagan favourite of mine who will be making an appearance at my wedding with her amazing and authentic macarons.
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments!
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