Phantom Creek Estates winery in Oliver, B.C. Mary-Ellen McSween photo

Face it, a virtual wine festival just isn’t as much fun as the real thing. So consider crafting your own mini festival with a few friends and a road trip to the Okanagan.

Trish Holme and Mary-Ellen McSween just returned from a five-day Okanagan excursion with a few pointers — the most important being not thinking too big. The second-most important thing? Be sure to bring back a case or two.

Tip #1: Decide on your lunch spot first

“The first day we had booked five wineries, but only made it to three. We definitely got off track,” said McSween. Even wine tasting has its limits, apparently.

“What we learned was that you should figure out where you want to have lunch, and then plan your day around that,” said Holme. “Find a winery and research what they have on the menu because that really adds to your day.”

Hitting several wineries a day requires planning and reservations. McSween and Holme had booked a few in advance before leaving their North Vancouver homes. Some wineries don’t require a reservation, while others may have had cancellations and if you show up, you may be able to have a tasting. The two women missed one reservation, but showed up later and still could do a tasting.

Life on a wine tour is eminently adaptable.

Tasting at Rust Wine in Oliver.

Mary-Ellen McSween

Tip #2: Plan your day

Some wineries don’t serve wine by the glass for lunch, but you can purchase a bottle then take what is left with you.

“You still have to be mindful that even if you are tasting, you’re still drinking,” said McSween. “There are so many wineries, we could have gone to more, but three a day was plenty.”

The duo also found that a midday meal was enough and they had snacks — and wine — for evenings back at their accommodation.

Mary-Ellen McSween at a tasting at Black Dog Cellars, which uses a large Lazy Susan tray at the bar to serve drinks.

Trish Holme

Tip #3: Consider pandemic protocols

“All of us are looking at situations with COVID-19 lenses on,” said McSween. “You know what you should be looking for.”

Every place they toured had physical distancing, hand sanitizers, and indoor tables were well spaced, said Holme.

“Each time we arrived at a winery, we were thinking about it — just to see what was in place. I felt that everywhere we went, they were prepared,” said Holme.

“Physical distancing was really being observed,” says McSween. “At almost every winery, they would have the tasting outside.”

“It just felt so good to travel after being at home for such a long time,” said Holme.

Tip #4: Where to stay

A search of VRBO showed no vacancies for the dates the pair wanted. They did find what was advertised as a luxury waterfront condo in Okanagan Falls and available for their dates.

“There was nothing luxury about it,” said McSween. “It was dank.”

Tip #5: Choose a favourite

“We went back to Phantom Creek a second time,” said McSween. The vineyard has had new owners since 2016 and has three times had one of its red wines named the best in Canada.

Both women came home with several cases of wine. Many local wines are not readily available in Greater Vancouver, but you can order through the winery’s wine club.

“I’m going to try to save some of the red — if I can,” said McSween with a laugh.

Phantom Creek Estates has stunning sculptures on the grounds to welcome you.

Trish Holme

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