Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017

© Anita Draycott

Nk Mip Golf Course, Osoyoos, BC.

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Kelowna’s reds, whites and greens

Sip and swing your way through the Okanagan Valley

For each of the 70 or so wineries in the Okanagan Valley, there are at least six golf holes. My friend Margaret and I are both avid golfers and enthusiastic oenophiles, so for us, Kelowna was an easy choice. The valley, a

200-kilometre-long fertile belt, begins in Canada at the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert and runs up to Vernon, British Columbia. Nestled between the lower Monashee Mountains to the east and the Cascade Mountains to the west, this semi-arid geographical jackpot basks in an average of 2000 hours of sunshine annually.

The region is the fruit-growing capital of Canada, and produces apples, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries and raspberries — as well as grapes that ferment into award-winning wines. The sunny, temperate climate also supports a longer golf season than many places in this country. That dream combo of vineyards and golf courses has earned it the moniker Napa North.

We began our sip-and-swing holiday at Predator Ridge Golf Resort (tel: 888-578-6688; www.predatorridge.com), a 45-minute drive north from Kelowna Airport on the outskirts of Vernon, where architect Les Furber sculpted three nines, named after the resident birds of prey (Osprey, Peregrine and Red Tail).

The resort is nestled in 485 hectares of azure lakes and streams, wild sage, wheatgrass meadows and sun-baked red hills fringed with golden fescue. At sunset, from the clubhouse dining-room deck, Predator looks like a larger-than-life painting.

Apart from the drop-dead natural beauty and a four-and-a-half star rating from Golf Digest, another reason to start your golf getaway at Predator is Len Harvey. The resort’s resident golf pro, now nearing his 80th birthday, has become a cult hero amongst golfers wanting to hone their swings. After more than 50 years of teaching, Harvey is a master of summing up your faults and prescribing uncomplicated solutions and drills, otherwise known as the “Zen of Len.”

“I was born the year dirt was invented,” quipped the Manitoba-born wisecracker, as he instructed me to “wipe the blood off your shaft” (meaning my grip was far too tight). With luck he’ll give you some tips on how to handle Predator’s notoriously fast and contoured greens, made even harder by the sadistic pin placement on the day we played.


In Fine Spirits

Moving south to Kelowna, the Okanagan Golf Club (tel: 800-898-2449; www.golfbc.com) boasts two 18-hole courses that tumble through ponderosa pine forests. The Bear, designed by Jack Nicklaus, can be as ferocious as a grizzly or almost as gentle as a teddy, depending on which of the four sets of tees you choose to play.

Tougher and tighter is Les Furber’s Quail course. Bring your camera to take a shot from the giddying elevated tees on the number six signature hole, a dogleg par five with a raised green surrounded by very effective bunkers. At the halfway house on the Quail, I devoured a roast beef sandwich garnished with caramelized onions, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and mayo on fresh multigrain bread — certainly a cut above the usual golf club fare.

Minutes from the Okanagan courses, we indulged in some “vinotherapy massages” at the Beyond Wrapture Day Spa. Alana, my therapist, mixed shea butter and grape-seed oil with my choice of red or white wine from nearby Mission Hill Family Estate. Wine, she claimed, is a healthy antioxidant whether taken inside or out. In keeping with the wine theme, we finished with pedicures and Merlot Mist polish on our toes.

Then it was time for a little internal wine therapy at Cedar Creek Estate (tel: 250-764-8866; www.cedarcreek.bc.ca), named Canadian Winery of the Year in 2005. Almost every winery in the valley welcomes visitors for tours and tastings and most have an excellent restaurant. The majority boast great views of Lake Okanagan where Ogopogo, the giant green serpent monster, purportedly lurks. To date no one has claimed the $2 million reward for finding him.

We were standing at the tasting bar raving about an Estate Select Pinot Noir when Tom DiBello, Cedar Creek’s pony-tailed and self-proclaimed “radical winemaker,” offered to take us into the barrel rooms where he siphons off some of his experimental Pinot Noir “babies.”

Originally from California, DiBello has worked in some of the world’s most prestigious wineries, including Château Petrus in France, but he told us without any hesitation, “I would rather make wine here than anywhere else in the world.”


The Shape Of Things To Come

Our game plan was to secure tee times early enough that we could pair 18 holes and a winery visit each day. We were spoiled for choice. The aptly named Harvest Golf Club (tel: 800-257-8577; www.harvestgolf.com) is a golfer’s Garden of Eden, where you can pluck a Granny Smith or gala apple from the trees lining the fairways during your round.

Canadian architect Graham Cooke routed the Harvest through a series of working orchards and vineyards on a bluff overlooking Lake Okanagan. The clubhouse looks over a waterfall and an infinity pond landscaped with a Japanese garden and red pagoda-style bridge.

Although we found all those involved in Okanagan’s wine industry to be passionate and innovative, the quirkiest of them all is Summerhill Period Winery (tel: 800-667-3538; www.summerhill.bc.ca), Canada’s largest certified organic winery. Owner Stephen Cipes gave up his real estate business in New York and started planting grapes here in 1986. Summerhill wines are regularly honoured in international competitions. This year, Cipes Brut sparkling wine took the Double Gold at the Canadian Wine Awards.

But what sets Summerhill apart is the scaled down concrete replica of Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, where all of the wine is stored for 30 days. Our guide informed us that the “sacred” or perfect geometry of certain three-dimensional shapes, such as domes, arches and pyramids, has enhancing effects on liquids. In blind tastings over a three-year period, testers preferred the wines stored in Summerhill’s pyramid over those stored traditionally. “Mind you,” cautioned our guide, “not even pyramid power can turn something like Baby Duck into a fine vintage.”

Just down the road, Gallagher’s Canyon Golf and Country Club (tel: 250-861-4240; www.golfbc.com/courses/gallaghers_canyon), named after the hermit who used to live here, has been ranked among Canada’s top 50 courses. The course swoops into and around the deep canyon for which it was named.

But no visit to the Kelowna area would be complete without a trip over the bridge to the west side of Lake Okanagan to Mission Hill Family Estate (tel: 250-768-7611; www.missionhillwinery.com). The winery is the brainchild of Anthony von Mandl, a wine importer and pioneer of viticulture in the Okanagan Valley. After a three-year global search for a winemaker who would put the region on the map, von Mandl hired New Zealander John Simes, and it’s been a very successful pairing.

In peak season, Mission Hill sees over 1000 visitors per day, our wine educator Kimberley informed us as we passed under the Roman arch and rose gardens and gazed beyond to a 12-storey bell tower and grassy amphitheatre where summertime Shakespeare, jazz and opera performances are held.

The al fresco Terrace Restaurant, overlooking the lake, serves over 20 wines by the glass to accompany such dishes as double-smoked bean and chanterelle mushroom risotto, wild boar sausage with leeks and spaghetti squash and locally produced cheeses.


Snake, Rattle And Roll

We drove south down the western side of Lake Okanagan through Peachland and Penticton, passing lots of orchards, fruit stands and vineyards with sassy names such as Dirty Laundry, Silk Scarf and Hollywood and Vine.

Our destination was Osoyoos, 125 kilometres south of Kelowna and a stone’s throw from the US border. This area is home to Canada’s unique “pocket desert.” As we pulled into the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa (tel: 877-313-9463; www.spiritridge.ca), I looked around at the rare cacti, sagebrush and wild flowers and could have sworn I was smack-dab in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, instead of a few miles north of the British Columbia/Oregon border. A sign in the lounge read, “Keep this door closed at all times. A rattlesnake was found in the lobby.” Yikes.

So we’d entered the Wild West — complete with tumbleweeds and rattlers — but there’s also a thriving wine industry here. And here’s another eye-opener: this four-star luxury resort is a partnership between the Osoyoos Indian Band and Calgary-based Bellstar Hotels & Resorts.

It gets a bit complicated but bear with me. Nk’Mip (pronounced in-ka-meep) Resort is located in the southern end of the Osoyoos Reservation around Lake Osoyoos, the warmest lake in Canada. Led by Chief Clarence Louie, the Band’s Nk’Mip resort encompasses Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa where we stayed, the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre and Cellars, Sonora Dunes Golf Course and a campground and RV resort.

Osoyoos enjoys hot summers, little precipitation and the mildest winter climate in Canada, allowing Spirit Ridge’s nine-hole Sonora Dunes Golf Course (tel: 250-495-4653; www.sonoradunes.com) and the others in the vicinity to remain open year-round.

Through its various business partnerships, the Band generates annual revenues in excess of $40 million, employs 1200 people and administers its own health, social, education and municipal services.

Nk’Mip Cellars (tel: 250-495-2985; www.nkmipcellars.com) is North America’s first aboriginal owned and operated winery dedicated to crafting premium Vintners Quality Alliance wines. The modern structure, overlooking Lake Osoyoos, was designed to display native art and artifacts amidst the bins of bottles for sale. On Thursday evenings, they serve a traditional salmon feast followed by native dancing on the restaurant’s patio.


Making The Rounds

Using Spirit Ridge as our base, Margaret and I played two other golf courses nearby. Playing Nk’Mip Canyon (tel: 800-656-5755; www.nkmipcanyon.com), also run by Chief Louie and the Osoyoos Indian Band, is like a walk through an outdoor art gallery. At the clubhouse entrance a handsome metal sculpture and fountain pays homage to the salmon spirit chief. Another sculpture — a quiver of arrows in a golf bag — stands at the door of the pro shop. At the snack bar, you can order a tumbleweed sandwich or a snake-bite wrap.

Though we thankfully never spotted one, the real vipers love to bask on the sun-baked rocks all over this 18-hole course built by a local landscaper and four Indian Band members. For anyone with a fear of snakes (me!), the warning signs on many of the holes might affect your concentration.

At the Osoyoos Golf & Country Club (tel: 800-481-6665; www.golfosoyoos.com) we had our choice between the 18-hole Park Meadows course and the more difficult Desert Gold layout. Naturally we chose the latter and were rewarded with dramatic desert scenery, complete with sagebrush, rocky bluffs and prickly cactus — a definite deterrent when trying to retrieve errant balls.

Backtracking north again, we played our final round at Fairview Mountain Golf Club (tel: 866-534-7264; www.fairviewmountain.com) just outside of Oliver. Fairview could be described as a test of extreme mountain golf, with the course careening through canyons and ravines.

To quench our thirsts, we pulled into Sumac Ridge (tel: 250-494-0451; www.sumacridge.com) in Summerland, where they offer a one-hour tutored tasting of six premium wines for just $10.

The founder and president of Sumac is Harry McWatters, generally regarded as the godfather of Okanagan’s wine industry. In 1979, McWatters bought Sumac Ridge Golf Course and pulled out some fairways in order to plant vines. His was the first winery in the province to cultivate grapes grown 100 percent in British Columbia. Sumac’s Black Sage vineyard has received the most awards in Canada for its intense and complex reds and whites.

We spent our last morning in downtown Kelowna’s Cultural District browsing through the galleries and boutiques around Waterfront Park. At the well-stocked VQA Wine Shop, we picked up a few liquid souvenirs. How could we resist offerings from Therapy Winery with names such as Freudian Sip and Pink Freud? Or Blasted Church’s late harvest Blastphemy?

Housed in the same building, the BC Orchard Industry Museum tells the story of how the missionary, Father Pendosy, planted the first apple trees in the Okanagan. Some say that the valley’s love affair with the grape began in the 1850s when that same friar experimented with making some sacramental wines. All I can say is, here’s to you, Father.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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