Bring your appetite and your corkscrew!

Best of BC Wine Country honours the best in BC cuisine

By Joanne Sasvari – Joanne is a food, drink and travel writer who contributes to Postmedia publications, Destination BC and WestJet Magazine, and is the author of the forthcoming Wickaninnish Inn and Vancouver Eats cookbooks.

Wine country is more than just a sip of Semillon or Syrah. It is a way of life, a celebration of all the pleasures of the table, of lively conversation, generous hospitality and fine food, as well as the liquid in our glass.

And so we raise that glass to the culinary winners of the Best of BC Wine Country Awards.

Even though the Okanagan Valley has long been BC’s orchard, it was only recently that it became a foodie destination. The wine came first; the chefs followed, drawn by the extraordinary quality of the local produce. Now visitors can enjoy terrific wine country dining experiences from Vernon to Osoyoos, Vancouver Island to the Kootenays.

Many of them made the Best of BC Wine Country Awards. Nearly 2,000 consumers cast their votes over four weeks, and of those, 30 per cent voted on multiple wine regions. Clearly, wine lovers like to get out and about, and they’re hungry for delicious new experiences. Here are the winners that best satisfied their appetite.

Best Winery Restaurant: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

The Stewart family has been growing grapes here in West Kelowna for three generations, so by now they have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing. Just over a decade ago, their smart idea was putting Chef Roger Sleiman in charge of their restaurant. Since then he has quietly been cooking up top-notch local ingredients in an approach he calls “fresh simplicity.” As a result, the food on the plate is as spectacular as the view from the dining room; plus it pairs seamlessly with winemaker Nikki Callaway’s elegant wines.

Honourable mention: Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards; Liquidity Bistro at Liquidity Wines.
Other region winners: Unsworth Vineyards; Crowsnest Vineyard; Bacchus Bistro at Domaine de Chaberton; and The Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery.

Best Restaurant Showcasing Local Foods: RauDZ Regional Table

Sourcing local has been chef Rod Butters’ mission since long before it was fashionable. He had the first restaurant rooftop herb garden in Vancouver in the early 1990s, built a network of farmers and fishers at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn a few years later, and in the Okanagan has discovered a whole valley full of local delights that end up in the kitchen at RauDZ. From bacon to beets to blackberries, if it grows here, he finds some delicious new way to serve it.

Honourable mention: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery; Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards; Liquidity Bistro at Liquidity Wines.
Other region winners: Unsworth Vineyards; Bacchus Bistro at Domaine de Chaberton; The Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery and Grist Mill and Gardens.

Best Local Food Product: Poplar Grove Cheese
Say cheese! Wine lovers adore their fromage, and they have plenty to choose from in BC wine country. Their favourite? Poplar Grove, a boutique cheesery owned by Gitta Pederson and nestled amid the vineyards on the Naramata Bench. Swing by the tasting room and sample cheesemaker Louise Pearson’s truffly, creamy Okanagan Double Cream Camembert, complexly earthy Harvest Moon Washed Rind, mild Naramata Bench Blue and the rich, intense, mouthwateringly salty Tiger Blue.

Honourable mention: Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan Inc.; cheese from Upper Bench Winery & Creamery.

Other region winners: Little Qualicum Cheeseworks cranberry pepper cream cheese; Harker’s Fruit Stand organic tomatoes; Vista D’oro jams; pork loin from Spray Creek Ranch in Lillooet.

Best Overall Culinary Experience: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery
It’s not just the food. It starts with that view, sweeping up and down the valley, over the rolling vineyards and the lake sparkling below. It continues in the tasting room, where thoughtful staff lead guests through the crisp whites, delicate Pinot Noirs and irresistible rosé. And then the experience moves on to the dining room, elegant and understated, surrounded by gardens and that breathtaking view. Here chef Sleiman prepares farm-to-table fare – think roast pork chop with Tiger Blue cheese or herb gnocchi and squash in sage butter – with the understated finesse that earned Old Vines a spot on the list of Canada’s top 100 restaurants.

Honourable mention: Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery; Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards;

Other region winners: Orofino Winery dinner series in the Similkameen Valley; Enrico Winery on Vancouver Island; The Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery.
Other region honorable mentions: Benja Thai in Keremeos, Similkameen Valley; The Terrace at Monte Creek Ranch Winery.