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Do you know where Garnet Valley is? We asked around recently and realized few do.
But maybe it's time you should. It’s likely an easy drive from where you are right now. And it's growing increasingly more interesting as each month passes by.
In late July, a sleek new winery officially opened there, offering a highly distinctive South Okanagan setting and, say its owners, a distinctive "Burgandian" product too.
A few months before that, it was the public debut of a massive 360-acre parcel that not only features 60 acres of vineyards, but almost ten acres of organic veggies, a mega-size bee colony, and perhaps the most uniquely positioned tasting/hospitality room in the entire South Okanagan.
But wait. There's more to Garnet Valley then those two new additions.
There's also horseback riding (and horse camping) at places like Wildhorse Mountain Guest Ranch (more on that in Part II), hiking and dirt bike trails, pastoral scenes all over and a quiet paved road right down the middle that's perfect for seasoned cyclists.
For those who like their farm-fresh eggs, there's an awesome spread shared by the woman who runs the Penticton Farmers' Market and her hubby, a rock of a man who also happens to be a Summerland councilor. More on them in Part II as well.
And there's a reservoir/lake near the end of the drivable road. It's called, not surprisingly, Garnet Lake, and it supplies irrigation and drinking water to the surrounding area.
It currently can’t be fished due to concerns over invasive species, but it's a pretty spot for low-key canoeing, paddling and stand-up paddling.
So where's this place been hiding all these years?
Garnet Valley is essentially the northern chunk of the District of Summerland, stretching to within ten kilometers of Peachland in the north and roughly paralleling Hwy 97 approximately a kilometer to the west.
It's narrow and mostly treed, and much if it is shielded from direct sunlight in the mornings and late afternoons. Accordingly, it looks much different than the typical Okanagan Valley scene and is a wee bit cooler too.
The easiest ways to access it are via Jones Flat Road from Hwy 97, not far from the Summerland Visitor Centre, or from Summerland itself via Garnet Avenue, which eventually becomes Garnet Valley Road.
The only access from the north is via a rather rough old-timey trail from Peachland (once part of the "Fur Brigade Trail") that ends near Garnet Lake and delivers great views of Okanagan Lake but is most definitely not a recommended Garnet Valley entrance.
So PentictonNow opted for Jones Flat Road when we headed to the valley for the official opening of the region's newest winery -- a winery that got its start in 2013 when a youngish guy named Matt Sartor convinced his parents that Garnet Valley, not exactly a wine mecca, was the best spot around for the pinot noir grape.
The new business, owned by Sartor's parents Bob and Andrea, would be called Solvero Wines. And the work to convert a cruelly rocky western-facing slope into a vineyard began in earnest.
"We spent a couple years thinking where we wanted to set ourselves to ripen pinot noir in the Okanagan," said the younger Sartor, now the president and vineyard manager of the 30-acre facility, as together we climbed the crazily steep Solvero slopes.
"There was some stuff as far away as Lake Country that was appealing to me, but I found my favourite Pinot was coming mostly from light-deprived sites.
"And that led us to looking at this narrow valley, which is the first time I realized Garnet Valley existed. We spent time doing soil sampling, putting up weather stations and doing due diligence. We spent 2015 setting up irrigation and bringing in power."
And now the wines of Solvero are ready for prime time. And a spacious new tasting room will be sprung by the spring of 2024.
For now though, guests will sample their wines outdoor but under cover at the winery's crush pad. It proved to be a nice place to be during the opening, though perhaps the most stunning sight of all lay just behind the crowd, where lurked the king of all retaining walls.
At 20 feet tall and 200 feet wide and featuring an army of steel rods sunk six to eight feet deep into the bedrock, the Solvero retaining wall protects the winery buildings from the slope that begins mere inches from the structure. On top of that grade, hidden from view due to slope steepness, are the majority of the Solvero vineyards.
That wall is an engineering marvel.
Soon we were chatting with Solvero's co-proprietor (and Matt's dad) Bob Sartor.
We asked the obvious question: Why here?
"It was Matt who was looking here, not me, " he replied with a laugh. "And he said this was the perfect place for (French) Burgandian-style wines.
"The heat days are similar to Burgundy. The orientation is ideal for pinot because it does not get that full sun and lake effect, which drives up the sugar and alcohol. Pinot is delicate. You want a 12.5% pinot, not a 14% pinot.
"So we spent a couple years pulling out 50 tons of rock."
According to the elder Sartor, the Solvero experience has been "exhausting."
"We bought it in winter," he said, "and didn’t quite realize how hot that hillside would be. And it was smoking hot. My wife and I did the rock picking, we did the planting. It was exhausting. We started planting in 2016 and it took us four years to get it all together."
Sartor makes it sound tough, but freely admits he loves the valley and his spot in it.
"We knew hills produced great grapes," he said. "I think there'll be more wineries coming to Garnet Valley because of its unique composition and aspect with the sun."
And now the wait is on for that tasting room, a giant-sized affair with a kitchen that's due to open in the spring of 2024.
"Our plan is to serve charcuterie style food and small bite pairings when we open the tasting room, though it's too early at this point to get into more specifics," said Solvero winemaker and general manager Alison Moyes.
"But we'd like to offer a range of wine experiences, one without food and two levels of food offerings, carefully paired with the wines."
The Solvero "tasting experience" and tour this year runs $12 per person and includes personal attention from either the facility's winemaker or grape grower.
The current tasting selection is four deep. A 2022 Pinot Gris, 2022 Rose, 2021 Chardonnay and 2019 Pinot Noir, all estate grown. Reservations are recommended.
You'll find Solvero Wines at 25585 Wildhorse Rd., Summerland (Garnet Valley). For more info and to reserve a tasting/tour, turn here.
Stay tuned for Part II of our Garnet Valley feature tomorrow, Sunday, Aug 27. We'll have a look at one of the most unique winery properties we've ever seen, an interview with two of the valley's most celebrated fans, and an overview of a scary-good trail riding facility.