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Time to discover Summerland's hidden treasure, Garnet Valley (Part II)

Welcome back to our two-part series on Summerland's Garnet Valley, a lovely but not particularly well-known rural region sandwiched between Penticton and Kelowna that's highlighted by two notable new wineries.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

We began our story Saturday here, with a quickie overview of the valley and a deeper dive into the sophisticated Solvero Wines, which opened officially in late July. Today we follow up with a look at one of the most unique winery properties we've ever seen, an interview with two of Garnet's most celebrated fans, and the rundown on a scary-good trail riding facility.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

We start with the former, the 360-acre Garnet Valley Ranch Winery -- a truly massive spread that can only be described as an utter surprise.

Why so surprising? Because in the midst of the narrow, thickly treed Garnet Valley, suddenly there's an enormous swath of land that would look more at home near Osoyoos. Or in Arizona.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

From the main drag, you can’t even see it. Indeed, you need to arrange a tour in advance, and even then you’re ferried up a thin ribbon of a road 'til you arrive at the parcel's prime viewing spot, a gorgeous cement and glass tasting room that's fully air conditioned and stocked with Ranch wines.

It's truly a wow moment.

Below you and in the hills to your right are vineyards. Lots of vineyards -- 60 acres in all, scattered all over the sweeping scene.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The "Outlook" tasting room at Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

Directly in front of you on the valley floor, looking postage stamp small when compared to the grandeur of the entire parcel, is nearly ten acres of vegetables, cared for and harvested by the Okanagan-based LocalMotive Organic Delivery.

Close by is a multi-acre lavender plot, run by former Summerland mayor Toni Boot. There's a bee colony too and free range chickens doing their thing.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

And there's lots of raw space, space that's purposefully been left the way it was thousands of years ago.

The entire thing is run by the same folks who own popular Haywire Winery (formerly known as Okanagan Crush Pad), overlooking Okanagan Lake a couple of kilometers away. And at the top of the enterprise is co-founder and co-owner Christine Coletta, a woman who's clearly thrilled she got into Garnet Valley when she did.

"What I can tell you about the viticulture out here," she told us, "is that in 1964 the industry commissioned the Wine Grape Atlas, and they mapped the entire Okanagan Valley for grape suitability. They came out to Garnet Valley but stopped because they saw it was so dark and steep.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

"And then in 2012, we were looking for a piece of property that had never been farmed. No herbicides or pesticides. We wanted a clean plate. And one that was large enough that we could build biodiversity into our program."

According to Coletta, she and her hubby Steve Lornie got word of a piece of land in Garnet Valley. She immediately dismissed it as per the Wine Grape Atlas, but Lornie took an exploratory drive anyway and landed on that wide open 360-acre parcel.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from the Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

Soon, it was theirs.

Touring us around the Ranch, mostly in a golf cart, was general manager Craig Pingle, who met us at the entrance and led us up a kilometer or so of dirt road to the focal point, that modernistic, air-conditioned hospitality room -- fittingly named "Outlook" -- that seemingly pops out of nowhere.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Together we gawked at the view as Pingle gave us the abridged rundown.

"This is a certified organic property," he explained. "We have 60 acres of planted vineyards, primarily Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay Rosé, a little bit of Pinot Meunier for our sparkling and a little bit of Chenin Blanc.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It's been in use as our estate vineyard, where we'd source our fruit, then last year when we built a new tasting room at Haywire, we built this tasting room as well. And we went through the licensing process to turn this into Garnet Valley Ranch Winery.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Chatting with GM Craig Pingle at Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

"On June 1st of this year we received the license. On June 2nd it was open."

Pingle filled us in on the wildlife -- coyotes, deer, bears, bobcats and more -- and how it's unrestricted by fences and can roam around at will. And he spoke of the "unique sub-geographical indication" ("sub-GI") of the area and how it's a product of elevation, climate and soil.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

"It gets colder up here earlier, so the growing season is shorter," he said. "When the snow comes in, it stays. And that works to our advantage, insulating the vines. Cooler climate grapes thrive up here."

As we toured, we saw the Airstream trailer that’s available for nightly rental. We saw a protected area, complete with stream and wetland plants. And we saw some of the brawniest chickens we've ever encountered.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> You lookin' at me, tough guy?

"They're truly free range," said Pingle. "We feed them minimally and let them go out and find their own food. They help us combat the pests we can find on an organic property, like grasshoppers."

Currently, the only way to see the Ranch and taste the wine is through a "private experience."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Now that's a BBQ

"Up until this year, the main gate was open," he said. "But now we've had to start thinking about security. The winemaker lives on the property, as do temporary workers, and now there's the tasting room.

"Basically, we want to keep it as pristine as possible -- wild and spectacular. Try to be stewards of the land. We don’t want hordes of people coming in."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> GM Craig Pingle in the "Outlook" tasting room

So it's by appointment only, through private experiences that include seated tasting sessions at Outlook and comprehensive golf cart tours of the property. Each experience runs 90 minutes to two hours and is far removed from a typical winery tasting.

Those who are members of the Haywire Winery wine club get freebie experiences at the Ranch. Those who are not are charged $60. Tours are available three times a day Tuesday through Saturday for singles or groups of two to six.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

And for Haywire members only, there's that Airstream trailer too.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Scene from the Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

Garnet Valley Ranch is situated a kilometer past Wildhorse Road on Garnet Valley Road. But you can't just show up. You need to join the Haywire Winery wine club and/or make arrangements in advance. For more info on how to do that, turn here.

"By the time most people are done here," summarized Pingle, "they’re usually saying it's the most unique and special winery experience they've had."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>Scene from Garnet Valley Ranch Winery

But as we said earlier, there's more for Garnet Valley visitors to do than check out awesome new wineries. Like trail riding -- and "horse camping" too -- courtesy of people like the folks at the 80-acre Wildhorse Mountain Guest Ranch.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

PentictonNow had our first experience at Wildhorse last Halloween, when they turned the acreage into the frighteningly entertaining "Haunted Hill."

It was…positively horrifying.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Wildhorse at Halloween

But there's plenty of stuff going on the rest of the year too.

"We offer one- and two-hour trail rides," said Wildhorse owner Carolin Sherman. "We ride up the mountain and along the mountain ridge. You get beautiful views of Okanagan Lake, all the way from Naramata to Peachland."

<who>Photo Credit: Wildhorse Mountain Guest Ranch</who>

Wildhorse accepts riders with any level of experience, from total rookies to absolutely advanced, and promises "super scenic" wilderness trails every step of the way.

And if a couple hours isn't enough -- and especially if you can BYOH (Bring Your Own Horse) -- Sherman recommends horse camping.

"We have three campsites," she said. "Just dry sites, no power or anything, but we built little corrals for horses right by the campsites, so people can come with their horses and camp a few days and explore the trails."

<who>Photo Credit: Wildhorse Mountain Guest Ranch</who> Views even your horse will love

What's more, in 2024 Wildhorse hopes to introduce on-site "ranch vacations" too, with most of the amenities of home. We can't say more as of yet.

For more info on Wildhorse Mountain Guest Ranch, located at 25808 Wildhorse Rd., you can hit the website here, though Sherman says telephone calls (250-864-0150) will get faster response.

But don’t leave Garnet Valley just yet. For farm-fresh eggs -- and a quick peek at a working valley farm -- you can’t do much better than the ten-acre Van Alphen spread on Handley Street.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Marty and Linda Van Alphen at home

Living there is Linda Van Alphen, boss of the prestigious Penticton Farmers' Market and Summerland's Rotary Market, 20-year school board veteran and 2023 Summerland Citizen of the Year, and husband and longtime Summerland council member and RDOS board member Marty Van Alphen.

Some unofficially call Marty the mayor of Garnet Valley. Though with her credentials Linda could certainly handle the imaginary position just as capably.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Regardless, the twosome are clearly Garnet Valley superfans.

"We came here to pursue our dream," said Marty during our recent visit. "I grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario. So I already loved being on the land. And this is a piece of paradise."

Linda waxed just as poetically.

"I love it here," she said. "I grew up on a ranch outside Edmonton. And this is just a good life for us.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It's a tough life. We go hell-bent for leather for ten months, then hopefully we can take two months off. But Summerland and Garnet Valley have given us everything we have."

For the most part, the Van Alphen's ten acres are private. But visitors are welcome to drive down their long driveway, dodging chickens along the way, to their big outdoor fridge. Here they can buy farm-fresh eggs via the honour system.

"Anytime between 8 and 5," said Marty. "Just drop your money in the coffee can."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The honour system is indicative of the way things still are in Garnet Valley.

"It’s wonderful here," said Marty. "The part I really like is that when a neighbor asks for help, you go. I had a heart attack four years ago and I came home and there were knocks on the door from the neighbours. One neighbor cut my grass, another cut my hay. I never had to worry once.

"That's just the way it is out here in the valley."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

These days, the Van Alphens find the demand for their beef cows increasing. At the Penticton Farmers' Market, they sell ground beef, pepperoni and jerky. Away from the market, they sell halves and quarters.

"They're grass-fed to the finish," said Marty. "And from what I see at the market, people are really grateful to know where their products are coming from. The flavor is substantially different from anything you buy at the store."

They also have bees. But only in the summer.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"Kevin and Janelle from Okanagan Wildbrush Honey have their bees in our hayfield because of the alfalfa and clover we grow there," said Marty.

"It's really cool working together like that. They take them to the cherry orchards and then here. They're here for the summer. And we love having them."

You'll find the Van Alphen farm, and their fresh eggs, at 15704 Handley St. in the midst of Garnet Valley.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

And that ends our tour -- a concept that began when we rode our bicycles through the valley and realized it was unique to the region and quite awesome.

But we knew virtually nothing about it.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Now we do. And so do you.

Send your comments, news tips, typos, letter to the editor, photos and videos to [email protected].

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