As he presents his signature dish, Dan Carkner stands tall with his palm cupping the white plate full of colour and cleverness. It features a thick slice of country loaf topped with figs, walnuts, chanterelle mushrooms, goat’s feta cheese, sherry vinegar reduction, nasturtium, and marigold. All of that packed onto a single slice of bread.
“It’s a jab in the ribs to avocado on toast,” Carkner says, grinning as he introduces “Things on Toast”, a winning appetizer that has already tickled my imagination before I learn its playful name. My tastebuds also cheer once I’ve knifed into it. Honeyesque sweetness is blended with wholesome, earthy flavours for a delectable initiation to the menu of the Modest Butcher. Carkner, the executive chef, previously cooked for politicians at the House of Commons kitchen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and has clearly taken to the Okanagan Valley and its agricultural bounty and temperate climate.
The Modest Butcher is the culinary arm of Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery on the west side of Kelowna, the most well known of British Columbia’s viticulture-rich cities. Located on Lake Okanagan, Kelowna is home to more than 40 wineries. Increasingly, those enterprises feature culinary experiences that are a match for the outstanding wine produced in the area. When Mt. Boucherie relocated in June to a sleek, contemporary building with a gleaming lower-level tasting room it also debuted the Modest Butcher with a terrace overlooking the vineyards and the lake. It’s the kind of scene your mind settles on when dreaming of satisfaction. The addition of Mt. Boucherie’s new space and other advancements is a key reason why Kelowna ranks among the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2021, a survey of travel journalists that will be released in January.
Mt. Boucherie’s wines are among the most approachable and crowd-pleasing in the Okanagan. Winemaker Jeff Hundertmark arrived from Ontario four years ago after building the portfolio at Stoney Ridge Estate Winery in the Niagara Region. Among his accomplishments is the creation of wines for The Tragically Hip, the beloved rock band whose red-wine blend and chardonnay are hit sellers of their own.
Working with British Columbia’s showcase grapes and diverse climate allows Hundertmark to explore a broad range of wines. Mt. Boucherie owns 300 acres of land throughout the valley, stretching from its new headquarters — built partially on volcanic rock that landed millennia ago when the winery’s namesake mountain erupted — southward to the farm areas of Oliver and the Similkameen Valley. The winery is among the few in British Columbia to bottle Grüner-Veltliner, a popular white wine in Austria. Hundertmark sells it as Green Lightning and under Mt. Boucherie’s low-cost Modest Wines brand. Meanwhile, the Original Vines label includes standout bottles, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon that can easily age a decade, and a luscious Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend whose berries are inspected for quality before being dropped one at a time into the mixing tank.
Hundertmark’s craftsmanship creates exceptionally easy-to-drink bottles, as Mt. Boucherie’s wine-club business shows. According to Hundertmark, the wine club has grown from 359 members to more than 1,000 since the new facility opened.
The wines are also a main attraction at the Modest Butcher, where Carkner’s kitchen benefits from Hundertmark’s efforts. One clear example is the demi-glace served with the ethically sourced steaks from Two Rivers Meats in North Vancouver. Carkner says the demi-glace often features Mt. Boucherie’s high-end wines, because he can score open bottles for his recipes from the winery after its tasting sessions are complete. The demi-glace is a full-on treat of its own — rich and mouth-coating with the decadence of a divine syrup.
Winery Restaurants Shine in Kelowna
The Modest Butcher joins CedarCreek Estate’s Home Block as leading winery restaurants in the Kelowna area. Headed by executive chef Neil Taylor, Home Block is a gem of an experience for connoisseurs. The three-course menu emphasizes the selections from the 2019 Intervin Canadian Winery of the Year. Lunches and dinners are prioritized by the wine that CedarCreek’s sommelier has paired with Taylor’s dish. For example, the Gewürztraminer course is served with grilled pickerel, but diners can substitute for another wine.
Taylor specializes in Italian and Spanish cuisine, and has the luxury of a modern kitchen within proximity of the valley’s leading farms and purveyors. The spices are evocative of southern Europe, with harissa and mint lingering wonderfully on the tongue after you’ve savoured a taste of the pickerel a la plancha.
With a large open space and heated patio staring onto the forest and lake, Home Block feels Tuscan and still very much British Columbian with its warm wood decor and New World features. (To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the winery has installed automatic doors that are activated by a button at knee level, limiting the touching of a high-traffic surface.)
For those who drop in for a tasting, Taylor has created a small-plate menu that pairs with the flights of wine samples. It’s a marvellous touch and one that showcases the star of the show at CedarCreek: Its lineup of pinot noirs that are created from grapes grown at different elevations on its property.
Another recent addition to Kelowna, Frind Estate Winery, also has a restaurant along the lake and iconic Mission Hill Family Estate Winery serves lunch in its Chagall Dining Room, which is adorned with a tapestry from the famed artist.
The choices for great wine in Kelowna has never been better and — with new additions and improving favourites — neither has the dining.
ADDITIONAL WINERIES TO VISIT
Off the Grid Organic Winery: A true farm experience, Off the Grid is a delightful family-run winery set high above Lake Okanagan. Along with the captivating views, the winery has smartly added social media-friendly features such as a mural on the exterior of its tasting room and an eye-catching tractor that perfectly fits its charming down-to-earth ambience. The most photographable part of Off the Grid? The goats. They adorn the winery’s label and are hard to keep your gaze off of. Sometimes they can be spotted champing on the grass on the green roof above the tasting room, which, as the winery’s name suggests, is fully sustainable and disconnected from Kelowna’s energy grid.
When you get around to tasting the wines, you’ll be pleased. The higher elevation creates crisp wines that suit lighter fare such as grilled vegetables and whitefish. To the credit of the Paynter family, they have renamed their bottles that use the zweigelt grape to Blauer Montag, supporting a trend of Austrian winemakers. Fritz Zweigelt was a Nazi sympathizer and Austrians are pressuring their industry to abandon the name that has been used to identify the grape for nearly a century.
Priest Creek Family Estate Winery: The newest winery in Kelowna, Priest Creek debuted in May with a lovely tasting room featuring a stone exterior reminiscent of the French countryside and a long, elegant bar. A small, inviting patio behind the tasting room faces onto the lush vineyards and the stately manor house in the distance.
The winery takes its name from the creek that flows behind the property and pays homage to an early missionary settlement from the mid-1800s. The wines are in limited production and some sold out quickly, including the 2019 pinot gris that could be sipped casually or paired with light pasta dishes like chicken penne or shrimp linguine.
MORE ABOUT VISITING KELOWNA
Where to Stay: The new Hyatt Place Kelowna goes above and beyond to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Breakfast items and cutlery are individually wrapped, staff wear masks at all times, and occupancy limits are in place. It’s a solid three-star hotel and although it lacks in luxury amenities it does have guest safety as its over-arching priority. During the pandemic that is the top factor for many travellers when choosing a hotel. Hyatt Place Kelowna is a five-minute drive to the city’s downtown and about 15 minutes to either the west-side or east-side wineries.
Address: 1915 Enterprise Way, Kelowna, BC
Room Rates: A recent search of the property’s booking engine showed a price of $132 per night for a January weekend.
MORE OKANAGAN WINE COVERAGE
Can’t Go to Europe During the Pandemic? Visit the Okanagan Instead — British Columbia’s winery scene offers a facsimile of a visit to France or Italy while remaining true to west-coast characteristics.
A Standing Ovation for Seated Tastings in the South Okanagan — Long-established wineries have found that seated tastings are leading to greater revenue and a better customer experience.