In the bright sunshine of a summer day, Naramata could be mistaken for something out of a storybook. Along the eastern shore of Lake Okanagan are towers of sand and silt that reach for the sky, forming the base of a tall bench marked by deep gullies carved over time. Driving atop that bench on the twisty Naramata Road inspires one to slow down in the hopes of catching a glimpse of peek-a-boo orchards and vineyards from every possible angle. This place is different and that difference is palpable.

The History of Naramata

Like most of the Okanagan Valley, Naramata is part of the Syilx Okanagan people’s unceded traditional territory. So in 2018 when the Naramata Parks & Recreation Commission took suggestions to name a new park beside the elementary school, there was also consultation with the Penticton Indian Band. This new name evolved into House of Bald Eagle or citxʷs paqəlqyn in the Nsyilicen language and now reflects not just one park but the entire community. When we explore Naramata, it’s on First Nations lands we travel.

The area was once called Nine Mile Point, then “East Summerland”, and eventually Brighton Beach before becoming Naramata. The area now known for grape growing and winemaking was settled in 1907 by John Moore Robinson when he bought 3,500 acres and began to plant orchards. Along with being patrons of the arts, Robinson and his wife were spiritualists and séance-holders. Rumour has it the name Naramata was interpreted by a medium to mean ‘smile of Manitou’. Folklore here has roots that run deeper than the oldest vines.

With no access by land, ferry boats originally connected Naramata to Summerland across Lake Okanagan. The journey was about 5km and could be made on the SS Sicamous, a sternwheeler now restored and permanently beached at the south end of the lake. A rough road came to the town in 1907 and the Kettle Valley Rail made its way to Naramata by 1915, although that would be decommissioned in the 1970s and turned into a popular hiking/biking trail. Naramata even had its moment in the Hollywood spotlight: in 1985, it was the backdrop for the award-winning film My American Cousin.

Naramata Bench in British Columbia Canada | Winetraveler.com
The proximity of Lake Okanagan moderates extreme temperatures, and the natural slope provides cool air drainage and helps to lower the risk of frost in spring and fall. The “bench” reaches 660-690 meters (2,165-2,263 feet) above Lake Okanagan and was formed by glacial events, made of sand, silt, and clay that built up as melting ice waters receded. This land is old, like eons old. Image courtesy Jeannette LeBlanc.

Farm life here began with orchards. Outside of the town proper, much of the acreage in and around Naramata is part of the British Columbia Agricultural Land Reserve which limits land development in support of food security. Lang Vineyards was the first to grow grapes here in the 1980s and still has some of the oldest vines. Today Naramata is home to more than 40 wineries and 900 acres of vineyard, with close to two thirds of the plantings being Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

NEWS: Sub-Region Approval

As of May 13, 2019, the provincial government announced the Naramata Bench is the Okanagan Valley’s third sub-gi. This new sub-region consists of approximately 3,650 hectares and stretches from Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park on the north end to Penticton Creek in the south. Of that, 250 hectares are vineyards and includes more than 30 wineries that can officially use the term “Naramata Bench” on their bottles for wines made with 95% regional grapes.

RELATED: C is For Chardonnay: Exploring Chardonnay Wine Styles & History

It’s beautiful here, like crazy-beautiful, and you just won’t fully believe it until you see it. This is the place that time forgot but in a really good way. Remember: slow your pace here (cyclists love this route so please be careful to share the road), say hi to people in the village even though you probably don’t know them, and extend your plans by a day or two – you’ll thank me for it.

Getting to Naramata

Naramata is in the southern Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and accessible by major highways connecting to Route 97 (extending through Washington state). It’s an adventurous drive or quick flight from major centers like Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, and Calgary. International flights arrive in Kelowna and domestic flights can touch down directly in neighboring Penticton. If you travel by road, check provincial resources like DriveBC.com for traffic updates.

  • From Seattle: 336mi
  • From Spokane: 234mi
  • From Vancouver: 267mi
  • From Calgary: 425mi
3 Days in Naramata BC Canada - Best Wineries, Restaurants and Hotels | Winetraveler.com
Vineyard planting at Bella Wines in Naramata. Image courtesy Jeannette LeBlanc.

Wineries To Visit in Naramata

Bella Wines for a new world exploration into traditional method bubbles, with a focus on vineyard-specific Chardonnays and Gamays and all things naturally bubbled (weekends and by appointment).

Daydreamer Wines for beauty Syrah/Shiraz, Riesling, Chardonnay, and a sparkling Shiraz (yes, really).

Deep Roots Winery for Gamay (all day) and just about anything you can get your hands on because they’re a pretty small producer – long time growers, newer to the winemaking, and quite stellar at that.

Hillside Winery for vivacious Viognier, easy drinking Rosé, delightful Muscat (a fan favorite), and Cabernet Franc

Howling Bluff Estate Winery for the loveliest small lot Pinot Noirs, a pretty Rosé, and darn solid lineup of everything else.

JoieFarm for shining bright whites like their Noble Blend, En Famille Reserve Chardonnay and En Famille Reserve Riesling, or crazy good Pinot Noirs (yes, several) plus #GoGamayGo. Stay for Picnique and dine al fesco.

Lake Breeze Vineyards for classic Okanagan bright white wines like Ehrenfelser, Pinot Gris, and Roussanne – plus the McIntyre Heritage Reserve series.

Little Engine Wines for the some of the most seriously elegant Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of the region. Ante up and book a tasting on the patio with small bites.

Roche Wines for a taste of the Okanagan through the eyes of France in the “Tradition” series Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris or the magnificently elegant “Chateau” Grand Vin (Cab Franc / Cab Sauv / Merlot).

Terravista Vineyards for ridiculously good white wines that will brighten any day (or meal). Think Albarino and Verdejo in their beautiful blend Fandango, Roussanne and Marsanne in the Figaro, or soloists Viognier and Albarino.

Upper Bench Estate Winery & Creamery for outstanding Chardonnay, super tasty Riesling, and magnificent reds like their Yard Wine blend and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Where to Eat

Hillside Bistro at Hillside Winery for locally inspired exquisite plates in a relaxed setting.

The Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove Winery and soak up the majestic views of Lake Okanagan from high atop Munson Mountain (a now extinct former volcano) for lunch, dinner, or anything between.

The Oven at Upper Bench Estate Winery and Creamery, because (you guessed it) of the CHEESE that’s made on site by Shana and her team and is used in as many ways possible on wood-fired oven pizzas.

The Patio Restaurant at Lake Breeze for light bites, big views, and tasty sips.

Hotels and Winery B&Bs in Naramata

Naramata Heritage Inn in the village, and sleep in a luxurious piece of living history.

The Village Motel in the village, because it’s absolutely adorable.

Namarata Courtyard Suites 

Camp at the Naramata Centre where you can simply set up base camp for the week or participate in the Centre’s programs.

B&Bs and Wineries

Forgotten Hill Bed & Breakfast

Therapy Vineyards & Inn

D’Angelo Estate Winery

More Ways To Explore Canada’s Wine Regions

An Introduction To Canada’s Wine Regions

How To Spend 3 Days in Kelowna Wine Country

15 Wineries in British Columbia With Great Views

Itinerary For Visiting British Columbia

4 Beautiful Places To Ski in British Columbia 


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Jeannette LeBlanc
Digital Editor at Winetraveler
Jeannette LeBlanc is the Digital Editor for WineTraveler and is based in beautiful British Columbia wine country. She’s been writing about wine and food for more than a decade with digital and print publications in Canada and the US. After successfully navigating WSET 3, Jeannette worked harvest at a small BC winery to learn hands-on about the winemaking world from grape to bottle. When she isn’t writing about wine, Jeannette can be found studying for the French Wine Scholar program and sipping a glass of bubble with her spoiled cat Tippy by her side. Or she’s at the racetrack. But that’s another story.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeannette LeBlanc is the Digital Editor for WineTraveler and is based in beautiful British Columbia wine country. She’s been writing about wine and food for more than a decade with digital and print publications in Canada and the US. After successfully navigating WSET 3, Jeannette worked harvest at a small BC winery to learn hands-on about the winemaking world from grape to bottle. When she isn’t writing about wine, Jeannette can be found studying for the French Wine Scholar program and sipping a glass of bubble with her spoiled cat Tippy by her side. Or she’s at the racetrack. But that’s another story.

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