Penticton features plenty of golf courses, outdoor team-building activities and group-friendly venues. By Donna Carter, July/August 2009
Surrounded by more than 80 wineries and bordered by two lakes, Penticton is the largest city in the South Okanagan region, an interior B.C. locale often dubbed the Napa Valley of the North.
Hugging the shore of Lake Okanagan on one side and Skaha Lake on the other, the city has been chosen twice to host the Canadian Wine Awards, an annual competition sponsored by Calgary-based Wine Access magazine. The most recent was September, 2008, when Tom Firth, the magazine’s events co-ordinator, took 16 judges there for six days of evaluating over 1,000 wines from across Canada. The bulk of the programme took place in the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, a facility that Firth says is outstanding. “It’s one of the best-run centres I’ve ever had the pleasure of using and cost-wise, it’s a bargain,” he says. “From the sales team to catering, I couldn’t have asked for better or more efficient service. The entire city’s response was exceptional, from the tourism department to hotels, restaurants and area wineries. I have every intention of holding the Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton again.”
No One-trick Pony
Penticton is no one-trick pony. Cathy Campbell, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian Association of Chemical Distributors, discovered this during a meeting planner FAM in March, 2009. In 2014, she will take 200 senior executives to the city for their three-day annual meeting. “The town has a very good feel to it and together with the surrounding area, there is world-class golf, unbeatable wine-related activities, historical features and abundant outdoor options,” she says. “Also, the Okanagan Valley is one of the most visually stunning places in Canada.”
Penticton offers highly personalized service. Both Firth and Campbell say the co-operation and congeniality they experienced was key to their choosing the city. “Service and response from the entire community is almost heart-warming,” says Firth.
“We are best suited to host groups up to 600,” says Kelly Reid, Penticton Tourism Development Services representative. “The convention centre is within walking distance of our major hotels.”
Area wineries offer wine-tasting receptions and tours, wine-pairing dinners and wine-education classes. Events can be arranged indoors or outdoors and many wineries will arrange events in Penticton hotels or at the convention centre.
Some winery restaurants offer a dinner experience that can begin with a sparkling-wine reception followed by a meal of five courses, each paired with a different wine. An example is Sumac Estate Winery (oldest operating estate winery in B.C.), led by executive chef Roger Planiden. Instead of a wine-pairing dinner, Firth took his group of judges to the upscale Burrowing Owl Winery for a meet-the-judges event hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute which, he said, was a highlight of the trip.
Penticton boasts more than 29 area courses ranging from championship tracks to mid-tier layouts. The city can also be the launch point for a post-trip north through Kelowna and the Kamloops region. Along this scenic valley route, there are more than 50 courses, including The Rise course at Vernon. West of Kamloops, Tobiano was named best new course in Canada, in 2008. These two, together with the Talking Rock course east of Kamloops, offer first-rate post-meeting trips for golf-mad attendees.
Boat and Air
The S.S. Sicamous is the largest steel-hulled sternwheeler in Canada. Built in 1914, the dry-docked boat rests on the south shore of Lake Okanagan, minutes from the city centre and downtown hotels. The Sicamous can host 100 for a catered dinner or 150 for a stand-up reception.
Penticton’s Casabella Princess is a vintage paddle-wheeler offering scenic cruises on 90-mile-long Lake Okanagan. Accommodating 45, the boat’s fully catered private charters include breakfast cruises, wine tastings, dinner cruises and beach barbeques.
A serene outdoor space for a reception is the city’s Japanese Gardens, influenced by Penticton’s sister city, Ikeda, Japan. Located near the waterfront and hosting 150, the gardens abut the Art Gallery of the South Okanagan, an ideal reception add-on.
A “wow” factor event is helicopter flights to the Lost Moose Lodge, in the foothills overlooking Penticton and Lake Okanagan. A rustic, elegant log restaurant surrounded by vineyards hosts groups for lunch or dinner. Helicopter flights to Burrowing Owl Winery and restaurant impress, too.
Elsewhere, rafting the river channel between Lake Okanagan and Skaha Lake, and rock-climbing the Skaha Bluffs, work for team-building. Local outfitters organize fishing derbies and Skaha Lake excels for dragon boat and outrigger canoe racing contests. Wine-blending competitions are popular.
— Donna Carter is a Cobourg, Ont.-based freelancer.