n our tours, we meet incredibly interesting people from all walks of life,” says David Brooks, who’s been a tour guide and driver with Top Cat Tours in Penticton for over seven years. ”They come from the Lower Mainland and Alberta, but also from the US—especially Napa— and the UK, Holland, Australia and South Africa.”
All-inclusive wine tours are Top Cat’s specialty, although they also provide charter and shuttle services for a number of events, including weddings, golf tournaments, and corporate functions. The company has been hosting visitors on wine tours longer than any other company in the South Okanagan. Established in 2001, Top Cat started with a single 15-passenger bus.
Top Cat tours are so popular, the company now has seven buses in constant use during the wine touring season.
“Nobody takes a wine tour in a bad mood,” says David. Top Cat conducts tours to favourite South Okanagan wine regions such as the Naramata Bench, Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive, Okanagan Falls, the Golden Mile between Oliver and Osoyoos, and the Similkameen.
“All the regions offer unique experiences,” says David. “The Naramata Bench is the most popular tour destination, with 35 wineries within 10 kilometres. Bottleneck Drive offers some of my favourite wines and experiences in the whole Okanagan. Okanagan Falls is a unique area because of the grapes they grow and exclusive wines. And of course, many of the wineries are located in the Golden Mile, Oliver, where most of the best reds grow. As for the Similkameen, it’s an up-and-coming wine region, full of delights.”
David is very knowledgeable about the Okanagan… and wines. He has his level 2 certificate from the UK-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is studying for his level 3. “I really love wines and talking about them when I give a tour,” he says.
Top Cat wine tours are far more than just visiting a winery for a tour and taste. They pride themselves on all-inclusive half-day and all-day wine tours that often include stops at smaller boutique wineries. “The people behind the counters are very passionate about what they’re serving,” says David.
Half-day tours to Naramata or Summerland do not include lunch. Starting at 1 pm, you spend the afternoon tasting at some favourite wineries.
The full-day tours include a delicious full-menu lunch at an interesting restaurant, with an entree and choice of beverages including coffee and tea.
”Now that we have an amazing wine industry in the Valley, many restaurants are appearing, focusing on farm-to-table, locally grown food,” says David. “Some restaurants are winery bistros, featuring their own wines. Others boast a selection of local wines, beers and distilled products. We work in partnership with restaurants and wineries to provide an exceptional value visit for our clients. The experience is everything.”
Top Cat has partnered with several hotels for special packages that include accommodation, half or full-day wine tours with hotel pick up and delivery, as well such options as meals, all for a special price. Check topcattours.com for details.
“People say our tours are interesting, knowledgeable and intimate,” says David.
(pictured: David Brooks, the ultimate tour guide)
On a typical full-day tour, you’ll be picked up at your lodging by Top Cat Tours. You’ll learn about the Okanagan wine industry and the tour schedule for the day. When you visit your first winery, you’ll start tasting their wines. If you haven’t done a tasting before, you’ll be led through it…it’s fun! You may choose to purchase wine, join a wine club, and may have a chance to look around the grounds or production facilities. Visits to a couple of other wineries will follow as time permits, complete with tastings, of course, opportunities to buy wines and lots of information and stories.
After a leisurely lunch at a top-notch restaurant, you’ll get back on the bus to visit one more winery. Like all the others, it’ll be a special experience and you’ll discover your favourite wines. After purchasing, it’s time for the scenic trip back to your accommodations. Your wine is unloaded from the bus and you’ll get a chance to exchange information with newfound friends.
All of Top Cat’s tours are all-inclusive, meaning there’s no need to fret about pick up or drop off, tasting fees, or any meals served.
“Nobody feels sorry for me and my job,” says David. “Every day I work is like a fantasy. The people, stories and experience have become a part of my life. I grew up in the Valley, but I see it from visitors’ points of view. I can’t take the Okanagan for granted anymore.”
Top Cat will continue its wine tours until the end of Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, which ends October 13. Visit www.topcattours.com or call 250.493.7385 for more information.
~ Dona Sturmanis