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A Wine Tasting Tour, Aviator Style

By Phil Ward, AME at Large

Mt. Rundle
A glimpse of Canmore and Mt. Rundle. Poor day in Banff, good day in the Cirrus.

I'm not a pilot. I think I should say that right up front. I don't know just what's involved in flying over the mountains or filing IFR and I can't decipher the code of a weather briefing. However I thought it would be interesting to join a bunch of pilots and fly to the Okanagan Valley to enjoy the fine weather and sample some of the wines of that region. Let's face it the days are getting shorter and mornings are becoming frosty, summer is over here in Alberta. We are fortunate in Canada, though, to travel to exotic places to see sunny skies and lush vegetation - and all without a passport.

After several consultations Saturday morning with the weather wizards it was decided the weekend trip was a GO. Friday was tense as it seemed like it may not be possible.

The three planes and crews consisted of Ralph and Cheryl in MMJ, Jean and Jack Dueck in BJJ and Phil, Sonya and myself in BIV. Ralph and Cheryl are no strangers to trips in the RV-7A as they have been from coast to coast to coast in it already (that's right all three coasts!). Jean's RV9A is a fine cross country machine as well, when it's not educating High River and other local Girl Guides.

Ralph welcomes Jack and Jean to Kelowna.

I was traveling in one of the newest and most advanced planes to grace the air, a Cirrus SR22 G3. Phil and Sonya Wadsworth are making good use of their Cirrus and thoroughly enjoying retirement by hopping all over the continent in it. Sonya usually takes photos of the beauty of North America from the right seat (and reminds Phil when it's time to switch tanks). I was privileged to sit in the right seat on the way to Kelowna taking Sonya's role as Copilot of which she is quite capable.

Those flying VFR had to stay clear of the clouds while we in the Cirrus went up and over. All made it to Kelowna and arrived within minutes of each other as if we planned it that way. The two RV's proved what capable and speedy traveling machines they are.

Quail's Gate
Sonya, Phil and Ralph tasting at Quail's Gate.

On arriving we were greeted to a cloudy sky and a cool breeze. Not at all what the Okanagan was supposed to be like but blue skies and smiles soon prevailed. After getting fuel and parking the planes it was off for a bite to eat then to the first tasting with Cheryl handling the driving.

Summerhill Pyramid winery gave us a tour and extolled the virtues of making sparkling wine (look for the tiniest of bubbles) and aging wines in a pyramid. I'm not kidding, look for a pyramid on the label. Two more wineries followed on the East side of Kelowna, a few more bottles in the trunk, and it was over to the West Bank.

Okanagan Valley
Typical sunny afternoon in the Okanagan Valley.

Quail's Gate was interesting with an excellent view of the lake and vineyard. The sun had come out and made the day most enjoyable at this point. The final stop was to Mission Hill. With fragrant roses in full bloom, a courtyard and a bell tower it felt like a castle from the middle ages. I'm in the wrong business. It was quite busy as well but by this time we had had enough of just tasting the fine wines so it was off to the hotel just down the road.

After checking into the nearly empty hotel, much socializing ensued and soon it was time to pick a restaurant for dinner and call a cab.

The Italian restaurant La Cucina was excellent with plenty of pasta. A short cab ride later and it was lights out for some very weary wine tasters.

La Cucina

We woke up to a clear blue sky. Ralph provided a weather briefing at breakfast. I can't remember all the details but it boiled down to a few options. We could divert to Nelson for lunch or return to Springbank. These are tough choices or so I am told. After a short stop off the beaten path for some fresh Kelowna peaches and other edibles we proceeded to the airport. Sorting out just which bottle belonged to whom and storing them safely in the planes took a few minutes before filing flight plans. Here the group went separate ways as Jack and Jean had to return to High River. To mix things up even further Cheryl took the right seat in the Cirrus and I got to experience the fantastic flying qualities of Ralph's RV-7A on the leg to Nelson.

Sightseeing in the Okanagan Valley was the order of the day. Remnants of the fire were clearly visible on the hillside South of Kelowna. The Kettle Valley Railway tunnels and trestles were easily pointed out as well.

Number two for departure in Kelowna.

The RV-7 kept pace with the Cirrus and we had glimpses and radio contact with each other throughout the flight. Radio traffic was alive with others enjoying the sunny Sunday flying conditions.

It was an interesting pattern and final approach into Nelson. Procedures are published in the CFS, of course, but nothing beats actually doing it.

It was a busy day in the mountains as two Ercoupes took off while we parked. I guess you don't need a special plane to fly in the mountains (or one with rudder pedals).

After a short walk over the tracks to downtown Nelson we settled on The Royal Pub for a delicious lunch on the patio.

This is the curving final approach into Nelson.

All too soon it was time to depart this relaxing mountain town for home. On this flight I elected to take the back seat in the Cirrus. Due to the short strip Phil chose a short takeoff procedure and feeling the power come on before releasing the brakes in the SR22 was something else.

The departure East from Nelson leads up the Kootenay River Valley. For Phil, Sonya and I it was IFR direct to Springbank with a few vectors here and there to stay out of the clouds. One might think that flying on top is easy what with the autopilot doing the flying there can't be much to do. Boy how wrong that idea is. The radio communication was nearly constant with Vancouver Center and monitoring the changing weather was always a concern even if this plane equipped with the TKS de-ice system. It's nice to know that you are well looked after by ATC and they were all quite friendly throughout the weekend.

The view from FL160
The view from FL160.

Coming into Calgary was interesting as it was a return to poor weather. Rain showers and dark clouds were in the area but we made it back to Springbank while Jack and Jean returned without incident to High River.

The weekend was a success even if things were not originally as planned. Many thanks go to Cheryl and Ralph for organizing the rental car and providing the weather briefings.

Apparently summer is not over, at least in certain parts of Canada. The adventures don't stop here, either. For Phil and Sonya it's a trip to the Maritimes in a few weeks. Other things to note are Ralph's RV flew past 500 hours on this trip.

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