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Jason Priestley - at the Black Hills Estate Winery during the Osoyoos Celebrity Wine Festival -...

Jason Priestley - at the Black Hills Estate Winery during the Osoyoos Celebrity Wine Festival - says "not a lot of people know about the great wines that are made here in southern Canada." (LISA WILTON/QMI Agency)

LISA WILTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:54 PM ET

Just a few kilometres north of the Washington state border lies what some consider to be the hidden gem of British Columbia.

Located in the heart of B.C.'s wine country, Osoyoos is one of the most beautiful spots in the Okanagan region and offers holidaymakers a wealth of activities, including golf, cycling, swimming and wakeboarding.

But for those with an aversion to strapping on a pair of waterskis (myself included), Osoyoos is still the perfect place to relax and unwind for a weekend or longer.

My own four-day stay began when I landed in Kelowna on a sunny Thursday afternoon. Though Penticton is much closer to Osoyoos, there are no direct flights from Calgary.

Not that I really minded. The two-hour drive between Kelowna and Osoyoos is full of stunning vistas and scenic lakeside stops.

It was hard to resist snapping photos every 30 seconds when a postcard perfect view greeted me at every curve in the road.

Thankfully, I wasn't at the wheel and was able to drink in the gorgeous green rolling hills and sparkling blue lakes along Hwy 97.

As I arrived in Osoyoos, I was struck by the contrast between the main town and the newer buildings along the lake shore.

While Osoyoos' centre retains its small-town vibe, the waterside condo and hotel developments cater to upmarket vacationers who expect fine food and even finer wine.

And sampling the best wines the region had to offer was exactly why I was in Osoyoos to begin with.

Founded in 2009 by Calgarians Glen Fawcett, president of Black Hills Estate Winery and E=mc2 Event Management CEO Jocelyn Flanagan, the Osoyoos Celebrity Wine Festival has already positioned itself as the premiere wine event of the spring season in B.C.

"Not a lot of people know about the great wines that are made here in southern Canada," says Jason Priestley, who co-hosted the first two years of the festival.

The actor and director will again attend the event, which takes place June 9-12 at the luxurious Walnut Beach Resort on Osoyoos Lake.

"It's fun for us to bring our friends from Los Angeles up and show them the Okanagan. They're shocked by Osoyoos, that it's in the desert, but still in Canada. People can't figure it out."

Osoyoos is indeed located at the northernmost point of the Sonoran Desert, which stretches all the way down to Mexico.

Its arid conditions are perfect for the dozens of wineries that operate in the area, including Black Hills Estate Winery, which is co-owned by Priestley, Fawcett and Calgary based film and television producer, Chad Oakes, among others.

For Priestley, his love affair with wine started 20 years ago.

"It was because of a girl," he says with a smile. "It's the reason dudes get into anything. She was big into wine and she got me into it. Luckily for me, I had a great passion for it right away. It's one of those things that speaks to you. And because I was fortunate enough to live in Los Angeles and near the Napa Valley, I would go up there all the time. I got to meet a lot of winemakers and that really fuelled my passion for the holy grape juice."

Oakes says the Osoyoos Celebrity Wine Festival is a chance for the town to show itself off.

The festival features a handful of fun events that locals and visitors can take part in, including the Celebrity Wine Auction & Beach Party at Walnut Beach Resort, the Nota Bene Release Party at Black Hills Estate Winery and The Vinos Wine Commercial Competition, which receives entries from all over B.C. and Alberta.

"This is a great opportunity for the Osoyoos to put itself on the map and be discovered," he says.

"It's a great way to talk about the valley, the region and our winery. People can come raise money for charity and have a great time drinking great wines."

June is perhaps the optimal time to visit Osoyoos. The summer vacationers from the west coast have yet to descend upon the town of 5,200 and the weather is generally warm without being too hot.

Osoyoos can reach temperatures in the mid 30s at the height of summer, although kilometres of sandy beaches help keep visitors cool.

So if drinking wine, eating fresh, locally grown food, lounging on beach in the sun and hobnobbing with celebrities is your idea of a good time, Osoyoos has you covered.

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FUN ON THE VINE

Things to Know About the 2011 Osoyoos Celebrity Wine Festival:

Celebrity guests include the cast of the upcoming AMC series Hell On Wheels, Jason Priestley, country singer George Canyon, Bachelorette star Jesse Kovacs, Corner Gas' star Lorne Cardinal, pop singer/actress Elise Estrada, Canadian Olympic athletes Catriona Le May Doan and Kristi Richards.

Participating Wineries include Black Hills Estate Winery, Inniskillin, Jackson Triggs, Le Vieux Pin, Summerhill, Sumac Ridge, Nk'mip and Desert Hills.

Official festival accommodation is through:

Walnut Beach Resort, 4200 Lakeshore Drive. Call 1-877-936-5400 or e-mail sonja@walnutbeachresort.com

and ask for the Osoyoos Celebrity Wine Festival Block.

Spirit Ridge Resort, 1200 Rancher Creek Road. Call 1-877-313-9463 and ask for 2011 Wine Fest. Watermark Beach Resort. Call 1-888-755-3480 or go to www.watermarkbeachresort.com

Go to WestJet.com for flight information. For more information on the festival and to purchase tickets go to www.osoyoos CelebrityWineFestival.com

 


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