Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop

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One of the winemaker dinners about to begin at the Naramata Heritage Inn and Spa. The conference organizer, Jennifer Cockrall-King, welcomes us at the head of the table.

I’m just back from a few days in the Okanagan wine country of British Columbia, Canada, hanging out with Canadian food and wine writers and bloggers at the second annual Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop.

Most of you are American, so I thought you should know about a food writing workshop in a gorgeous food and wine region of British Columbia, in case you ever need an excuse to visit.

I’m from British Columbia, born in Vancouver, and wanted to get back to the province to see the Okanagan again. As a kid, I remember driving up with my family (about a 4-hour drive inland) to enjoy the the fruit orchards, swimming, and to search for Ogopogo in the 100-mile long Lake Okanagan. He’s the Canadian version of the Loch Ness Monster. I had never been back, until now.

I had two other reasons to attend. The workshop’s founder, Jennifer Cockrall-King, a blogger, accomplished freelance writer, and upcoming book author, charmed me with her modesty about the conference and her own accomplishments. (Canadians are given to circumspection and politeness. I used to be like that, but now I’ve been in the States for a few decades and I’ve taken on American ways.) Also, Penticton & Wine Country Tourism paid for me and the other speakers to attend. I’m not saying you will get the same deal, but they are very interested in helping food writers who come to explore and write about the region.

The conference was a combination 2-1/2-day writing workshop and exploration of the area’s farmers, wineries and restaurants. I gave a class about food writing fundamentals (you know, action verbs, similes, etc.). Other accomplished Canadian editors, writers and consultants presented on social media, pitching magazines and food writing. Cockerall-King  gave away so many books that all the attendees got at least one.

Here’s the view from my room at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.Cockerall-King requested politely (she’s Canadian) that all the participants receive rooms with views.

The farm-to-table movement is in full swing in the Okanagan, and we experienced it first hand at three dinners by inventive chefs who had searched for super-fresh, often-organic ingredients. Two of the three meals were as good as those I’ve eaten at award-winning restaurants. Paired with several wines chosen from more than 100 local wineries, and hosted by winemakers, wine educators, and the chefs, the dinners were a highlight of our workshop. Included in the selection was a wine from  Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep), North America’s first aboriginal-owned and operated winery.

We also visited a farm that makes wine vinegars, the local farmer’s market, an apple orchard, and a tour of three wineries. At the farmer’s market, I bought 3 pounds of organic pears for $4, an incredible bargain compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, where the same amount would cost $6-$9. I also purchased a bag of dried mulberries and contemplated a bag of foraged, dried morels that cost $140. I also bought a bag of roasted hazelnuts grown in nearby Agassiz.

These little flowery clusters are hazelnuts, sold fresh at the Penticton farmer’s market.

One afternoon, despite pouring rain, we visited a century-old apple orchard, still owned by the family that started it.

In nearby Summerland, farmer Devin Jell showed how apple trees grow in a line, like grapes. The result doubles per acre apple production. This method has been around for 20 years.

The event was a welcome change from some other writers’ conferences I’ve attended, where we’re stuck in a big hotel for days, or in a room somewhere for the duration. It was fun to learn more about the region, drink wine, eat good food, and make new friends. The area reminded me of Sonoma or Napa from 20 years ago, and I wonder how it will evolve as media attention grows.

For more information:


  1. says

    Oh Dianne, I didn’t know you were Canadian! Great that you had this opportunity to cross the border again. I’ve been to Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler but never really explored the Rockies and Okanagan Valley. Many of my friends drove all the way there in old campers after high school to work and learn English! I envied them but was myself way too shy to go there alone. Fortunately, I still managed to learn English and now, I really can’t wait to go as an adult and food blogger! Sounds like you were treated to the best of the best, I’m happy you contribute to spread the word about this treasured region.

    Thank you for the links, I’m particularly curious about Cuisine Canada, didn’t even know there was such an association.

    • diannejacob says

      I felt kind of funny about spreading the word, to be honest with you, Marie. Particularly because I had been hosted to go there, and because my blog is not about travel writing. I also feel funny writing in such a positive way, worried that I might sound like a p.r. person. But the bottom line is that I meant every word of it and really think people should know about the Okanagan. It is certainly much more affordable than many US wine regions.

      From the looks of your post and blog, you mastered English a long time ago.

      Thanks for the widget on your blog saying that you’re reading my book. I appreciate it!

  2. says

    You took stunning photos, Dianne, truly. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us – I so enjoyed breaking bread and drinking wine with our group. It was a really special time, wasn’t it?

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Sue! It’s just my iphone4, but it does a decent job sometimes. It was a wonderful time, truly.

  3. says

    I didn’t realize you were born in Vancouver. I lived in Bellingham, WA years ago and used to go up there all the time…it’s so beautiful. I’ve never been to the Okanagan, though: it sounds quite magical this time of year. I’m enamored with the picture of the fresh hazelnuts! Thanks for sharing your trip with us :)

    • diannejacob says

      I was so taken when I saw those hazelnuts too. I had no idea how they grew. My husband bought a jar of hazelnut paste and chocolate spread — a healthy version of Nutella.

      You are most welcome. Sounds like you know BC pretty well from your Bellingham days. It is truly spectacular. Nice drive getting there too, through farmland and mountains, into orchards and finally, the lake.

  4. says

    What a gorgeous area! I have wanted to visit that whole region (northwestern USA and western Canada) for so long as I know how lush and stunning (and clean?) the landscape still is. Your beautiful photos capture that. And because it is so lush I know that local produce must be amazing! And just one response to your reply to Marie: don’t you think there is somewhat of a cross-over between food and travel writing since so much of travel and culture and society is about food? The rare times I’ve written about travel I found the feeling so similar to writing about food.

    • diannejacob says

      There is very much a cross-over between food and travel writing, Marie. In fact, I just spoke at a conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Ca, that joined the two. Culinary tourism is big business, and I when I teach in the Bay Area, I always tell my students it’s easier to get published in the travel section of the Chronicle than in the food section.

  5. says

    Love the photographs, Dianne. My fave is the table loaded down with wine glasses. Always a welcome sight. You are so right about the politeness factor. My husband works for a Canadian company and we have many friends in the Toronto area. They are genuinely friendly and polite and always a pleasure to be around. I’m putting Okanagan on my short list.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks, Carla. I noticed the politeness in the students as well, where they pretty much left me alone. That is different from when I attend events in the US, where they are much more interested in getting my opinions on their blog or having me listen to a pitch. Americans are definitely more assertive and more promotional, when compared to Canadians.

  6. says

    I love Vancover and the Canadian Rockies, but I usually go during the brutally, cold winters for snow skiing. Now, I want to go in the fall for this type of adventure, too. Thanks for this travel piece Dianne, your photos tell a delightful story themselves.

    • diannejacob says

      Thank you, Maureen. Try Whistler for snow skiing — it’s not nearly as cold as Banff. In fact, they had trouble getting enough snow for the Olympics this year.

      The wine country would be lovely in the fall, I think. Saw a few leaves turning when we were there last week.

      • Roslyne Buchanan says

        Not to mention Apex at Penticton, Big White at Kelowna and Silver Star at Vernon. Then there’s the family style ski hills at Baldy near Osoyoos and Crystal at Westbank.

  7. says

    Soooo glad you could attend. I’m very bummed that I had to miss it, but there is always next year. Looks like a fabulous location and great calendar of events and dinners, as well as writing. That’s fabulous! I love BC, so love the idea of taking conferences up there. :-)

    • diannejacob says

      So sorry that it didn’t work out, Jackie. I know how much you wanted to make it happen. One brave soul drove up from Portland, but otherwise the rest were Canucks. There’s always next year. Put it on your calendar.

  8. says

    Sorry to have missed you while you were in town, Dianne, but it looks like an amazing time. I’ve only recently been spending more time in the Okanagan, and every time I see something that makes me want to return. Such a gorgeous part of the world, and very nearly in my backyard.

    I hope your travels bring you back to Vancouver soon!

    • diannejacob says

      Hope you enjoyed the Greenbrier, Eagranie! My event at Barbara-Jo’s was great too. It was fun to be back in Vancouver and to go to my old haunts: the beach and Granville Island, particularly.

      Yes, only a few hours away. Makes it an easy weekend getaway.

  9. Roslyne Buchanan says

    I attended the Okanagan Food & Writers Workshop as a participant and want to thank you Dianne for your inspirational session. I should have read earlier editions of your book, however, must confess this is my first exploration into it. I’m so excited by the guidance you have given and cramming to get my blog up quickly!
    I am privileged to have met you in person and keen to follow your blog.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh shucks Roz, it was a pleasure to meet you as well. You are most welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed my session. There’s lots to get caught up on in this blog — it’s been a way for me to continue the book and explore new subjects.

    • diannejacob says

      I don’t, Rachel. Of course there will be events pertinent to writers at IACP’s annual conference in Austin, and at the annual Greenbrier Syposium in the fall, and the usual annual food blogger events at BlogHer Food and IFBC.

  10. says

    Dianne, it sounds as though you had a lovely visit to the Okanagan. Reading your post made my heart ache for home (Vancouver). When I was a kid, we took multiple trips to the Okanagan for fishing and fruit-picking trips. Of course, now it is all about the wineries. I haven’t been to the area for years, but you certainly have lit the fire to plan another trip.

    • diannejacob says

      It was satisfying to go back to Vancouver again, Dara. Now you have a business reason to visit from Utah. Put the conference on your calendar for next year!

  11. Pam Werner says

    Now I know where to find the best jujubes! It was a pleasure to meet you Diane.
    Like putting a face to a name, it is great being able to connect your voice to your resourceful book. Thank you so much for your guidance.

  12. says

    Thanks for raving about the Okanagan Dianne and of course the F & W Writers Workshop. The Okanagan used to one of Canada’s best kept secrets but wine acclaim and Ogopogo are coming into the forefront. It was a pleasure to meet you and share a glass of Okanagan wine or two.

    • diannejacob says

      A pleasure to meet you as well, Valeria. Yes I hope the secret’s out! Of course since you live there you have had the advantage.