When the “all aboard” call” was made for the inaugural run of the Grand Sommelier Express, I like the hundreds of others gathered, trundled through the old steam engine in hopes of finding just the right place to start an evening of local food and drink.
It turned out that was a seat in the open air passenger car toward the back. Situated at either end of the car were representatives from two of the wineries in Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive Association, who were armed and ready with their reds, whites and encyclopedic knowledge about both.
In a few minutes I was joined by Bob and Melody, a couple who travelled from Surrey specifically for the Summerland event. As we all got our bearings, the train came to life. Steam and soot poured from its spout, wine was poured and, like any good adventure, conversations started to erupt in all corners of the train.
There’s something about the old steam engine in Summerland that transports you to a simpler time — a time when humanity’s decision to conquer its surroundings was something to get excited about, not lament.
It shakes light conversations from its passengers, to boot. Bob, Melodie and I spoke about the worst toilet paper across the globe, the best wines and the train itself — a 1910 engine that commands attention from all those who see it. So much so that even those who live along the route leave the comforts of their homes and wave at its passengers as it rolls through.
The train always comes to a stop at the KVR trestles. Oftentimes it just turns around and goes back to the station, but for the Grand Sommelier Express there was a twist.
Passengers disembarked and were serenaded by a jazz trio, treated to the best two cideries Summerland has to offer and some canapés. Then it was time to get back aboard the train, to where a three course dinner prepared by chef Darin Paterson awaited.
Wine continued to be poured as the meal was served, and conversations with winemakers and fellow guests got louder and more enjoyable. When all was said and done, it was clear many had an amazing time.
Robert Campbell, one of the proprietors of the Dirty Laundry and one of the organizers of the event, got the same impression.
“I think the general consensus with people involved organizing it is we were pleased with what happened,” Campbell said. “And the reaction of the vast majority of patrons that came was that they enjoyed themselves immensely.”
There were two things that came of the ride.
There was close to $4,000 raised for the KVR, which is run as a non-profit, on top of its operation costs. And the wineries in Summerland got a bit more attention.
“Organizations like Bottleneck Drive should be there to support the KVR in every way we can,” he said, noting that it’s an important part of Okanagan history and needs to be preserved.
“What I found interesting was that some people said they’ve never ridden a train before.”
As for the wineries, Campbell said that the region has grown so much that it’s not even possible to see all that Summerland has to offer in that regard over the course of a weekend.
This was a crash course on the small town’s ever-growing wine industry.
Now that all is said and done, he said, more people know about the train and the wineries in the region.
The only question that remains is whether the Sommelier Express will run again.
“That’s something the membership will decide soon,” he said.
“I know we wouldn’t have any trouble selling the tickets.”
And I know at least one person who will on board if it does.