A 6:30 a.m. wakeup call is not your typical start time for a day in wine country – especially when you’re close enough to see the vines from your hotel room. Then again, lacing up your running shoes to dash between more than a dozen wineries spread across 18 kilometres isn’t your typical way to do a wine crawl either. If we’re being totally honest, think “wine country getaway” and the only marathon you’re likely to picture is a long day of tastings, broken up by cheese and charcuterie.
But Half Corked Marathon (which is technically not a marathon, nor is it quite a half), a signature annual event of the Oliver Osoyoos wine community, takes runners over the rolling hills, along lush riverbeds and across scrubby desert terrain that make up British Columbia’s most fruitful grape-growing region. And while it might not sound like your standard race – runners are encouraged to dress in outlandish costumes, from sea creatures to a pair of “Malibooze” Barbies, complete with packaging, with prizes for the most creative, and the route includes stops for wine and food tastings every kilometre or so – it’s part of a growing movement of wineries and wine regions who are pairing the opportunity to sip with activities that’ll also get you fit.
The notion of hitting wine country to work out may seem counterintuitive; but if you take a closer look at lifestyle and travel trends, the combination is less strange than it might seem on first blush. It is actually the perfect intersection of a number of timely themes. From running tours to full-blown fitness retreats, tourism businesses are increasingly catering to travellers who either don’t want to leave their workouts at home or who view vacation as a fun way to try new physical activities. Globally, expansion of the wellness-tourism industry, which includes fitness and eco-adventure activities such as hiking and biking, is outpacing regular tourism by more than double the rate of expansion of the market, and is expected to grow from US$639-billion in 2018 to US$919-billion by 2022, according to the Global Wellness Institute. “Experiential” travel, in which travellers seek immersive experiences that offer a deeper sense of place, continues to be a major travel buzzword.
“It ties in with the whole farm-to-fork concept, as well. People want to know where their food is coming from, and it’s the same thing with wine. They want to know where their wine is coming from,” says Jennifer Molgat, president of the View Winery in Kelowna, where offerings include “Slip and Sip” snowshoe tours through the vineyard in the winter, dog-friendly “Wine and Wags” hikes in the fall and even “HIIT in the Vineyard” – yes, high intensity interval training – during the summer months. All programs, of course, are followed by a wine tasting.
Meanwhile, as concepts such as Dry January and booze-free craft cocktails become mainstream, it’s become clear that there’s a growing market for offering the trappings of a drinking lifestyle – minus the actual drinking. While some activities are limited to adult participants only, ones that allow minors may also increase the appeal of a wine-country getaway for family vacations. (That said, Molgat reports that the majority of people who participate in the View’s vineyard programming are eager for the tasting component. “It feels extra decadent when you’re sweaty and covered in vineyard dust,” she says.)
Getting active in the vineyards also presents visitors with an opportunity to better understand what’s in their glass. “It’s all about the terroir,” says Jennifer Busman, executive director of Oliver Osoyoos Wine Association, which organizes the Half Corked Marathon. “We love to offer the opportunity for guests to feel the dirt and [experience] the distinct differences prevalent between our two benches – Black Sage Road and Golden Mile Bench. Just visiting a tasting room is only half the story. The magic is happening out in the vineyards and [these] opportunities allow participants to taste grapes from the vine, see how the seeds and skins have an impact on the flavour and mouth feel, which will eventually translate into the wines.”
One thing these programs are not about: intense physical performance. Although you might work up a sweat and clock in your 10,000 steps – if not more – at the end of day, winery workouts are like everything else in wine country, intended to be laid back and fun. Or, as Moss Scheurkogel of Intersection Winery and Half Corked’s emcee, told runners at the start of the race: “If you get to the finish line first, you didn’t understand what this was about.”
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