A new tourism venture focused on highlighting the beauty of the Naramata Bench and the small, privately owned unique wineries that run along it, is set to roll out at the beginning of May.
Old school trolleys will be running from Penticton to Naramata starting this summer, as a hop on-hop off style model. Grape Savvy Trolley Co. has been in the works for over a year, aiming to be a pioneer in Okanagan tourism.
Savannah Swaisland who is the proprietor of the company, has been running Grape Savvy Wine Tours for the past four seasons.
“When I first started my original business, I really wanted to dive deeper than the average wine tour and really give people an experience from grape to glass. Going into two seasons as a small tourism based on essential business through COVID was really hard,” she shared.
It's also a more affordable option.
“With people’s lack of discretionary income or lack of tourism in general, I kind of saw that there was a need for something different in the wine tourism industry.”
“For me, this is really a way to bring organic business to the wine community, allow people to really support the industry post COVID and not be spending a huge amount of money to do it.”
So Swaisland decided to purchase a couple nostalgic trolleys from the Vancouver Trolley Company, getting a 1997 freight line and a 2000 trolley.
“I'm born and raised in Vancouver, so this is basically my childhood. I wanted to offer an affordable, convenient and accessible way for locals to really capitalize on the Naramata Bench.”
The trolleys were purchased and approved for transportation earlier this month, after which Swaisland drove them up on the Coquihalla,
“They actually drove fantastically and I can officially say I drove a trolley across the highway summit,” she added with a laugh.
Over the next five weeks, the trolleys will be receiving some cosmetic updating, wrapping and rebranding, with a goal to have them on the road by May 1.
“[It’s] going to be the most convenient and affordable way to experience Naramata wine country as a hop on hop off service, which basically gives both locals and tourists alike access to all the breweries, cideries and wineries as well as small businesses and local attractions.”
The trolleys will run on a predetermined route, with stops at all privately owned wineries with the continuous loop for people to hop on and hop off for all day access. Each holds 35 passengers.
An online web app integration system will be the host for all ticket sales, which are done online.
“You basically purchase your ticket, it's $39 for the day and you have full access to as many hop on hop off rides as you would like. It is a one stop kind of hub with direct links to every winery’s reservation system to plan your own perfect day.”
“There is space under each seat for people to obviously bring their wine, or most wineries, especially if they're hopping on and hopping off, you can actually leave your wine at the winery and then pick it up the next day or they can ship out.”
Riders will also be able to see where the trolleys are at all times throughout the day with a live direct feed to their location. The app will also tell you how many seats are available on the bus.
“The second trolley basically is a shorter route and can also pick people up if they ping the trolley. It can actually come on its way knowing that someone's waiting.”
The business is a big passion project for Swaisland, working as a winemaker, viticulturist, sommelier and certified Aboriginal member of Indigenous Tourism BC for the past decade.
Swaisland plans for this not to be just an experience for wine lovers however, but for anyone wanting to tour along the bench.
“I feel like it's going to be more of that KVR steam train where it becomes an experience in itself,” she explained.
“For me, this is for tourists alike that may not even like wine and have never been to the Naramata Bench before. They can hop on and do a two-hour loop just to see the sight of what Naramata Bench has to offer.”
Final details are being set up this month for all locations on the loop, but the Naramata Inn will be the farthest spot before the trolley starts heading back along the bench into Penticton.
Plans are for the one trolley to run seven days a week, from around 10:45 a.m. until after 5 p.m., similar to the winery hours. The second one will run on the weekends, and then as soon as things kind of pick up for June, July, August, both will be running.
The seasonal tours will wrap up on Oct. 31.
Keep an eye out on the Grape Savvy Trolley Co. website for more information and details coming soon.