If someone told me a few years ago that I could go to British Columbia, and have a Pinotage of better quality then I have ever had from South Africa (even if you are not a fan of the grape), or a wonderful Verdejo/ Albarino blend, much less a stunning Pinot noir, I would have said you were crazy.
Yet, the Okanagan Valley region, either an hour's flight or four and a half hour scenic drive, east of the city of Vancouver, delivers that and much more. Sampling these wines far away from their home is not easy because production is small by international standards. They must be consumed close to home, as many wineries produce only between 2000 to 5000 cases per year, much of it hand sold at the wineries to locals and tourists; the rest mostly within the province, with some going elsewhere in Canada, and a very small amount being exported to international markets.
The BC VQA standard (http://winebc.com/) is officially 26 years old, created by statute at the prodding of local visionaries who often replaced fruit trees with vines, determined to find what worked and what did not in the varied soil types and micro climates of the Okanagan, Osoyoos and nearby Similkameen Valley. Whether by luck or skill, the varieties of grape made into excellent wine is extremely wide ranging. In an earlier publication, I described the region in some detail: http://blog.quiniwine.com/wine-articles/bc-wine-in-ny/, so I will not repeat it all.
Suffice to say Lake Okanagan is an 80 mile long glacial lake, with relatively steep sides. It runs north/south, so exposure on the east side gets setting sun, whereas the west gets it in the morning. Glacial soil deposits appear as "benches" along its length, depending on where the ice stopped at various times, or ice dams broke, shifting massive amounts of sediments. The region is actually the northernmost extension of desert, which starts in Mexico and runs north through Washington State and into Canada. It is blessed with a great water supply from the lake for irrigation and over eleven hundred feet of elevation for cool nights. It is impressive to see lush vineyards on one side of a road, and native desert scrub on the other.
Saying the area is photogenic is an understatement. Everyone speaks English, the exchange rate is excellent, as are the restaurants and local produce. There are resort style lodgings, as well as many boutique places to stay, including many of the wineries themselves. Most of them are small, so the chances of getting an owner or winemaker to speak to in the tasting room is highly likely; but with lots of investment the wineries are as modern as the AVA. Some have event spaces and cater to events and celebrations. There are restaurants, both rustic and high end, food being carefully prepared whichever route you choose.
But don't just take my word for it, as the region is gaining accolades as a world-class wine destination from publications and wine critics. The Okanagan Valley was named one of the 10 best wine destinations of 2015 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine; ranked #1 wine region in the world by The Huffington Post, and dubbed the second best wine region to visit by USA Today. In August of 2015, the BC Wine Institute hosted acclaimed UK wine writer Steven Spurrier there for the first time, and in the The Somm Journal he proclaimed, "For me, wine is the three Ps: the place, the people and the product. British Columbia ticks all three boxes with exuberance, elegance and conviction."
Wine touring is not only for wine lovers, as it now attracts a much broader range of tourists who are looking for a variety of experiences. "Wine tourism is still relatively new in British Columbia, though more and more people are expressing an interest in it, evidenced by many of BC's wineries expanding their guest experiences to include more than simply wine tasting." notes Laura Kittmer Media Relations Manager for the British Columbia Wine Institute. If wine is not your thing, there are sports and fishing in the lake's crystal clear water, or hiking, camping and just breathing the cool mountain air.
Of the 320 wineries in BC, 276 of them have now opened their doors to wine tourism offering tastings, on-site restaurants and shops, wine and food pairing experiences, cooking classes, vineyard tours, concerts, accommodation and much more. "There are now over 43 restaurants at BC Wineries; that's more than 20 per cent of wineries offering a myriad of cuisine to go with their experience. Very unique in the world of wine touring," remarks Sandra Oldfield, CEO of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.
Also, for the first time this past winter Cedar Creek Estate Winery and Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery offered sommelier-led wine and food pairing tours during the off-season. "We are excited to extend our winery hours and provide our visitors with an experience that is otherwise hard to offer in the busy summer months," said the marketing manager at Cedar Creek Estate Winery.
If your travel plans for this summer are still in flux, the Wines of British Columbia is launching its inaugural Chef Meets BC Grape Okanagan Wine and Food Experience bringing as many as 60 BC wineries and 16 top chefs from western Canada to the Okanagan Valley August 24 through 27. It is a multi-event series designed to celebrate the best of BC wine and food - highlighting all things grown, crushed, raised and produced in British Columbia. Many special ticketed and non ticketed events will fill the area with cheer and fun.
The Okanagan is a great place to visit. Bernard Kenner firstname.lastname@example.org
Wine/food consultant and educator, serving individuals, groups and the trade. Will organize tastings for organizations as fundraisers, or intimate home gatherings, and provide food/wine pairing advice for restaurants, wine dinners, or server training. Practical advice at a reasonable cost.