Nestled halfway between Alberta and Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley is a fertile place brimming with orchards and enchanting wineries. An idyllic summer escape for ages for Canadians, the rest of the world is now catching on to this spectacular wine region.
Just 20 years ago, there were only a smattering of wineries here. Now, you’ll find over 300 of them along the valley, previously only known for the lengthy Okanagan Lake that runs north and south from Vernon to Osoyoos. Legend has it that Ogopogo lives there, the Canadian equivalent of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, though perhaps it’s merely the wine talking.
Because of the vast styles of land from desert to lakes, almost every style of wine can be found here that straddle the spectrum. From still to sparkling and even dessert to ice wines, over 60 varietals grow here. Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Tempranillo, and many more dazzle on the vines. And thanks to the lake, the climate is moderated, a good thing since rainfall is scarce throughout the year. On the same latitude as famed Champagne in Europe and with a diverse profile, it’s easy to see why the Okanagan Valley has become a new haven for discovering wine.
The diversity of the region makes it an ideal place to embark on a wine tour. From one end to the other, the discovering the differences makes for an epic journey. Not sure where to begin? There are 5 subregions in the Okanagan Valley.
- Black Sage/Osoyoos
The Sonoran Desert’s northernmost tip is where this region can be found. Known as the warmest and driest region of the Okanagan Valley, you’ll find Nk’Mip Cellars, a welcoming place for tourists.
- Golden Mile
From there, move north on your way to a town called Oliver. This is where the Golden Mile begins. It gets the name from the rich land here and makes up over half of British Columbia’s acreage for grape growing.
- Okanagan Falls
Onward from the Golden Mile, Okanagan Falls features a unique climatic zone, one carved from the land after a retreating ice mass left long stretches of fertile soil and stunning lakes. A beautiful place to gaze out on as you enjoy your wine!
North of the Falls and north of Penticton, this is the dividing line from the warm, dry weather of the south to the cooler, wetter portion of the valley in the north. It’s an ideal spot for trying that ice wine.
Kelowna is one of the busiest places for wineries. Summerhill Pyramid Winery is vastly popular due to the Egyptian pyramid replica though plenty more cover the area which also brims with divine restaurants, splendid lake views, artistically-created wines.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Okanagan Valley is that it really was a rural untouched spot of land save for a few ranches and fruit farms, until recent years. Now it has become a destination for wine lovers and foodies alike. And unlike busier wine regions in North America like Napa Valley for example, there is more uniqueness and individuality to discover here.
In Penticton, Upper Bench Winery & Creamery is one of many cozier wineries. Gavin and Shana Miller are a dynamic duo. He crafts the wine and she crafts her own selection of cheeses. The hand-tended vines are kept up without use of chemicals or pesticides. The Millers create bold reds and crisp, dry whites that reflect the terroir. Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rose are just a few of the grape selections at Upper Bench. And that’s just one of many wineries that are close together – Monster Vineyards and Poplar Grove are others, each with their own special vibe.
In Kelowna, Summerhill winery features wines aged in their replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It might seem like a hokey design, but the wines developed here speak for themselves and are made with organic practices. Summerhill features a variety of reds, whites, and sparkling wines using Pinot Gris, Syrah, and Merlot. It also features ice wine. Head to the opposite end of the valley, Summerland, and you’ll find a different kind of funkiness. Okanagan Crush Pad uses concrete tanks shaped into eggs and tulips for a natural, additive-free fermentation process for all kinds of varietals including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Franc.
At the desert portion, where it’s hotter and drier, First Nation Canadians have created a resort and winery known as Nk’Mip (you say it like “inkameep”), an ideal place to taste wine and learn a bit of history behind the people and the only Canadian desert. Upon this landscape, this winery upholds the passion and respect for nature that the Osoyoos Indians revere. Using the land nature gave them to grow superior grapes, the variety produced here ranges from reds like Merlot and Pinot Noir to whites like Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
The 5 subregions of the Okanagan Valley each offer something splendid to wine lovers. Discovering them all and the hundreds of wineries tucked into the entire stretch would surely be an endeavor worth pursuing.