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South Okanagan: Oliver & Osoyoos
In this short stretch of the province, you will find more than half of the grape acreage in British Columbia. So it should come as no surprise that the local chamber of commerce declared the area as the “Wine Capital of Canada.” It comes by the designation honestly. If you are looking for a wine-soaked adventure, then the Oliver-Osoyoos region cannot be missed. Here you’ll find 57 wineries and British Columbia’s first official sub-region, the Golden Mile Bench, recognizing it for its unique climates, soil types and wine styles. Oliver-Osoyoos is where the majority of the “big reds” are grown – Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot – varieties that need an extended growing season and plenty of sunshine and heat. And this is Canada’s hot spot - literally. It routinely tops the list as the hottest place in the country during the summer. Average daily highs are in excess of 29 C in July, but temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s are not uncommon. The most southerly region of the Okanagan is a lush landscape populated by acres upon acres of orchards and vineyards making it a veritable paradise of plenty when it comes to fruit and wine. Every spring the air is filled with the heady scent of fruit tree blossoms and the rolling terrain is an explosion of colour. Vivid green foliage then covers the panorama and eventually the vines and trees are heavy with the season’s fruits. From July through October, you’ll find roadside stands offering fresh cherries apricots, peaches, pears, plums and apples. And, of course, year round wineries will offer up their own bottled bounties made from the grapes and selected tree fruits harvested each year.
Left to its own, this fruitful landscape would actually produce very little. The Oliver-Osoyoos area is in a desert belt – an extension of the Sonoran stretching up from Mexico. Cacti and rattlesnakes are more at home here and there’s an interpretation centre where visitors can experience Canada’s only desert and explore First Nations culture. Fertile ground for growing grapes and fruit has been made possible by the use of irrigation, which has given new life to the South Okanagan. The area’s extended days of heat and sunshine has made it possible to grow varieties not previously possible north of the U.S. border. Osoyoos is the southernmost point in the valley and located on the shores of the warmest lake in Canada. It’s a border town with easy access to the U.S. for those who want to make a quick trip stateside. Despite recent development of luxury hotels and residential communities, Osoyoos has managed to retain its small-town charm offering idyllic respite with all the amenities you might desire at your fingertips. Dining in the area has been elevated in recent years, with a nod toward regional and seasonal cuisine. Gorgeous beaches and family-friendly options are plentiful in this stunning lakeside community. Awesome hiking and biking trails and backcountry adventures are close at hand. And you’re never more than a few minutes from a glass of wine.
South Okanagan: Okanagan Falls & Kaleden If you’re after a relaxed pace and a tranquil space free of big box stores but filled with local artisans, antique shops and assorted hidden gems, then Okanagan Falls in the South Okanagan is beckoning with its simpler way of living. The name of the town is a surprise to many, as the “falls” themselves don’t actually exist. Originally, it boasted twin falls that fell from where Skaha Lake empties into the river, however, in the 1950s dams to control flooding were built, reducing the falls into a series of rapids. Still, the area is pretty and a huge draw for nature lovers, as a large selection of wildlife lives in the area, with many unique desert flora and fauna for naturalists to explore. A bird sanctuary is situated at Vaseux Lake just south of the town, complete with an interpretive centre.
One of its many draws is a large flea market filled to the brim with eclectic finds that runs from March through November. There are also beaches, trails and parks to explore. Okanagan Falls is also home to the Corkscrew Drive, a sizeable collection of grassroots wineries with distinct approaches to wine. Many of the producers on this trail have embraced their unique terroir to craft wines with unique signatures to critical acclaim. You’ll find biodynamic, quirky and passionate producers here. For the hardcore wine enthusiast, it’s a must visit. Okanagan Falls is home to 12 wineries and almost 540 acres of grapes. The main varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.
South Okanagan: Peachland, Summerland, Penticton & Naramata This area is where you’ll find dozens of wineries dotted along the shoreline of Okanagan Lake, offering one of the highest concentration of producers in the Valley with some of the most buzz-worthy settings. It’s like “Napa, but with a lake,” one author penned and since then the term “Napa North” has been frequently applied to this part of British Columbia Wine Country. There are more than 60 wineries in the relatively short distance from Peachland, Summerland to Penticton and along the Naramata and Skaha benches. There is just over 1,200 acres of vineyard producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, and Chardonnay, just to name a few. The average high in July is 28C, with temperatures that can soar above 40C on some days, making the many beaches here a welcome respite. It doesn’t rain or snow much either. Average annual precipitation is just 332 mm. The first two charming lakeside communities should give you some clue as to what awaits in Peachland and Summerland. Both are picturesque, peaceful retreats bathed yearly in ample sunshine and located right along Highway 97 between Kelowna and Penticton.
Peachland offers clean waterfront access to beaches, marine parks and docks. One of the most popular attractions for families is Swim Bay, which has a zip line, lifeguard supervision and a children’s playground. There are also plenty of walking, hiking and biking trails, not to mention several quaint wineries. Summerland is home to the Kettle Valley Railway, a historical attraction that will delight groups and families. Nature lovers will enjoy the ornamental gardens, agricultural research centre, and the salmon hatchery. But if you’re here for the wine, the concentrated group of wineries that have marketed themselves as the “Bottleneck Drive” won’t disappoint. This area encompasses rolling vineyards with incredible views and a truly grassroots feel and artistic vibe. Expect to be entertained by local musicians, and enjoy the works of artists and crafters. This is an area rich in creativity. It’s also a foodie’s paradise, with local producers and restaurateurs embracing the concept of the 100-mile diet – regional cuisine that promotes local, seasonal ingredients. A little further south and you’ll hit another urban centre – Penticton – which is ideally situated between Okanagan and Skaha Lakes, making it the ultimate water-lovers paradise. It’s a city with a small town feel that will appeal to all types of travellers. Along with the beaches, there’s a river channel that runs through the heart of the city down which you can float on inner tubes, an activity that has been featured on The Great Canadian Bucket List. Adventure travellers will appreciate that they’re only minutes from Skaha Bluffs, a climber’s paradise that has garnered international recognition. A short drive through Penticton and around the north side of Okanagan Lake and you’ll find yourself on the pastoral Naramata Bench, a place that will take you back to a simpler time. The view of the lake as you wind your way down the road toward the village is nothing short of breathtaking. Better yet, here is where you’ll find a huge concentrations of wineries, taking full advantage of the setting, the climate and the unique terroir that is the measure of a great wine. The Naramata bench is Nirvana for the daytripper and if you don’t mind the occasional hill climb, this is a sensational destination for a winery tour by bicycle.
central Okanagan: West Kelowna & Kelowna The Central Okanagan would be considered the urban hub of the Okanagan Valley with both the most populous city, Kelowna, and the fourth largest, West Kelowna, making up its core. But don’t be fool by those numbers. The region is also rooted in a rich agricultural history. This is where wine growing got its start. Father Charles Pandosy is credited with setting up the first vineyards at the Obelate Mission near Kelowna back in 1859. The purpose was to make sacramental wines for his parish. The first winery opened here in 1932 and back then nobody could predict what was to come. But these humble beginnings served as the catalyst for what is today a mecca for wine enthusiasts locally and globally. The region is home to a growing number of wineries, ranging in size from tiny cottage-style to large-scale by Canadian standards. In addition to wine, several producers also have on site restaurant facilities offering world-class culinary experiences. The primary grapes grown here today are Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling. There are more than a 1,000 acres of grapes planted, making up about 10 per cent of the total vineyard in the province. As far as destinations go, the Central Okanagan has it all. The region has two distinct communities – Kelowna and West Kelowna, separated by William Bennett Bridge at the narrowest point of Okanagan Lake. The area offers the scenic wonders of the great outdoors that will appeal to adventurers, with the convenience of an urban setting for those who crave modern conveniences. It is here you will find miles of sandy beaches hugging the shores of Okanagan Lake that attract families and sun worshipers, as well as hiking and biking trails within minutes of a central core. There are plenty of options for accommodations, shopping, fine dining, entertainment, arts and cultural activities, historical attractions and much more to be had on both sides of the lake. You’re also just a stone’s throw away from dozens of golf courses, trails and nature preserves, not to mention the ever beckoning lake.
The water is a liquid playground in this area with amenities for waterskiing and boarding, windsurfing, paddle boarding, parasailing, jet-skiing, fishing and more. For those who love boating, there are scores of beaches, coves, and parks to explore that are accessible by watercraft. Maps are available identifying public areas, campsites and buoys in case you want to anchor on the water over night. The weather is pretty ideal for these sorts of activities. The Central Okanagan averages a high of 1.5C in December and a high of almost 30C in July. Precipitation is quite low, averaging just over 400 mm annually. On the Kelowna side of the lake, you’ll find Okanagan Mountain Park, the site of the infamous fire that swept down the mountainside in August 2003, torching hundreds of homes, forest and parkland, even destroying many of the popular Myra Canyon railway trestles that were a hit with hikers and had survived Mother Nature’s wrath for more than 80 years. Now new life has been injected in the park and it is once again a sought-after backcountry area for hiking, biking and camping. The canyon trestles have been restored and are open for everyone’s outdoor enjoyment. An interconnected corridor of parks follow Kelowna’s downtown waterfront, perfect for a leisurely sunset stroll after a romantic dinner out. Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Kelowna, you’ll find Big White Ski Resort, a winter destination renowned for its champagne powder snow and family-friendly vibe. The west side offers skiing as well, with groomed cross-country trails nearby for those with an adventurous spirit. West Kelowna embraces its agricultural spirit by promoting local growers with its Westside Farm Loop, encouraging visitors and residents to explore area farms, vineyards and nurseries. Just watch for the signs. For the hardcore wine enthusiasts, there are several clusters of wineries located along the lake off Boucherie Road in West Kelowna and in the southeast part of Kelowna city. And you’ll also find one of the oldest and largest wineries right downtown. A piece of the wine industry’s vital history still lives on with Father Pandosy’s Mission heritage site in Kelowna, where you’ll find his chapel still standing.
North Okanagan: Armstrong, Vernon & Lake Country The northern gateway to the vast Okanagan is really starting to come into its own In British Columbia Wine Country. From Enderby to Vernon to Lake Country, there are now more than a dozen wineres producing fine products from locally grown Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and much more. The North Okanagan features fertile agricultural land known for daily products, fruit and vegetables. The rich grasslands brought ranchers to the valley and dude ranch experiences are available for adventurers who want the chance to work the land. But there’s something for urban cowboys and girls as well in the city of Vernon where there are great shopping and dining experiences. The District of Lake Country comes by its name honestly. There are numerous bodies of water in the area including Duck Lake, Wood Lake, Kalamalka, and the vast Okanagan Lake, which stretches north to Vernon and south to Penticton. There are countless ways to enjoy the water, whether its trolling for your lunch in a quiet bay, trying out a waterski ramp, ice fishing, or just taking in the view while sipping a fine wine on the patio of a local winery.
 Perhaps the most breathtaking waterway in this region is Kalamalka Lake, located on the south side of Vernon and extending to Oyama. Calcium carbonate deposits form crystals that reflect sunlight create vivid colours in the water that vary from deep blue to brilliant aquamarine. You won’t be able to pull your gaze away from this stunning view. There are gorgeous beaches and a 2,420 acre provincial park and protected area with pristine natural areas that nature lovers are sure to enjoy. Less than an hour from Vernon, Silver Star Mountain beckons offering a playground for winter sports and a picturesque village feel. But the resort is equally as popular during the warmer months offering miles of mountain biking and hiking trails. In fact, the mountain hosts a summer food and wine festival in August. And nature lovers will enjoy the stunning display of wildflowers which bloom all over the hills and meadows. It’s a must go for just about every type of traveller. Lake Country, the most southern part of this region, is where visitors will really start to see a growing concentration of wineries, so hard-core enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice. There are more than 30 vineyards in the North Okanagan, comprising of more than 255 acres of planted grapes. The winters are reasonably mild and summer warm and dry. The average daily high in December hovers around 1C, while you can expect the daily high temperature of 27C in July. Average precipitation is about 430 mm annually.