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Planning your B.C. Wine Tour
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South Okanagan: Oliver & Osoyoos
If you drive into the town of Oliver, the first thing that will greet you is a sign announcing the region as “The Wine Capital of Canada.” It was a self-proclamation made in 2001 by the local chamber of commerce, but with so many other wine-growing regions in the country, how could it make such a declaration? If you consider the facts, it comes by this designation rightly. Oliver has the highest concentration of vineyards and wineries in the country. It certainly has the most grape acreage of any B.C. region by far with 35 per cent of the total planted. The next largest area is Osoyoos to the south, with just over 15 per cent. There are about 40 wineries in Oliver alone and about another dozen in the Osoyoos area. While the region may have grabbed the title for itself, in 2002, while doing a tour of the country, the Queen of England gave Oliver the royal proclamation as Wine Capital of Canada – making it about as official as you can get. The most southerly region of the Thompson-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. In the spring, every corner of this area comes alive with stunning blossoms, followed by the intense green foliage and eventually the vines and trees hang heavy with the bounty of 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.
It might surprise you that under normal circumstances little would grow here. 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 a 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 determined farmers using 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 cranked up at notch in recent years, with a nod toward regional and season 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 There are few things more iconic to this country than the Canada Goose and it serves as the namesake for one of Okanagan Falls longest running wineries, Wild Goose. In 1983, the founder purchased a barren piece of land east of Okanagan Falls. On a visit to his property, he came upon a huge flock of Canada geese feeding amongst the tumbleweeds, boulders, and rubble. As he approached, the geese took flight and the vision inspired him to call the property Wild Goose Vineyards. Not much was there in the way of wineries at the time, but Okanagan Falls now has more than a dozen producers dotted along a wine trail dubbed the “Corkscrew Drive.” Many of the wineries have embraced their unique terroir to craft products with individual signatures to critical acclaim. You’ll find biodynamic, quirky and passionate winemakers here. For the hardcore wine enthusiast, it’s a must visit.
The community of Okanagan Falls can be described as a little bit rustic and harkens back to a simpler way of living. You won’t find any big box stores here, but if you’re in need of some retail therapy, you’ll be delighted by the eclectic mix of antique stores and craft shops, not to mention the flea market that runs from March through November. There are also beaches, trails and parks to explore. In case you’re wondering, the “falls” themselves don’t actually exist. Originally, the hamlet featured twin falls that fell from where Skaha Lake empties into the river, however, in the 1950s a series of dams to control flooding were built, reducing the falls into a series of rapids. Nonetheless, the area is 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. Don’t be surprised to find a herd of Big Horn Sheep perched on rocks by the roadside.
South Okanagan: Peachland, Summerland, Penticton & Naramata If there is one single thing that is synonymous with Canadian wine, it has to be icewine. And this silky sweet dessert wine’s roots begin right here in the community of Peachland. But it all started with a disaster. In 1972, Hainle Vineyards, one of the area’s first estate wineries, suffered an early frost that threatened to wipe out the entire crop. But the owner knew through his own German roots that fine dessert wines could be made with frozen grapes and thus collected the frost-damaged fruit merely to salvage his crop. That year he produced the country’s first 40 litres of icewine, but he had no intention to market it. It wasn’t until six years later, that he decided icewine was an ideal Canadian product and released his first 178 bottles, becoming not only Canada’s, but North America’s first icewine producer. Today, icewine is one of Canada’s most sought after wine products. The communities of Peachland, Summerland, Penticton and Naramata wrap around the southern portion of Okanagan Lake and offer vineyard settings with stunning water views.
Enthusiasts will find a vast concentration of eclectic wineries as they follow the lake – some right off the main highway and others slightly off the beaten path, but never to difficult to find. As their names suggest, Peachland and Summerland are both picturesque, peaceful retreats bathed yearly in ample sunshine and located right along Highway 97 between Kelowna and Penticton. Both offer clean waterfront access to beaches, marine parks and docks. In Peachland, 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 small to medium-sized wineries. Summerland boasts the Kettle Valley Railway, a historical attraction that will delight groups and families. Nature lovers will enjoy Giant’s Head Mountain, ornamental gardens, agricultural research centre, and the salmon hatchery. But if those here for the wine can’t miss the “Bottleneck Drive,” a meandering path leading enthusiasts to plenty of quaint wineries. This area offers 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. Urbanites with a taste for wine will no doubt be drawn to 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 appealing to all types of travellers. Families will love the beaches and the river channel in the heart of the city down which you can float on tubes and other personal inflatable devices, an activity that has been listed in the book titled, The Great Canadian Bucket List. The City of Penticton is renowned for its festivals and special events including the Fest of Ale, Peachfest, Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival, Elvis Festival and the Challenge-Penticton Triathalon. Signature events for the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival are also held here. Adventure travellers will appreciate that they’re only minutes from Skaha Bluffs, a climber’s paradise that has garnered international recognition. Just short drive through the city and around the north side of Okanagan Lake and you’ll find yourself on the Naramata Bench, a pastoral vineyard mecca with stunning water views. Here is where you’ll find one of the highest concentrations of wineries in the valley, taking full advantage of the setting, the climate and 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 is where the magic started, some 150 years ago. In fact, Father Charles Pandosy first planted grapes in the area back in the 1860s to make sacramental wine, right around the time confederation talks began that eventually led to Canada becoming a country in her own right. Now on Canada’s 150th birthday, the Central Okanagan has bragging rights to say its winemaking history grew up with the country. Yet in truth, after those initial plantings not a lot happened in the wine business for decades. You wouldn’t suspect that today. It’s a booming industry with more than 30 wineries located in this area within two of B.C. largest interior cities, Kelowna and West Kelowna. Wine enthusiasts can enjoy a mix of urban and agricultural experiences that are somewhat unique to the area. Father Pandosy may have pioneered grape growing in B.C., but there are plenty of other wine-related history makers in the Central Okanagan. Calona Wines was established in 1932 and remains the oldest continuously running winery in the province. Quails’ Gate, while having its own innovative history, for years ran a wine shop out of a log homestead known as the Allison House. Built in 1873, it now serves as a meeting place, gift and snack shop. And one of B.C.’s newest wineries, Indigenous World, is the first 100 per cent indigenously-owned producers on the globe. The proprietor is the former chief of the Westbank First Nations and a the descendant of the Syilx people. Aside from wine, there’s a lot the Central Okanagan has to offer. Kelowna and West Kelowna are separated by the William Bennett Bridge at the narrowest point of Okanagan Lake and on both sides you’ll find miles of sandy beaches hugging the shores. There’s the urban experience right there if you crave it, but the opportunity exists to enjoy nature thanks parks, creeks, trails, nearby pastures, mountains and more.
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. There are also dozens of golf courses, trails and nature preserves ever nearby. Okanagan Lake itself is a veritable liquid playground 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 that identify public areas, campsites and buoys in case you want to anchor on the water over night. On the Kelowna side of the lake, you’ll find Okanagan Mountain Park, the site of a devastating 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. Yet, 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 once again open for everyone’s outdoor enjoyment. An interconnected corridor of parks and walkways follow Kelowna’s downtown waterfront and along West Kelowna’s Gellatly Bay area (including a local nut farm) - perfect for a leisurely sunset stroll after dinner.
North Okanagan: Armstrong, Vernon & Lake Country The North Okanagan is home to one of the original five estate wineries that pioneered the British Columbia wine industry. Grey Monk Estate Winery, located in Lake Country, planted the first ever Pinot Gris grapes in Canada more than 40 years ago. In fact, the winery’s name is the English translation of the Austrian name for that variety. In the mid-1970s, critics scoffed at the notion that such a revered French vinifera should be subjected to such a “harsh” climate. But the grape not only survived, it thrived! Those brave risk takers may have broken new ground, but others eagerly followed suit. Today, Lake Country – which comes by the name rightly – is home to over half a dozen wineries, all located a short drive from each other, making the region an excellent choice for a vinous day trip. A smattering of wineries are also located a bit further north in the Vernon-Armstrong area. The North Okanagan features rich grasslands, which brought ranchers to the valley and dude ranch experiences are available for adventurers who want the chance to work the land. But if you’re an urban cowboy or girl, the city of Vernon offers up great shopping and dining experiences.
Lakes abound in this area, so if you love the water, there are countless ways to enjoy it – whether it’s trolling for your lunch in a quiet bay, trying out a waterski ramp, or just taking in the view while sipping a fine wine on the patio of a local winery. One dazzling attraction in the North Okanagan is Kalamalka Lake, a large body of water on the south side of Vernon where calcium carbonate deposits form sparkling crystals that reflect sunlight, creating breathtaking blue colours in the water from deep navy to vivid aquamarine. There are sandy beaches and stunning rock faces plus a 2,420-acre provincial park. It’s paradise for anyone who appreciates nature And if that isn’t enough, the North Okanagan is home to Silver Star Mountain Resort, which beckons with an all season playground. In the colder months, it’s a playground for snow sports and offers a colourful picturesque village feel. In the warmer months, it offers alpine meadows full of wild flora and fauna, perfect for hiking, cycling, or merely strolling. Plus, the mountain hosts a weekend summer food and wine festival in August. It’s a must go for just about every type of traveller. Finally, on the most southern tip of the North Okanagan, you’ll find Lake Country. There’s everything here for those who love the water, with a collection of lakes that will welcome boaters, fishing and water sports enthusiasts. And of course, there’s the wine – made possible by pioneers who ignored the naysayers and followed their dreams.