It was raining cats and dogs a I was driving on Highway 97 from Hope via Salmon Arm to Kelowna in British Columbia to visit the region. Luckily the following day the weather turned out to be sunny and warm.
Unquestionably, Canada’s second largest wine region is the most promising, and dare I say it, beautiful. Vineyards overlooking the Okanagan Lake are spectacular and meticulously tended.
Although B. C entered the wine industry much later than Ontario, today it boasts 63 wineries and the number is likely to grow. When at the beginning of 1990’s B. C wineries decided to introduce VQA standards, their association was quick to realize for the rules to be effective they must be legislated.
While VQA was started in Ontario, as a voluntary winery club, in B C it was given legal status from the very beginning. Today both provinces have legislation in place and soon the federal government will have to sanction the rules, and hopefully European countries will allow Canadian wines to be imported.
The newest and most promising red wine vineyards are located along the Back Sage Road between Okanagan Falls and Osoyoos, others are around the Skaha Lake, Okanagan Lake, and around Duncan on the Vancouver Island.
The largest ( Peller Estates ) winery is located in Port Moody close to Vancouver.
Today B.C’s vibrant wine industry enjoys extraordinary success in both national and international competitions, along with unprecendented consumer interest. While visiting Okanagan wineries I saw many families tasting, asking questions, and buying better wines. It is encouraging to see interested people visiting wineries in an attempt to taste and select fine wines available only at the winery. ( The B C government
wisely decided not to meddle into distributing small production wines ).
As a result of such interest Anthony von Mandl, the owner of the Mission Hill winery, decided to expand .
Potentially the most important development is occurring along the Black Sage Road a.k.a Golden Mile Road. Vincor, already a big player, purchased significant tracts of land and is planning to develop 500 acres of premium vineyards within the next three years.
Small wineries like Burrowing Owl, Black Hills and Carriage House Wines have already built and established their vineyards. Many others could, and no doubt will ,locate there soon.
Black Sage Road bisects a desert but the climate happens to be extremely well suited for grape growing. Water from the lakes is readily available and irrigation is permitted. While many pundits disparage irrigation as a means to increase yield per acre, it can be an advantage if irrigation is carried out judiciously as I have been able to witness in Washington State.
The dry air eliminates spraying to combat humidity related vine diseases.
Red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Syrah are growing extremely well. To the west of the Highway 97 starting in Oliver Tinhorn Creek, Fairview, Gehringer Brothers, Hester Creek, Domaine Combret and Gehrsiegel wineries produce white wines from German grapes and hybrids such as Kerner, Ehrenfelser, Optima, Ortega, Morio Muskat just to name a few. Between Penticton and Naramata on the south eastern shore of Okanagan Lake several quality-oriented wineries cultivate their own vineyards, fully aware of the fact that control of fruit translates to quality in the winery.
Red Rooster, Kettle Valley, Nichol Vineyard, Lake Breeze, Poplar Grove, Lang Vineyards and Hillside Cellars all produce fine wines from their own fruit.
After the Free Trade Agreement in 1989 there was a collective sense that the industry will collapse and just disappear. The government astutely decided to allow small wineries to sell their wines, and encouraged production of quality.
Today there are only four wineries (Peller Estate, Mission Hill, Calona and Vincor ) that produce huge quantities of VQA and blended wines.
Small estates are thriving on quality, and target markets that appreciate fine wines and are willing to pay the price.
Actually, it is kind of nice to enter a winery store and be greeted cheerfully, and offered wines to taste without being pressured to buy. The sales staff is by and large knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but more importantly they have been taught to refer questions they cannot answer with authority to people who can.
In Penticton B.C-VQA maintains a store carrying a significant selection of B. C. wines, which I believe to be an excellent idea Ontario might want to copy.
On Vancouver Island, presently there are10 estate wineries all producing fine wines. As their vineyards grow older and vines mature the quality will improve.
I found Red Rooster, Gehringer, Domaine Combret, Hainle, Mission Hill and others too numerous to mention to produce well-balanced, refined, fruity wines. Most are only available in the winery.
When travelling in B. C. it is worth to make a point to visit at least some of the wineries and taste their products. It is my sincere wish that all Canadian restaurants with a decent wine list carry at least a few B. C. as well as Ontario VQA wines, if only provincial control boards would avail themselves to allow them to be offered.
If you have only one day and no desire to drive, you can always book a winery tour. This will allow you to visit at least eight to ten wineries and see what they have to offer.
One thing the Okanagan valley seems to be missing – fine restaurants located close to wineries. A few wineries offer snacks and bistro type food; some make available picnic tables you could, if you are driving, use. It is nice to enjoy delicacies while taking in beautiful vistas and sipping delectable wines.
British Columbia’s popular grape varieties
Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Pinot Meunier, Baco Noir, Syrah, Petit Syrah
Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Ehrenfelser, Bacchus, Chasselas, Kerner, Muller-Thurgau, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Optima, Ortega and other experimental grapes.
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.