Discover Okanagan Valley

The northern most point of the Sonora Desert is Western Canada’s beautiful Okanagan Valley, home to British Columbia’s prime grape-growing region with over 8,000 acres planted and 131 vineyards and wineries.

Discover Okanagan Valley   © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Discover Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the southern interior, the Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes.

The mountains are lined with ponderosa pine, which give way to cacti, tumbleweeds, and fragrant sage brush.

The region receives a mere 10 to 12 inches of rain annually and is geographically considered a semi-desert—the hottest and driest place in Canada. But the sandy slopes are the foundation of an ever-expanding industry that is producing world class, award-winning wines.

An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a growing range of varietals.

Lake Country/Kelowna/West Kelowna

Home to more than 25 wineries, this region has become synonymous with wine, and for good reason. BC’s first vines were planted in Kelowna in 1859 by Father Pandosy. Kelowna also boasts the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyard (established 1931).

Discover Okanagan Valley   © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Discover Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the first families of the BC wine industry call this area home such as Gray Monk Estate Winery’s Heiss’ family, the Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Organic Winery, and the Stewart family of Quails’ Gate Winery. Several wineries in the region also offer exceptional culinary experiences, some with year-round dining options.

Peachland/Summerland

Driving into Peachland and Summerland, you are greeted with spectacular views of Okanagan Lake and a glimpse of the striking Naramata Bench across the lake. Not only is this an exciting area of new development, but the region is also soaked in history with a few wineries and vineyards over 25 years old. The picturesque rolling hills will lead you to delicious Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Rosé in addition to a lineup of sparkling wines to make any occasion a little more special.

Penticton/Naramata Bench

The vineyards of Penticton and Naramata Bench boast ideal conditions for ripening Merlot and Bordeaux varieties and full-flavored Pinot Gris and Viognier. To the south of Penticton is Skaha Bench where Painted Rock Estate Winery and Pentâge Winery produce award-winning wines. And with an established (and simple) wine touring route, breathtaking views, and several wineries with delicious dining spectacular settings, it’s easy to see why the Naramata Bench is one of the hottest wine regions in the province

Okanagan Falls

Discover Okanagan Valley   © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Discover Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Falls claims some of the most charming vistas in the Okanagan. Better still, this compact region is home to more than 10 wineries and 32 vineyards. Famous for its rolling hills and winding roads, the wineries are well worth the drive, offering a plethora of wine styles. Because of the unique climate and elevation, cool-climate varietals thrive here producing some of the province’s most awarded sparkling wines, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling. With wines as delightful as their owners, this a must-visit region.

Oliver

The ‘Wine Capital of Canada’, Oliver is home to nearly half of British Columbia’s vines. To the west, the Golden Mile soaks up the morning sun making it ideal for white wines such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, and bright fruity reds like Cabernet Franc. To the east lies the Black Sage Bench which basks in the afternoon sun, and cultivates powerful red wines and full-flavored whites. The combination of hot days and cool night’s produces fruit with the perfect BC balance―exceptional flavors as well as vibrant acidity.

Osoyoos

Osoyoos lies at the Okanagan’s southern-most tip, stretching all the way to the US border.  Officially Canada’s hottest spot, this is red wine country. Wineries from many other regions utilize grapes from the south to produce award-winning red wines. Osoyoos is home to well-known vineyards including Jackson-Triggs and the famed SunRock Vineyard, producer of the world’s Best Shiraz (2006 International Wine & Spirit Competition). North America’s first aboriginal winery, Nk’Mip Cellars is also located here.

Discover Okanagan Valley   © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Discover Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine Festivals

Wine festivals are a great opportunity to meet the winemakers and sample wine. A superb wine experience, the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival is now in its 35th year (October 1-11, 2015).

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

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Explore the Okanagan: Beaches, Peaches, Wine & More

If you think that Wine Country and Canada have as much in common as beaches and the Arctic Tundra, think again.

Make your first stop the Okanagan Wine Country Information Centre in Penticton. The knowledgeable staff will assist in all aspects of your Okanagan vacation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Make your first stop the Okanagan Wine Country Information Centre in Penticton. The knowledgeable staff will assist in all aspects of your Okanagan vacation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the Western Canadian province of British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley has developed into a significant wine-producing area. This undiscovered wine country is often referred to as the “Napa of the North”.

That may be stretching the truth somewhat with Okanagan wine production a literal drop in the bucket compared to that of Napa Valley.

Located in the southern interior, the Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes.

The mountains are lined with ponderosa pine, which give way to cacti, tumbleweeds, and fragrant sage brush.

The region receives a mere 10 to 12 inches of rain annually and is geographically considered a semi-desert—the hottest and driest place in Canada. But the sandy slopes are the foundation of an ever-expanding industry that is producing world class, award-winning wines. In 2011, BC wineries won over 2,000 medals in national and international competition.

Before becoming a wine destination, the Okanagan was a family holiday spot, best known for its “beaches and peaches”—the lakes with their sandy shores, boating, and waterskiing as well as the countless farm stands offering fresh produce and fruit. The beaches and peaches—and cherries, apricots, apples, and pears—are still there, and the Okanagan still welcomes families. With its mild, dry climate, the region is also popular with golfers, hikers, and bikers.

The production facility at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, mostly underground, was completed in 1998. A viewing tower features an informative tour display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The production facility at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, mostly underground, was completed in 1998. A viewing tower features an informative tour display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popular cities and towns in the Okanagan include Vernon, Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Pentiction, Naramata, Oliver, and Osoyoos.

Although the premium Okanagan Valley wine industry didn’t begin until the late 1980s, it’s booming now with over 180 licensed wineries.

After dabbling for decades in easy-to-grow hybrids and labrusca (native American varieties), the Okanagan wine industry got its real launch in 1988. In a move designed to counter the North American Free Trade Agreement’s negative effect on the Canadian wine industry, the government began paying growers to pull out labrusca and French hybrid vines and replant with the more desirable European (Vitis vinifera) grape varieties.

Today, most vines in the Okanagan Valley are less than 25 years old and many of its wineries are still run by the families who started them.

The wide diversity of growing environments in the Okanagan means that the region is suited to an unusually varied selection of grape varieties.

For quality wines with a sense of humor visit Oliver Twist Estate Winery on the rugged desert hills of the South Okanagan's Black Sage Bench. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
For quality wines with a sense of humor visit Oliver Twist Estate Winery on the rugged desert hills of the South Okanagan’s Black Sage Bench. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The top white varietals include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling with some grapes being left to freeze on the vine for the region’s famed ice wines. These are concentrated, sweet dessert wines often served in chocolate shot glasses.

Among the reds, expect outstanding Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Marechal Foch, and Syrah.

Combined with their ever-increasing depth of knowledge and experience, Okanagan wineries continue to drive quality forward with every new vintage. We experienced that tremendous momentum  on our most recent visit last month.

Wineries that clearly exceed our grape expectations include Tinhorn Creek, Burrowing Owl, Gehringer Brothers, and Hester Creek along Oliver’s Miracle Mile; Quail’s Gate, Mission Hill, and Cedar Creek overlooking the shores of Okanagan Lake near Kelowna; and NK’mip (pronounced ‘Ink-a-meep’) Cellars, North America’s first aboriginal owned and operated winery near Osoyoos Lake. NK’mip sits on natural desert land surrounded by the stunning contrast of sagebrush and vineyards.

Wineries with quirky names reflect the Valley’s colorful history. For instance, Blasted Church alludes to an Okanagan Falls church dismantled with dynamite.

Unparalleled views of the valley combined with some of the highest quality wines waits each visit to Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, currently celebrating their 20th anniversary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Unparalleled views of the valley combined with some of the highest quality wines waits each visit to Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, currently celebrating their 20th anniversary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haywire, an old Canadian term that refers to wire once used for baling hay, which tended to tangle in a chaotic way, is an apt description of the steep learning curve in transitioning from the city to owning a vineyard and winery.

And don’t overlook Dirty Laundry which takes its name from the true story of a Chinese fellow who, after escaping the hard work on the railway, came to Summerland in the early 1900s and started up a laundry service—but the rumor persisted that upstairs he had gambling and a brothel.

Wine festivals are a great opportunity to meet the winemakers and sample wine. A superb wine experience, the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival is now in its 34th year (October 3-13, 2014). Other annual festivals include the Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival (January 17-25, 2015) and the Spring Okanagan Festival (April 30-May 10, 2015).

The summer beach experience and tree-ripened fruit is still part of the Okanagan’s unique charm. But now the RV also comes back loaded with cases of wine.

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

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Five California Wine Country Road Trips

You and your family, a recreational vehicle, and the wide open California road.

What could be a better combination? Pairing it with California wine country, of course!

Because there are so many choices, California’s Wine Institute has developed five road trip ideas to inspire wine lovers, giving them options to pick their favorites, and set their pace. And speaking of pace, don’t forget to pace yourself when wine tasting (spitting is more than polite in wine country) and have a designated driver.

From California’s iconic coast to dramatic deserts and the magnificent High Sierras, the great California road trip is on just about everyone’s bucket list. With a little planning, you can include amazing wine regions in your adventures, from hidden gem off-the-beaten path regions like the Sierra Foothills and Temecula to the well-traveled, such as Sonoma, Napa, and Paso Robles.

Here are five of California’s great wine country road trips, starting from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. Don’t forget to check out other amenities offered at many wineries, from picnics, bocce ball, and concerts to hiking, biking, horseback riding, and garden tours.

The California wine country map is divided into 15 wine growing counties. Inside each county there may be several wine growing regions or areas. This California Wine Country Map courtesy of Wine Web, providing information on wineries (currently over 34,000) and wines.

North Coast

There’s nothing like a drive on California’s scenic North Coast to show you not only the Pacific Ocean’s dramatic beauty but also how profoundly it affects the region’s climate. That coastal influence gives us San Francisco’s famous fog, towering redwood trees, and a perfect home for cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and others—so let’s explore. This scenic round trip from San Francisco takes you wine tasting, shopping, dining, kayaking and more: visit Sausalito; Muir Woods National Park; quaint, coastal Mendocino; and Sonoma County’s diverse wine regions.

San Francisco Bay Area

This five-day round-trip itinerary is a foodie’s paradise, with stops from San Francisco’s Chinatown and Little Italy to Berkeley, the legendary birthplace of California cuisine. It also takes you from mountains to the sea: you’ll take in the thrilling scenery and wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Livermore Valley, and Half Moon Bay.

Napa Valley to the High Sierras

This adventurous round-trip itinerary starts in Napa Valley, any wine lover’s dream destination, where exquisite Cabernet Sauvignons await alongside pampering hot springs and bike tours. Then it heads for the hills, exploring Gold Country and the Sierra Foothills for gondola rides, panoramic views, and off-the-beaten-path wineries before winding back down to earth in Lodi, home to some of California’s oldest Zinfandel vines.

Central Coast-Highway 1

What says California more than traveling up Highway 1? With the ocean in view and wine on your mind, this trip takes you from Santa Barbara’s Sideways movie territory to the cool-climate wines of San Luis Obispo and red-wine mecca Paso Robles, then swings back to the ocean and beautiful Monterey before ending in San Francisco. Besides wining and dining, there’s a zip line, hiking, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to interest you.

Southern California Adventure: Hollywood and Grapevine

Oh yeah, you’re going to Hollywood. And for a wine lover, there’s more to Southern California than blue skies, surf, and sunshine—it’s full of surprising wine regions, where winemaking has taken place since the late 1700s. On this round trip, you’ll hit hot spots like Malibu and Palm Springs while also exploring wineries in Temecula, Cucamonga, and even San Diego and Malibu.

Details

Wine Institute of California

Wine Institute is the association of more than 1,000 California wineries and wine-related businesses dedicated to enhancing the environment for the responsible production, consumption, and enjoyment of wine.

California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, making 90 percent of all U.S. wine and two out of every three bottles enjoyed in the U.S.

Each year, nearly 20 million tourists visit wine regions throughout the state to explore and enjoy the wines, the cuisine, and cultural offerings associated with California’s signature industry. September, during California Wine Month, is a great time to visit to experience the annual wine grape harvest first hand.

For more ideas on these and other great California wine country road trips, including California wines, wine regions, and winery activities—from tastings to tours, picnics, concerts, bocce ball, and more check the Wine Institute lifestyle and travel website.

Address: 425 Market Street, Suite 1000, San Francisco, CA 94105

Phone: (415) 512-0151

Website: discovercaliforniawines.com

Worth Pondering…

As Ben Franklin said:
In wine there is wisdom,
In beer there is freedom,
In water there is bacteria.

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