Exploring Canada’s Unexpected Wine Valley

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 90 mile-long lake, wildlife including big horn sheep, cougars and rattlesnakes, rainfall of less than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards you can imagine.

Welcome to the Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia, Canada’s most western province.

Overlooking vineyards at See Ya Later Ranch with Skaha Lake in the distance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overlooking vineyards at See Ya Later Ranch with Skaha Lake in the distance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving through the Rocky Mountains we enjoyed the spectacular mountain scenery and lush pine forests. Now we are in Canada’s only desert.

As we approached Armstrong from the north we saw an amazing visitor attraction called the Log Barn 1912. This is operated by a Mennonite family and it is a combined restaurant, store, tourist attraction, and great place to stop.

Try their old-fashioned sausage, butter crust pies, and Gouda cheese, watch the goats climb the special goat walk, and check out the many other attractions from an Indian tepee to a model dinosaur.

S.S. Sicamous paddle-wheeler moored on Okanagan Lake at Penticton is a tourist attraction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

S.S. Sicamous paddle-wheeler moored on Okanagan Lake at Penticton is a tourist attraction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading south to Vernon and into the heart of the valley, vineyards start appearing on the hilly slopes but it’s not until you reach Kelowna that it becomes obvious this is serious wine country. The city is home to outstanding golf courses, scenic trails, museums, and plenty of beach and water-based fun but visitors flock here for wine tourism.

Grape cultivation and wine consumption date back 6,000 years so this wine country is just a baby in comparison. It has only been in the last 30 years that wine production has been taken seriously here. Now there are over 120 wineries and many have sales and tasting outlets open to the public.

Okanagan Lake and Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Lake and Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vineyards are often side by side with orchards of cherries, apples, pears, peaches, and apricots, many with fruit stands offering fresh picked fruit to the public.

Further on, there’s the Kettle Valley Railway in Summerland and an old paddle-steamer at Penticton.

Penticton is nestled between two scenic lakes with sandy beaches. Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south offer a myriad of summertime activities to cool you down while you relax.

With over 60 wineries within a 20 minutes’ drive, local farmers markets, over three miles of golden sandy beaches, and many wonderful festivals and events throughout the year, the Penticton area has something for everyone.

Look south from the patio at Tinhorn Creek Winery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look south from the patio at Tinhorn Creek Winery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oliver is appropriately known as the Wine Capital of Canada because it has the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in the country. Where there are no vines, there are fruit trees on lush rolling hills.

Prior to the development of the wine industry, almost all of the agricultural land in the Oliver area was planted first to ground crops and later to fruit trees such as cherries, apples, apricots, and peaches.

Today the Wine Capital of Canada is one of the best wine-growing areas in North America. The sun, the soil, the climate, and the topography have created special and unique terroirs that are evidenced by their thriving vineyards.

Look south from the patio at Noble Ridge Winery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look south from the patio at Noble Ridge Winery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With dozens of wineries and more popping up every year, being thrifty with time is essential. With many wineries in their toddler years, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards presides as one of the most mature residents. Established in 1993, the winery is one of the best known from the region and, perhaps, all of British Columbia. Its roster of award-winning wines is impressive.

We visit a couple more wineries in the area before continuing to Osoyoos, the southern town just north of the U.S. border.

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.

Osoyoos, Lake Osoyoos, and beyond. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos, Lake Osoyoos, and beyond. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beaches and peaches—and cherries, apricots, apples, and pears—are still there, and the Okanagan still welcomes families.

But now the RV also comes back loaded with cases of wine.

Where to Stay: Desert Gem RV Resort, Oliver; NK’mip RV Park and Campground, Osoyoos; Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort, Osoyoos

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

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