This Is the Breathtaking, Affordable Wine Destination You Haven’t Heard of

Make your own discovery. Uncork the sun.

Great wine can be found all over the world but it’s important for winemakers not to merely copy those wines because, by definition, great wine is unique and identifiable to its origin. Of course, great wine also by definition should be delicious. Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till, and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as being.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan’s Varied Micro-climates and Varieties

Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

Tinhorn Creek Winery, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This sun-soaked valley follows a series of pristine lakes and steep bluffs carved out by retreating glaciers. The Okanagan has the most diverse and complex soil system of any wine region in the world. It’s the only region that was formed by volcanic activity and then overrun by not one but two glacial ages.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The soils here are ancient. Winemaking, however, is not. The first vines were planted in the 1860s by missionaries thirsty for sacramental wine. By the 1970s, only a handful of wineries were operating including the Blue Mountain and Gray Monk. Until the 1990s the region was best known for peach and apple orchards and beach culture. Then in 1994, at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, Mission Hill won the award for Best Chardonnay Worldwide and suddenly the world began to take notice.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the valley has 185 wineries and nearly 9,000 acres planted with vines growing more than 60 grape varieties ranging from Auxerro is to Zinfandel. Indeed, “variety” is the watchword here—a variety of soil, grapes, climate, and even winemakers who’ve emigrated in large numbers from all over the world including France, Germany, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, and India. Randy Toor and his brothers were among several families who applied their Punjabi farming traditions to vineyards in the valley and then once they tasted the wine made from the grapes they had grown opened their own wineries. Their Desert Hills Estate Winery is just one of nearly 50 wineries between the desert city of Osoyoos and the funky little western town of Oliver which is surrounded by nearly half of British Columbia’s vines earning it the title “Wine Capital of Canada.”

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several have notable restaurants; among them is Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards where guests can sip elegant Chardonnay while watching the afternoon sun fall on the Black Sage Bench across the valley ripening the powerful reds that go into the Bordeaux blends at Burrowing Owl and Black Hills Estate Winery.

As you travel north, brawny reds give way to delicate, cool-climate whites and sleepy small towns to booming midsize cities alongside 84-mile-long Okanagan Lake. Kelowna, the valley’s largest urban center is a sprawl of shopping malls, lakefront vacation homes, and celebrated wineries.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But north or south, it’s the climate that makes the Okanagan so appealing for both grapes and people. Located in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains, the valley has a short but intense growing season with hot and dry days, cool nights, and loads of sunshine.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty-five years ago visitors traveled to the Okanagan for the boating, the golfing, and the sunshine along the lakes’ many beaches. Today, they also come for wine that can be savored only in these 15 miles of a narrow valley with its ancient soils, shimmering lakes, and youthful exuberance.

So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines to Try Now

Due to rather arcane regulations, stiff tariffs, and the fact that B.C. wineries can sell their inventory locally only a handful export to the U.S. Among those that do, here are some favorites.

Black Hills Estate Winery, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills Estate Winery: Famous for its Nota Bene blend of Bordeaux varieties, this winery also does a spicy Sémillon-Sauvignon combo called Alibi.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery: One of the early Okanagan producers to achieve international acclaim, it offers a superb lineup of Chardonnays, Cabernets, Pinots, and Bordeaux-style blends.

Tinhorn Creek Winery, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek: The Oldfield Series Merlot is a standout, as is the Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris.

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