4 of the Best Wineries in the Okanagan Valley

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination

California, Oregon, and Washington State are well-known for their variety of wines and wineries. Now follow the vine north and you’ll find a new world of wine just across the border in British Columbia’s wine country.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is believed that the very first vineyard planted in the southern Okanagan region of British Columbia was the Oblate Mission in Kelowna in 1859 but its only purpose was for preparing sacramental wine for the Catholic Church. Other vineyards began popping up but many were uprooted during prohibition.

It wasn’t until 1932 that Calona Wines became the first commercial winery in British Columbia. It took much longer for the idea of producing quality wine in the Okanagan to catch on.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 hybrid vines and replant them with the more desirable European (Vitis vinifera) grape varieties.

Today, over 180 wineries are operating in the Valley. From large estate wineries to small mom-and-pop shops, wine is available everywhere you turn. For wine lovers, the Okanagan should most definitely make your vino bucket list.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit the Okanagan is up for debate. The summer is by far the most popular as everything is in full swing and the vineyards are green and lush. But it is also the busiest, so planning is important. Oh, and it’s hot! (The Okanagan is Canada’s only desert area, after all.) The crowds are much smaller during the spring and fall, but tasting room hours are more limited. However, you’ll have a better chance of meeting a winemaker during these times, as well.

Related Article: The Okanagan Valley: A Special Place

Everyone has their favorite winery for various reasons but I have detailed four that offer my favorite experiences. Visit each of the wineries’ websites for the most up-to-date information and reserve your tasting experience online. Some will waive the tasting fees with the purchase of wine.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills Estate Winery

Location: 4318 Black Sage Road, Oliver

Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, Malbec

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: 2019 Tempranillo, 2020 Chardonnay, 2020 Roussanne, 2020 Alibi (blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), 2021 Rosé, 2019 Ipso Facto (blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon), 2020 Viognier, 2019 Per Se (base of Cabernet Franc,), 2018 Syrah, 2018 Addendum, 2020 Bona Fide, 2020 Nota Bene (signature wine; available at Release Party, June 18, 2022, 5-9 pm)

Master of Wine: Ross Wise

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Black Hills Estate Winery vineyards have some of the most favorable grape growing conditions in the country resulting in exceptional terroir. Located on Black Sage Bench, Black Hills’ Wine Experience Centre offers wine tastings year-round. The modern facility offers tastings on the dining balcony around their water feature and under a few covered gazebos.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiences: The Portfolio Wine Flight ($20) offers an array of the winery’s current releases. It is a combination of red and white wines. The Red Wine Flight ($30) showcases Black Hills’ most popular red wines including the rare Carmenere wine as well as new releases.

Related Article: Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

During the summer months the tastings get better as the Tapas Kitchen is open providing bites that pair nicely with the 2 oz. samples.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nk’Mip Cellars

Location: 1400 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos

Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: Nk’Mip wines available in 3 tiers: Winemaker Tier: 2020 Chardonnay, 2021 Pinot Blanc, 2021 Dreamcatcher, 2020 Rosé, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Talon; Qwam Qwmt (Premium Tier): 2019 Chardonnay, 2020 Riesling, 2020 Riesling Ice Wine, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 Syrah, 2019 Pinot Noir; Mer’r’iym (Premium Blends): 2020 White Mer’r’iym, 2019 Mer’r’iym

Estate Winemaker: Justin Hall

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Overlooking the town of Osoyoos and its lake, Nk’Mip Cellars is the first Indigenous-owned and operated winery in North America. The culture and history is a part of everything they do and produce. Inside, the building is modern with a tasting bar and retail center. Outside, the patio offers spectacular views of the surrounding hills.

Spirit Ridge at Nk’Mip Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiences: Sample a flight of four Nk’Mip Cellars’ wines at the Main Tasting Bar. Choose from the two available wine flights: Winemaker’s Series Flight ($5) and Premium Series Flight ($15). For an enhanced wine tasting experience choose a pre-set flight of 5 wines paired with Chef’s inspired small food bites. Reservations highly recommended. The Four Food Chiefs food and wine experience is available during March and April ($50). The Patio Restaurant offers contemporary North American cuisine in a picturesque location with fresh Farm-to-Table innovations. Lunch and afternoon lounge service Fridays-Mondays, weather permitting.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Location: 537 Tinhorn Creek Road, Oliver

Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: Tinhorn Creek wines are available under four groupings: White Wines: 2019 Chardonnay, 2021 Pinot Gris, 2021 Gewürztraminer; Red Wines: 2020 Pinot Noir, 2019 Merlot, 2019 Cabernet Franc; Reserve Wines: 2021 Reserve Rosé, 2019 Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2018 Oldfield Reserve Merlot; Library Wines: 2008 Merlot, 2009 Merlot Merlot, 2010 Merlot, 2006 Oldfield Series Merlot, 2014 Oldfield Reserve Merlot

Related Article: The Okanagan has What it Takes to Rival Napa

Head Winemaker: Leandro Nosal

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Established in 1993, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is located just south of Oliver in the famed Golden Mile Bench wine-growing district with 150 acres between two vineyards on the Black Sage and Golden Mile benches. Tinhorn Creek is a beautiful estate vineyard that offers a great visitor experience. It provides tastings and tours seven days a week. You might want to begin your day with a walk along the Golden Mile hiking trail before taking in one of the tours, tastings, or lunch at the Miradoro Restaurant.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiences: Bar Tasting ($8).

The Tinhorn Creek Tasting Flight ($20) is enjoyed on the outdoor patio overlooking the South Okanagan vistas. Four wines are sampled and selected by the wine ambassador.

Black Glass Tasting ($25) is led by a wine ambassador who will serve you four wine samples served in black glasses. With the help of your senses, you’ll guess what each wine varietal is. If you guess two of the four correctly, the tasting fee is waived.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Stemware Tasting ($30) is a private experience where you’ll learn about the importance of varietal-specific stemware while relaxing in the Crush Club Lounge.

The Guided Tour Experience ($35) will take you on a walk through the estate property, be welcomed into the barrel cellar and then return to the tasting room for a bar tasting.

The Private Lounge Experience ($40) offers a one-hour session with one of Tinhorn’s wine ambassadors who will explain the history, what it takes to make a great wine, and the importance of the right glass to enjoy one’s wine.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Library Lounge Experience ($50) allows you to sit and be surrounded by Tinhorn’s collection of vintage library bottles while enjoying a flight of wines focusing on a particular vintage or particular wine varietal.

The Miradoro Restaurant has been named Vancouver Magazine: Gold Best Winery Restaurant six years in a row. The setting is elegant with a casual feel to it with treehouse-like spectacular views. Led by executive chef, Jeff Van Geest, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients are used with an emphasis on culinary creativity. Open for lunch and dinner.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek Vineyards

Location: 877 Road 8, Oliver

Varietals: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently available Wines: 2021 Pinot Gris, 2021 Pinot Blanc, 2021 Character White, 2020 Chardonnay, 2019 Old Vine Late Harvest Pinot Blanc, 2021 Ti Amo (sparkling wine), 2018 Old Vine Brut, 2020 Rosé Franc, 2021 Select Vineyards Merlot, 2020 Select Vineyards Cabernet Merlot, 2020 Character Red, 2019 Syrah, 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2019 Old Vine Merlot, 2019 Old Vine Cabernet Franc, 2018 The Judge, 2018 Garland

Related Article: Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

Winemaker: Mark Hopley

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Hester Creek Vineyards date back to 1968, making them among the oldest vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Hester Creek is located just south of Oliver on the Golden Mile, a sun-drenched bench that slopes down toward the valley floor. Located on the west side of the valley, it gets morning rather than afternoon sun making it one of the cooler regions in the Okanagan Valley. The soils here are fast draining alluvial soils of stony, gravelly, sandy loams.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mediterranean influenced setting offers customized tastings, scenic patios, summer barbeques, live music, farm-to-table cooking classes, six Tuscany styled villa suites, and Italian inspired dining at Terrafina at Hester Creek.

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

Celebrating Canada Day during the Pandemic

COVID-19 means it’s time for a road trip

With Canada Day rapidly approaching, this year will be totally different. There will be few, if any, Canada Day parades, festivals, or big July 1st parties.

Along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer is the best time for a road trip and Canada is filled with some of the world’s most scenic drives. After months of staying indoors, Canadians are more than ready for a change of scenery. This will be the summer of the road trip—the kind of vacation many of us recall from childhood. With ultra-low fuel prices, a road trip is an inexpensive and easy way to get away.

Along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you simply hop in a car or hit the open road in a recreational vehicle, the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in Canada—or most anywhere else.

This 232-kilometre (144-mile) stretch of road between Jasper and Lake Louise (also known as Highway 93) was built along the backbone of the North American continent.

Along the Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is dotted with more than 100 glaciers, rugged mountains, waterfalls, stunning blue lakes, and vast sweeping valleys. It has been described as one of the world’s most awe-inspiring road trips by National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, and numerous other publications.

Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive can be done in three hours but you’ll want to budget a full day or more. The Columbia Icefields for which the road is named is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies and a stop at Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre is a must. Here, you’ll travel on a massive Ice Explorer to a place where you can walk on the Athabasca Glacier. Then, take a jaw-dropping walk along the glass-floored Glacial Skywalk at the cliff’s edge. With reduced occupancy these tours fill quickly.

Columbia Icefields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit, Bow Lake, Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, Parker Ridge, Weeping Wall, and Mistaya Canyon are just a few of the other amazing stops that can be made along the way. You’ll find many more amazing natural wonders on either end of the Icefields Parkway in Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another way to celebrate and have fun with a Canadian theme is to enjoy some tasty Canadian wine. In all, British Columbia now has 370 wineries, most of them in the Okanagan. The statistics are a testament to the strength and rapid growth of the wine industry in the province.

In the South Okanagan, rainfall is scarce and the soils are sandy. The resulting thickly tannic wines favor Syrah, Merlot, and other Bordeaux reds, along with hot-climate whites such as Viognier.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, Black Hills Estate Winery is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first release of their iconic Bordeaux style red, Nota Bene. Normally they celebrate the release with a big party but this year the winery is taking its party online on July 17th.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Customers who purchase 12 bottles of the 2018 Nota Bene ($59.90 each) will receive access to the online party featuring recording artist Steven Page joined by Jason Priestley, Erin Cebula, Prevail, and 2018 Olympic winner, Kelsey Serwa. Black Hills’ Winemaker and Master of Wine, Ross Wise kicks off the celebration with a guided tasting of his 2018 Nota Bene. Customers also receive a VIP Cabana Tasting at the winery and free shipping.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The South Okanagan Valley icon is located on the famed Black Sage Bench, 13 kilometres (8 miles) north of Osoyoos and 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Oliver. This places Black Hills Estate in the Okanagan Valley appellation centered in the middle of Canada’s only official desert. The resulting microclimate leaves Black Hills with one of the hottest, driest, and sunniest sites in the country. In fact, this northern latitude attracts more sunlight hours than Napa Valley in the key growing months of June through August.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in the Okanagan, nothing quite says summer than a refreshing float down Penticton’s river channel. The man-made waterway, also known as the Okanagan River Channel, was first created in the 1950s to control flooding and water flow from the Okanagan Lake to Skaha Lake.

Okanagan River Channel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven-kilometre (4-mile) river float has since changed into a beloved community staple that draws people from across the valley for an up-to three hour river float. Coyote Cruises which offers shuttle and inner-tubes said that due to the current water flow, the float only takes an hour and fifteen minutes from start to finish.

Okanagan River Channel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently a long list of COVID-19 procedures for health and safety were posted on its website and included insights into how social distancing will be maintained. Among the things listed, the shuttle bus will only be 2/3 full. Personal inflation services will not be provided and staff will not be helping guests in and out of the channel.

Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So Happy 153rd Birthday, Canada. And here’s to the delicious wines of the Okanagan! May both continue to grow and prosper!

Worth Pondering…

Think I’ll go out to Alberta

Weather’s good there in the fall

Got some friends there I can go to.

—sung by Ian Tyson