Summer 2022: 11 Best Things to Do in Western Canada

Your Canada bucket list just got (a lot) longer…

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within Canada and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Rocky Mountain sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer in Western Canada include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit all seven of the Rocky Mountain Parks

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia. The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess an exceptional natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors annually.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Snap postcard-worthy photos of Banff National Park

Explore pine forests, glacier-carved valleys, and snow-capped peaks in Alberta’s Banff National Park. 

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you Google “Canada nature,” you’ll see pictures of Banff National Park in the Rockies—and for good reason. Canada’s oldest and most popular national park is Mother Nature’s best. Anywhere you look, there are jagged peaks sprinkled with fluffy powder, bluer than blue glacial lakes, and majestic wildlife including bears (black and grizzly), elk, wolves, big horn sheep, and foxes.

Related: Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being busy year-round, Banff is big enough that you can find something to do without being shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists (well, except perhaps if you’re waiting for that photo of Lake Louise).

Banff National Park is a hiker’s playground with more than 1,000 miles of trails. Following these trails up ridges leads to impressive viewpoints of craggy peaks, surprise waterfalls, and massive glaciers. The higher you go, the more you’ll see of the 1.6 million acres that make up the park.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Immerse yourself in nature at Jasper National Park

Jasper has been named one of the 30 best national parks across the globe. Outside, an online publication has included the picturesque spot on its list of must-see destinations. Jasper is the only Canadian entry.

Elk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of “wild and scenic.” It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff.

Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travellers to explore.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. A scenic drive of a lifetime

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145 mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

Related: RV To Canada This Summer

Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” is the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 90,000 acres in area and 100 to 360 feet in depth and receive up to 7 feet of snowfall per year.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a look-out point nearby.

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Reach new peaks at Mount Robson Provincial Park

“On every side the snowy heads of mighty hills crowded round, whilst, immediately behind us, a giant among giants, and immeasurably supreme, rose Robson’s Peak.”

—Milton and Cheadle, 1865

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system, is truly one of the Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Mount Robson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Alberta’s Jasper National Park as its easterly neighbor, Mount Robson Provincial Park comprises a portion of one of the world’s largest blocks of protected areas. Designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, Mount Robson provides everything from developed, vehicle-accessible camping to remote valleys that seldom see a human footprint. Mount Robson Provincial Park also protects the headwaters of the Fraser River.

First attempted in 1907, it was not until 1913 that humans finally stood on the summit of Mount Robson. On that clear, cold day guide Conrad Kain, W.W. Foster and A.H. McCarthy beheld a view no person had ever seen before.

Fort Langley National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Stand in the spot where BC began

Experience the excitement of the early West Coast fur trade at Fort Langley and stand in the spot where British Columbia was proclaimed a British colony in 1858. Explore the scenic fort—built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1827—where fur traders once exchanged furs, salmon, and cranberries with Indigenous communities.

Fort Langley Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers interactive displays and activities. Watch blacksmithing, barrel-making, or historic weapons demonstrations, take a guided tour and pan for gold. Additional experiences include overnight stays in a furnished oTENTik, audio tours available in seven languages, and Sxwimelə Boutique and Gifts. There is also free parking on-site for visitors.

Fort Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Special events take place throughout the year such as Grave Tales walking tours, Brigade Days, Canada Day, the Cranberry Festival, Christmas events, and Vive les Voyageurs Winter Festival in January.

The Fort Langley National Historic Site is within walking distance of the Fort Langley Village where you can explore locally-owned shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and beautiful walking trails along the Fraser River.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 120-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Related: What you should know about Wine and Canada

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Lesser Slave Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel off the beaten path in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

As you dig your toes into warm, soft sand and watch the setting sun reflect off the glassy surface of the lake, you may feel like you are far away in some tropical locale. At nearly 450 sq mi, it isn’t hard to mistake Lesser Slave Lake for an ocean. Its white sand beaches are some of the finest in Alberta and when the west wind blows across the vast waters, you can get wave action big enough to surf on—though most people choose to ride the big breakers in kayaks.

Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique microclimate that encompasses the lake and rich habitat of the surrounding boreal forest has created a haven for nesting and migratory birds—particularly songbirds—which is why the area has been dubbed the continent’s bird nursery. Built to study them, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation are fascinating to visit. You’ll learn that nearly half of all North American bird species nest and raise their young here and billions of birds pass through during the spring and fall migrations. Tour the Boreal Centre and take a walk along the Songbird Trail pausing in the middle to stand quietly and listen to the natural symphony created by songbirds in the towering aspen-poplar forest.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors, or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Explore the natural wonders at Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This “island of conservation” is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk Island has several trails of varying lengths winding through the different habitats found within the park. Since the park is not mountainous, the trails have very few steep inclines. Each trail contains many wildlife viewing opportunities from two different subspecies of bison to a multitude of songbirds. Whether you’re out for a leisurely hike or a longer adventure, make your trip a safe one by checking the latest conditions.

Read Next: Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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

The Okanagan has What it Takes to Rival Napa

Wine lover? Consider visiting the Okanagan in Western Canada instead of California’s Napa Valley.

Napa Valley conjures up images of grand hillside chateaus, opulent tasting rooms, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants, and perhaps a little celebrity spotting, all factors that have contributed to its anointing as America’s most celebrated wine region.

The Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plucky Napa pinned its place on the global wine map by beating French wines in blind tastings at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. To say this was unexpected is an understatement and it proved to be a turning point in California’s wine industry.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The number of wineries in the Napa Valley increased from a few dozen in the 1970s to approximately 475 today—good news not just for the wine industry but also for the state’s tourism industry. Napa became a major attraction, creating a market that supports some of the country’s poshest restaurants and hotels—the French Laundry and Auberge du Soleil to name two—and, in turn, crowds, particularly evident in late summer and fall. There are still workarounds: You can avoid weekends or head for wineries off the jam-packed main road. Or you could go north to Canada instead.

Related Article: Forget Napa! It’s Always Wine O’clock in these 5 Underrated Wine Regions!

Okanagan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is a roughly 155-mile-long valley that stretches from Osoyoos on the Canadian border with Washington State to roughly Vernon, British Columbia.

It’s located approximately 240-miles east of Vancouver, BC, between the 49th and 50th parallel. That puts it on the same latitude as Champagne in France and the Rheingau in Germany.

Skaha Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The region has a continental climate, but its extremes are moderated by the presence of a series of deep, interconnected lakes—Okanagan Lake, Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake, and Osoyoos Lake.

This is a largely desert region that averages less than 12 inches of rainfall a year. The valley gets progressively drier from north to south with roughly 16 inches of rain at its northern end around Kelowna to less than 10 inches a year around Osoyoos.

Vaseaux Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Canada’s sunniest areas, the fertile basin has long been known as the country’s fruit basket. If you visit in summer, you can stop at roadside stands to fill up on just-picked apples, cherries, apricots, and peaches. Cycling or hiking the Kettle Valley Rail Trail which is part of the province’s longest trail network is a popular pursuit as is skiing the deep powder at Big White Ski Resort and boating on Okanagan Lake. But today, the Okanagan is better known for its wine.

Osoyoos Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its northern latitude also means that the region’s vineyards experience more daylight during the summer growing period—roughly 14 hours of direct sunlight. Compared to Napa Valley, for example, the Okanagan receives about two hours more sunlight a day and has markedly hotter temperatures.

Related Article: Planning a Wine Country Road Trip

The northern latitude, however, also means that the onset of cool autumn weather can often come quickly reducing the amount of hang time that grapes can receive.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The steeply-sided slopes and surface geography create a range of aspects and produce varied microclimates across the valley. The resulting wines vary from Mosel-style Rieslings to concentrated Bordeaux-inspired red blends.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The result is powerful, concentrated wines that have high alcohol levels but also offer remarkable fruit concentration and a smooth velvety texture while avoiding the jammy character typical of warm climate Pinot Noir. Many wines also have faint vegetal notes reminiscent of Burgundian Pinot Noir, a characteristic that is usually lacking in Pinot Noir wines from the Northwest.

Unlike Napa, few of the Okanagan’s 186 wineries export their wines: Around 90 percent of British Columbian wine is sold within the province. So if you want to drink Okanagan wine, you’ll probably have to go there and the experience the personal touch that makes it worth the trip.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a younger wine destination, the Okanagan also still offers a wallet-friendly experience. Tasting fees are typically less than $10 (compared with $58 in Napa) and are often, though not always, waived with a purchase of a bottle. It’s easy to hit up multiple wineries in a day by following a wine trail or downloading the Wines of BC Explorer app.

Although it’s about 155 miles long, the Okanagan is surprisingly diverse, climate-wise. In the Lake Country subregion the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyards, was established in 1932. Wineries here are known for such varietals as Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir. At one of the best, Quails’ Gate, you can visit the lakeside tasting room, have a wine-paired meal at Old Vines Restaurant, and sleep it all off at the adjoining guesthouse.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the valley’s southernmost tip which is surrounded by a shrub-steppe semidesert and is one of Canada’s hottest spots, conditions are ideal for reds such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Nk’Mip Cellars near Osoyoos Lake is North America’s first Indigenous-owned and operated winery. Next door, in the Spirit Ridge Resort, the Bear, the Fish, the Root & the Berry serves Indigenous-inspired cuisine, and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre describes the history of the Osoyoos people.

Nk’Mip RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open year-round, Nk’Mip RV Park and Campground offer more lakefront, beach access, and view sites than any other park in the Okanagan. Big rigs welcome.

Related Article: Exploring Canada’s Breathtaking Wine Country

Below are tasting notes on a selection of Okanagan Valley wines from some of the region’s leading wine producers.

Quails’ Gate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quails’ Gate, 2020, Okanagan Valley Dry Riesling, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, 12% ABV, 750 ml

Quails’ Gate sits below the extinct volcano of Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna on the west shore of Okanagan Lake. The area is characterized by deeply decomposed, ancient, mineral-rich volcanic soils that date back roughly 60 million years. This Riesling is produced from 30-year-old vines that reflect the region’s signature minerality as well as its characteristic intensity.

Quails’ Gate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fruit is whole-cluster pressed and then subjected to long, cool temperature fermentation in a steel tank. The result is a very fruit-forward wine with pronounced aromatics.

On the nose, there are notes of green, stone, and tropical fruit including, in particular, apple and apricot, along with some lemon zest, a hint of grapefruit, and melon with just a touch of pineapple. On the palate, the wine is dry with notable acidity.

Quails’ Gate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The finish is long, with lingering green apple and crisp lemon-lime notes. Stylistically, this seems a little less dry than your typical Alsatian Riesling but lacks even the hint of sweetness that is typical of German-style Rieslings. It’s a great food wine that will pair well with a variety of foods, especially seafood, cured meats, and soft cheeses.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills, 2019 Nota Bene, VQA, Okanagan Valley, Black Sage Bench, 14.5% ABV, 750 ml

Black Hills’ vineyard sites have been recognized as having some of the best terroirs in Canada. Located on Black Sage Road, their microclimate provides one of the hottest, driest, and sunniest sites in Canada. The southwest-facing aspect and moderate slope combined with deep desert sand yield intensely flavorful and complex grapes.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their twenty-first vintage of Nota Bene brought a rare opportunity to return to the wine’s origins. For just the third time since the very first vintage (1999), the blend is headlined by Merlot, rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. The moderately cool 2019 vintage produced outstanding Merlot from their Sharp Rock and Double Black vineyards and it was impossible to ignore these barrels in the final blend. The beauty of Nota Bene is that it always represents the best of its Estate vineyards in a given year and quality drives the final blend, rather than a recipe.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2019 Nota Bene opens with intense and ripe black cherry, strawberry, and plum on the nose. On the palate, the ripeness and richness of this fruit are beautifully balanced by crunchy red currant flavors while a subtle yet warming layer of cinnamon and clove spice weaves effortlessly into the wine. There is also a savory element to the wine showing through as dried herbs, sage, and cigar box. The tannins are elegant and velvety and the wine finishes strongly with refreshing acidity and a fine silky texture

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tinhorn Creek, 2019 Cabernet Franc, BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, Golden Mile Bench, 14% ABV, 750 ml

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 Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2019 vintage provided a vibrant, natural acidity with fresh, elegant, and ripe flavors from their South Okanagan vineyards. The grapes are harvested, destemmed, and gently crushed to release the juice and color from the skins. The grape juice or must is pumped over twice a day until fermentation using natural yeast begins to take place. A steady fermentation helps preserve the fruit flavors.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once fermentation is complete, the juice is drained off the skins or called ‘free run’ juice. The wine is placed into a variety of French, Hungarian, and American Oak barrels where it will age for 12 months. The barrels are stored in our temperature and humidity-controlled barrel cellar until bottling. On the nose, there is lots of ripe red fruit mingled with a hint of black pepper. 

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hester Creek, 2019 Old Vine Merlot, BC VQA, Okanagan Valley, Golden Mile Bench, 14.4% ABV, 750 ml

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

On the nose, the wine offers up fruity aromas of ripe plum with hints of prune, black cherry, milk chocolate, vanilla, and some dry, brushy herbaceous notes.

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

On the palate, there is more plum and black cherry, along with notes of cinnamon, a hint of clove, and a bit of well-seasoned oak.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a robust wine, with a notable palate weight and mouth coating character that offers up ripe, well-integrated tannins and good acidity.

The finish is very long with lingering notes of black cherry and plum.

Hester Creek Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan produces the northernmost Pinot Noir in North America. Although located some 300 miles north of Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley, this region is much hotter and receives more sunlight over the summer.

If you are not familiar with the wines of the Okanagan, they are certainly worth exploring and often represent exceptional values.

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

Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

Thirsty? You’re in luck. Hundreds of wineries line the fertile Okanagan Valley, clustered around a string of scenic lakes.

The Okanagan Valley is a roughly 155-mile-long valley that stretches from Osoyoos on the Canadian border with Washington State to roughly Vernon, British Columbia.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s located approximately 240-miles east of Vancouver, BC, between the 49th and 50th parallel. That puts it on the same latitude as Champagne in France and the Rheingau in Germany.

The region has a continental climate, but its extremes are moderated by the presence of a series of deep, interconnected lakes—Okanagan Lake, Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake, and Osoyoos Lake.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a largely desert region which averages less than 12 inches of rainfall a year. The valley gets progressively drier from north to south with roughly 16 inches of rain at its northern end around Kelowna to less than 10 inches a year around Osoyoos.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winters can be cold here with temperatures falling to below 10 degrees Fahrenheit but they are generally short. Summers can be exceptionally hot. Average summer temperatures in July and August are 85 degrees with temperatures over 100 degrees are common.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its northern latitude also means that the region’s vineyards experience more daylight during the summer growing period—roughly 14 hours of direct sunlight. Compared to Napa Valley, for example, the Okanagan receives about two hours more sunlight a day and has markedly hotter temperatures.

Related Article: The Okanagan Valley: A Special Place

The northern latitude, however, also means that the onset of cool autumn weather can often come quickly reducing the amount of hang time that grapes can receive.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The steeply sided slopes and surface geography create a range of aspects and produce varied microclimates across the valley. The resulting wines vary from Mosel style Rieslings to concentrated Bordeaux inspired red blends.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The region experiences a pronounced diurnal cycle (a pattern that recurs every 24 hours) especially during the harvest season with warm days and cool nights combining to promote acidity as well as maximize hang time. The result is new world style, concentrated fruit forward wines that retain a notable, vibrant acidity.

There are over 60 different varieties of wine grapes grown in the Okanagan Valley. These are vinified in a variety of styles ranging from sparkling to still to ice wines.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The geology of the Okanagan Valley is particularly complex; presenting an array of rock types (basaltic lava flows, carbonaceous sedimentary beds, intrusive granites, and metamorphic rocks) which have been shaped by complex processes of mountain building, volcanic eruptions, glaciations, and erosion.

The result is a series of ancient soils composed of glacial till and eroded bedrock. It’s not uncommon for a small 10-acre vineyard to exhibit a half dozen or more different soil types.

Okanagan Wine Country Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley has approximately 9,000 acres of vineyards. It represents roughly 85 percent of British Columbia’s wine production spread out over 185 wineries.

The valley is in turn organized into eight wine producing areas, four of which are official sub-regions or appellations that present distinct soil and climate conditions. From north to south these eight wine producing areas are:

Kelowna/Lake Country

Quails Gate Winery in the Kelowna wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grapes were first planted in this region in 1859. It also boasts the oldest continually operating winery—Calona Vineyards, established in 1932. The region hosts some of the valley’s best-known wineries including Gray Monk Estate, Summerville Pyramid Winery, Cedar Creek, and Quail’s Gate Winery. There are about 900 acres of vineyards across 44 wineries.

Soils here tend to be heavier, consisting of a mix of sandy loam, clay, and limestone. Grape varietals cultivated include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Related Article: South Okanagan: Beaches, Peaches, Wine, and More

Peachland/Summerland/Penticton

Play Winery in Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This region overlooks Okanagan Lake and sits across from the Naramata Bench on the east side of the lake. Soils here are a mix of volcanic soils and very fertile ice age clays.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard in Summerland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Principal grape varieties include Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir. Among the better-known wineries here is Sumac Ridge which was established in 1980. The region has about 355 acres of vineyards across 23 wineries.

Naramata Bench

Red Rooster Winery in the Naramata Bench wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naramata Bench consists of the bench lands overlooking Okanagan Lake situated between Penticton Creek and Okanagan Mountain Park. Okanagan Lake and the pronounced aspect of the terrain exert a powerful moderating influence resulting in a long, frost-free period compared to other regions of the Okanagan Valley.

Lake Breeze Winery in the Naramata Bench wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The soils here consist of nutrient rich topsoil formed by the deposition of silt loam in glacial lake sediments. At lower elevations soils are remarkably stone free but these give way to gravelly soils, mostly the result of deposits of glacial till that occurred when the ice sheets of the last ice age began to recede some 15 thousand years ago.

Upper Bench Winery in the Naramata Bench wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a total of 618 acres of vineyards spreads across 39 different wineries. The principal grape varieties cultivated are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. The first winery established here was Lang Vineyards in 1990.

Skaha Bench

Blasted Church Vineyards in the Skaha Bench wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On May 13, 2019, wineries in the Skaha Bench joined the Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, and Golden Mile Bench, near Oliver, as wineries that meet the requirements of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation.

With Okanagan Falls at its heart, vineyards stretch northwards along the East Bench of Skaha Lake and across the water to Kaleden and then south over rolling hills above Vaseux Lake.

Related Article: Exploring Canada’s Breathtaking Wine Country

Wineries in Skaha Bench include Blasted Church, Black Dog, Painted Rock, Pentage, and Crescent Hill. Principal grape varietals are Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir.

Okanagan Falls

Wild Goose Vineyards in the Okanagan Falls wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Falls is, along with the Naramata Bench, Skaha Bench, and the Golden Mile Bench, a sub-geographical indication (a sub-appellation) of the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan Falls sub-appellation runs from the shores of Skaha Lake to the tip of Vaseux Lake.

See Ya Later Ranch in the Okanagan Falls wine producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The region averages around 1,407 growing degree days which puts it on par with France’s Bordeaux or Italy’s Piedmont. Soils here are extremely heterogeneous with vineyards planted on both the valley bottoms and terraced slopes. Principal grape varietals are Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir.

Noble Ridge Vineyards in the Okanagan Falls wine producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a total of 539 acres of vineyards spread out over 12 wineries. See Ya Later Ranch, originally founded as Hawthorne Mountain Winery, dates back to 1986.

Oliver

Black Hills Winery in the Oliver wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oliver, called the Wine Capital of Canada, hosts 40 wineries and, with 3,543 acres of vineyards, represents roughly half of British Columbia’s grapevines. The region runs from the Golden Mile Bench in the west to the Black Sage Bench in the east.

Church and State Winery in the Oliver wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The principal grape varietals in the area include Pinot Gris and Chardonnay (mostly planted on the west side) to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc (mostly planted in the east). Notable wineries include Black Hills, Burrowing Owl, Phantom Creek, and Church and State.

Golden Mile Bench

Hester Creek Winery on the Golden Mile Bench wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Mile Bench was the first sub-appellation created in the Okanagan Valley. It dates to 2015. It’s located on the western slope of the Okanagan Valley, south of Oliver and across from the Black Sage Bench.

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery on the Golden Mile wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bench’s southerly aspect provides a warm climate. Its position on the west side, however, means that it gets morning rather than afternoon sun, and is cooler than the Black Sage Bench.

Tinhorn Creek Winery on the Golden Mile Bench wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soils consist of well-drained fluvial fans, consisting of a mix of stony gravels and sandy loams. Principal grape varieties here are Chardonnay, Gewürztraminerm, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. There is a total of 791 acres in vineyards across nine wineries. Wineries of note include Tinhorn Creek, Hester Creek, Gehringer Brothers, and Road 13.

Related Article: Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Osoyoos

NK’Mip Cellars in the Osoyoos wine producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos lies at the southernmost tip of the Okanagan Valley, across from the US-Canadian border. This is Canada’s hottest spot and BC’s principal red wine producing region. It’s also one of the youngest. The first winery, NK’Mip Cellars, wasn’t established until 2002.

Moon Curser Vineyards in the Osoyoos wine producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Currently, there are 1,510 acres of vineyards across nine wineries. In addition to being a major wine producing area, the region also exports red grapes to other producers in the Okanagan Valley and elsewhere in BC.

Adega on the 45th Winery in the Osoyoos wine-producing area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soils consist of glaciofluvial residues overlying the granite bedrock. Grape varietals include Chardonnay along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah/Shiraz.

If you are not familiar with the wines of the Okanagan, they are certainly worth exploring and often represent exceptional values.

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

South Okanagan: Beaches, Peaches, Wine, and More

In the Western Canadian province of British Columbia, near the very bottom of Canada, there is a desert

The Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The region receives less than 12 inches of rain and two inches of snow annually and is the hottest and driest place in Canada. On the horizon are mountains of green foliage, aqua blue lakes, and, in the distance, rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see.

Okanagan Lake near Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan Desert, defined as an antelope brush ecosystem, is just a small narrow finger stretching past the U. S. border and nearly reaching the city of Penticton. Surrounding the desert, however, are grasslands that look and feel as arid and dry as the official desert territory. But within this land, there is fertility. The desert and sandy slopes and benches that make up the South Okanagan also doubles as wine country, bursting with goodness.

Okanagan orchard post-harvest season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

S.S. Sicamoose and the sandy beach off Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”). Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area.

Wine tasting at the Black Hills Estate Winery near Oliver © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine tasting here is as much about the surroundings as the wine itself. Wedged between the Cascades and the Columbia Mountains, the Okanagan Valley enjoys hot summers and mild winters unique to Canada—it constitutes the country’s only temperate desert region.

Osoyoos Lake, the warmest lake in Canada, is particularly suited for a dip early in the morning before the beach traffic reaches its busy peak, a blissful way to start a day packed with even more wine tasting.

Tinhorn Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Grapes at harvest time © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Nk’Mip Cellars in Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The top white varietals include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, 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, Syrah, Gamay Noir, and Marechal Foch.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries that clearly exceed our grape expectations include Tinhorn Creek, Burrowing Owl, Gehringer Brothers, and Hester Creek along Oliver’s Miracle Mile, 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.

Adaga on 45th Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Nk’Mip RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Exploring Canada’s Breathtaking Wine Country

Just north of the U.S. border is a wine lover’s playground, the Okanagan Valley

If the movie “Sideways”—in which best friends Miles and Jack road-trip through Santa Barbara (California) wine country—ever gets a sequel, screenwriters should consider setting it in a little-known area some 1,200 miles north. Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination.

Moon Curser Vineyards, Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Osoyoos Lake © 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.

Along Black Sage Road, Oliver © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of British Columbia’s sun-kissed Okanagan Valley, the scenic Oliver-Osoyoos region is home to Canada’s most outstanding vineyards and wines. Oliver and Osoyoos are neighboring towns in British Columbia’s south Okanagan Valley. Just north of the U.S. border, they’re in the hottest and driest region of Canada. The desert landscape is ideal for vineyards and it’s the only one of its kind across the country. That’s why this region spanning 22 miles is host to more than 40 wineries producing some of Canada’s best bottles. Despite a relatively youthful vintner culture that began in the 1960s with table grapes today’s scene is prolific and world-class.

Harvest season in the Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before it became known as Canada’s wine capital, Oliver was the “home of the cantaloupe”. In 1919, John Oliver, then premier of British Columbia, had an irrigation canal built. The availability of water turned the arid town into a landscape lush with rotund cantaloupes, grain crops, and fruit trees. Grape cultivation followed soon after.

With rare exception, the 1 million cases of wine produced here annually—from pinot gris and chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon and merlot—don’t ever make it to US shelves or restaurants. In fact, they barely make it outside British Columbia due to limited production and locals’ voracious consumption of the stuff.

View from the patio at Tinhorn Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the most picturesque and family-friendly is Tinhorn Creek which hosts all-ages concerts between May and August. Tinhorn Creek is much more than a winery; it’s an experience. The winery offers not only outstanding wines but also lots to do. Tinhorn Creek is the starting point of the Golden Mile Trail which takes you past a 100-year-old historic stamp mill (a haven for hikers) as well as Miradoro Restaurant, an elegant spot with unforgettable views and a natural amphitheater overlooking the landscape that hosts a summer concert series.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What also sets the region apart from Napa or Sonoma is North America’s first Aboriginal-owned and -operated winery, Nk’Mip Cellars. Nk’Mip (pronounced “in-ka-meep”) contributes to the local success of the Osoyoos Indian Band while honoring and sharing their heritage. Whether you’re there to dine at Nk’Mip’s farm-to-table restaurant (enjoy dishes made using traditional Indigenous techniques), to stay at the stunning Spirit Ridge Resort or NK’mip RV park and campground, or simply to taste the award-winning wines, you’ll go home with a greater reverence for the history and customs of the Osoyoos Indian Band—and some stellar wine.

Play Winery and Skaha Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also a handful of Indian-run wineries. That’s because, during the 1980s and ’90s, many East Indian immigrants settled in Oliver Osoyoos as farmers; Punjab-born siblings Sukhi and Balwinder Dhaliwal were among them. After cultivating grapes for other wineries they founded a family label, Kismet Estate Winery. Producing 6,000 cases annually, their cellar includes a delicious, award-winning wine called Safed. The name means “white” in Punjabi and it’s a citrusy white wine blend with orange muscat and semillon. The Dhaliwals have added a four-room guesthouse and the delicious Masala Bistro restaurant.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tastings throughout Oliver Osoyoos are a bargain. Stoneboat charges $5 for four samples. Husband and wife Lanny and Julie Martiniuk, a former scientist and pharmacist respectively, started growing grapes in 1979 and produce about 8,000 cases annually including the world’s only pinotage icewine ($36.90). A South African visitor gifted the Martiniuks some pinotage vine clippings and while uncommon in North America, Lanny found they propagated well thanks to western Canada’s dry desert-like climate.

Adega on 45th Estate Winery, Osoyoos

The 9-year-old Platinum Bench draws a big following for its tasty artisanal bread including Double Cream Brie and Pear Preserves Epi (a type of baguette) and Chocolate Strawberry Balsamic Epi. Co-owner Fiona Duncan (husband Murray Jones is the co-owner and vintner) learned breadmaking in San Francisco as a form of stress management and they easily sell 250 to 350 loaves during peak days. Daily tastings at Platinum Bench see its wines expertly paired with Duncan’s fresh loaves. The gorgonzola and fig are accompanied by the Meritage, its complex bouquet of ripe plums, blackcurrants, blackberries, and cherries accentuating the loaf’s light, blue cheese flavor. The sharpness and saltiness of her asiago cheese bread pairs nicely with the Gamay Noir’s notes of raspberry and light pepper.

Black Hills Estate Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tasty poolside pizzas and stunning hilly views can accompany tastings—six two-ounce pours for $15—at Black Hills Estate Winery. This flight features four of their current releases, two whites and two reds from their highly acclaimed Black Hills Estate Winery Portfolio. A red wine flight (four red wines) is also available for $20. Black Hills grow four clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, two clones of Cabernet Franc, and four clones of Merlot. Each clone reflects its terroir with a unique flavor profile. They respect each clone’s individuality by crushing, fermenting, and barrel aging them separately. When they are eventually blended together, this Clonal diversity gives multi-faceted depth and complexity to their famed Nota Bene.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a valley resplendent with beautiful wineries, lush vineyards, and sumptuous award-winning wines, Hester Creek Estate Winery in the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile stands out as one of the finest. Hester Creek is situated within some of British Columbia’s oldest vineyards in the bountiful Golden Mile region. Definitely try the Okanagan’s only Trebbiano; its grapes plucked from the estate’s 50-year-old vines. It is velvety smooth and ripe with apple and pear flavors. A classic blend of almost equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, the Judge is a powerful, yet elegant Bordeaux style red that is built to age gracefully.

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

Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

What you should know about Wine and Canada

In the lake filled Okanagan Valley, vineyards are part of the scenery

When you think of amazing wine regions, your mind probably jumps to Tuscany, Bordeaux, Burgundy, or California. But you don’t have to head to Europe (or California) for a good glass. What if we told you that you should book a trip to Canada?

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It turns out that the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia boasts a must-visit wine country that likely slipped by your radar. And even though it’s up north, it’s not all ice wines. Okanagan Valley’s best wines are actually dry red and white wines. Surprised? The region has a long history in agriculture. Plus, its moderate, dry climate and long summer daylight hours make it possible to ripen grapes.

You might not have heard of or tasted wine from the Okanagan Valley. Canadians, wisely drink pretty much all of it themselves exporting only 5 per cent but it deserves to be more widely enjoyed. More than 80 per cent of British Columbia’s vineyards are in the valley making a visit there every bit as rewarding—and delicious—as a trip to Napa.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canada’s drinks résumé has a few notable beverages on it. Whether it’s the Bloody Caesar, Newfoundland Screech, or good ol’ Molson Canadian, Canuck libations stand out against international counterparts. The Canadian wine industry may be in its infancy but there’s growing global interest in Canadian wine—and reasons a-plenty to add it to the list of acclaimed drinks that hail from this cooler-climate country.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of Canada’s 10 provinces, three have winegrowing regions. Much of the U.S.-Canada border runs along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels. Despite Canada being as tall as it is wide, this means that all of the country’s grapes grow within approximately 150 miles of this shared border.

Within those 150 miles lie more than 800 wineries. Their offerings include everything from 60-year-old vines and sparkling wines to grapes grown in Canada’s only desert and organic wineries. In short, Canada’s wine industry proves that the Great White North deserves serious wine drinker’s attention.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, Canada Makes Ice wine. But that’s Not All

A common misconception is that Canada specializes in ice wine and only ice wine. As ice wine remains Canada’s most known and exported wine product to a large number of markets it is not surprising that this is what most people know about Canadian wine. Most Canadian ice wine is made from the cool-climate-loving Riesling grape which represents a very small portion of grape varieties planted across the country.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canada’s Varied Climates and Varieties

On the West Coast just north of Washington State is the province of British Columbia. It contains nine winegrowing regions that focus on Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer. The Okanagan Valley is the province’s most notable region with summertime highs over 100 degrees.

Okanagan Valley © 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 Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The northerly latitude provides certain advantages. During the peak of the growing season, BC vineyards see as much as two hours more sunlight per day than famed regions such as Napa Valley. Because of this the vines are able to produce ripe, intensely flavored fruit. Also the short, hot growing season in the Similkameen Valley—one of the most southerly regions of BC and borders Canada’s only desert—is ideal for producing age-worthy Bordeaux varietals.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further east in Ontario are three continental-climate regions that are the most southerly in the country: Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, and Lake Erie North Shore. These regions sit along the same latitude as Oregon and Tuscany and are moderated by three of the Great Lakes—Ontario, Erie, and Huron—which play an important role in cooling the vineyards during Ontario’s hot summers.

Canada’s coolest region sits in an eastern Maritime province. Nova Scotia is home to only 22 wineries in which traditional-method sparkling wine is becoming a flagship style. Additionally, an appellation blend called Tidal Bay, first released in 2012, is making waves. Its creation was intended to highlight the crisp and aromatic white wines of the region.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Canadian Standard

Regulating wine and ensuring a certain level of quality is the key especially when vying for international attention and buyers. Canada’s standard for quality and promotion of authenticity of origin is maintained by the Vintners Quality Alliance or VQA. The regulatory system which is comparable to AVAs in the U.S., AOC wines in France, or DOC wines in Italy allows for sub-appellation designation and a focus on terroir-driven winemaking.

Wines that are certified VQA are assessed by a panel and must meet criteria of the vintage, varietals, and origin specified on the label. VQA also governs yield sizes, Brix levels (percentage of sugar by weight in a liquid), and the use of regulated additives.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Availability of Canadian Wines

Just over 30 Canadian VQA producers have maneuvered their way through the red tape and regularly export south of their border. Though Canadian wines may not yet be abundantly available to U.S. drinkers, a Wine BC export strategy report states the country’s desire to increase sales to the United States by at least 50 percent over the next two years.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Land of 41 Breathtaking Waterfalls and Counting

Born of volcanoes and carved by glaciers

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater-rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors, or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but eight of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls all in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The whole Wells Gray area is part of a massive volcanic complex that dumped lava over the landscape, which hardened into lava rock called basalt. During the last ice age, glaciers covered the basalt. When the volcanoes erupted underneath the glaciers, the ice melted, causing huge floods that carved deep river canyons.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the volcanoes are dormant and the glaciers are gone, but the river canyons remain. The waterfalls in Wells Gray continue to erode the river canyons, pushing the canyons further and further upstream. Compared to granite, basalt is relatively weak and erodes quickly, which is why it is common to find waterfalls in volcanic areas.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seven of the Park’s waterfalls originate on the Murtle River, but perhaps none are more famous than Helmcken Falls, and the very reason Wells Gray Park exists.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fourth largest waterfall in Canada, Helmcken cascades 462 feet to the canyon below. The fact you can access it just steps from the road is really an added bonus. The viewing platform hangs over the lip of the canyon providing a panoramic view of the Murtle River tumbling in the distance. For an up-close-and-personal view of the falls, strike out on a one-hour hike along the Rim Trail where you’ll find waterfall views seen mostly by birds.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dawson Falls, one of seven waterfalls tumbling down the Murtle River, stretches its watery veil 295 feet across ancient lava beds creating a shallow, but broad cascade of water.  Although you’re walking mere feet from the Clearwater Valley Road, the dense forest mutes all but the sound of rushing water. You’ll spy Dawson Falls after about 10-minutes in; then continue along the trail for a different vantage point at the top of the falls.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve ever wondered what lies behind the veil of a waterfall, you’ll want to explore Moul Falls. A one-hour hike from Clearwater Valley Road, a moss and roots covered trail brings you to the edge of Grouse Creek where Moul Falls spills into the Clearwater River. You can stop at the viewing platform above, but if you’re really adventurous, you’ll continue down to the base of the chute where you can slip between the falls and the canyon reveling in the cool mist of its cold, rushing waters.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic rock deposits left centuries ago form the layer-cake-like canyon at Spahats Falls, makes it one of the most dramatic waterfalls to photograph in the Park. You’ll find the turn-off to the falls just inside the Park’s gate. Stroll the cool hemlock and cedar forest for about five minutes and you’ll spot the falls cascading from a keyhole in the rock face, 260 feet above the Clearwater River.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray is also newsworthy for the recent discovery of the most insane cave hidden in the park. The cave is one of the largest in Canada and it’s pretty amazing that it went unnoticed for so long. Until BC Parks and local First Nations are able to assess the cave, it’s closed to the public and you definitely should not go looking for it.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is one of the most awe-inspiring parks for the outdoors enthusiast! If you only make it out to one park this summer, make it Wells Gray.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There’s no better place to find yourself that sitting by a waterfall and listening to its music.

―Roland R Kemler

Exploring Canada’s Unexpected Wine Valley

The Okanagan Valley is British Columbia’s largest and oldest wine appellation and has experienced unprecedented growth over the last two decades

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © 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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © 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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 Wine Country © 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.

The old paddle-steamer in Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Lake at Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © 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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tinhorn Creek Winery in Okanagan Wine Country © 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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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