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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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