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

The Okanagan Valley: A Special Place

The Okanagan Valley is an amazingly diverse land that attracts visitors from around the world. With parks, lakes, orchards, and wineries around every corner, this area of BC is a very special place.

From the moment you first see the Okanagan Valley, it is obviously a special place. Whether you descend the steep switchbacks of the Crowsnest Highway into Osoyoos or drive from Penticton past the rugged Skaha Bluffs, the valley appears completely different from its surroundings, almost un-Canadian.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its reputation often precedes it of course—Canada’s “pocket desert“, a place of great geological and biological diversity. Birders know this diversity and come from all over the continent to see the 200 species that breed in the Okanagan. There are few places of similar size in North America that could match that total.

Canadian naturalists are attracted by the long list of plants and animals found nowhere else in the country. The diversity is a product of both location—sandwiched between the coast and the prairies, between cold northern forests and Great Basin deserts—and elevation.

Wild Goose Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan is British Columbia’s deepest interior valley, extending from the hot valley floor at 900 feet to alpine peaks at 7,300 feet elevation.

The valley was born millions of years ago in the collisions of continents that built the entire west coast of North America. Two hundred million years ago the west coast was somewhere between the Okanagan and Calgary; then a large piece of land known as Quesnellia slid into North America, creating much of the British Columbia interior. A second collision formed the coastal regions of the province.

Vaseux Lake in the Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, about 55 million years ago, the collisions subsided and the monumental pressure that had been pushing eastward throughout British Columbia eased. This relaxation created deep cracks throughout the province, among them the newborn Okanagan Valley. The ancient rocks that had once been the continental shelf of North America, long-buried by Quesnellia, rose to the surface. They now form the cliffs along the east side of the Okanagan, as well as the massive McIntyre Bluff that forms the west wall of the valley at the south end of Vaseux Lake.

Lake Osoyoos Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic activity was common during the birth of the Okanagan, creating mountains throughout the central Okanagan including Knox Mountain in Kelowna, Giant’s Head in Summerland, and most of the hills around the White Lake Basin northwest of Oliver.

The final geological touch in the shaping of the valley came 2 million years ago when the valley was covered by a series of ice sheets. The Pleistocene glaciers rounded off the local mountains and brought massive amounts of sand and gravel to the valley bottom.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the last glaciers melted about 10,000 years ago, the meltwaters created the silt benches between Penticton and Naramata that are now renowned for their fine vineyards, as well as the sandy benches of Oliver and Osoyoos that are so ideal for the noble grape varieties.

The Okanagan lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. Pacific storms, pushed by westerly winds, are wrung dry as they ascend the cold coastal slopes of these high peaks. As the air descends into the Okanagan, it is relatively warm and dry, and often the only local sign of a storm that brought torrential rain to Vancouver and Seattle are grey skies and a brisk southerly wind on Osoyoos Lake.

Penticton, a city between two lakes in the Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a result, the south Okanagan receives only 12 inches of precipitation each year—about the same as Tucson, Arizona. The cold Canadian winters are strongly moderated by the large lakes in the valley, and vintners needing to harvest icewine grapes at 16 degrees F (-8 °C) are often forced to wait for the coldest night in January.

This warm, dry climate produces Canada’s “pocket desert”, a small area of bunchgrass, prickly pear cacti, and rattlesnakes that clings to undeveloped sites in the valley bottom between Oliver and Osoyoos. The dominant shrub in this area is the antelope brush, a gangly plant that is covered with fragrant yellow blossoms in spring.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildflowers abound in spring and early summer when the soil still carries moisture left by the meager winter snowpack.

Visitors can experience this natural diversity in several short drives. Meadowlark Road climbs east of Black Sage Road in Oliver at the south end of Burrowing Owl Vineyards; at the end of the road is a small parking area and trails through native desert grasslands with a great view of Osoyoos Lake and the Okanagan River.

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

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

While I’m familiar with Napa, the throngs of tourists and the overpriced wines that accompany them have caused me to explore elsewhere

Napa Valley may be synonymous with wine country trips. The well-established region with 400 wineries consistently churns out award-winning labels. But there are many more wine trip destinations that shrug off the pretension and make damn good vino and also offer outdoor recreation to break up your wine tastings. While these regions have managed to quietly “sip” under the radar for years, they boast big flavor without touristy crowds or the tourist prices that typically go with them.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the remarkable pinot noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Shenandoah Valley to Canada’s largely undiscovered wine region in the Okanagan Valley, these authentic spots are ripe for exploration.

Here are five alternatives to Napa for your next wine country escape. Get ready to indulge in these underrated wine regions because it’s always wine o’clock somewhere.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to nearly 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot noirs–producing areas in the world. The Willamette Valley is a huge and varied appellation that includes nine nested appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Laurelwood District, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Tualatin Hills, Van Duzer Corridor, and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east, and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range or among the valleys created by the river’s tributaries.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the flagship Pinot noir grape, wineries also produce Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Melon, Gewürztraminer, sparkling wine, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Gamay among other lesser-known varieties.

While wineries are the centerpiece of a wine tourist’s itinerary, there are also other things to see and do like visiting an art gallery, biking, hiking, or floating above wine country in a hot air balloon.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangioveses. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Friday and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Home to some of the oldest vines in California, the wines produced from the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley are renowned for their intense fruit and deep color. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise, and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as being.

Okanagan Valley © 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.

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

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s.

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula and this has a balanced combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it here. Known for its diversity, wineries in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay, and Syrah to Grenache.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. Cottonwood, a quick drive from the red rocks of Sedona, is located in the 200-square-mile Verde Valley. More than 20 vineyards form the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production.

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the “Valley of the Grapes” because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Southwest Wine Center on the campus of Yavapai College in Clarkdale. Not only is it a place for students to learn winemaking and land jobs in the industry but visitors are welcome to visit the 13-acre vineyard and sample wines from the center’s own label.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

The 5 Most Spectacular Deserts in the US and Canada

This article takes a look at the four major deserts of the southwestern US and one in Western Canada

People may often think of deserts as hot places; however, some deserts can be quite cold. We have put together a list of some of the most incredible deserts in the US and Canada proving that they can be diverse places.

The Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert is in the southwestern United States primarily within southeastern California and southern Nevada and occupies 47,877 square miles. Small areas also extend into southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona. The Mojave receives less than 2 inches of precipitation every year which makes this desert the driest in North America. The hottest temperature recorded here is 134 degrees.

The Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Across its wide expanse, the Mojave Desert experiences a significant change in elevation. The highest point located here is the Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet above sea level. In contrast, the lowest point is Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level. One of the most famous features of this desert is the Joshua Tree which is native to the Mojave. The Mojave is also home to the stunning Joshua Tree National Park and Valley of Fire State Park plus many unique towns and museums.

The Mojave Desert at Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View.

The Sonoran Desert in Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert covers large parts of the southwestern United States in Arizona and California and northwestern Mexico. It covers an area of around 100,000 square miles bordering the Mojave Desert, the Peninsular Ranges, and the Colorado Plateau. The lowest point in the Sonoran Desert is the Salton Sea which is 226 feet below sea level and has a higher salinity level than the Pacific Ocean. Other sources of water for this desert include the Colorado and Gila Rivers.

The Sonoran Desert in Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sonoran Desert is a beautiful landscape brimming with endemic fauna and flora including the Saguaro and Organ Pipe cacti. The Saguaro can reach over 60 feet in height and grows branches from its main trunk resembling human arms. Its flowers are pollinated by bats, bees, and white-winged doves. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Their fruit, like a saguaro, mature in July and have red pulp and small seeds.

The Sonoran Desert in Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area is also rich in culture with many Native American tribes calling the area home plus cities such as Phoenix and Tucson. Attractions include national parks such as Saguaro and Organ Pipe, state parks including Anza-Borrego and Lost Dutchman, and wildlife refuges such as the Kofa and Cabeza Prieta.

Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor and mountains.  Saguaro is actually two parks separated by the city of Tucson: the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District.

The Sonoran Desert in Anza-Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ—you can almost hear them serenading the desert.

The Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert runs between the US and Mexico and is comprised of an area of 139,769 square miles. The majority of this desert is located in Mexico. On the US side, it can be found in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Desert in Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chihuahuan Desert has a unique and ever-changing landscape. Its highest point is measured at 12,139 feet above sea level while its lowest point is at 1,969 feet above sea level but the vast majority of this desert lies at elevations between 3,500 and 5,000 feet. Although an arid desert, it is home to numerous plant and animal species including prickly pear cactus, agave, creosote bush, and yucca. Approximately 800,000 acres of this desert are protected by the Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande River crosses the Chihuahuan Desert providing a much-needed source of water before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

Located in southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.

The Chihuahuan Desert in White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. Given its arid climate, the temperatures at White Sands vary greatly both throughout the seasons and within a single day. The most comfortable time to visit weather-wise is autumn when daytime temperatures reach the 80s with light winds and cooler evening temperatures in the 50s. 

The Great Basin along the Fish Lake Scenic Byway in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Basin Desert

The Great Basin Desert covers an area of around 190,000 square miles making it the largest of the major US deserts. It is considered a temperate desert that experiences hot and dry summers with cold and snowy winters. This effect is in part due to its higher-than-average elevations encompassing Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho. During most of the year, the Great Basin Desert is dry because of the Sierra Nevadas block moisture from the Pacific Ocean. This desert is home to the oldest known living organism in the world, the Bristlecone Pine tree. Some of these trees are estimated to be over 5,000 years old.

The Okanagan Desert near Oliver © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Desert

The Okanagan Desert is the common name for the semi-arid shrubland located in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Washington. It is centered around the city of Osoyoos and is the only semi-arid shrubland in Canada. Part of this ecosystem is referred to as the Nk’mip Desert by the Osoyoos Indian Band though it is identical to the shrublands elsewhere in the region. To the northwest of this area lies arid shrubland near Kamloops.

Skaha Lake in the Okanagan Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The countryside is stunning. A ribbon of lakes with sandy beaches threaded between slopes of ponderosa pines, granite cliffs, and vine-covered benchland. The Okanagan Valley is unusual in having been a tourist destination before it was a wine region rather than the other way round.

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. 

Spotted Lake in the Okanagan Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural world has many wonders. One of the most remarkable is that of Spotted Lake near Osoyoos. It is a polka-dotted body-of-water that looks so bizarre you could be forgiven for thinking you were on an alien planet. During the summer the lake undergoes a remarkable transformation becoming spotted with different colors and waters that resemble a polka-dot design. This lake is also an important spiritual site for the local First Nation Peoples.

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known—as most men have not—either mountain or the desert, is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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

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

Make your own discovery. Uncork the sun.

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan’s Varied Micro-climates and Varieties

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

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

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wines to Try Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden