Osoyoos: Canada’s Desert Wine Country

Osoyoos is located in the South Okanagan in the south-central portion of British Columbia just north of the Washington (US) border

The Sonoran Desert reaches its Northern terminus in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains. This produces a hot and sunny environment with very little precipitation. Osoyoos experiences 2,039 hours of sunshine each year and an average of 9.8 inches of rain/2.1 inches of snow annually. While the warmest in Canada, the temperature does still see a significant range. The average high in the warmest month of August is just over 79 degrees while the average low in the coldest month of December is just over 13 degrees.

Osoyoos and Lake Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name Osoyoos comes from the Sylix word soo-yoos, referring to the lake’s narrow gap. Indigenous people lived in the Okanagan region for thousands of years before the arrival of the first European fur traders in 1811. In 1821, the Hudson Bay Company took over operations, and a major trade settlement developed in the Okanagan Valley. As of 1858, the gold rush began transforming the economic incentives of the region. 

Osoyoos and Lake Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the early 20th century, the first commercial orchards (apples, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches) were established taking full advantage of the long growing season. In 1927, a major irrigation project is known as “The Ditch” helped disperse more water into the desert climate. By the 1960s, the optimal combination of natural and artificial conditions led to the first large-scale grape vineyards that currently support Osoyoos’s thriving wineries. 

Vineyard near Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Osoyoos area is one of the largest grape-growing regions of British Columbia with more than 15 estate wineries within a 15-minute drive of the town center.  Most of the wineries are VQA rated (Vintners Quality Alliance), meaning that they have passed the rigid quality standards set by the alliance of Okanagan vineyards and that the wines are made from 100 percent BC-grown grapes. The wines have won many prestigious awards for wines produced from the many grape varieties grown in the area.

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

Grape harvest season near Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The numerous microclimates and soil variations make it possible to cultivate some 60 different varieties of grapes within a small area. You’ll find wineries producing an assortment of varietal wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Ice Wine.

Local in Osoyoos are Nk’ Mip Cellars, Adega on 45th, Moon Curser, Borderland Vineyards, Young & Wyse, and La Stella wineries.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owned and operated by the Osoyoos Indian Band and located on 1,200 acres of band land, Nk’Mip Cellars is the first Aboriginal-owned and-operated winery in North America. The word Nk’Mip translates to “Bottomland” in English, and is located at the southern end of the Osoyoos reservation. Nestled in their vineyard overlooking the town of Osoyoos, the Cellars offers spectacular views of the lake and surrounding hills and mountains.

Related article: Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During a recent visit a selection of wines from their Winemaker’s Series and premium Qwam Qwmt (which translates to “achieving excellence”) reserve were available for tasting—2015 Pinot Blanc, 2014 Pinot Noir, 2014 Merlot, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon QQ, 2014 Syrah QQ, and 2014 Mer’r’iym QQ. Mer’r’iym is their word for “marriage” and the inspiration for a wine that represents a perfect union of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. 

Moon Cursor Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the east side of town just before ascending the steep switchbacks of Anarchist Mountain (Highway 3) is Moon Curser Vineyards. We knew—and previously visited—this winery under its original name, Twisted Tree, which had been the name of this winery since it first opened in 2004. In the dark of winter 2011, they made the bold move to change their identity to Moon Curser Vineyards—a name that captures many colorful stories of the Osoyoos area, as well as the renegade spirit of their winemaking.

Moon Curser Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos, the border town where Moon Curser Vineyards is located, has long been celebrated for the rich soil and brilliant sunshine. But during the gold rush, it was the dark of night that brought commotion to the area. Then, an unscrupulous procession of gold-smuggling miners returned stateside by the hundreds, if not by the thousands. All under the cover of night—trying to avoid customs agents at all cost. Often, the light of the moon would foil their plans, shedding light on their covert travels and activities. Need we say more about the name?

Moon Curser Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And you don’t forget a Moon Curser bottle when you see one. The labels are whimsical.

Related article: 4 of the Best Wineries in the Okanagan Valley

While the name and packaging are memorable, the wine inside the bottle is what is most important. From the start they decided to get creative and try different varieties in their portfolio. The approximate 5,000-case production includes 13 different wines. 

Moon Curser Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As alternative varieties are becoming a trend all over the world, the vintners at Moon Curser are a few steps ahead of everyone else, fittingly, just as the moon cursers on their labels try to keep one step ahead of the law.

I enjoyed a selection of some serious and inventive wines—2015 Afraid of the Dark (a blend of whites from France’s Rhone Valley), 2014 Tempranillo, 2014 Dead of the Night, 2013 Contraband Syrah, and 2014 Border Vines (Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carménère).

Adega on 45th © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adega on 45th has a bell tower, set in a vineyard not far from Nk’Mip Winery overlooking the town of Osoyoos. The 6,000-square-foot winery has thick concrete walls and a naturally cooled cellar for 400 barrels buried against the hillside. The winery’s ambience reflects the Portuguese heritage of the owners.

The winery sits high on the vineyard’s west-facing slope. The tasting room windows offers a grand view over the town and the lake.

Odega on 45th © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Young & Wyse is owned by Stephen Wyse former winemaker at Burrowing Owl Winery and his partner Michelle Young. The vineyard is located on the East bench overlooking beautiful Osoyoos Lake. The plantings are on sloping terraces and consists primarily of sandy loam soil. The southwesterly exposure offers long days of sunlight hours. The cooling effect from the lake balances the heat from the day, which is optimal for grape and vine growth. Plantings include four acres primarily with Melbec, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

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

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

Where to Stay: Nk’mip RV Park and Campground; Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort

Worth Pondering…

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

―Benjamin Franklin

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


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.


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


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

Beaches and Lake Towns to Cool Off this Summer

Welcome to your next waterfront escape

There are few things more relaxing than a lake town vacation. The US and Canada are chock-full of picturesque lakes from the northeastern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and Lake George in New York to Lake Powell and Lake Mead in the Southwest and Okanagan Lake and Lake Osoyoos in southern Canada. And I specifically want to hone in on the best lake towns as a way to help travelers pinpoint where to aim their RV for their next vacation. 

These towns are not only right on the waterfront of the clearest and most sought-after lakes—they have bustling town centers and lively culture within. And isn’t that what makes the best lake towns shine? They’re not just waterfront havens where you can rent a boat for the day or go stand-up paddleboarding, they’re also destinations with quality restaurants, campgrounds, shopping, and plenty of non-water-based activities. 

Whether you’re camping this summer or looking for a lakeside long weekend to book in the fall, these are eight of the best lake towns in North America.

Wolfeboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

On Lake Winnipesaukee, Wolfeboro is fast becoming the best lake town in the Northeast. The drive to Wolfeboro is about two hours from Boston and five from New York City. The town center of Wolfeboro is actually positioned directly on Lake Winnipesaukee which is dotted with 285 islands and offers an expansive 72 square miles of water. Your life in Wolfeboro will be filled with sunset swims at Brewster Beach, ice cream cones at Wolfeboro Dockside Grille & Dairy Bar, and ales and snacks at Lone Wolfe Brewing Company. Treat your family to a boat tour aboard the M/S Mount Washington which has offered scenic cruises on the lake since 1872.

Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake George, New York

The so-called “Queen of American Lakes” was a playground for Gilded Age robber barons, many of whose original waterfront stone mansions still line a 10-mile stretch known as Millionaire’s Row. Visit Lake George’s Sagamore Resort which dates back to the 1880s and still welcomes guests today. Dinner cruises on majestic Lake George. A dawn-to-dark day at an epic amusement park topped off with the best ice cream around. Festivals that hono Elvis. There’s a lot to do in the Lake George Area.

Penticton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Penticton, British Columbia

Penticton is located in the Okanagan Valley in south-central British Columbia. It is one, of only two cities in the world, situated between two lakes—Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake. Shimmering blue water, long stretches of sandy beach, vineyards, orchards, gentle mountains, and a wide variety of outdoor activities await you here. From the Interior Salish word snpintktn, the name Penticton is commonly translated as “a place to stay forever,” or more accurately, “a place where people live year-round.”

Syracuse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Syracuse, Indiana

Syracuse is a town of approximately 3,000 full time residents and 35,000 seasonal residents in northeastern Indiana. There are seven lakes in and around the town making it a water lover’s paradise. Lake Wawasee, the largest of these lakes, is the largest natural lake in Indiana. With access to Syracuse Lake, there are more than 3,500 acres of water. Lake Wawasee hosts the state-owned Wawasee Family Fishing Site. Located on the southeast shores, opportunities to fish, picnic, and relax in the outdoors await you. Several local marinas are also available; you can rent a fishing boat, pontoon boat, or jet skis at several locations on the lake.

Lake Powell Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page, Arizona

For those looking to spend a few days on a road trip, I recommend taking the drive to Northern Arizona to visit Page and Lake Powell. It’s a great summer trip since the temperature rarely breaks 100 degrees and the 186-mile lake features nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, 96 major side canyons, sapphire blue water, towering red sandstone cliffs, and sandy beaches. 

Page should have packed up decades ago. See, the town was established in 1957 as a temporary work camp for builders of the Glen Canyon Dam but the people stayed. And it’s jaw-droppingly easy to see why they set down roots: the spectacular red buttes and mesas set against cobalt skies, capped by miles of blue shoreline on Lake Powell.

For views, it’s hard to beat houseboat digs at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas or Antelope Point Marina, both with 5-star full-service RV resorts.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

The City of Mount Dora truly is “Someplace Special”, a charming, one-hundred-plus-year-old historic village in the heart of Central Florida on the shores of beautiful Lake Dora in the Harris Chain of Lakes. The Harris Chain of Lakes is a waterway system that leads north to the Atlantic Ocean through the Ocklawaha River and the St. John’s River. Mount Dora offers a unique downtown where you can take a leisurely stroll among boutique shops, restaurants, and art galleries or take a seaplane/boat/walking tour. At the Port of Mount Dora in Grantham Point Park next to the Mount Dora Marina and the public boat ramps, you will discover the Mount Dora Lighthouse, a short walk from beautiful downtown Mount Dora. Built of bricks covered with stucco, the 35-foot lighthouse stands sentry over the Port of Mount Dora.

Weirs Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weirs Beach, New Hampshire

Weirs Beach is famous for its Boardwalk and the attractions along the boardwalk at Weirs Beach. The Weirs Beach boardwalk begins on Lakeside Avenue and runs the entire length of the beach and docks. There are many benches along the boardwalk so people can sit and enjoy the view of Lake Winnipesaukee. There are a few ways to get from the Weirs Beach boardwalk down to the water. At the beginning of the boardwalk, there are stairs that lead to the picnic areas and bathhouse. In the middle of the boardwalk are stairs that lead to the public boat docks. Many people like to sit on the docks and watch to boats come in and go out. The MS Mount Washington Cruise Ship ticket office is where you can purchase tickets to cruise Lake Winnipesaukee on the M/S Mount Washington. There is also a ticket booth to ride the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad. Another way to get to the beach leads to the Winnipesaukee Pier. The pier has several shops and an arcade.

Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos, British Columbia

Osoyoos is located at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley beside the international border with Oroville, Washington. The region is considered Canada’s only true desert. Framed by desert hills, lakes, vineyards, and orchards, Osoyoos is the ultimate year-round desert destination with a climate that allows you to recreate in its unique surroundings. Taste the area’s delicious fresh fruit and drink award-winning wines directly at their source. The area is one of the largest grape-growing regions of British Columbia with more than 15 estate wineries within a 15-minute drive of the town center. There’s more to Osoyoos than bright blue skies and wineries set against gently sloping hills. While the community embraces and proudly showcases their vintner industry, Osoyoos also has sophisticated resorts, numerous full-service RV parks, championship golf courses, the nation’s warmest lake, and a wide range of cultural, intellectual, and artistic experiences.

Where will your summer adventures take you?

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)