National Wine Day: May 25

We don’t typically need an official reason to celebrate over a bottle of wine but today we have one— National Wine Day is celebrated annually on May 25.

The growing number of wineries coupled with the proliferation of social media options has prompted more creative ways to celebrate with wine for people of all (legal drinking) ages and beverage preferences. Whether you host a wine tasting to try the latest rosés or meet friends for an evening of professionally paired food and wine, the celebration begins as soon as the cork is popped. Cheers!

Cooper Vineyard, Amador County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Wine Day

Wine has been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. The natural likeness for this drink is not only because it tastes wonderful but also because of its nutritional value and psychotropic effects. 

Wine has also had a significant impact on the economy and the shaping of societies. Out of all the alcoholic beverages, it is the trade of wine that allowed exploration of different cultures and paved the way for philosophical and religious ideas to spread. Wine is cited frequently in the Bible from the time of Noah to Jesus, indicating its integral role. Wine-making was also seen as a sign of a provident economy as only provident societies could accommodate a well-established wine industry. In fact, it is often debated that the foundations of western society were built on wine.  

The wine enjoyed in the olden days is a distant relative to the wine enjoyed today. Red, pink, green, white, and blue grapes were used by the Egyptians to prepare the drink. Palm dates, figs, and pomegranates were often added to the mix too. So the taste was completely different from what we know today. Using different fruit to make wine is similar to how it is prepared using grapes except that sugar is also added to aid the fermentation process.  

The exact origin of National Wine Day is unknown but the earliest references date back to 2009. It is a day for wine enthusiasts to unite and celebrate our favorite fermented fruit juice. 

Since its establishment in 1812 by Spanish missionaries, California’s wine country in the northern Bay Area of northern California has dominated American wine production. There were a mere 25 wineries in this area of California in 1974. Today, there are over 800.

While California still leads U.S. wine production and is now home to over 4,000 wineries state-wide, wineries exist across the U.S. with at least three in every state. In fact, the most frequently visited winery today is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina with over one million people annually.

This availability of wineries enables us to visit the rolling hills of a beautiful vineyard closer to home. Yes, it is very likely one is near you, within range for a fun day trip or weekend getaway. So, pack your bags and set your GPS to the winery closest to you.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Summerland, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Wine Day timeline

  • 4100 BC: Archaeologists discovered evidence of winemaking in an Armenian cave including cups and jars for holding wine, wine presses and vats for fermentation, and even grape seeds and vines
  • 6000 BC: Although it had been believed that the earliest wines were made around the fourth century BC, much older wine has been found in what is now the country of Georgia
  • 1628: New Mexico becomes the first region in America to begin producing wine.
Robert Renzoni Vineyards, Temecula, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditions

Traditions for National Wine Day all revolve around indulging in and celebrating with wine. Friends and family get together and uncork their favorite bottles of wine. Splurging on quality wine is also the norm today so treat yourself to that fancy vino you’ve always wanted to buy.

Wine tasting events are hosted where wine lovers and connoisseurs enjoy different flavors and varieties of wine. Wine bottles are aesthetically pleasing so reusing them for a DIY project or making a rack from scratch to display them are also go-to celebratory traditions for National Wine Day.

Black Hills Winery, Oliver, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine by the numbers

  • 55 degrees: optimal temperature for storing wine
  • 60 gallons: amount of wine in a single barrel
  • 4-10:  clusters of grapes in a single bottle of wine
  • 100-150: calories in a single serving of wine
  • 2 grams: carbohydrates in a single glass of wine
  • 10,000: number of different varieties of grapes worldwide
  • 700 million: number of gallons of wine produced in the U.S. in 2020
  • $88 billion: estimated value of the U.S. wine market in 2020
  • 7.3 million: hectares of land that vineyards occupied worldwide in 2020
Winery 101, Cottonwood, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fascinating facts about wine bottles

  • Size matters: There are over a dozen different sizes of wine bottles many named after Biblical kings or other historical figures
  • Who’s the king? At 30 liters the largest wine bottle size is named Melchizedek or Midas holding 200 glasses of wine
  • Sealed with a cork: Almost 70 percent of wine bottles are sealed with natural cork; the majority of this cork comes from Portugal
  • Judging a bottle by its cover: There are over 60,000 wine labels in the market today
  • It takes a lot of grapes: One bottle of wine holds an average of 600 grapes
Helwig Winery, Amador County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why I love Nationl Wine Day

  • I love varietals: While there are five basic types of wine (red, white, rose, sparkling, and dessert), there are thousands of varietals of wine grapes. The options you have for trying a new wine are practically endless. You’ll never get bored in your pursuit for trying something new in the wine world.
  • I savor life with wine: Wine is not the type of beverage you drink quickly. You sip it, savor it, linger with it. Which means, you are likely lingering with whomever you’re sharing the wine. Taking your time to enjoy a glass of wine allows you to enjoy other things with it—people, scenery, food.
  • Wine allows you to travel the world in a bottle: Each bottle of wine tells a unique story. If you close your eyes, wine’s aromas and flavors can transport you to faraway lands giving you hints about the soil and weather the grapes grew in, the landscape of the country the wine originated in, and what was happening in the world at the time the wine was bottled. The best part? You don’t even have to get on a plane to travel the world!
Church and State Winery, Okanagan Wine Country, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Wine Day related holidays

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 Best Things to do this Spring in Georgia

Spring in Georgia is the perfect time to bask in perfect weather at festivals celebrating music, art, food, and local traditions

Spring in Georgia brings blooming flowers, warmer days, and activities of all kinds. Spring is an undeniably beautiful time of year to visit Georgia. From March to May the average low of 65 degrees F and an average high of 80 degrees F is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, and strolling through the state’s many parks and botanical gardens. Spring break trips offer perfect opportunities to explore new places and attend events throughout the state.

From outdoor adventures that take advantage of the great weather to favorite events that only happen once a year, here are nine of the best things to do around the state this season.

Beach on Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Go to the beach

Georgia’s beaches are among its best resources. Plan a getaway to explore some of Georgia’s 15 barrier islands, including…

Golden Isles

Nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville lies the mainland city of Brunswick and its four barrier islands―St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island. 

The port city of Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Explore the historic area which is enjoying a renaissance and features shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes reflecting a variety of styles dating from 1819.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to St. Simons Island. Check out Fort Frederica National Monument, the archaeological remnants of the island’s first European settlement or make your way to Neptune Park, an oceanfront park next to the St. Simons Island Lighthouse that offers a playground, picnic area, casino, and pool. Cannon’s Point Preserve features 660 acres of greenery and Late Archaic shell rings dating back to 2500 BCE.

Since 1928, Sea Island has been known as an exceptional destination featuring five miles of private beach, a Beach Club, tennis center, Yacht Club, and Shooting School as well as three championship golf courses including the home of the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 10 miles of sandy beaches, four golf courses, a 250-acre Historic Landmark District and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island has been a family-favorite state park destination for 75 years. 

In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to the Golden Isles and Jekyll Island:

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is a family-friendly beach town 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Rent a cute cottage, go on a dolphin tour, dig into fresh seafood, and much more. Those traveling with RVs and tents can stay at River’s End Campground and RV Park which is a few blocks from North Beach. There are more than 100 sites with full hookups, cozy cabins, and primitive sites. Campground guests will enjoy convenient amenities and comforts of home like a 24-hour laundry room, a fully equipped fitness center, the island’s largest swimming pool, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island National Seashore is the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia offering visitors more than 17 miles of secluded white, sandy beaches. Wild horses and other island wildlife roam freely throughout the ruins and along the beach. Glimpses of the Carnegie lifestyle can be easily imagined throughout the ruins of Dungeness, Plum Orchard, and Greyfield Inn.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville and Brunswick.

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to Cumberland Island:

2. Attend a spring arts or sports event

Just as daffodils, dogwoods, and azaleas flourish in the spring in Georgia so do outdoor arts and sports events. Pick any city and you’ll likely find a spring event to enjoy.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International Cherry Blossom Festival

Each March, Macon becomes a pink, cotton-spun paradise as over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory.The International Cherry Blossom Festival is a perennial favorite held March 17-26, 2023 that features art exhibitions, rides, and performances. 

The Creek Indians were the first inhabitants of the area that would later become known as Macon, settled by Europeans in 1809. Celebrate the Native American tribes that called the Macon area home at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, a site dating back 17,000 years. The site has North America’s only reconstructed Earth Lodge with its original 1,000-year-old floor as well as the Great Temple Mound.

Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1960s, Macon was ground zero for the music industry thanks to Capricorn Records and artists like the Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. Learn about the band that called Macon home at The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House, the Tudor-style home that Berry, Duane, and Gregg lived in with their family and friends. It has a large collection of guitars and band memorabilia.

The Blessing of the Fleet

Each spring, Darien holds The Blessing of the Fleet Festival for the captains of local shrimp boats. The largest event of its kind on the East Coast, it’s also a great time to get some exercise with the 5K run, admire arts and crafts, watch fireworks, and salute seagoing ships during the maritime parade. The 55th Annual Blessing of the Fleet on the beautiful, historic Darien Waterfront is set for April 21-23, 2023.

Savannah Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Music Festival

The annual 17-day springtime festival (March 23-April 8, 2023) is Georgia’s largest musical arts event featuring up to 100 productions. Established in 1989, Savannah Music Festival features artists from all genres including classical, jazz, folk, country, and rock. 

Savannah’s Historic District is sprinkled with 22 historic squares, stunning period architecture, and beautiful cobblestone streets, each with unique elements and stories. Take a walk down America’s Most Beautiful Street, Jones Street, take photos in front of the iconic Forsyth Fountain, and stop at places like Chippewa Square, best known as the site of the bench scene from the movie Forrest Gump.

Plan your trip with this Guide to Savannah.

Hank Aaron, a Braves legend

Atlanta Braves

Take in an Atlanta Braves game at Truist Park. The Braves open at home on April 6, 2023 against the San Diego Padres. The Braves’ first homestand of the season will continue with three more games against the Padres and a three-game set against the Cincinniti Reds. 

The Braves baseball team was moved to Atlanta in 1966 from stints in Boston and Milwaukee. It’s the longest continuously operating franchise in Major League Baseball. In their years as an organization, the team has won four World Series (most recently in 2021). Legends like Hank Aaron helped make the team what it is today.

In March 2017, the Atlanta Braves officially moved to their new home at Truist Park (formerly SunTrust Park). It’s surrounded by The Battery, an entertainment complex with restaurants, stores, concert venues, and a hotel.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Masters

Tickets to the legendary golf tournament in Augusta are hard to come by but even if you don’t have tickets there is plenty to do off-course during Masters Week April 3-9, 2023. 

Established along the Savannah River in 1736, Augusta was once home to cotton production which helped it become the state’s second largest city. These days, much of the city’s industry surrounds the medical fields and technology thanks in part to nearby Augusta University. The city is home to Augusta National and the Masters Golf Tournament as well as the birthplace of legends like James Brown. A thriving arts community, plentiful outdoor exploration, and locally owned restaurants only add to its appeal for travelers.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Delight in spring blooms

Spring color pops out early in Georgia especially sunny yellow daffodils and cheery pink cherry trees and tulip magnolias. Trace the season’s progression through the rainbow of colorful flowers, trees, and bushes that burst onto the scenery from their winter slumber. From the North Georgia Mountains to the coast you can explore a gorgeous array of gardens expertly created to showcase the season’s best.

See the largest daffodil display in the nation at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground in early March. More than 200 varieties of early, mid, and late bloomers cover 50 acres of hillsides and valleys.

Experience the beauty of 20,000 azaleas in bloom at Callaway Resort & Gardens in Pine Mountain during Spring FlowerFest March 25-May 7, 2023.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Mother’s Day weekend at the 16th annual Picnic in the Garden in the Pecan Groove at Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange on May 13, 2023 featuring a picnic spread contest, live music, pony rides, and yard games. Explore the historic Ferrell Gardens which are one of the best-preserved 19th-century gardens in America.

The Savannah Botanical Garden includes nature trails, a picturesque pond, and an archaeological exhibit among the formal and natural displays. Enjoy the Southern charm of the historic Reinhard House, the sweet sounds of songbirds, and wander along a path that explores camellias, ferns, and a children’s garden. Admission is free.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of the state

You can’t say we don’t eat well in Georgia! Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across the state.

Food Festivals

Georgia’s spring food festivals offer a huge menu of options. A few choices include:

  • Georgia Strawberry Festival, Reynolds, April 22, 2023
  • Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, April 20-23, 2023
  • Hiawassee Highlands Wine Festival, Hiawassee, May 13, 2023
  • Taste of Alpharetta, Alpharetta, May 11, 2023

Pick-your-own Farms

Grab a bucket and head to one of Georgia’s many pick-your-own farms for a true Southern springtime tradition. The whole family will have fun picking their favorite springtime treats fresh from farms throughout the state.

Springtime in Georgia means warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, and…strawberry season. The official strawberry season can stretch from late April to July 4th in Georgia with the best picking from May to mid June.

Adairsville Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food Tours

Eat your heart out in Georgia where restaurant and dining options range from casual to fine dining and you’ll find all types of cuisines—especially Southern. Dig in to the South’s best barbecue smoked to perfection and matched with mouthwatering sides like baked beans and macaroni and cheese. Peel and eat sweet, wild Georgia shrimp served with a basket of warm hush puppies while a sea breeze carries away the cares of the day.

Check out one of the many food tours like Atlanta Food Walks, Taste of Thomasville Food Tours, or Savannah Taste Experience.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Taste of Thomasville is a three-hour progressive lunch though downtown Thomasville that starts in the courtyard of The Gift Shop. Participants and the tour guide walk to award-winning food establishments in the downtown area. Between the food establishments, the participants learn the history, culture and stories that make Thomasville a unique town. 

Take a three-hour walking and tasting tour through the gardens and historic, cultural landmarks of the squares of Savannah, the Hostess City of the South. Savannah Taste Experience food tours will open your palate through bites and tastings at distinctive restaurants, extraordinary specialty food stores, and other notable eateries while providing a local’s perspective on culture, history, and architecture of Savannah. 

Getting out on the water at Stephen S. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Get out on the water

Enjoy the great outdoors around Georgia, especially the lakes, rivers, and ocean.

Lake Life

Georgia’s Lake Country boasts two expansive lakes with more than 15,000 acres of water (Oconee and Sinclair) and more than 10 golf courses nestled in the neighboring communities of Eatonton, Greensboro, Madison, and Milledgeville.

Closer to Atlanta, Lake Lanier welcomes boaters and fishermen. Lakes Burton, Rabun, Hartwell, and Blackshear are also worth exploring.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the Okefenokee Swamp

Take a walk on the wild side at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. The main entrance to the National Wildlife Refuge is located near Folkston.

Hike the Chesser Island Boardwalk to the Owl’s Roost Tower for an unparalleled view of the swamp prairies and the Okefenokee Wilderness. The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center is a perfect place to begin your Okefenokee experience―talk to refuge staff and volunteers about recreational opportunities, recent wildlife sightings, and take a guided boat tour with knowledgeable naturalists or rent a canoe or kayak and set out on your own.

Take advantage of the discounts on multi-day, multi-entrance passes to Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross and Okefenokee Adventures in Folkston to experience boat tours, train rides, nature shows and the incredible scenery of the fascinating swamp environment.

Brasstown Bald with fall colors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Plan a road trip

What’s a better time to start planning a getaway by car or RV? Decide what you want to see whether it be coast or mountains, cities or small towns. Follow the 41-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway through the mountains, drive along US-17 to coastal communities from Richmond Hill to Darien or taste your way through the state on Georgia Grown Trail 37.

Surrounded by the beauty of Chattahoochee National Forest, the 40.6-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Georgia Grown Trail 37 is Georgia’s first officially branded agritourism highway created to spotlight the agricultural bounty and beauty found in Southern Georgia. Featuring over two dozen agritourism hotspots and out-of-the-way shopping adventures, Georgia Grown Trail 37 takes you on a tasty adventure through small towns and family farms. You will find olive farms, vineyards and wineries, U-Pick berries and produce, unique farm products, and specialty shops. Take I-75, Exit 39, East or West.

Hunt for murals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Hunt for murals

Looking for colorful walls to photograph? You’re in luck. Atlanta has hundreds of murals in every corner of the city especially around Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward. Savannah also has its own usually commissioned by art galleries and non-profits to beautify their buildings. Macon also has upped its game in terms of public art, with murals, sculptures, and Little Free Libraries around town. Don’t miss the mural in Dublin which honors the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

8. Tour a brewery, cidery, or distillery

The Peach State has a thriving scene for craft beverages as new breweries and distilleries are opening every year in every corner of the state. No matter where you go, plan on having a designated driver.

A brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breweries

They may be found in old warehouses where the grind of machinery has been replaced with liquid gold and the sound of good times or in new wide-open spaces.

Atlanta has the most craft breweries including big-name ones like Sweetwater and those with multiple locations like Monday Night. But there are many breweries in other cities and towns like Macon Beer Company, Creature Comforts in Athens, and Eagle Creek Brewing in Statesboro. Grab a bite with your pint at a brewpub, like Good Word Brewing and Public House in Duluth.

Located within walking distance of college dive bars, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. hangs out in a former car dealership and auto repair shop on the edge of downtown Athens. Try its Tropicalia and see why it’s considered one of the top IPAs in the country.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Macon has been making a resurgence thanks in part to breweries like the Macon Beer Company. This spot playfully uses the city’s name in the name of its beers such as Macon Love, Macon Plays and, of course, Macon Money.

Taking its name from the coastal Georgia Island, Jekyll Brewing has paved the way for craft breweries in the northern suburb of Alpharetta. And on the topic of branding you may be amused by the names of their beers such as Hop Dang Diggity, Southern Juice, Cooter Brown, and ‘Merican Amber.

Cideries

The gluten-intolerant can rejoice as there are also cideries around the state. Urban Tree Cidery is located on Atlanta’s Westside with a taproom to sample their varieties. Treehorn in Marietta is another favorite as is Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge. If you’re looking for a low-alcohol option, Cultured South on Atlanta’s West End brews the popular Golda Kombucha.

A distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distilleries

Distilleries also are open to visitors to offer a glimpse into how your favorite spirits are made. Atlanta has the ASW Distillery, Old Fourth Distillery, and Independent Distilling distilleries. Dalton Distillery and Dawsonville Distillery both specialize in legal white lightning. Richland Rum in Richland and Brunswick crafts the only single-estate rum in the United States made from Georgia-grown sugar cane.

Moonshine and other spirits © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moonshine

Whether you go all in and tour a moonshine maker’s distillery or you attend a local festival named after the famous drink, Georgia is a great place to start your moonshine journey.

In the summer, classic cars and their owners head to the Georgia mountain town of Hiawassee for the annual Georgia Mountain Moonshine Cruiz-In. The three-day event features live mountain music, a real moonshine still, arts and crafts vendors, automotive vendors, and hundreds of classic cars.

Visit Blairsville in September for the Moonshine Market Arts & Crafts Show featuring regional vendors, live music, food, beer and spirits, and distillery tours. 

A winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries

Georgia is more than just craft beer and moonshine. The Peach State has its fair share of wineries especially clustered around the North Georgia Mountains. Muscadine and fruit wines are produced as well as well-known varietals.

Kaya’s Winery and Tasting Room in Dahlonega are built atop a ridge that is 1,600 feet above elevation and offers panoramic mountain views in North Georgia. Enjoy wine made from estate-grown grapes with a view from the covered deck.

On the Helen side of the North Georgia Mountains are a number of wineries but Yonah Mountain Vineyards & Winery is frequently listed as a favorite. The namesake mountain rises into view from the tasting room inspiring the logo that makes the rounded peak look like a bear’s back. Experience their tastings which showcase chardonnay, merlot, malbec, pinot noir, and sauvignon blancs. The wine cave tour is what makes Yonah Mountain completely unique, the only known one in the state.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bike the trails

Gear up with your helmet and two wheels to explore the state. There are plenty of paved bike paths for beginner or expert riders.

The Silver Comet Trail rails-to-trails path connects Atlanta to the Alabama state line and is accessible from the cities of downtown Rockmart and Cedartown. Bikers, runners, hikers, skaters, and horseback riders use the trail for recreation and commuting. The Silver Comet Trail begins at the intersection of South Cobb Drive and the East-West Connector in Smyrna and runs all the way to the Alabama border. There, it meets the Chief Ladiga trail in Alabama. 

The Carrollton GreenBelt is the largest greenspace and greenway conservation project ever undertaken in the city of Carrollton’s almost 200-year history. The 18-mile long linear city park is the largest paved loop trail system in Georgia and provides residents and visitors a unique escape.

The Chattahoochee Riverwalk in Columbus runs 15 miles alongside the water offering views of the whitewater rapids and a connection to the National Infantry Museum. By foot or on bike, you will skirt the cityscape, examine historic monuments and markers, and take in the wild beauty of the rolling river and native wildlife. Geocachers can take on the RiverWalk GeoTour, the first of its kind in the world with 31 challenging geocaches with collector game pieces including three coins.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

National Drink Wine Day: February 18

Use this National Drink Wine Day to try a new bottle and relax with the knowledge that you’re celebrating a long, long human tradition

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

―Benjamin Franklin

Does anybody really need an excuse to open a bottle of their favorite red (or white)? Absolutely not! Still, that shouldn’t stand in the way of celebrating National Drink Wine Day.

Moon Curser Vineyard, Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day is held each year on February 18, so get ready to unwind with a glass or two of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Wine has been a staple in human culture since its invention in 7000 BC. Some ancient societies enjoyed their wine so much they even worshiped it! These days, hundreds of types of wine are produced all over the world so there’s an endless variety to choose from.

It’s also suggested that a glass a day keeps the cardiologist away. From connoisseurs of wines from around the globe to casual fans that enjoy the odd glass at the restaurant or on an evening spent with friends, National Drink Wine Day is an undoubted highlight in the calendar.

Cheers!

Cooper Vineyards, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unsurprisingly, National Drink Wine Day is a day to celebrate wine which includes drinking a glass (OK, bottle) of wine. However, its purpose isn’t to result in millions of people staggering around bars after losing self-control or to leave participants facing the mother of all hangovers on National Drink Wine Day +1. Wine should be enjoyed responsibly on this day more than any other.

The annual event is a time to reflect on the many benefits of wine as well as the role it has played in human history and society. The social aspects are particularly pertinent on this day which should be enjoyed with friends and family. After all, there’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of the good stuff while sharing fun and entertainment with the people that matter most.

Wine is one of life’s little luxuries that should be enjoyed far more regularly than once per year. Nonetheless, National Drink Wine Day is that special moment where millions can raise a glass to the benefits it brings while also paying homage to the winemakers of previous generations.

Bella Piazza Winery, Shenandoah Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Drink Wine Day

While we know humans have been making wine for thousands of years, no one is certain who was the first to ferment grapes into the beverage we now call wine. Evidence of ancient wine production has been found in China, the Middle East, and Greece so it appears many different cultures discovered the process at nearly the same time.

The oldest known winery was found in a cave in Armenia and is over 4,000 years old—the vinters there were using a grape still used to make wine today. Barrels of wine have been found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs and the Ancient Greeks used wine in religious ceremonies.

Although wine has taken all sorts of different forms throughout the ages the process has changed very little in the thousands of years since its invention. Grapes are crushed, pressed, and fermented and the mixture is sealed into barrels. The mixture is aged and then bottled. Using these simple steps an infinite variety of wines can be created and different regions of the world are known for the distinctive vintages they produce.

Ironside Vineyards, Calaveras County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soil, temperature, and weather all affect the way wine grapes grow and make each batch unique. Two bottles of the same wine from the same vineyard might taste totally different depending on the year they were produced and some vintages become highly sought after as a result.

The history of wine itself can be dated back over 8,000 years to winemakers in the Eurasian region that is now Georgia. Alcoholic beverage has played a major part in society ever since and has been drunk in all four corners of the globe for many generations. Iranians, Italians, and Europeans in the Balkans all have rich histories of wine production that date back to ancient times while China created very similar alcoholic beverages as early as 7000 BC.

In today’s world, nearly 20 million acres of the earth’s surface are dedicated to grape farming for wine fermentation. There are literally thousands of brands and variants covering red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, and rose wines while mead, fruit wine, and ice wine is readily available to millions. Moreover, the experience of enjoying wine is closely linked to human history. For example, tapping glasses to say cheers harks back to the Ancient Romans.

Twisted Oak Winery, Murphys, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Drink Wine Day is a far more contemporary addition but is now in its second decade. Awareness of the event has increased at a fairly rapid rate with the annual event reaching new locations and a greater variety of demographics by the year. In truth, it’s only natural given the universal appeal of the beverage.

Whether red or white, National Drink Wine Day is not an event to be missed.

Ernest Hemingway said: “wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection and it offers a greater range of enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

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

National Drink Wine Day activities

Drink wine: Get some friends together and uncork your favorite bottle of wine. Or simply enjoy it while watching a movie on the couch.

Try a new wine: Splurge a little on that bottle of wine that’s slightly above your budget but that you’ve always wanted to buy for yourself. Enjoy a glass or two and then save the rest for a special occasion.

Sip it in an unusual place: In the bath, at sunset on a mountain, or on a picnic blanket in your garden. Create a new wine-drinking experience for yourself.

Methven Cellars, Willamette Wine Country, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a wine tasting: A wine tasting is a great way to sample different varieties of wine all while receiving instruction from a certified sommelier. This will help you develop your palate and your appreciation for wine.

Take a winery tour: Many wineries run tours of their vineyards and cellars. Seeing where and how they make your favorite wine is an excellent way to learn more about the art of winemaking.

Head out to a wine bar: Spending time at a wine bar is a great way to hang out with friends and family and sip some amazing wine to boot. Additionally, most wine bars serve local wines, so you can get a taste of what’s happening in your area’s wine scene.

Fazeli Cellars, Temecula Wine Country, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Wine Trails less traveled

A true oenophile doesn’t need a special day to enjoy a glass of their favorite vino. And a true oenophile also knows that there is more to wine country than California’s popular Napa and Sonoma Valley. Let’s take a look at other regions to enjoy fine wines and beautiful vineyards.

Willamette Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

If you enjoy a good pinot noir, head to Oregon’s Willamette Valley which is known for producing world-class pinot noir wines. The oldest winery here is Tualatin Estate Vineyard dating to 1973 and newer ones like Sidereus Vineyards which opened their tasting house in 2022 and was promptly named one of the Top Ten New Wineries by USA Today. For a map of the wineries in the area, visit willamettewines.com which also has all kinds of options for tours. Red Barn Rides offers e-bike and bicycle rentals for those who choose to tour the area on two wheels while the Tesla Custom Winery Tour offers small tours in a private Tesla.

Helwig Winery, Shenandoah Valley, California © 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. Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil, and warm temperatures that give the wines their distinctive flavor. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangiovese. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Fridays and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah Valley Wine Country

Hester Creek Vineyard, Okanagan Wine Country © 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. 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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Okanagan Wine Country

Robert Renzoni Winery, Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Temecula Valley Wine Country

Pillsbury Wine Company, Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

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 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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Verde Valley Wine Country

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

You Don’t Have to Be In California to Enjoy Wine

Consider an RV road trip to the most scenic wine region in North America

You’ve heard the old Willie Nelson country music song with the lyrics, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…”

I just can’t get that tune out of my mind. I want to tour Wine Country and do more research.

Tinhorn Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider a summer or autumn jaunt to the Okanagan wine region in British Columbia. It’s possibly the most scenic wine region in North America and a place where RVers and other normal people can afford to taste wine (nudge, nudge Napa).

Okanagan Crush Pad © 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.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

More on Okanagan Wine Country: Fall is the Perfect Time to Visit Okanagan Wine Country

The Okanagan Valley is the oldest and most productive of the BC wine regions attracting tourists year-round for its wineries, orchards, golf, mountains, and lakes. 

Church and State Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the southern interior the Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The mountains are lined with ponderosa pine which gives way to cacti, tumbleweeds, and fragrant sagebrush.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The region receives a mere 10 to 12 inches of rain annually and is geographically considered a semi-desert—the hottest and driest place in Canada. But the sandy slopes are the foundation of an ever-expanding industry that is producing world-class, award-winning wines.

Come September colorful foliage backed by blue skies make touring the Okanagan a glorious experience. Because of the size of the region and the number of wineries, covering the entire region in a day or two is impossible.

Black Hills Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From world-class operations to family-run boutique vineyards, Okanagan wineries are rich with character and consistently ranked among the world’s best at International competitions. 

More on Okanagan Wine Country: The Okanagan has What it Takes to Rival Napa

Some of the most notable wineries are Mission Hill, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek, Nk’Mip Cellars, Quails Gate Estate, Hester Creek, and Tinhorn Creek. If you’re pressed for time the Penticton Wine Shop pours just about every wine made in the Okanagan.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a mountain region so obviously there’s plenty of hiking and biking but the area is also home to numerous golf courses including Fairview Mountain near Hester Creek Winery and Nk’Mip Canyon Desert. Or if you want to take a day off from wine tasting and enjoy the agriculture, Covert Farms is a relaxing rustic farm with an in-house restaurant and acres of produce you can pick.

Moon Curser Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Okanagan is the warmest part of Canada (relative, I know, especially when compared to Palm Springs or Yuma). That means it’s a winter home for Canadian snowbirds from the really cold parts of the country (think the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) who want milder climes without having to RV to Arizona.

Hester Creek Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So yes, Canada might not be the first place you think of when considering a wine-tasting vacation. But if you’re more into the quality of your experience than name recognition it’s a tough destination to beat. The wines are good, the food is fresh, the scenery is unbeatable, and it won’t cost you a fortune. It might not be a connoisseur’s first choice as the wines here are good but not internationally known. But for most of us, we’re just there to have fun.

More on Okanagan Wine Country: 4 of the Best Wineries in the Okanagan Valley

As wonderful, affordable, and delicious as the Okanagan Valley is, it’s also not exactly right next to a major population base.

Adega on the 45th Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tell you what, though, it’s a great RV trip from Southern California or Arizona. As snowbirds, it’s an annual journey over emerald mountains into rough desert hills, along streams, down windy roads, and through lush valleys. The road sometimes slims to just two lanes and drivers might slow to do crazy stuff like bask in the scenery. But if you’ve got some time during the summer and autumn months when the mountain roads are clear of snow this is absolutely the way to do it.

More on Okanagan Wine Country: Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Shenandoah Valley

What Napa was like 25 years ago

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains of Virginia. A lesser-known Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills also offers country roads with breathtaking views and charming postcard-perfect farms.

Amador Flower Farm in the Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley, east of Plymouth—you could easily spend two or three days just hitting the highlights. 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.

Amador Flower Farm in the Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This undiscovered California gem features rolling, golden hills studded with majestic oaks and rolling vineyards producing exceptional full-bodied wines. 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.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors alike to enjoy all year long.

While Shenandoah Valley heats up early in the day, it rarely exceeds 100 degrees. Equally important, temperatures typically drop 30-35 degrees in the evening as breezes cascade down from the Sierras. This rapid cooling helps the grapes retain the acidity essential to balanced wines.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Villa Toscano Winery brings the essence of the beautiful Tuscany region of Italy to California. Many of their full-bodied wines are crafted from century-old vines. Starting with rich, mature fruit, winemakers, George Bursick and Susan Farrington, create wines in a style that displays both richness and balance. Extended oak aging on their red varietals ensures wines of depth and complexity. The white varietals receive no oak aging to preserve their fruit character and freshness.

Borjón Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borjón Winery is a dynamic, Mexican-American, family-owned winery. The Borjón family comes from the small town of Paracuaro in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Isy’s parents, Jesus and Nora Borjón, arrived in the Shenandoah Valley over 30 years ago with passion and drive they built Borjón Winery together, as a family. They offer a range of European-influenced wines including Italian (Barbara, Primitivo, Sangiovese), Spanish (Garnacha and Tempranillo), and French (Petite Sirah). We tasted five hearty reds and purchased a bottle of 2013 Petit Sirah.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helwig Winery offers sweeping vistas overlooking lush vineyards, breathtaking views of the Sierra and Coastal mountains, and a sky you won’t believe until you see it for yourself.

Helwig Winery offers guests a multitude of wine tasting experiences in a setting that cannot be beat. With sweeping vistas overlooking lush vineyards, breathtaking views of the Sierra and Coastal mountains, and sunsets that will take your breath away, your experience will be a memorable one.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helwig boasts a new, state-of-the-art winery with a unique wine cave system. Visit their spacious Tasting Room, well-equipped meeting and conference rooms, an outdoor terraced concert amphitheater, and the popular picnic Pavilion and their “cool” wine cave. They offer a little something for everyone, no matter the weather, the event, or the mood. The Tasting Room is a great place to taste a range of exciting wines including several made from Rhone varietals (Syrah, Marsanne, and Viognier), several wonderfully complex Zinfandels, and a big, bold Barbara. The Tasting Room is open seven days a week from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, except for major holidays.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to Coopers Vineyards is a visit to one of California’s most charming family wineries.

Dick Cooper, whose family originally arrived in the Sierra Foothills in 1919, is generally considered Amador County’s “Godfather of Barbera.” Zinfandel might be Amador’s heritage grape but it is a grape that does well in other parts of California. Barbera, on the other hand, makes a red wine that many of today’s wine lovers believe grows better in Amador County than just about anywhere else in the world—even as well as the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where the grape originated.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A grape grower first, Dick moved into the winemaking business in 2000 and opened the Cooper Vineyards winery and tasting room in 2004. Before grapes, Dick’s family grew a wide variety of crops including tree fruit and nuts. Gradually over the years, the walnut and fruit trees gave way to Zinfandel and Barbera and Rhone grape varietals. Now totaling almost 80 acres, Dick has expanded the vineyards to a potpourri of exotic grape varieties including Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Petit Sirah, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Grenache, and Sangiovese.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966