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Wine Touring in British Columbia

Wine Touring in British Columbia Leave a comment

Hayley Maguire is a writer specializing in travel and has spent the last seven years living a nomadic lifestyle around the world. Originally from the UK, she has travelled to New Zealand, Australia, South Pacific, South East Asia, Canada, USA and Europe. She is currently based in Austria, loves yoga and is learning German.

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Picture the scene. It’s the middle of summer, the sun is shining and the wine is flowing. The nearby lake is shimmering in the light as boats glide across the water. The air is warm, the view is beautiful and there are good friends for company. Perfect wine touring conditions.

Is it Italy? France? Argentina? No, it’s Canada. Yes, that’s right. The cold, vast country in North America that is famous for snow and maple syrup also produces decent wine. And the west coast province of British Columbia is home to the Okanagan Valley, a fast growing wine region quickly gaining international acclaim.

Wine touring, Okanagan Valley

Image credit: Hayley Maguire

The industry kicked off in the Okanagan in the 1980’s, and in comparison to other wine regions around the world, it’s still fairly new. That hasn’t stopped the Okanagan fully embracing the vino life though and there are now 120 wineries throughout the valley. Such a high concentration of wineries makes for an interesting wine touring destination, if a little daunting. During an entire summer in the Okanagan I failed to visit each winery (which was good for my liver), but the season was still dedicated to wine touring and sampling local cuisine. My friends and I mainly explored the region during many day trips, taking it in turns to drive. When we weren’t tasting wine we were hiking in the nearby mountains or cooling off at the lake. So, for others heading to the Okanagan this summer, here is a guide to wine touring and making the most of a hot summer in the BC interior.

Okanagan Facts

The Okanagan Valley is in the BC interior and around 300km from the Pacific Ocean. From Vancouver it takes one hour by plane, five hours by car or eight hours by bus to reach the city of Kelowna, the gateway to the region. Kelowna sits at the north of the Okanagan and has several great wineries and restaurants (more details below). It also has a slightly cooler climate than further down the valley and produces good quality Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Wine toruing, Kelowna

Image credit: Hayley Maguire

From Kelowna, Highway 97 travels 160km down the valley towards Oliver and Osoyoos. The southern part of the Okanagan sits on the US border and is the northern tip of the Sonora Desert, which starts on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. As a result, summers are hot and dry and the majority of red grapes are grown there to soak up the sunshine. In peak summer, it’s recommended to visit the southern part of the Okanagan in the morning and travel north as the day heats up.

That’s the region covered. Now, it’s time for the wine.

BC wine with a French twist

Le Vieux Pin in Oliver is a small winery producing delicious wine and serving it in a rustic, chic style. The winemaker is French and if Le Vieux Pin wasn’t located on Black Sage Bench in the Canadian desert, guests could be fooled into thinking they were sipping on Syrah in the Rhône Valley. We were lucky to enjoy a vertical tasting (the same wine from different years), which for wine geeks is highly educational and for everyone else, just a lot of fun.

For organic fans

Covert Farms is an organic farm and winery in Oliver. Their tagline is, ‘Cultivating enjoyment since 1959,’ and with a jumping pillow next to the winery, they know how to have fun. It’s also a great place for sampling juicy wine and embracing country living, even if just for a quick visit. Oliver is so rural there are tumbleweeds blowing down the road in peak summer and Covert Farms has a rustic style that works perfectly with the landscape.

Wine touring, Covert Farms

Image credit: Hayley Maguire

A touch of glamour and style

Driving up to Painted Rock in Penticton is a treat in itself to view the modern, minimal winery perched on top of a cliff. It’s all futuristic silver and clean lines. The winery overlooks Skaha Lake, has a glamorous style and serves a range of their award-winning wines in their sleek tasting room. Just don’t spill any wine – the décor inside is pristine white. And no visit to Painted Rock would be complete without sampling the Red Icon – a full bodied, red blend that tastes even better with cheese and charcuterie.

Big business wine

Mission Hill in Kelowna is in a league of its own. It has nailed the wine tourism market with its European-inspired architecture, focus on high-end cuisine and humble beginnings (AKA rags to riches story). The grounds are simply stunning with an open terrace restaurant overlooking Okanagan Lake, an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and private wine tasting rooms. Mission Hill is certainly a winery to tick off the list when visiting the Okanagan, and is a glimpse into how far BC’s wine industry has grown in a short time.

Local cuisine for local wine

RauDZ and Micro in Kelowna have the same owners and are on the same street. This clever move means customers can grab a drink at Micro while waiting for a table at RauDZ. Micro also has a small tapas-style menu and both establishments serve delicious, authentic food with a focus on local produce. The wine list at RauDZ is a showcase for the best of the BC wine scene and Micro offers European wines alongside BC craft beers.

For the hippies at heart

The last recommendation for wine touring in the Okanagan is Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna. The organic, biodynamic winery has stunning views across Okanagan Lake and an on-site pyramid wine cellar. The alignment of the pyramid is believed to have a positive affect on the quality of the wine, and is a unique feature on the banks of a Canadian lake.

Wine touring, Summerhill Pyramid Winery

Image credit: Hayley Maguire

Wine Touring Tips

So, now you have the facts and the wine, but before you head out there be sure to read these tips.

  1. Water. Drink lots of it. Very important.
  2. If driving, make sure there is a designated driver and keep them refreshed with non-alcoholic beverages. Maybe buy them lunch.
  3. If no-one wants to volunteer to drive, then use a local wine tour operator. Just remember to tip the driver/guide.
  4. Dress appropriately. Heels look fantastic but after visiting several wineries, they may not be the wisest choice of footwear.
  5. Enjoy! Wine touring is all about having fun.

For more information about hotels in the Okanagan, click here.

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Hayley Maguire is a writer specializing in travel and has spent the last seven years living a nomadic lifestyle around the world. Originally from the UK, she has travelled to New Zealand, Australia, South Pacific, South East Asia, Canada, USA and Europe. She is currently based in Austria, loves yoga and is learning German.

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