The BC wine scene has flourished since the 1970’s when fruit orchards were swapped out for vineyards en masse, and it’s really been in the last 10 years that it has become a powerhouse producer in the New World. From huge producers like Mission Hill, to boutique wineries like Liquidity (a favourite of mine!), the Okanagan Valley is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the quality, variety, and price of it’s wines.
It’s, like, really important to the Canadian wine industry.
The Okanagan Valley contains 84% of the vineyards in British Columbia, and is the second largest wine growing region in Canada (after the Niagara Peninsula). The entire valley stretches over 250 kilometers, from 50th Parallel Estate in Lake Country in the north, to Lariana Cellars in Osoyoos to the south (where you can literally see across the Canada-US border), the valley contains over 182 wineries—and new ones are opening every year.
There are seven sub-regions within the Okanagan Valley wine growing region, and each one has a distinct micro-climate that influences the flavours of the grapes grown. These regions are informal, and not officially recognized as sub-appellations, but the divisions are used by the industry nonetheless. From north to south, the regions are:
Golden Mile Bench
In January and February, we’ll explore the individual sub-regions in depth, so stay tuned!
Varietals and Availability
Like many wine growing regions in the New World, the Okanagan Valley almost exclusively grows noble grapes. The difference between many New World regions and the Okanagan Valley are that less than 40% of the wines made here are available outside of Canada, and even then the international exporters pretty much begin and end with the powerhouse Mission Hill Estates brands. With most wineries you are able to order their wines by the case online, although international shipping will vary from winery to winery.
There are smaller wineries that are playing around with some of the less-common grapes, and Viognier is fast becoming a popular varietal to grow, especially south from OK Falls to Osoyoos because the heat helps develop the flavours beautifully. (I blogged about my love of Viognier here).
Although micro-climates exist throughout the Okanagan Valley, officially the climate is categorized as a continental climate. This is tempered by the deep Okanagan Lake, as well as the surrounding lakes found throughout the region. Thanks to the Cascade and Coast Mountains, a rain shadow effect shields the Okanagan Valley from the abundance of rain experienced on the coast. Because of the lowered annual rain yield, irrigation throughout the region is a must—in most cases, vineyards choose to tap into local water sources (such as glacial water) rather than utilizing the surrounding cities’ drinking water sources.
The winters are moderate and short in length, while the growing season is quite long. In the height of the growing season, temperatures are hot—often hitting highs of 30 degrees Celsius and higher. This is the main reason that Okanagan Valley white wines are often described as “sunshine in a bottle”; the high temperatures produce sweeter, fruitier grapes, resulting in bright, flavourful wines.
I can’t recommend the Okanagan Valley enough to wine lovers, wine explorers, or people that just want a visually stunning vacation. My husband has family in Oliver, so we are spoiled by choice when it comes to visiting the wineries in person, and we’ve thoroughly explored the Naramata Bench, Oliver, and Osoyoos sub-regions. I’m entirely biased, but I challenge you to find a wine region that I will love more than the OKV!
A big thanks to Wine BC for the photos in this post, and for the reference material. If you’re planning a trip to British Columbia to experience the wine regions, I highly recommend using their trip planning resources.