The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia has long been known for its scenic beauty and its orchard covered hills. In years past, from April through May when the fruit trees burst into bloom, it was a sight to behold. I lived there from the time I was three years old until I was seven, and some of my very first memories are of life in an apple orchard, where my father managed to get a job during the great depression of the 20th century. I still love the aroma of a wooden box full of freshly picked apples in September.
But over the past twenty or thirty years, the fruit trees have slowly been replaced by lush vineyards and the fruit packing plants by wineries, each with their own unique character. Because this area is near and dear to my heart and because it produces some of the best wines in the world, it is here that, I am starting my series on wine producing tourist spots.
The region, not unlike the Mediterranean, is known for its sunny climate and dry landscapes. In fact, some parts of the valley actually have desert microclimates. It falls in the same latitude as the European wine regions of Champagne and Rheingau.
Around the chain of lakes, which includes Lake Okanagan, Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake and Lake Osoyoos, are many lakeshore communities; and, even before the wineries, it was a magnet for tourists. Much of the economy is retirement and recreational based, with outdoor activities such as boating, water skiing, hiking as well as winter sports in the surrounding mountains.
The actual wine producing area stretches from Vernon, at the north end of the Okanagan Lake, and follows the river and chain of lakes to the US Border. At that point both the river and valley change spelling to become Washington State’s Okanogan Valley. South of the border, the river eventually flows into the mighty Columbia.
There are a few wineries north of Vernon around Salmon Arm, but Kelowna is truly the heart of the Northern Okanagan Wine Country. There are 24 wine estates around that city alone. Many of them offer beautiful lake and mountain vistas as well as excellent white and red vintages. Both Ehrenfelser and Gewürztraminers do especially well in the fertile soil of this region as do Rosés and Pinot Noirs.
It is difficult to choose the best wineries around Kelowna, but I have two favourites. Gray Monk, in the hills north of Kelowna, is my first choice and comes with the most intoxicating views. Their Grapevine Restaurant gives you time to enjoy these amazing scenes along with creative cuisine and the estate’s award winning vintages.
Next on my list, is Cedar Creek Estates, which is south of the city-center, and also boasts gorgeous views across to West Kelowna. Cedar Creek specializes in the usual North Okanagan aromatics such as Gewurztraminer, Ehrenfelser and Rieslings plus the more full-bodied whites; Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. They also have vineyards in the hotter climes of the Southern Okanagan dedicated to Merlot, Syrah, and Meritage. However, that wine growing area is for another week.
Across the lake in West Kelowna, there are several very fine wineries; too many to list here, and one can easily spend two or three days of wine tasting centered here in the north. There are numerous beautiful Bed and Breakfasts; hotels for every budget; as well as condominium rentals such as the luxurious Discovery Bay Resort.
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Next week we’ll head to vineyard estates in the towns of Summerland, Penticton, and Naramata, all located in the central Okanagan Valley area.
Okanagan wines may not be as well known as some of the famous wine growing areas of the world, but the vintners here claim their wines are as good as any made in the world. They invite you to come and see for yourselves.