Wine - Tasting and Festivals in the Okanagan
By Michael Russell
The oldest wine-producing region in BC is the Okanagan Valley. The first winery was established in the 1930s and today, more wines pour forth from this part of the province than any other. Of course, grapes aren't the only fruit that grow in abundance in the Okanagan Valley: tree fruits such as apples, peaches, pears and cherries, were cultivated in the region long before grapes and orchards still account for more hectares (acres) of agricultural land than do grapes. But the wine industry is growing fast, with some vineyards producing award-winning wines, both in Europe and in the USA. Museums of various sizes present a wealth of information on the people, places and technologies that shaped the current agricultural landscape and there are event-filled wine festivals throughout the year.
The Okanagan Wine Route snakes through the Okanagan Valley from Osoyoos in the south beside the US border to Salmon Arm in the north on Shuswap Lake. Distinctive burgundy and white wine route signs with a grape-cluster logo mark the way. The Wine Route includes some 60 wineries, each with its own unique ambience and style. Some tasting rooms are large and rather grand, while others are small and intimate; one operates out of an elegant stone mansion, another out of a pioneer-era log house; some are large commercial enterprises, while others are small, family-run affairs. Most wineries are situated in picturesque, natural surroundings, with a great number of them clustered around Okanagan Lake. Many welcome drop-in visitors for tours and tastings and of course, sales.
In the Okanagan Valley, there's a wine -and wine festival- for every season. In January, ring in the New Year at the Icewine Festival, where between icewine seminars, tastings and Winemasters' dinners, you can enjoy world-class skiing and snowboarding. In May, the Spring Wine Festival focuses on the culinary arts, with wine-pairing luncheons and dinners by renowned chefs in addition to tastings and wine education events in Vernon, Kelowna, Summerland, Penticton, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver and Osoyoos. The Summer Wine Festival at Vernon's Silver Star Resort in August marries fine wine with art, music and outdoor recreation. When it's time to harvest and crush the grapes, it's time for the Fall Wine Festival, the Okanagan Valley's largest wine festival of the year and one of the leading festivals of its kind in North America. Wines and activities to satisfy all tastes are on offer all over the region during this October celebration.
Two wineries you might be interested in visiting are the Summerhill and Mission Hill wineries, both a short 15-20 minutes drive from downtown Kelowna. The city of Kelowna is a good place to establish as your base as it is centrally located in the Valley and has a large selection of hotels and restaurants.
The Summerhill Pyramid Winery is truly unique. Summerhill ages its wines in a four-storey, concrete replica of the Great Pyramid and maintains that this "sacred geometry" improves the quality of its wines. On a sunny day, the pyramid is a brilliant white apparition on a hillside overlooking Okanagan Lake. A Certified Organic Vineyard, Summerhill eschews all herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The vineyard uses glacier rock dust to add trace minerals to its soil with good results: Summerhill regularly wins awards for its intensely flavoured and aromatic wines. The Summerhill Pyramid Winery is a 10-minute drive south from Kelowna via Highway 97.
The Mission Hill Family Estate is a little world unto itself and one entirely dedicated to wine. Unusual architectural elements -the massive contemporary entry arches, outdoor grass amphitheater and 12-storey bell tower- create an ambience that is modern and California mission style at once. From May to October, you can dine al fresco on the terrace, enjoying panoramic views of the vineyards, Lake Okanagan and the mountains beyond. The estate's Wine Education Centre holds a theatre and features a rare tapestry by the renowned painter, Marc Chagall. Then there's the wine: Mission Hill is an established winery that has won many awards over the years, including "Best Chardonnay" at London's prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition. These are serious wine makers, are obviously very good at it and love to talk about what they do. The Mission Hill Family Estate is a 15-20-minute drive west from downtown Kelowna.
A perfect marriage of wine and culinary tourism is the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. For the first four days in May each year, it offers a tantalizing experience for anyone who loves fabulous wine accompanied by fine cuisine. And what better way to announce the grape-growing season than to hold a Festival during bud break! Guests can choose an incredible 100 plus events throughout Okanagan Wine Country at a time of year when it is absolutely delightful to savour Spring in the warm sunshine. The Okanagan Spring Wine Festival has been described as "one of Canada's best small festivals" and it is no wonder that its success continues to grow.
The Okanagan Summer Wine Festival is held every second weekend in August at Silver Star Mountain Resort in Vernon. Come and treat yourself to an intimate weekend of wine education, arts, music and mile high outdoor recreation. This is a very popular ski resort in the winter with excellent snow conditions.
The summer wine festival offers unique wine seminars, great evening entertainment, a foot stomping musical outdoor wine tasting and wonderful presentations by local artists. Enjoy gourmet meals, wine education seminars, a unique consumer wine tasting and a wide variety of on-mountain activities. The beauty of mountain wildflowers in a Victorian-inspired mountain resort setting may be your most enjoyable and relaxing experience this summer.
If you love fabulous wine accompanied by great food and unique events, then the Annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival is for you. Autumn in Okanagan Wine Country is the perfect time to watch the grapes ripen in the sun and indulge yourself in the harvest celebrations. This is the only wine festival in North America that takes place during the heart of grape harvest. During this festival, experience vineyard tours, lunches, dinners, events and the fall wine harvest - there is no better way to visit Okanagan wine country. For ten days in early October enjoy over 165 events throughout the valley, which are focused on wine, food, education and the arts in one of North America's most spectacular settings - the Okanagan Valley. This festival continues to be ranked in the top 100 events by the American Bus Association.
The Annual Okanagan Icewine Festival in January at Sun Peaks Resort is the most unique of all the wine festivals. Spectacular wines and an award winning alpine resort create an unbelievable weekend of education and recreation. From wine masters dinners, to educational seminars and a unique progressive tasting, this is a memorable weekend in the making. Sun Peaks Resort is renowned for its dedication to quality and amazing winter recreation. These outdoor adventures in the crisp mountain air, combined with the acclaimed wines and world famous Icewines of the Okanagan, make this a Canadian winter escape to be remembered.
The Okanagan Valley has everything for winemaking. Especially good weather for growing grapes, lots of sunshine with just enough rain; the topography that features sloping hillsides drenched in the summer sunshine and the proper soil conditions needed for the vines. It also has attracted some of the best winemakers from all the wine making regions in the world, each bringing his or her own personal touch and knowledge, resulting in some truly unique award winning wines.