An Okanagan Primer
The Vancouver Games might be over but the season for visiting this scenic, lesser-known wine destination is approaching.
The Olympics might be winding down but, the season for visiting Okanagan Valley is still months away. With a lake rivaling Tahoe's, this lesser-known North American wine destination doesn't skimp on scenery. The only problem with the wines is that they sell out in their home and rarely make it south of the border.
British Columbia, Canada
1990, two years after the NAFA agreement between US and Canada, the British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) was formed, the Okanagan Valley, one of five appellations in the province was created.
Approximately 180 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the Okanagan Valley Appellation runs north for 90 miles from the Canada-US border just above central Washington State to the Salmon Arm.
Extremely varied, the region includes five-sub regions ranging from arid, dry dessert like conditions in the southernmost sub- region Osoyoos, to moderately cool climates in the north around the city of Kelowna, the appellation’s largest community.
The defining characteristic of the Okanagan Valley is the series of lakes that run the length of the appellation. The largest, Okanagan Lake is over 70 miles long and over 700 feet deep. The lakes provide moderating influences, cooling in the summers, which are generally hotter than Napa and warming in the occasionally cold winters. Soils range from volcanic rock and limestone in the north to gravel and clay and eventually sandy soils in the south.
NUMBER OF WINERIES:
120 in the appellation with preponderance clustered mid-lake on the east side’s Naramata Bench north of the town of Penticton and in a sub-region called the Golden Mile. south of the town of Oliver
NUMBER OF GRAPE VARIETIES:
Over 60 with more being planted each year.
KEY VINIFERA GRAPES:
In the cool northern sub region Pinot Noir dominates the red grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot also plentiful. The white aromatics Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay are extensively planted.
Further south the Bordeaux varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc are heavily planted and Syrah is becoming more widespread.
OTHER GRAPE VARIETIES:
Experimentations with different red varietals include Malbec, Tempranillo, Pinotage, the Austrian Zweigelt, Sangiovese, Marechal Foch and, in tiny quantities Zinfandel. Ehrenfelser, an aromatic German white is found along with Swiss Chasselas and Roussanne and Marsanne, also in small quantities.
Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards, Jackson-Triggs Vintners, Mission Hill Family Estate, CedarCreek Estate Winery, Sandhill Wines
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, Quail’s Gate, Nk’Mip Cellars, Tantalus Vineyards, Calona Vineyards
The production of Ice Wine has created much of the buzz for the region but the German aromatic whites thrive in the northern climes and the Bordeaux blends and Syrah reflect the unique terroir of the south.
The Okanagan region, while still in its infancy has seen improved quality with nearly every vintage. The diversity of the terrain, the amount of capital investment and its climatological sweet spot make this a region to watch.