Date: 14th March 2015
We’re all set for a two week long road-trip around British Columbia and Alberta. Our hire car is jam packed, the route is mapped out and every single battery device is fully suped. No sooner than the key is in the ignition however, the heavens open to a biblical scale rainstorm. You can’t plan everything I guess.
Fortunately though we are heading for The Okanagan Valley, which is considerably warmer, sunnier and receives less rainfall than the rest of BC. The climate makes it the ideal location for fruit growing, and where there’s fruit, there follows wine!
The climatic claims are thankfully proven as, after a four hour drive through thundering rain and hail, the skies clear on our descent into the Okanagan Basin. I’m immediately reminded of Central Otago in New Zealand as the mountains give way to rolling hills and lush fields of vines.
There are currently over 120 wineries in the Okanagan, so we would be crazy not to sample a few of them. With a little bartering Anne Marie agrees to be the designated driver on our self-drive wine tour. I meanwhile make a firm promise not to enjoy the wine too much (I wouldn’t dare). Starting from our base in Penticton, we drive south along the eastern side of Skaha Lake towards Osoyoos.
The first winery on our list is Inniskillin, named after the Irish Inniskilling Fusiliers. With so many great vineyards to choose from, liking their name isn’t a bad start to planning a tour. As it turns out the wines we try are also excellent, in particular the ice wine, which is the first we’ve tasted. Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of Icewine, with most of it being grown in Ontario.
With our tastebuds sizzling we head to the next winery on our list, Nk’Mip (pronounced in-Ka-meep), which is North America’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery. The vineyard is set on a vast stretch of land which also includes a holiday resort and cultural centre. Wine is clearly big business here in the Okanagan.
The rain is held back by the surrounding mountains as our tour continues to Stoneboat, Jackston Triggs, Elephant Island (some very different fruit wines) and Poplar Grove (above). Unfortunately I’m no wine critic so I’ll spare you the detailed sensory analysis. All you need to know is the wines are all of a very high standard, which seems to improve as the day wears on. Anne Marie can only handle so much so it’s back to our campsite for dinner and an evening stroll along the lakeshore in Penticton to clear my fuzzy head.
The next day takes us further up the valley towards Kelowna and along the way we stop in at some seriously plush wineries. Mission Hill is more like a castle than a winery with very modern architecture and expansive views over the lake.
After sampling so many fantastic wines I can’t believe Canada doesn’t export more product to the rest of the world. As said before I’m no critic, but I have tasted my fair share of wines over the years and the Okanagan certainly makes an impression. Perhaps I’ll have to do some more research just to be sure…