Canada’s Wine Regions – Part 4 – British Columbia

The climate for producing British Columbia wine is very unique. All of the BC vineyards are located at the northern extremes of where grape growing is possible. The vineyards are located in two main areas. About 4 hours’ drive east of Vancouver are the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. The second area includes the smaller wine regions of the Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.

British Columbia’s wine industry has seen significant growth over the past 25 years, increasing from 17 wineries and 1,476 acres of vines in 1990 to over 270 wineries and over 10,260 acres today. The B.C. Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) is the provincially-regulated appellation of origin and quality standard for Wines of British Columbia. BC VQA wines must be made from 100% B.C. grapes and meet standards for origin and production, vintage, varietals and quality characteristics that were discussed in my June 22, 2019 post, “Selecting Canadian Wines”.

Vancouver Island

On Vancouver Island, a provincial government-funded trial, called the Duncan Project, determined that grape production was viable.  The study identified Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Ortega as having the capability of thriving in this seaside environment.

Vancouver Island is now home to a dedicated community of family grape growers and winemakers. There are now 26 wineries in this appellation.

Common varietals include:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Ortega
  • Siegerrebe
  • Pinot Noir
  • Maréchal Foch

Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands are situated in the Georgia Strait which separates Vancouver Island from the mainland, and connected by a network of small ferries.  The Gulf Islands are home to about a dozen wineries that are located on each of Salt Spring, Pender, Saturna, Quadra, Gabriola, Hornby and Denman Island.  They display an easygoing lifestyle that allows time to savour the quiet moments with a nice variety of unpretentious wines.

Grape varietals include:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Orteg
  • Pinot Noir
  • Maréchal Foch

Fraser Valley

The Fraser Valley region includes Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, New Westminster to Delta, Langley, Aldergrove and Abbotsford in the east.  The Fraser Valley region is dedicated to producing high quality, handcrafted wines with diverse varieties and styles.  There are about 25 wineries in this region.

Common varietals include: 

  • Siegerrebe
  • Pinot Gris
  • Bacchus
  • Pinot Noir

Similkameen Valley

The Similkameen Valley includes 15 wineries that are set amongst the dramatic backdrop of rugged and picturesque mountains. Considered the “organic capital of Canada”, the area is known for small farms and producers dedicated to creating quality produce, delectable foods, and award-winning wines.

Due to the tall surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley late into the evenings. The valley is arid with persistent winds that can reduce the moisture in the vines and the soil. Even above ground irrigation can evaporate before touching the ground. The wind does minimize mildew, so vineyards generally don’t require frequent spraying.

Grape varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc

Okanagan Valley

Boasting 185 wineries and 84% of the province’s vineyard acreage, the Okanagan Valley is BC’s premier grape growing region. The valley stretches over 250 kilometres, across sub-regions, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing a range of varietals from sun-ripened reds to lively fresh and often crisp whites.

The 185 wineries include everything from quiet family-run boutique vineyards to world-class operations.  The Okanagan Valley wineries are rich in tradition and character, consistently ranking among the world’s best at international competitions.

The Okanagan Valley consists of 8 sub-regions – Kelowna / Lake Country, Peachland / Summerland / Penticton, Naramata Bench, Scaha Bench, Okanagan Valley, Oliver, Golden Mile Bench and Osoyoos.

Golden Mile Bench

The Golden Mile Bench was the first sub-Geographic Indication, created in 2015 within the Okanagan Valley wine region followed by Okanagan Falls, Naramata Bench and Skaha Bench.  Grape production in such areas must produce at commercially viable levels.

Located on the western slope of the valley south of Oliver and across from the Black Sage Bench, the Golden Mile Bench’s southerly aspect provides a warm climate. Its location on the west side of the valley is a cooler region than its eastern neighbour.

A wine made exclusively from grapes grown in the sub-appellation can use the term Golden Mile Bench as a Geographical Indication on a BC VQA Wine label. It’s the location the grapes are grown, rather than the location of the winery that is relevant.

Common varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Merlot

Kelowna / Lake Country

B.C.’s first vines were planted in Kelowna in 1859. Kelowna also boasts the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyard (est. 1932). Many of the first families of the BC wine industry call this area home: the Heiss family, who established Gray Monk Estate Winery; the Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; and the Stewart family of Quails’ Gate Winery.

Grape varietals include:

  • Riesling
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir

Peachland / Summerland / Penticton

This region combines an exciting area of new development with wineries and vineyards that are more than 25 years old. The sub-appellation is renowned for delicious Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Rosé.  There is also an outstanding lineup of sparkling wines.

Grape varietals include:

  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Noir

Naramata Bench

On May 13, 2019, wineries in the Naramata Bench joined Skaha Bench, Okanagan Falls and Golden Mile Bench, near Oliver, as wineries that meet the requirements of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation.   B.C. wines and wineries meeting these requirements are certified that they achieve certain wine production standards, and are enabled to use protected labels that are prescribed under this regulation.

Naramata Bench is roughly defined as the bench lands between Penticton Creek and Okanagan Mountain Park on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Nowhere else in the Okanagan Valley are there so many wineries in a single area.

The vineyards of Naramata Bench boast ideal conditions for full-flavoured white varietals, as well as earlier ripening, elegant reds.

Common varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

Scaha Bench

On May 13, 2019, wineries in the Skaha Bench joined the Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Golden Mile Bench, near Oliver, as wineries that meet the requirements of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation. Skaha Bench covers a 10-kilometre stretch from the outskirts of Penticton and along the eastern shore of Skaha Lake.

Wineries in Skaha Bench include Blasted Church, Black Dog, Painted Rock, Pentage and Crescent Hill.

Common varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

Okanagan Falls

On July 27, 2018, the Province named Okanagan Falls a Sub-Geographical Indication within the Okanagan Valley wine region, meaning consumers will now see a confirmation on labels of certified BC wine is from the region.

From the shores of Skaha Lake to the tip of Vaseux Lake, this cluster of award-winning wineries offers unsurpassed winery experiences, and great wines. The wineries in and around Okanagan Falls have been producing some of BC’s most celebrated wines for many years. Warm days and cool nights produce wines with ripe fruit character and acidity. There are a variety of vibrant sparkling wines and crisp Rieslings to complex Pinots and rich Syrahs.

Grape varietals include:

  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Noir
  • Syrah

Oliver

Oliver has been referred to as the ‘Wine Capital of Canada’.  It is home to nearly half of British Columbia’s vines and more than 40 wineries. To the west, the Golden Mile Bench is ideal for white wines such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, and bright fruity reds like Cabernet Franc.

To the east lies the Black Sage Bench which cultivates powerful red wines and full-flavoured whites. The combination of hot days and cool nights produce fruit with a perfect balance of exceptional flavours and vibrant acidity.

Common grape varietals include:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc

Osoyoos

Osoyoos lies at the southern-most tip of the Okanagan Valley, near the Canada-USA border. Officially Canada’s hottest spot, this is red wine country.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin red blend has become a favourite of mine after my brother introduced it to me several years ago. I now pick some up whenever I come across it in Ontario.

Grape varietals include:

  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Syrah

Kootenays

The Kootenays is situated in the southeastern corner of British Columbia.

In select microclimates, grapes have been grown in the Kootenays since 1995. Although a new viticultural area, ground crops and orchards have been cultivated there for many decades.

6 wineries are located in this region.

Common varieties include:

  • Gewürztraminer
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Maréchal Foch

Lillooet

One of the oldest towns in the province, Lillooet is located at the southern tip of the Cariboo Chilcotin region.  The climate is very similar to the traditional grape growing regions in the Okanagan Valley with long, hot, dry summers. However, nights are cooler, making average summer temperatures slightly lower than the Okanagan, but at the same time preserving the fresh crisp acidity in the wines.  Viticulture is a recent development with  only 2 wineries at present.

Common varieties include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc

Shuswap

The Shuswap region is located north of the Okanagan Valley.  Wines have been produced here since 1997, predominately of cool climate varieties as it is one of the most northerly grape growing regions in North America. Shuswap Lake is the dominant feature in the region. Each of the 10 vineyards has its own microclimate, giving special character to its wines.

Common grape varieties:

  • Ortega
  • Siegerrebe
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Kerner
  • Maréchal Foch

Thompson Valley

On the edge of cool climate viticulture, the 4 Thompson Valley wineries are pioneering an exciting new region and expanding the boundaries of quality BC winemaking.  It is nestled amongst the North and South Thompson Rivers in and around Kamloops, in the rain shadow of the high coastal mountains, with the semi-arid conditions and diverse microclimates.

Common varieties include:

  • Riesling
  • Chardonnay
  • Marquette
  • Maréchal Foch

Although I have had the pleasure of visiting British Columbia several times I have never had the opportunity to experience any of the wine regions.  In particular, being a huge red fan, I would love to travel to the Osoyoos area and sample the wonderful offerings there.

Sláinte mhaith

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