British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley spans 300 kilometres (200 miles) and lush vineyards thrive on more than 5,000 acres of this spectacular landscape. The region’s climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and moderate winters and boasts more hours of sunshine than California during peak-growing season. Kelowna is an ideal destination from which to explore the area, as it is situated in the middle of the Okanagan Valley and is home to the Valley’s only international airport. From Kelowna over 60 wineries in the Okanagan, 12 of which are in the immediate Kelowna area, are easily accessible for day-trip wine tours and visits.
The climate supports excellent growing conditions, and today the Okanagan Valley’s wine industry produces dozens of world-class, award-winning vintages. With more than 60 wineries currently established in the valley, this booming business has attracted the attention of international wine connoisseurs, as the wineries compete successfully at levels once reserved for old-world establishments.
Most wineries offer year-round tours and are pleased to organize customized group tours, including unique wine making programs, private tastings, wine appreciation workshops and private gourmet dining experiences. Several wineries operate on-site restaurants, some of which are open on a year-round basis.
Two major wine festivals take place annually, one in early May, the other in early October. Events range from specialty winery tastings and seminars, to vineyard dinners, outdoor brunches, and a wide selection of restaurant promotions where a particular vintner’s wine is featured on the menu. More information can be found at www.owfs.com.
A sample of wineries in the Kelowna region include:
The oldest and most –awarded heritage winery in the Okanagan, Calona Wines is the only facility in Canada that produces wine as well as premium beers and spirits. Set in the heart of downtown Kelowna, Calona Wines offers a complete winery experience, highlights of which include an in-depth tasting of award-winning Okanagan varietal wines, served with an assortment of appetizers and local preserves.
CEDAR CREEK ESTATE WINERY
Family-owned and operated, Cedar Creek is considered to be one of the province’s premier estate wineries, producing 100% Okanagan wines from premium quality varietal grapes. Cedar Creek is committed to producing award-winning wines in a magnificent setting where moderate climate, rich soil and a spectacular lake view combine for a memorable wine-tasting experience. Visitors can relax on the patio overlooking the vineyards, beautiful gardens and Okanagan Lake while enjoying their wine and food.
QUAILS’ GATE ESTATE WINERY
The Stewart family has been perfecting the art of viticulture since the early 1900’s. Nestled on the shores of Okanagan Lake, the Stewart’s 115-acre vineyard is well-known for the production of Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, buy many other grape varietals are grown on site. Guests will appreciate the scenic setting and feel the charm of the historic log cabin Wine Shop & Tasting Room. June through September, visitors can enjoy the “Old Vines Patio” restaurant, overlooking the estate’s lush vineyards and spectacular vistas of Okanagan Lake and the valley.
ST. HUBERTUS & OAK BAY VINEYARDS
Dating back to a time when good agricultural land was plentiful, St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Vineyards are some of the oldest in the Okanagan Valley. Using organic techniques, the Gebert family has carefully nurtured the vineyards into top condition and now produces a selection of award-winning natural dry wines. Winemakers Christine Leroux-Robert, is one of the few female winemakers in the valley and was trained in Bordeaux, France. She has studied in California, France and Australia.
MISSION HILL FAMILY ESTATE WINERY
Established in 1981, Mission Hill is British Columbia’s most-awarded winery. A family-owned winery, Mission Hill is dedicated to producing world-calibre wines from classic French grape varieties. Since 1992, New Zealand-born wine maker, John Simes, has increased the use of oak barrel fermentation and aging and continues to introduce innovative techniques. The 1999 Estate Chardonnay was awarded the only North American gold medal of the 2001 Chardonnay du Mondo Competition in France. Mission Hill has set its sights on becoming one of the world’s most-recognized wineries.
SUMMERHILL ESTATE WINERY
Summerhill was founded in 1987 by Stephen Cipes, who was enthused by the intense flavours of the grapes growing in British Columbia. Given that the region is the northernmost desert viticulture in the world, Cipes decided to focus on making sparkling wine in the true French method. Today it is clear that his strategy paid off; each year since 1996, Cipes’ Brut has outsold all French Champagnes in British Columbia. Summerhill is a Certified Organic Vineyard using no herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers in the soil. The new stone and cedar winery building offers a magnificent panoramic view of Okanagan Lake and the winery is well known for its impressive four-storey, 3,249-square-foot pyramid, where all Summerhill wines are aged.
SUMAC RIDGE ESTATE WINERY
Sumac Ridge produces a variety of highly-acclaimed wines and recently won a Double Gold award for its 1998 Black Sage Vineyard Meritage Red. This win, achieved at the 2001 San Francisco International Wine Competition, marks the first time that a Canadian winery has won a Double Gold for a red wine at a California wine competition. Visitors can participate in a Connoisseur Tasting – a guided educational tasting of the winery’s most prestigious wines, conducted in the private Connoisseur Room. The Cellar Door Bistro has a wonderfully creative menu that pairs Sumac Ridge’s award-winning vintages with delightfully fresh regional cuisine.
LITTLE STRAW CELLARS WINERY
Nestled at the foot of Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna, Slamka Cellars Winery offers a panoramic view of Okanagan Lake and the surrounding orchards. Thirty years ago the Slamka family planted their first grapevines in the Okanagan Valley. Slamka Cellars Winery opened in 1996 incorporating traditional growing techniques and modern wine making practices with 25-year-old-vines, to create wonderfully unique and fresh tasting vintages.
GRAY MONK ESTATE WINERY & VINEYARDS
Gray Monk Estate Winery owners George and Trudy Heiss came from Edmonton, Alberta to the Okanagan Valley in 1972, to join Trudy’s father, Hugo Peter, in the business of grape growing. Prior to establishing the winery, the Heisses grew grapes on their unique vineyard site and in 1980 they began making wine. George Heiss Jr. took over as winemaker in 1984 and since then, production has grown steadily to reach its current capacity of 50,000 cases annually. The facility houses a state-of-the-art winery, a tasting room, winery boutique, the Grapevine Patio Grill and Wine Bar, a wine library, banquet facilities and administration offices.
MT. BOUCHERIE ESTATE WINERY
Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery is BC’s newest winery, featuring a 14,000-square-foot processing, fermentation and bottling facilty. A long-time dream of owner and President Sarwan Gidda and his family, the winery uses 100% estate-grown grapes from the family’s vineyard holdings, BC’s largest family-owned and operated. The Gidda family has grown wine grapes in the Okanagan since 1976. It is through the Gidda’s hands-on attention to viticulture that the produce such fine wines.