When we mentioned to friends and family we were headed to British Columbia’s largest wine country, we got, “Really?? They make WINE there?” And that’s exactly why we went. To find out more about this undiscovered wine country often referred to as the “Napa Valley of the North.” Interestingly enough, the Okanagan Valley wine country is ripe with luscious wines – both red and white – due to the hot summers, high-latitude sunlight and surprisingly rich soils.
Grapes that grow the best in the area are Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. And although the premium Okanagan Valley wine industry didn’t begin until the late 1980s, it’s booming now with 121 licensed wineries.
Here’s a rundown of our Okanagan Valley wine country adventures:
50th Parallel Wines
These were the first rock star farmers we’d ever met. Husband and wife team, Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel would concur with our nickname for them. Sheri, outfitted in bedazzled black satin pants, spiked leather boots, perfectly quaffed blonde locks and Prada shades, refers to herself as a glam-farmer. She says her french manicure (in photo above) actually helps to hide the dirt under her nails from planting vines, posting fences and working the land. Not to miss is their French-style Pinot Noir, aged in new French oak barrels. It’s a rip-roaring good time, whatever you decide to taste at 50th Parallel Winery. Within the next few years, you’ll be able to stay there as well, with 10 modern bungalows and a restaurant/event center in development.
Gray Monk Estate Winery
Perched above Okanagan Lake with stunning panoramic views of the vineyards framed by the lake and mountains beyond, Gray Monk Estate Winery is the oldest family owned and operated winery in British Columbia. It’s really all in the Heiss family at Gray Monk. Dad and Momma Heiss still oversee the daily workings of the winery with all four sons working different aspects of the business.
Red Rooster Winery
After a kayak on Okanagan Lake, Dino of Grape Escapes dashed us off to Red Rooster Winery. Red Rooster has a fantastic display of vineyard art – from a mermaid guardian to a statue of Frank the baggage handler. Loved their latest release which they graciously popped open just for us: 2012 Red Rooster Rose.
Ruby Blues Winery
Across the dirt road and hard to miss with the hippie-style Volkswagen van out front is Ruby Blues, owned by longtime wine pioneer lady of Okanagan Valley wine country, Prudence. This is another outrageously fun stop where merely a smile is the fee for tasting and you can sip on a Red Stiletto wine while shopping for Ruby Blues’ own brand of sassy stilettos.
We’re were given a special treat with a personal tasting session with Sumac Ridge’s winemaker, Jason James. Popcorn and sparkling wine? Oh yes. This and many other valuable tidbits were shared as we sipped on Steller’s Jay sparkling wines (one pictured above was so good it made the Veuve Cliquot makers jealous) and two reds from the Black Sage label. Started in 1979, Sumac Ridge is the grandaddy (oldest) winery in British Columbia.
Volcanic Hills Winery is the result of Bobby Gidda’s (in photo above) grandfather – his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. (He came to Canada from India with $5 in his pocket and began working as a farmer.) Today, the family owns 60 acres of vineyards with a 15,000 square foot winery at the foot of a 60 million year old dormant stratovolcano, Boucherie Mountain. And mid-May, an Indian restaurant will be the newest addition to Volcanic Hills. By the way, the 2010 Volcanic Hills Gamay Noir pairs well with Indian cuisine.
Mission Hill Winery
If you love the ornate grounds+panoramic views+fancy gift shop winery experience, say like the Robert Mondavi winery in Napa, you’re gonna love Mission Hill Winery. Take the tour to see the cave containing the antiquities collection of bottles and vases and of course, wine barrels. Ingo Grady, head of the wine education program, offered a six glass wine tasting, including their fabulous Bordeaux-inspired Oculous ($80 a bottle).
We were lucky to visit during one of the three wine festivals the Okanagan Valley wine country hosts annually. For more on the festival, head HERE. And stay tuned for our “Wining and Dining” piece on Okanagan wine country.
P.S. Unfortunately, living in the U.S., we can only savor the beautiful wines in our memories. Most of the Okanagan Valley wines are NOT available for shipping or purchase in the U.S. We hope they change that quickly as we’d like more than just the few bottles we stashed away in our suitcases!
Words by Lanee Lee. Photos ©VoyageVixens
This trip was hosted by Okanagan Valley Wine Festivals and Thompson Okanagan Tourism but opinions are our own. We traveled with two other Canadian writers: Jody Robbins of Travel with Baggage and Marc Smith of 30 Day Adventures (both pictured in Volcanic Hills photo).