The Okanagan Valley, British Columbia Canada

If you were to wake up in one wine region of the world and are unable to decide whether you are in the Old World or New World, the Okanagan Valley would be that place.

The Okanagan is a 5 hour drive East of Vancouver, just above the Washington Border, and at the most northern tip of the Sonoran Desert. The most fascinating fact about this region, especially to wine enthusiasts, is that it is as complex as any written viticultural text book. It has diverse soils, micro-climates, variable slope aspects and degree days which range from 1200 to 1490 North to South. The Coastal and Monashee Mountain Ranges provide a rain shadow effect for the valley. All these variables, together with the fact that it sits on one of the coolest wine regions in the world at 49 to 50 degrees parallel, make it unique.

There are an abundance of varietals grown in the Okanagan, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Marachel Foch, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Ehrenfelser and Gewurztraminer to name a few. More recently, Malbec, Pinotage, Tempranillo and Syrah.

On a recent visit, we were warmly welcomed at the picturesque Burrowing Owl Guest house where our gracious host, Donna Watson, gave us an almost 3 hour tour of the Burrowing Owl winery, including a tasting of some of the wineries newer vintages. Both the Meritage 2010 and the Athene 2010 came out tops for me.

The ten beautifully appointed guest rooms at the Burrowing Owl winery surround a quaint swimming pool and overlook hundreds of acres of vines. For more details click on their link below.

During our visit, we also were hosted at the Lake Breeze Winery in Naramata by Ginette Schirrmeister who extended a fabulous tasting, followed by a lovely lunch on this winery’s Patio Restaurant terrace. We had a glass of Lake Breeze Viognier with our lunch, a lunch location not to miss! Lake Breeze Winery’s winemaker, Garron Elmes, was born and educated in South Africa and produces 60 cases of Pinotage (a cross of the grapes Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed at the Stellenbosch University) which, although hard to find, is definitely worth the effort.

A perfect dinner spot would be the restaurant Terrafina, which is located at the Hester Creek Vineyard. Try their Character White 2011 made up of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano. Hester Creek has a small number of guest suites on their property which are very well appointed.

It is difficult to decide which part of our stay was the most enjoyable as we enjoyed every meal and every bottle of wine. However, our visit to Black Hills Winery was a memorable one. Mohammed, the winery Sommelier, hosted us in its elegant tasting room and we had an opportunity to try several vintages from 2007 onwards of their signature wine, Nota Bene. Nota Bene is a left-bank Bordeaux style blend made up primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%+). We were so impressed that I took away one bottle from every vintage since 2007.

By Wednesday, our 3rd day, we were all wined out and decided to combine our tasting at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards with lunch at their beautiful terraced restaurant, Miradoro. Co-owner Manuel Ferreira served us flights of both red and white which we enjoyed with one of the most amazing Margherita pizzas we have ever encountered! The red flight included an Old Field Series 2Bench red which is a right-bank Bordeaux style wine made up of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This wine was exceptional! One unique feature about Tinhorn Creek Vineyards is that it hosts an array of musicians during the summer months. Book well ahead of time and enjoy the ambiance.

Because of the highly regulated nature of the Canadian wine industry (which limits the export of the wines from this region), the Okanagan is a region that does not have the acclaim that it deserves. For wine enthusiasts, a visit to this wine region is a must. Not only are the wines a pleasure to drink, but the region is itself breathtaking. The best months to visit are July and August (although temperatures can get into the 90’s), so when booking remember that Burrowing Owl has a lovely swimming pool to cool off!

Below are some of our personal recommendations and we look forward to returning to try many more wineries and restaurants that we did not have an opportunity to visit on this occasion:

Wineries

Black Hills
Burrowing Owl
Church and State
Desert Hills
Foxtrot
Gehringer Brothers
Hester Creek Estate Winery
Inniskillen
Kettle Valley
La Frenz
Lake Breeze
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Restaurants

Miradoro - Tinhorn Creek Vineyards
Sonora Room - Burrowing Owl Winery
The Patio - Lake Breeze Winery
Terrafina - Hester Creek Estate Winery

Accommodation

The Burrowing Owl Guest House
Hester Creek Estate Winery
Apple D’Or