A well-kept secret no longer, the wineries of the Okanagan Valley in the Canadian province of British Columbia are fast becoming a popular tourist destination for wine fans. This region is best known for producing some of the best fruit and hybrid wines in the world. Recent introduction of different varieties of grapes by German wine makers have widen the range of wines this area is now producing. For tourists, the wine tasting tours and beautiful scenery make this an affordable and comfortable alternative.
The Okanagan Valley region is located 160 kilometers north of the Canadian Border with the state of Washington. It is 400 kilometers east of the Canadian city of Vancouver. It is interestingly on the same latitude as the famed European wine regions of Rheingau and Champagne. The climate of the area has hot summers and cold winters whose temperatures are moderated by the deep Lake Okanagan. The area is irrigated with water from Lake Okanagan because annual rainfall is low. Its northern latitude means that the area sees long periods of daylight during the growing season.
The first wine makers in this area were French missionaries who, in 1859, established the first vineyards in the area at the Oblate Mission in Kelowna. Founded by Father Charles Pandosy, the Oblate Missions vineyard winery was planted and cultivated for the production of sacramental wine to be used during celebration of the Catholic Mass.
The prohibition era of the nineteenth century saw the destruction of wineries of the Okanagan Valley. All of the grape vines were uprooted and the fertile soil of the area was replanted with other agricultural crops. Wine production in the valley was non-existent until the 1930s. Founded in 1932, the Colona vineyard winery is now the oldest continuously operating winery in British Columbia. The wines of this renaissance era were primarily fruity table wines made from table grapes, cherries, apples, and berries.
In the 1970s, wine growers in the region began to experiment with different varieties of grapes imported from Europe. Among these wine growers is the Osoyoos Indian Band who first planted Riesling grapes in the valley. They control 300,000 acres in British Columbia, 340 acres being dedicated to wine production. In this area, the Osoyoos operate a beautiful nine-hole golf course and a five-star resort. Their winery, named Nk'Mip Cellars, is known all over the world as the first aboriginally operated and owned winery in North America.
German grape specialists encouraged the regions wine growers to experiment with planting and cultivating Gewrztraminer and Pinot Gris grapes that have been designed specifically to withstand colder climates. But by 1984, there were still only 13 wine producers in the region. The North American Free Trade Agreement opened up competition with wins from the United States. This competition greatly improved the quality of wine being produced in the Okanagan Valley. Now, there over 150 vineyards in the region growing more than 60 different varieties of grapes. Among these varieties are such staples as Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Okanagan Valley holds four wine festivals every year, including the only fall wine festival in North America. The most unique event is the ice wine festival held in the middle of January, which celebrates Canadas famous ice wines. Ice wines are produced mainly in Canada, Austria, and Germany. Canadian ice wines are made from white grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine. The sugars in the grapes do not freeze, and the grapes remain acidic allowing wineries of the Okanagan Valley to produce unique wines that offer a rare acidic and sweet combination of flavors.