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Okanagan Valley: Canada's wine wonderland


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The Okanagan Valley is Canada’s second-largest wine region (after the Niagara region of Ontario), and accounts for virtually all wine produced in British Columbia. Home to a myriad of microclimates, the Okanagan contains dozens of varietals, ranging from extremely cold-climate grapes to more temperate and warm-weather grapes.


The region, like most Canadian wine regions, is relatively new. Although wine was historically made in British Columbia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the industry lay essentially dormant (aside from fruit wine production) until the mid-1970s. Since then, Okanagan has made huge strides in its winemaking, and has attracted a significant number of international awards. Beginning in the early 1990s, the world began to take notice of especially high quality wines from the region. In 1994, for example, Mission Hill was awarded Best Chardonnay in the World at the International Wine and Spirit Competition for their 1992 Grand Reserve. 


Although agriculturally winemakers face many challenges – not least among them the sometimes brutally cold winters that can cause frost damage to vines – they have managed to persevere. Ice wines still dominate the internationally-lauded wines coming from the Okanagan, but in the past decade more traditional wines – including varietals such as syrah, malbec, zinfandel, and sangiovese – have become more common.


The Okanagan is not officially broken down into sub-regions, but most people recognize five distinct growing areas: Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Osoyoos, Golden Mile, and Kelowna. The majority of wineries in the Okanagan Valley are clustered in the south, with the majority just to the north of Penticton or just north or Osoyoos along the US border. 


Some 70 wineries can be found in the Okanagan, ranging from large-scale wineries to small boutique wineries like the Golden Beaver Winery. Nearly half of the wineries in Okanagan offer public tastings, some by appointment only.


Summers in the Okanagan can be hot, and the best time to tour wineries is in the autumn, when the region is in the midst of its grape harvest. The early winter is also a beautiful time to visit, when some wineries are harvesting grapes frozen and covered in snow, with which to make the region’s award-winning ice wines.Most people choose to visit the Okanagan during one of its four annual festivals – the Summer Wine Festival, the Fall Wine Festival, the Icewine Festival, or the Spring Wine Festival. Most last for at least ten days, and showcase the best that the season has to offer – not only in the way of wine, but in terms of fruit wines and local food as well.