Draw a line from the Okanagan Valley heading east across the globe and you’ll find it reaches to the wine-growing nation of France. Situated within the growing zones of 30 and 50 degrees latitude north, the vineyards of Canada share this global space with many cool-climate wine regions of Europe.
Along that latitude are the sparkling wines of Champagne, France; Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Burgandy, France; and Pinot Grigio wines of Italy. No wonder these same varietals do exceptionally well in the Okanagan Valley.
While many know the grapes of France well, many French have never heard of us. Then again, the Okanagan is small — and, yes, in the world of wine, still young — but we’re making exceptional wines.
As B.C. winemakers continue to achieve international awards, our place on the world map grows more prominent. Canadian wine had an impressive medal haul at the IWSC (International Wine and Spirits Competition), with Blasted Church Vineyards’ Small Blessings Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 awarded a gold medal. This intense red was harvested from a block planted in Okanagan Falls almost 30 years ago.
Looking for the best Syrah in the world? We’ve got that too. The lovely Syrah-Viognier blend, Rover, from See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls was honoured with a gold medal at the 2022 Syrah del Monde.
Chardonnay? Silver medals from the 2022 Chardonnay de Monde went to seven wines from the Okanagan: 2020 vintages from Black Hills Estate, Nk’Mip, See Ya Later Ranch, 2019 vintages from Nk’Mip, 50th Parallel Estate and Noble Ridge and the 2018 11 Barrel Chardonnay from Kitsch Wines.
Meanwhile, B.C. has been busy making its own wine maps. Last year, six new areas in the Okanagan Valley were recognized for grape growing, and those local regions are now being printed on the labels of soon-to-be-released 2022 vintages.
So, let’s break it down a little bit. The Okanagan Valley, Thompson Valley and the Similkameen are three of the nine geographical indications that make up the B.C. wine map. Still, the Okanagan itself is a diverse growing region. The Valley has been further divided into 11 sub-geographical indications (sub-GI), each with distinct soil and climate conditions. Boundaries are based on enduring landscape features that do not change over time.
So, shop local with your wine picks: wines labelled with their sub-GI are produced with a minimum of 95 percent of grapes grown from the specified region.
The Okanagan Valley’s most northern sub-region is Lake Country, historically known for its white wines. The first vintage from the region was produced at Gray Monk in 1980. The sub-GI boasts more than 240 acres of vineyards now. While the cool slopes lay on a northerly latitude, looking west they capture the late afternoon sunshine and warmth.
A collective group of eight wineries in Lake Country co-market under the banner of The Scenic Sip Wine Trial. Explore the trail to find aromatic Ehrenfelser or Auxerrois, exceptional Pinot Gris and Riesling, and for the red lovers, Pinot Noir.
The first plantings of Pinot Gris were from vines were imported from Alsace and nurtured by the Vienna-born George Heiss. Further vineyards were established with plantings from the Becker Project. From 1977 to 1985, the Summerland Research Centre partnered with Dr. Helmut Becker of Germany’s Geisenheim Institute to trail grape varieties in test plots in the Central and South Okanagan.
On the East Kelowna Slopes, Tantalus Winery is rolling out its new labels for its 2022 Riesling. Neighbouring wineries in the sub-GI include Kitsch, Priest Creek, Spearhead, Sperling, The View and Vibrant Vines.
The South Mission area of Kelowna is home to South Kelowna Slopes sub-GI and icon wine brands like Summerhill and Cedar Creek, the latter honoured with the coveted ‘Winery of the Year’ title at the 2022 WineAlign National Wine Awards.
Estate grown is a long tradition at Cedar Creek; their 50-acre home block includes cool-climate vines of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling, all originally planted in the1930s. Across this region, vineyards slope to the northwest and west and growing conditions are influenced by the immediate proximity to Okanagan Lake.
Their neighbours, Martin’s Lane, put it so succinctly: “Latitude and altitude synthesize to form something truly unique,” reads their website.
Miles Prodan, president of the Wine Growers British Columbia, welcomes the official recognition of areas that stand out as having unique terroir.
“The introduction of sub-regions of notable sense of place is the natural next step in the evolution of our wine industry, and a win for consumers and wine growers alike,” he said.
Summerland has identified three unique sub-GIs: Summerland Bench Summerland Lakefront and Summerland Valleys. Stay tuned for more from those south slopes.
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