Frequented by celebs—think Jason Priestley, The Wallflowers, and Steven Tyler—who want to sip sans signing autographs, western Canada’s wine country is a tasteful affair.
If word of this region has you worried that your cool radar is on the fritz, fear not; this area is a secret that thirsty Canadians keep to themselves. (Most of the wine is consumed domestically rather than shipped around the world.)
Coated in more than 100 miles of vines, the Okanagan’s wineries sit at the edge of the BC desert region, meaning the conditions are perfect for grapes—as well as pairing your most stylish outfit with varietals like Syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, Riesling, and chardonnay.
Once an escape for baby-boomer bon vivants, this region has turned en vogue in recent years thanks to the 20- and 30-something “kids” who have slowly started taking the reins. So where should you sip, shop, stay, and eat in “Napa North”?
When you pull up to Black Hills Estate Winery, you wonder if you’re about to enter a billionaire’s crash pad. Set against a backdrop of billowing green vines, the ultramodern, all-black abode is that beautiful. Fortunately, so are the wines—made with grapes that flourish due to longer summer sunlight hours than in the Napa Valley and cool Canadian nights.
To live the billionaire dream, splurge on the US$250 Nota Bene Double Magnum, the winery’s cult-hit blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc.
A few miles away, perched on an alternate appellation, is one of the region’s newest kids on the block, Young & Wyse. Swing by for a window into Canada’s ever-evolving wine palate. The young tastemakers who started it had longtime links to the biz at Burrowing Owl, one of the region’s most respected wineries, before securing their own set of sloping terraces nearby. Their small-batch and bold wines—which I collect—reflect their old-world experience as well as their passion for new-world techniques.
Find another one of my British Columbia crushes an hour north from Young & Wyse. Painted Rock was once the largest apricot orchard in the British Commonwealth, and its fruity and fertile land was snatched up and replanted by winemakers who produce a bevy of red varieties and chardonnay. While its history and highly acclaimed wine make it one of the area’s most exclusive wineries, the 2013-built, stark-white tasting room only adds to the allure with a design straight out of a James Bond soiree scene.
When you need a break from sipping, browse the indie shops combining Canadian designers and curated finds. Funktional in Kelowna sources unique and unexpected goods such as newsprint-wrapped papier-mâché skulls, socks with a bacon motif, and “foxy” artwork featuring a fox wearing a suit and horn-rimmed glasses. Assuming your suitcase isn’t already filled to the brim with wine, try on a floral jumper or a flowy kimono at blonde, a clothing shop just down the street.
If you want to remain firmly planted in wine country 24-7, many wineries such as Hester Creek Estate Winery have villa suites and guesthouses for in-the-know winos. If you’d prefer to pair your glass of Syrah with a spa, stay at Sparkling Hill Resort, a US$92-million spa hotel financed by the Swarovski crystal dynasty and decorated with 3.5 million of their jewels.
Sparkling Hill Resort
Enjoy the easy, breezy perks of wine-country life atop a picnic blanket at JoieFarm with a glass of the winery’s celebrated rosé and a wood-fired pizza made with locally milled organic flour. And don’t just stay for lunch, spend the entire afternoon learning the art of “lawn partying” with bocce ball, an entire bottle of JoieFarm vino, and ice-cream samples served out of a wagon.
For a more formal delve into the region’s celebrated dining scene, toast the sunset on the south-facing slopes of the Boucherie Mountain Bench at Old Vines Restaurant & Wine Bar. Complete with lake views, ingredients sourced from the region’s abundant pastures, and Quails’ Gate wines, an evening here combining albacore tuna, heirloom tomatoes, and chenin blanc is enough to raise a glass (or five) to British Columbia’s bounty.
What do you love most about escaping to wine country?