Adventures in Western Canada Wine Country

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Vine-finding and wine-tasting in Canada’s only desert

Most travelers don’t typically associate Canada with wine. Ice wine, maybe. But not red wine. Or white wine. The kind you have with dinner. Yet, Canada’s wine industry, spanning coast to coast, draws upward of 3 million visitors to its vines every year. And between these visitors (such as moi) and domestic consumption (moi again), most of Canada’s grapes are crushed and consumed within the confines of the country, making it one of the North’s best-bottled secrets.

With a bevy of wine regions including Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula and lesser-known appellations in Quebec and Nova Scotia, Western Canada (specifically, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley), has earned the name “Napa North” for its beauty, production—it is Canada’s second-largest wine region—and unique location.

Believe it or not, this wine-producing Mecca is situated at the northernmost end of the Sonora Desert (Canada’s only desert) making the sloping terroir and weather ideal for turning varietals such as Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and Chardonnay into full-bodied, cult-following wines.

Pair the Okanagan’s more than 100 miles of grape-covered hills with a series of lakes, orchards, and intimate winery inns, and Western Canada’s major wine region—a four-hour drive or a 25-minute flight from Vancouver—is the exemplary bench to sip and savor Canada’s 90-point nectar. Here are my picks for the best places to sip and stay in the region.

Viewfinder Tip: Visit the Okanagan Valley’s wineries from late Spring through mid-Fall for no-appointment tastings, seasonal dining, and great weather.

South Okanagan

Stretching across Oliver and Osoyoos, the South Okanagan is Canada’s most prolific wine turf. First, Oliver is home to the largest concentration of wineries in Canada, earning bragging rights as “the wine capital of Canada.” Second, most Osoyoos wineries, including Nk’Mip Cellars—Canada’s first Aboriginal-owned and operated winery—overlook Osoyoos Lake, the warmest lake in the country.

Sip: Young & Wyse for a bold and cheeky lens into Canada’s wine palate; Church & State Wines for a modern, award-winning take on multiregion wine production (they also grow grapes on Vancouver Island); Rustico Farm and Cellars for lighthearted sipping courtesy of Bruce Fuller, the winery’s proprietor, who quipped he “couldn’t even grow a geranium” when he bought the land.

Black Hills Estate Winery, in the South Okanagan Valley

Stay: The Villa at Hester Creek, a collection of six Mediterranean-style suites perched above Hester Creek Estate Winery’s cascading and award-winning vines.

Mid-Okanagan

Meandering from the base of the 90-mile-long Okanagan Lake to Peachland, vine-heavy regions such as Penticton, Summerland, and Naramata populate this high-taste region. One of my favorite ways to explore is by bike (sip chardonnay, cycle, burn calories, repeat) along the Kettle Valley Trail, an abandoned railway converted into a cycling path, which crisscrosses the Naramata Bench.

Sip: Hillside Winery for its near-spiritual ode to wine (the facility is reminiscent of a medieval church); Laughing Stock Vineyards for its standout sips and financial wordplay on winemaking; Therapy Vineyards for being a bon vivant (and much cheaper) alternative to seeing a shrink.

Stay: The Guesthouse at Therapy Vineyards, a wood beam- and glass-built, five-room abode equipped with separate entries, daily breakfast, and a hot tub overlooking Okanagan Lake. 

 

Vines cascading from land to lake in B.C. wine country

North Okanagan

Hugging the upper half of Okanagan Lake, the North Okanagan’s vineyards are some of the most well-known and largest-producing wineries in Western Canada, some so big, they host summer concert series featuring world-class musicians such as the Gypsy Kings, LeeAnn Rimes, and Chris Botti. Coupled with a vacation culture centered around the lake—houseboats, waterskiing, wake boarding, and stand-up paddling rule the waterfront—this is the Okanagan’s most lively region for wine tasting.

Sip: Mission Hill Winery, named “the centrepiece of the Canadian wine tourism industry” by Travel + Leisure Magazine; Gray Monk Estate Winery, for its award-winning wines and all-in-the-family approach to winemaking; Quails’ Gate, for its volcano-rich soil and one of the best lake vistas in the Valley.

Stay: Sparkling Hill Resort, a CAN$122-million spa hotel financed by the Swarovski Family and adorned with 3.5 million crystals—Swarovski, of course!

What’s your go-to wine region and why?

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Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.

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