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The Okanagan Valley

The Okanagan Valley

The Okanagan Valley is located in the Southern Interior region of British Columbia and  extends over 200km north from the US border and includes several lakes, the largest of which is Okanagan Lake at 120km long. The climate varies from north to south but is generally hot, sunny and dry with the south end of the valley situated in desert-like conditions. It’s no surprise that the Okanagan Valley is home to 86% of the provinces vineyard acreage growing a range of red and white varietals. 

Common varieties grown: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Average Daily High Temperature (July): 30C
Average Hours of Sunshine: 2039 / Average Annual Rainfall: 250 mm

Acreage: 5562 / Soil: Deep sand over bedrock, gravelly loamy sands.

In this short stretch of the province, you will find more than half of the grape acreage in British Columbia. So it should come as no surprise that the local chamber of commerce declared the area as the “Wine Capital of Canada.”

If you are looking for a wine-soaked adventure, then the Oliver-Osoyoos region cannot be missed.  Here you’ll find more than 60 wineries and British Columbia’s first official sub-geographical indication (sub-GI), the Golden Mile Bench, recognizing it for its unique climates, soil types and wine styles.

Oliver-Osoyoos is where the majority of the “big reds” are grown – Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot – varieties that need an extended growing season and plenty of sunshine and hot.

And this is Canada’s hot spot – literally. It routinely tops the list as the hottest place in the country during the summer. Average daily highs are in excess of 29 C in July, but temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s are not uncommon.

The most southerly region of the Okanagan is a lush landscape populated by acres upon acres of orchards and vineyards making it a veritable paradise of plenty when it comes to fruit and wine.

Every spring the air is filled with the heady scent of fruit tree blossoms and the rolling terrain is an explosion of colour. Vivid green foliage then covers the panorama and eventually the vines and trees are heavy with the season’s fruits.

From July through October, you’ll find roadside stands offering fresh cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums and apples. And, of course, year round wineries will offer up their own bottled bounties made from the grapes and selected tree fruits harvested each year.

Left to its own, this fruitful landscape would actually produce very little. The Oliver-Osoyoos area is in a desert belt – an extension of the Sonoran stretching up from Mexico. Cacti and rattlesnakes are more at home here and there’s an interpretation centre where visitors can experience Canada’s only desert and explore First Nations culture.

Fertile ground for growing grapes and fruit has been made possible by the use of irrigation, which has given new life to the South Okanagan. The area’s extended days of heat and sunshine has made it possible to grow varieties not previously possible north of the U.S. border.

Osoyoos is the southernmost point in the valley and located on the shores of the warmest lake in Canada.  It’s a border town with easy access to the U.S. for those who want to make a quick trip stateside.

Despite recent development of luxury hotels and residential communities, Osoyoos has managed to retain its small-town charm offering idyllic respite with all the amenities you might desire at your fingertips.  Dining in the area has been elevated in recent years, with a nod toward regional and season cuisine.

Gorgeous beaches and family-friendly options are plentiful in this stunning lakeside community. Awesome hiking and biking trails and backcountry adventures are close at hand. 

Common varieties grown: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer
Average Daily High Temperature July: 29C
Average Hours of Sunshine: 1925
Average Annual Rainfall: 297 mm
Acreage: 703
Soil types: Terraced slopes with clay, sandy loam, gravel

The unassuming communities of Okanagan Falls and Kaleden located south of Penticton are part of an impressive wine growing hub.

In 2018, Okanagan Falls became one of Sub-Geographical Indications in BC under a system that recognizes smaller, more defined pockets with unique grape growing terroirs. It’s a designation to be fiercely proud of.

The first winery opened in 1986 and now about 20 can be found along the region’s winding roads. Most of them are members of the Okanagan Falls Skaha Winery Association, at which Okanagan Falls is the centre, stretching north along the east bench of Skaha Lake, across the water to Kaleden and south over the hills of Vaseux Lake.

The association describes this area as a “unique climatic zone known as a semi-arid steppe, the finale stage of a desert area that extends up from the United States. Along with that comes long warm days and cool nights that retain the acidity in the grapes and helps shape their distinctive character and flavours.”

Many of the wineries have embraced this unique terroir to craft products with individual signatures to critical acclaim. You’ll find organic, biodynamic, rustic and sophisticated wines made here.

The Okanagan Falls and Kaleden area harkens back to a simpler way of living. You won’t find any big box stores here, but if you’re in need of some retail therapy, you’ll be delighted by the eclectic mix of antique stores and craft shops, plus a flea market.

The “falls” themselves don’t actually exist. Originally, twin falls fell from where Skaha Lake empties into the river, however, in the 1950s a series of dams to control flooding were built, reducing the falls into a series of rapids.

Nonetheless, the area is a huge draw for nature lovers as a large selection of wildlife lives in the area, with many unique desert flora and fauna for naturalists to explore. A bird sanctuary is situated at Vaseux Lake just south of the town, complete with an interpretive centre.

 

Common varieties grown: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc

Average Daily High Temperature July: 29C
Average Hours of Sunshine: 1923
Average Annual Rainfall: 299 mm
Acreage: 1232
Soil: Glacial lake sediments components of silts and fine sands

The wine growing regions of Penticton and Naramata tick all the boxes for travellers seeking the convenience of an urban setting with the tranquility of rural life.

Penticton is a city with a small-town feel and is ideally situated between Okanagan and Skaha Lakes, offering up stretches of sandy shoreline and crystal waters. There’s a river channel that winds through the heart of the city and visitors can leisurely float the entire length on tubes and other floatation devices, an activity that has been listed in the book titled, The Great Canadian Bucket List.

The City of Penticton is renowned for its festivals and special events including the Fest of Ale, Peachfest, Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival, Elvis Festival and the Ironman Triathalon. Signature events for the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival are also held here.

Adventure travellers will appreciate that they’re only minutes from Skaha Bluffs, a climber’s paradise that has garnered international recognition.

Just a short drive through the city and around the north side of Okanagan Lake and you’ll find yourself on the Naramata Bench, a pastoral vineyard nirvana with stunning water views.

Here is where you’ll find one of the highest concentrations of wineries in the Okanagan Valley, bearing a unique terroir that has been recognized as one of the Sub-Geographical Indications

The Naramata Bench is a great option for destination day trips and if you don’t mind the occasional hill climb, this is a sensational spot for a winery cycle tour.

Further south on the eastside bench of the Skaha Lake you’ll find another small cluster of wineries. This area is also recognized for its unique terroir by also being identified as a Sub GI.

Common varieties grown: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir
Average Daily High Temperature (July): 27C
Average Hours of Sunshine: 2057
Average Annual Rainfall: 307 mm
Acreage: 508
Soil: Fertile ice age clay and rich volcanic soils.

The communities of Peachland and Summerland don’t just have enticing names, their locations are pretty dreamy as well. Both communities are set along the shores of stunning Okanagan Lake between Kelowna and Penticton with picturesque rolling mountains in the backdrop.

As their names suggest, they are tranquil retreats bathed yearly in ample sunshine. Both offer clean waterfront access to beaches, marine parks and docks as well as walking, hiking and biking trails. And if that isn’t enough to draw visitors, let’s talk about the hospitality and the wines.

Here, wine lovers will find unique pockets of eclectic wineries, some located right off Highway 97, which serves as the main artery, while others are dotted along the hilly landscape. Enthusiasts will be especially drawn to the “Bottleneck Drive” in Summerland, a meandering path leading visitors to more than a dozen quaint wineries, four cideries, and two distilleries. There is literally something for everyone no matter what your poison. And they are all closely grouped, making a cycle tour an appealing option.

This area offers a truly grassroots feel and artistic vibe. Expect to be entertained by local musicians, and enjoy the works of artists and crafters. This is an area rich in creativity.

It’s also a foodie’s paradise, with local producers and restaurateurs embracing the concept of the 100-mile diet – regional cuisine that promotes local, seasonal ingredients.

Common varieties grown: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay
Average Daily High Temperature July: 26-28C
Average Hours of Sunshine: 1949
Average Annual Rainfall: 347 mm
Acreage: 1609
Soil Type: Sandy loam, clay and limestone

The Central Okanagan would be considered the urban hub of the Okanagan Valley with both the most populous city, Kelowna, and the fourth largest, West Kelowna, making up its core.

But don’t be fool by those numbers. The region is also rooted in a rich agricultural history. This is where wine growing got its start.

Father Charles Pandosy is credited with setting up the first vineyards at the Obelate Mission near Kelowna back in 1859. The purpose was to make sacramental wines for his parish.

The first winery opened here in 1932 and back then nobody could predict what was to come. But these humble beginnings served as the catalyst for what is today a mecca for wine enthusiasts locally and globally. The region is home to a growing number of wineries, ranging in size from tiny cottage-style to large-scale by Canadian standards. In addition to wine, several producers also have on site restaurant facilities offering world-class culinary experiences.

The primary grapes grown here today are Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling. There are more than a 1,000 acres of grapes planted, making up about 10 per cent of the total vineyard in the province.

As far as destinations go, the Central Okanagan has it all. The region includes three distinct communities – Kelowna and West Kelowna, separated by William Bennett Bridge at the narrowest point of Okanagan Lake and Lake Country a short drive north of Kelowna. The area offers the scenic wonders of the great outdoors that will appeal to adventurers, with the convenience of an urban setting for those who crave modern conveniences.

It is here you will find miles of sandy beaches hugging the shores of Okanagan Lake that attract families and sun worshipers, as well as hiking and biking trails within minutes of a central core.

There are plenty of options for accommodations, shopping, fine dining, entertainment, arts and cultural activities, historical attractions and much more to be had on both sides of the lake. You’re also just a stone’s throw away from dozens of golf courses, trails and nature preserves, not to mention the ever beckoning lake.

The water is a liquid playground in this area with amenities for waterskiing and boarding, windsurfing, paddle boarding, parasailing, jet-skiing, fishing and more. For those who love boating, there are scores of beaches, coves, and parks to explore that are accessible by watercraft. Maps are available identifying public areas, campsites and buoys in case you want to anchor on the water over night.

The weather is pretty ideal for these sorts of activities. The Central Okanagan averages a high of 1.5C in December and a high of almost 30C in July. Precipitation is quite low, averaging just over 400 mm annually.

On the Kelowna side of the lake, you’ll find Okanagan Mountain Park, the site of the infamous fire that swept down the mountainside in August 2003, torching hundreds of homes, forest and parkland, even destroying many of the popular Myra Canyon railway trestles that were a hit with hikers and had survived Mother Nature’s wrath for more than 80 years.

Now new life has been injected in the park and it is once again a sought-after backcountry area for hiking, biking and camping. The canyon trestles have been restored and once again open for everyone’s outdoor enjoyment.

An interconnected corridor of parks follow Kelowna’s downtown waterfront, perfect for a leisurely sunset stroll after a romantic dinner out.

Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Kelowna, you’ll find Big White Ski Resort, a winter destination renowned for its champagne powder snow and family-friendly vibe. The west side offers skiing as well, with groomed cross-country trails nearby for those with an adventurous spirit.

West Kelowna embraces its agricultural spirit by promoting local growers with its Westside Farm Loop, encouraging visitors and residents to explore area farms, vineyards and nurseries. Just watch for the signs.

For the hardcore wine enthusiasts, there are several clusters of wineries located along the lake off Boucherie Road in West Kelowna and in the southeast part of Kelowna city and on the west facing slopes in Lake Country.

You’ll also find one of the oldest and largest wineries right in downtown Kelowna. In recent years, breweries and distilleries have been making a surge, promising an eclectic experience for the hospitality traveller.

A piece of the wine industry’s vital history still lives on with Father Pandosy’s Mission heritage site in Kelowna, where you’ll find his chapel still standing.

One dazzling attraction in the Central to North Okanagan is Kalamalka Lake, a large body of water on south side of Vernon, stretching down to Lake Country, where calcium carbonate deposits form sparkling crystals that reflect sunlight, creating breathtaking blue colours in the water from deep navy to vivid aquamarine. There are sandy beaches and stunning rock faces plus a 2,420-acre provincial park. It’s paradise for anyone who appreciates nature.

Common Grape Varieties: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Ortega, Pinot Gris, Siegerrebe
Average Daily High Temperature (July): 26C
Average Hours of Sunshine: 2026
Average Annual Rainfall: 333 mm
Soil Type: Gravelly, Sandy loam, limestone and clay

While the South Okanagan can serve up blistering heat in the summer, visitors to the North Okanagan will appreciate a more tempered climate while still offering up long, blissful days of sunshine.

The area is very scenic with gorgeous lakes, mountains, woodlands and grasslands. And there are terrific little pockets of wineries producing highly-acclainmed wines for all palates.

This area is home to a small collection of producers making ciders, meads and grape wines around the Vernon, Enderby, Armstrong and Grindrod areas. Vernon itself is a small city with a strong sense of community. It offers great shopping and dining experiences, as well as nightlife and entertainment. And let’s not forget about the world-class golf, spa and ski experiences that make this area a destination hot-spot.

The City of Vernon is located on the northern tips of Okanagan Lake and Kalamalka Lake, making it a major draw for boating and water sport enthusiasts. But it is also surrounded by mountains and pastoral landscape with a strong connection to ranching and food production. 

One of the products the area is well known for is cheese. There are several artisan cheese makers in the Armstrong, Cherryville and Enderby areas, as well as numerous shops dedicated to serving up fine local cheeses. Armstrong is also the setting for a small and quaint annual cheese festival.

Visitors to the area might consider a combination wine and cheese maker tour that is capped off at the end of the day with a cheese board paired with a glass of fine wine.

Okanagan Valley Hit List - SIP

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