Okanagan Valley: Lakes & Grapes

Picture this: You're sitting under a tree, a small breeze is in the air.  You inhale, and you have this overwhelming feeling of calmness and pure joy.  You're tasting world-class wine with views of rolling vineyards hugged by mountains and kissed by lakes. This is the Okanagan Valley.  

The Okanagan Valley has 10,000 acres planted to grapes, which accounts for approximately 86% of vineyards planted in British Columbia.   

Where red varietals slightly edge out whites varietals in plantings at 53%, the top 5 red varietals grown in the Okanagan Valley are:

  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Syrah

White varietal plantings account for 47% of total plantings, the top 5 white varietals grown in the Okanagan Valley are:

  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc

The Okanagan Valley is 1 of 9 Geographic Indications (called GI for short) and within this GI, there are currently 11 sub-Geographic Indications which are:

  • Golden Mile Bench
  • Okanagan Falls 
  • Naramata Bench
  • Skaha Bench
  • Golden Mile Slopes
  • Summerland Valleys
  • Summerland Lakes
  • Summerland Bench
  • South Kelowna Slopes
  • East Kelowna Slopes
  • Lake Country

What's exciting is that there are currently 1 more sub-GI currently under proposal and in fact, as we evolve as a wine industry, and we learn more about the magnitude of our microterroirs, I believe we could one day have the over 30 sub-GIs in the decades to come!  

We can grow almost any varietal in the Okanagan Valley.  In fact, it seems like we're trying!  You can find Touriga Nacional, Cinsault, Tannat, St Laurent, Malbec, Zinfandel to Zweigelt or, Albarino, Viognier, Rousanne, Sémillon, Marsanne and Muscat if you look hard enough.  

This is a reflection of having such diverse growing conditions in a small, 250km/155mile stretch of valleys from north to south combined with a rain shadow effect, the moderating effect of the lakes and the diversity of the soils left behind from the last ice age approximately 12,000 years ago.  

We're a young and evolving wine industry, which is exciting because by visiting the Okanagan Valley wine country, you become part of our history.  

You'll find small boutique wineries to massive-scale operations and everything in between.  We also have the climate for organic farming and are a leading wine region globally for organically farmed grape growing.   

Weather temperatures can reach 40C/104F during the day, but cool nights allow the grapes here to maintain their freshness and acidity and even though we are the northern reaches of where grapes can grow, during the peak growing season the Okanagan Valley gets nearly two hours more sunlight per day than Napa! 

There's some magic happening here... we are a small and young wine region at the northern reaches of where grapes can grow, and a well deserved spotlight is now starting to shine on the wines of the Okanagan Valley.  

There are almost 300 wineries in British Columbia with the majority in the Okanagan Valley, so how do you choose?  That's what I'm here for, so let's go on a wine adventure!

Jess Hopwood, WSET3 Certified, FWS with a Master in Champagne, SWS, IWS and Certificate of Viticulture, BC Wine Ambassador, Wine Geek and friend

~The word Okanagan roughly translates to "place of water".  The Okanagan Valley was originally inhabited by the Interior Salish peoples, more specifically, the Okanagan (Syilx) peoples.    I would like to acknowledge Farm to Glass Wine Tours visit wineries that are on the traditional territory of the Syilx peoples, the Traditional Territory of the Okanagan Nation.   What is the significance of acknowledging the Indigenous land we stand on?  (Find out here)~

 

Sunset over vineyards at Okanagan Lake in Naramata, BC