As soon as the location for 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, the Okanagan Valley, was officially announced ten months in advance, I registered. To this day, I’m not sure what inspired me to jump at visiting a destination about which I knew nothing, but I am very glad I did. The conference, which began for me in Lake Chelan, WA, took me on an amazing experience into the beautiful Okanagan of British Columbia.
What is the Okanagan?
The Okanagan, or Thompson Okanagan — also called Okanagan Valley or Okanagan Country — is a region in British Columbia, Canada, named as such due to its location in the basins of the Canadian section of the Okanagan River and Okanagan Lake. City centers include Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, and Osoyoos.
It is the warmest region in Canada. Its dry, desert climate, with hot days and cool nights in the spring and summer, is perfect for grape growing. Wine areas include Southern Okanagan (Oliver Osoyoos), Penticton/Summerland (Mid-Okanagan), and Kelowna (Northern Okanagan). The first plantings were in 1859 at Oblate Mission in Kelowna. Calona Vineyards, the first winery, opened in 1931. The approximately 9,900 acres of vineyards in the Okanagan and nearby Similkameen Valley account for 90% of wines produced in British Columbia. There are 121 licensed wineries.
The Okanagan’s wine production in Canada ranks second to the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. The reason many of us are unfamiliar with Okanagan wines is because they are not exported outside of Canada. However, we can travel there and bring back wines at a nominal customs duty per bottle after the first two bottles.
How to Get There
The Okanagan is in British Columbia, a province of Canada, so you need a passport to travel there. You can travel by car/bus, ferry, or air. There are four ports of entry from the United States, three ferry crossings, and three airports: Kelowna (YLW), Kamloops (YKA), and Penticton (YYF). Airlines that serve the region include Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Canadian North, Central Mountain Air, Northwestern Air, United Airlines, and WestJet.
Where to Stay
During my conference, I stayed at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, Convention Centre & Casino in Penticton, BC, which is centrally located between the United States border crossing in Osoyoos to the south and the city of Kelowna to the north. I recommend the property as it has three on-site dining options, in-room dining, gorgeous lakefront views, and accessibility to waterfront and other area activities.
Another option to consider is Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa in Osoyoos. The resort is located in the Southern Okanagan wine valley near the United States border overlooking Lake Osoyoos. We visited the resort for an evening reception of local food and wines.
Suggested Wineries and Wines
I was in the Okanagan for two full days. Since it was a conference, I tasted more wines than visited wineries. However, below are a few recommendations for your consideration. You can find additional suggestions at this link.
CedarCreek Estate Winery was not a winery I visited, but a winery whose 2012 single-vineyard Riesling caught my attention during a live wine blogging session. I described it as, “lemon-lime-citrus, amazing acidity, 2.2 RS. My fav so far!” I was also impressed with their 2010 Pinot Noir, describing it as “raspberry, strawberry, tart cherry, great acidity.”
CedarCreek has been making wine since 1987 and is one of the eight “pioneering” wineries of British Columbia. Their white wines include Chardonnay, Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Viognier. Their red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Meritage (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blend), Pinot Noir, and Syrah. They also make a Rosé of Pinot Noir.
Nk’Mip Cellars is North America’s first Aboriginal-owned and operated winery and was named British Columbia Winery of the Year at the 2012 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. It is located on 1,200 acres of Osoyoos Indian Band land adjacent to its partner, the aforementioned Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa. The winery makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Riesling Icewine, Syrah, and red blends. I enjoyed some of these wines at the evening reception at the resort.
Quail’s Gate was also not a winery I visited, but I tasted two of their wines in the live wine blogging sessions. One was their 2012 Chenin Blanc made with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc: “Honey, citrus, tropical fruits, good acidity, minerality.” The other was their 2009 Pinot Noir: “Nice red berry flavors, good acidity on the finish.”
The estate was purchased in 1956 by Richard Stewart, the son of a longtime Okanagan horticulturist, Richard Stewart, Sr., and the vineyards were planted in 1961. The commercial winery was founded in 1989 by Ben and Ruth Stewart. Their wines include Chardonnay, Chasselas (Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris blend), Chenin Blanc, Gamay Noir (Tawny Port style), Gewürztraminer, Late Harvest Optima, Marechal Foch (both a regular and fortified dessert version), Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Riesling Icewine, and Rosé of Gamay Noir.
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has been making wine in the Southern Okanagan area of Oliver Osoyoos since 1993. The winery makes a variety of wines, including red and white blends, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Kerner Icewine, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Rosé of Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. I had the pleasure of dining at Tinhorn Creek’s restaurant, Miradoro, and meeting winemaker/president/CEO and social media maven Sandra Oldfield (@SandraOldfield) during a conference excursion.
Both the food from Miradoro, a Spanish-themed meal complete with paella and churros, as well as the wines from Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and other Oliver Osoyoos wineries, were fantastic. I was especially enamored with the 2012 Oldfield Series 2Bench Rosé.
As referenced previously, I participated in two live wine blogging sessions (speed tastings) of whites and rosés and reds from the Okanagan. If you click the aforementioned links, you can read my 140-character Twitter mini-reviews. All of the wines I tasted in these two sessions merit consideration when you travel to the Okanagan.
All photos are courtesy of the author.