Okanagan Valley: Canada’s Best Wine Region?

If Canada doesn’t scream wine to anyone, that idea might be forgiven. But if the Okanagan Valley isn’t on your list of wine places to visit, you’re sorely missing the proverbial boat. When one thinks of world-class wine the short list is easy: Names like Napa, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Rioja, Mosel, among others. Canada it seems, is better left to hockey and maple syrup. You might be embarrassed how wrong you can be.

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There are two main wine producing regions to Canada, the East Coast’s Niagara region, and the oft overlooked Okanagan Valley, which abuts Washington State. It’s here, in an unusually fertile valley carved out by glaciers, that a large swath of land is beautifully ripe with a multitude of growing regions, soil compositions and climates. The Okanagan Valley is well known within the borders of Canada as a destination unto itself as part culinary capital, wine region, ski central and golf Mecca. Outside of Canada, and to some degree, outside of the province (state) of British Columbia itself, the area is not the topic of the latest merlot or pinot noir. But the Okanagan has, over the last decade, proven itself to be capable of creating fabulous wines.

The Okanagan, running north to south for nearly 125 miles, is home to about 100 wineries. Many of these are small, family-owned wineries turning out respectable wines. Then there are the major players in Canada; wineries that are heavily invested in the success of the wines produced here. Part of the issue is that the Valley is so large an area that defining a wine as coming from the Okanagan does not do it justice. The central part of the valley is home to Kelowna, the de facto jumping off point to tour the Okanagan.

Top end wineries like Mission Hill, Quail’s Gate, Cedar Creek and Tantalus are leading the renaissance of wines. Mission Hill is, without question, the leading winery in terms of presence. “What Robert Mondavi did for Napa is what Mission Hill is trying to do for the Okanagan,” resident sommelier Jesse Harnden told me on a recent visit. The estate itself, more in common with a compound like the Getty Museum in L.A., is a force to be reckoned with. Though they produce a wide range of wines at this 100,000 case winery, like pinot noir, Riesling and sauvignon blanc, their flagship wines remain Oculus (a Bordeaux blend), Perpetua (a beautifully crafted chardonnay with a floral nose) and Quatrain (a merlot-shiraz blend with a tad bit of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon). While you visit, dining at their award winning Terrace restaurant is a must. Only open May through September chef Matthew Batey’s sumptuous foods are always prepared around winemaker John Simes’ wines. And the views from the estate to the lake are stunning.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.
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