Okanagan Valley: Canada’s Best Wine Region?

Quail’s Gate, literally a stones throw from Mission Hill succeeds with pinot noir, pinot gris and old vine Foch, a 44 year-old planting that is currently producing a beautiful wine, in spite of it being something of a dinosaur. Rollingdale Winery crafts stunning ice wines from pinot gris and pinot noir inside their unglamorous Quonset hut style facility. Vintner Steve Dale and winemaker Joe Slykerman also produce some excellent varietally correct merlot.

Across the lake Tantalus is raising the quality bar by dedicating their production solely to Riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. Using some Spätburgunder and Dijon clones, Tantalus wines defiantly take on an old world sensibility.

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Cedar Creek is another winery that is raising the bar. In fact, standing on the banks at Cedar Creek, you look across the lake and can clearly see the gentle sloping vineyards at Quail’s Gate. American Tom DiBello is the winemaker at Cedar Creek and he utilizes 37 different soil types to produce 65,000 cases of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet and pinot gris. Tom is also coming out with a 100 percent malbec we barrel-tasted which he’s designed to support the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the influx of people who will inevitably show up.

The Okanagan is historically short on the growing season, but long on sunlight. It’s not uncommon for days to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks, but also have bitter frost and snow in the winter. Being so far north the sun rises up 5 a.m., and routinely it stays light until 9 p.m. Though the area is becoming dedicated to Burgundy varietals, there are a host of the odd heirlooms like Foch, Ehrenfelser, Sylvaner, Auxerrois and Lemberger. What you don’t find as much are the Rhone varieties. What you will find are exceptional wines, not routinely available in the States, let alone Europe.

Getting your hands on these wines is difficult as many wineries do not have distribution even outside the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta Therefore a trip to the area is a must. Many locals describe this area as “undiscovered,” and they are exactly right. Canadians know about the Okanagan but few outside of the country do. That’s enough of a reason right there to visit and sample excellent hard to get wines. It’s a great opportunity to be ahead of the curve.

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.