Location: About 50 miles north of San Francisco.
The Okanagan is Canada's more laid-back, younger wine country
Stretching from Shuswap Lake in the north down to the U.S. border, the Okanagan region of British Columbia (sometimes called the Okanagan Valley) is dominated by the approximately 85-mile-long, serpent-shaped Okanagan Lake. One of Canada’s sunniest areas, the fertile basin has long been known as the country’s fruit basket. (If you visit in summer, you can stop at roadside stands to fill up on just-picked apples, cherries and peaches.) Cycling or hiking the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which is part of the province’s longest trail network, is a popular pursuit, as is skiing the deep powder at Big White Ski Resort and boating on the lake. But today, the Okanagan is better known for its wine.
Unlike Napa, few of the Okanagan’s 186 wineries export their wines: Around 90 percent of British Columbian wine is sold within the province. So if you want to drink Okanagan wine, you’ll probably have to go there, and the experience and personal touch make it worth the trip.
“It’s a very welcoming region,” says Laura Kittmer, communications director for Wine Growers British Columbia. “There’s a lot of family-run wineries, so you walk into the tasting room and you’re literally speaking to the winemaker, the owner and the tasting room manager.” Culinary options, including fine dining and taco trucks, are top-notch, too. “What grows together, pairs well together,” Kittmer says.
As a younger wine destination, the Okanagan also still offers a wallet-friendly experience. Tasting fees are typically less than $10 (compared with $58 in Napa, both in U.S. dollars) and are often, though not always, waived with a purchase of a bottle. It’s easy to hit up multiple wineries in a day by following a wine trail or downloading the Wines of BC Explorer app.
Although it’s about 155 miles long, the Okanagan is surprisingly diverse, climate-wise. Travelers typically fly into Kelowna, in the Lake Country subregion, where the province’s oldest continually operating winery, Calona Vineyards, was established in 1932. Wineries here are known for such varietals as riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir. At one of the best, Quails’ Gate, you can visit the lakeside tasting room, have a wine-paired meal at Old Vines Restaurant and sleep it all off at the adjoining guesthouse.
At the valley’s southernmost tip, which is surrounded by a shrub-steppe semidesert and is one of Canada’s hottest spots, conditions are ideal for reds such as syrahs and merlots. Nk’Mip Cellars near Osoyoos Lake is majority-owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band, and it claims to be North America’s first Indigenous-owned and operated winery. Next door, in the Spirit Ridge Resort, the Bear, the Fish, the Root & the Berry serves Indigenous-inspired cuisine, and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre describes the history of the Osoyoos people.
Location: The Okanagan Valley in south-central British Columbia.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC's travel health notice webpage.