When people think of Canada, they imagine polar bears and never-ending winters. Canada’s west coast, however, is home to a milder, more temperate climate. There’s even a rain forest! The climate not only makes BC a great place to spend your vacation, but it’s created a vibrant wine industry—and vintners have been in on this secret for a while. With 7 wine-growing regions (Okanagan Valley being the most renowned) and 200-plus wineries, a BC wine tour offers an almost overwhelming array of choice for sommeliers of all skill levels. Here’s 10 of our favorite BC wineries to visit this summer.
Go big or go home might as well be Inniskillin’s motto. As Canada’s largest wine producer and original estate winery, Inniskillin offers the biggest selection of vints and operates out of several locations. While the Okanagan vineyard is one of the company’s newer acquisitions, established in 1994, it quickly gained a reputation for producing Inniskillin’s signature icewine. Icewine has become one of Canada’s most recognizable contributions to wine culture, and Inniskillin Okanagan has produced several award-winning vints. Wine tastings are offered at the vineyard, with the first two samples being complimentary; a $3 fee applies if you wish to try some more. Between June and September, there are daily “Discover Icewine” tours through the vineyard and facilities, with five wine tastings and paired foods. Other events also happen at the vineyard throughout the year, so be sure to double-check the schedule before you head out!
9. Blue Moon Estates
Not your average winery! Blue Moon Estates in Courtenay, BC, is focused less on traditional grape wine and more on the delicious beverages to be had by fermenting other fruits. After all, why limit yourself to just part of nature’s bounty? While wine enthusiasts may balk at the idea, a visit to the Blue Moon location might change your mind. The estate farm grows all of the fruits used in the production of Blue Moon’s wines, from apples to pears and everything in between. The winery also offers tours and tastings of farm-fresh wines and ciders, and the farm makes for a great excursion with the kids. Check out the schedule for special events like cooking classes and event dinners. The farm is also host to an art show entitled “A Perfect Pairing” on Sunday afternoons—which doubles as a chance to meet local artists!
8. Wild Goose Vineyards
Some might have thought Alfred Kruger went on a wild goose chase when he first set up shop on a barren piece of land in Okanagan Falls, BC, but 30 years later, Wild Goose Vineyards is still making premium Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Marechal Foch, among other varieties of wine. Opening its doors in June 1990, Wild Goose became BC’s 17th official winery. The over 300 awards under its belt to date helped to build the Okanagan Valley’s reputation as a premier destination for quality wine production. Even with a now-booming industry, Wild Goose’s vints still stand apart, as evidenced by the winery’s VQA standing. The Vineyards’ tasting room is open every day from mid-April until October, with complimentary wine tastings (and fruit juice offered for little ones). An on-site bistro serves up Okanagan-style BBQ with a distinctly German flavor. The winery also plays host to occasional concerts throughout the summer.
CedarCreek is a family-run business at its heart. As one of the original eight wineries in the Okanagan Valley, CedarCreek helped to bolster the reputation of this wine-making region and put BC wines—and Canadian wines more generally—on the map. Since 1987, the winery has released award-winning wines of almost every variety. Today, visiting the winery can help you select which CedarCreek wine you want to add to your collection—or feature during an upcoming dinner event you’re hosting. The Wine Shop has a complimentary daily tasting, and other wines can be tasted for $3 (waived with purchase). From June until September, visitors can enjoy a paired wine tour through the vineyards, with two wines and two canapes, followed by a wine tasting on the patio. Or perhaps you’d like to stick around for the Telus Sunset concert series—and grab dinner at the terrace restaurant beforehand.
6. Heaven’s Gate
What started off as a peach orchard in Summerland has now been transformed into a little slice of heaven—the Heaven’s Gate winery. Since 2011, the winery has been producing handcrafted red, white and rose wines on the family farm. Of particular note is the winery’s signature blend, Revelation—a mix of Malbec, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all made of premium Okanagan-grown grapes. Heaven’s Gate also focuses on the winery’s surroundings, promising plenty of ambiance and romance! The peaceful setting amid some of BC’s most scenic natural spots helped earn Heaven’s Gate its name. Visit the wine shop, in a unique log cabin on the premise, for wine tastings. Since there’s no restaurant on-site, visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic basket of goodies and settle in on the patio to enjoy a breathtaking view of Lake Okanagan—and a lovely bottle of wine, of course.
5. Burrowing Owl
Jim Wyse began planting vineyards in 1993. By 1997, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery was under construction and today, many award-winning Burrowing Owl wines can be found in restaurants and retail shops around the globe. The winery itself, however, is a spectacle. Located in Oliver, BC, near Lake Okanagan, the winery features a restaurant, a bell tower and a serious commitment to nature. Self-guided tours and public group tours are offered, as are private tours. Tastings require a minimum donation of $3 to the Burrowing Owl Society, a conservation charity dedicated to the winery’s namesake, the burrowing owl. Try the San Francisco International Wine Competition 2014 gold medal winners, the 2011 Syrah and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, or pick up a bottle of the All-Canadian double-gold winning 2011 Cabernet Franc. Bring the kids too—they maybe can’t try the wine, but they’ll delight in watching the bluebirds and bats that inhabit the winery.
4. Black Widow Winery
Travel down to Naramata Bench and pay a visit to Black Widow Winery, a small, family-owned operation that focuses on single-vineyard wines. Beginning production in 2006, production averages around 2,200 cases per year now, and the owners personally pour their hand-crafted vints in the Wine Tasting room between 11 am and 5 pm daily during the summer months. Wine club members, check out the half-hour Spider Tour as well; you’ll gain insight into the history of the vineyard and their wine-making techniques, such as the use of gravity in flowing the wine through production. You might also spot the winery’s namesake, the Black Widow spider, hanging out in the vineyard. Afterwards, enjoy a glass of wine on the Hourglass Patio or book a stay at the winery’s on-site bed and breakfast. Check the schedule for special events, such as vertical tastings, before you book your stay.
3. Dirty Laundry Vineyard
If you had to pick 3 words to describe Dirty Laundry Vineyard, located in Summerland, “irreverent,” “fun” and “award-winning” would have to be among the top contenders. From the name to the Bordello House, the vineyard’s on-site hotel for visitors who might imbibe a little too much, to the branding as Okanagan’s best “dirty little secret,” Dirty Laundry dispenses with the idea of a winery as an upscale place above the “commoners.” And with a long list of awards dating back to 2005, that tagline might be more than accurate. From “Say Yes” to “Dangerous Liasons,” the winery has been producing top-notch wine for years now. Tours resumed on June 22, 2015, and on weekends, you’ll find live musical entertainment on one of the property’s patios. With panoramic views overlooking a historic railway, it’s little wonder the winery offers to put guests up—you won’t want to leave!
2. Painted Rock
Honored as “Winery of the Year” at the Intervin International Wine Awards in 2014, Painted Rock has come a long way since its inaugural year in 2005. Once the largest apricot orchard in the British Commonwealth, Painted Rock was overhauled in 2004 and is now counted among BC’s renowned wineries. Starting with five classic Bordeaux grapes and Chardonnay as the white variety (as well as Okanagan favorite Syrah), Painted Rock specializes in red wines, including their signature Red Icon, a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. But don’t take our word for it—head out to the tasting room at the estate winery any time between May and October to enjoy a guided tour through Painted Rock’s oeuvre, starting with their award-winning Chardonnay and finishing with the Red Icon. You’ll also learn about the winery’s vineyards and the processes that are used to make Painted Rock wine!
1. Clos du Soleil
A bit off the beaten path, in the Similkameen Valley, Clos du Soleil is a small, artisanal winery producing ultra-premium wines in the Bordeaux tradition. That means that, despite its size, it is a must visit for any true wine lover. Their wines have been award-winning on both the domestic and international stages for five years running, with the dessert wine Saturn taking home a gold medal from the InterVin awards in 2014. The wine-tasting room is open seven days a week, from 10 am until 5 pm, for the summer of 2015, and booking a tasting is highly recommended. The winery is highly involved in the community as well, both hosting and attending many events throughout the summer, including art shows, boat races and their own annual vertical tasting at the end of the summer. Make a visit to this “vineyard in the sun” a must on your wine tour!