There’s no time like summertime in beautiful British Columbia to explore the wealth of wineries that our magnificent part of the world has to offer. And, with so many wine adventures waiting right outside our back door, there is no excuse not to head out and explore some of Canada’s finest wine tasting experiences.
Whether you opt to take a guided tour or choose to explore on your own, you’ll soon discover why such authoritative sources as Frommer’s, Sherman’s Travel and The New York Times have all raved about the British Columbia wine experience.
B.C. boasts more than 200 wineries and you’ll find a range here that includes small, family-run vineyards on Vancouver Island to well-established estate wineries in the scenic Okanagan Valley – plus an exhilarating mix of others in between. The harvest period, always a special time for a visit, is generally in late September through October.
So, with this in mind, let’s explore B.C.’s astonishingly diverse wine trail – what follows is, of necessity, a personal and highly compressed summary of the possibilities – and see where it leads us.
Vancouver Island: More than 25 small, family-owned wineries are in production here. Small-batch, high-quality reds, whites, and fruit wines are the prime focus.
Thompson Okanagan: This is B.C.’s major wine-producing region. Here you’ll find more than 120 wineries and more than 60 grape varieties. Imagine tasting and purchasing vintages that include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Auxerrois Blanc, Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc, to name but a few. Knowledgeable wine connoisseurs will be impressed at the award winning vintages available here and novices will be awed at the quality of the wines they discover.
The Similkameen Valley: Air Canada’s enRoute magazine (2009) named The Similkameen Valley one of the 5 Best Wine Regions You’ve Never Heard Of. With a perfect climate, this region plays host to numerous vineyards, set against a breathtaking backdrop of rugged mountains. Whether you’re an occasional wine drinker or a wine connoisseur, this is the place to enjoy a world-class wine tasting experience.
Vancouver Coast & Mountains: The Fraser Valley is just a short 100km drive from Vancouver. Get out and explore nearly 30 vineyards and 15 wineries. Some of the best products and award winning labels in the province are yours to sample and purchase. Consider a weekend visit and indulge in a culinary experience to remember at the many restaurants and bistros located throughout the region.
Cariboo Chilcotin Coast: Follow the scenic Coast Mountain Circle Route through the rugged Fraser Canyon and discover the Cariboo’s first winery near the Gold Rush town of Lillooet. This emerging wine region sports the same long growing season and hot, dry summers as BC’s Okanagan Valley. A guarantee of fine wines to come!
Kootenay Rockies: This fledgling wine region near Creston and Trail is mainly focused on producing small-lot premium wines. A beautiful area in the southeastern corner of B.C., the Kootenay region is home to unspoilt rivers, lakes, mineral hot springs, and snow-capped mountains. Although it is a relatively new viticultural area, grapes have been grown here since 1995.
Varieties and VQA: From A for Auxerrois to Z for Zweigelt – B.C. grapes come in many varieties for your drinking pleasure. White wines include Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds range from Gamay to Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot and Pinot Noir.
A note on BC Icewine: Now let’s not forget about dessert! BC Icewine, sought after by aficionados worldwide, is produced here in the most northern region dedicated to grape growing and winemaking in North America. Icewine is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes intentionally left to freeze on the vine. The frozen grapes are typically harvested at temperatures from -8°C to -20°C/18°F to -4°F between November and February – and often the harvest takes place at night by moonlight! Sweet.
Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) designation: The designation VQA guarantees a wine’s appellation of origin and stipulates quality standards have been followed at all stages of production. B.C. VQA means the wine is 100 percent from British Columbia. Such designated wines are available in VQA wine stores throughout the province and at wineries themselves.
Touring About: Many wineries offer tours and nearly all offer tastings. Some even offer accommodations, restaurants and picnic areas. You can generally make onsite purchases all year-round. Check ahead for off-season hours though. Along B.C.’s taste trail you will also discover local market gardens, cheese producers, artisanal products, specialty foods – excellent accompaniments to all those wonderful wines.
A list of popular wineries, along with their locations, directions, opening hours and a brief history is readily available at: http://www.winebc.com or visit http://www.hellobc.com for other helpful tips and information.
Let me leave you with this quote from the great Tony Aspler, one of Canada’s most knowledgeable wine connoisseurs:
‘I am convinced that there is no better way of problem-solving than for the parties to meet over a well-chosen bottle.’
Michael Fahy, The Michael Fahy Group, CIBC Wood Gundy, 604-691-7207.