You may not know that British Columbia produces some beautiful wines.
Fine wines in Canada?
British Columbia wines once deserved their bad rap.
But since the early 1990s – when growers started replacing native grape vines with quality European varieties – the quality of wine has shot up.
Now there are more than 300 grape wine wineries in British Columbia.
The Okanagan wineries in BC are especially tempting for wine tipplers.
We’ve spent many lazy summer and fall days smelling, sipping and swallowing wines from the Okanagan.
(We’re not into the “spitting” part – who wants to waste good wine!)
The best wine clubs in Canada also include Okanagan wines when focusing on Pacific Northwest shipments.
The Okanagan Valley
Known as “Napa North” (referring to California’s Napa region), British Columbia’s fertile Okanagan Valley is becoming internationally famous for its rolling vineyards and wines.
The Okanagan is a little like the Napa Valley – only with a 60-mile (96-km) swimming and boating lake running down the middle.
And many wineries in the Okanagan have been honored with top awards at international competitions.
In the northern part of the valley, around the main city of Kelowna, cooler-climate Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay varietals flourish.
In the desert-like south end, Cabernet Sauvignons and voluptuous reds take center stage.
Wine tasting in the Okanagan
Wine touring in the Okanagan wine country is popular.
Close to 200 wineries in the Okanagan Valley invite visitors for free tours and tastings; burgundy-colored grape signs on the roads point the way.
And when the grapes are harvested during the annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, the valley is in full swing with special wine dinners and celebrations.
Okanagan Wineries Map
Here’s a map of the 18 best Okanagan wineries covered below.
Best Kelowna wineries
Kelowna (population 218,000) is the largest city in the Okanagan Valley. Nestled in the heart of the Okanagan, it’s a four-hour drive from Vancouver.
We sometimes drive to Kelowna and then branch out from there for our Okanagan wine tastings.
Here are some top wineries in Kelowna to visit:
1) Mission Hill Winery
Mission Hill is undoubtedly western Canada’s showcase winery.
Its 1992 Chardonnay put Canadian wines on the map when it won “Best Chardonnay Worldwide” in a blind taste test at the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, England, in 1994.
The whole Tuscan-like estate is eye-popping – from the rose gardens leading to its massive arched entrance and 12-storey bell tower to the underground cellars and museum-style reception room with a Marc Chagall tapestry.
Its excellent outdoor Terrace Restaurant sources local ingredients.
You’ll want to linger a while – it overlooks rows of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, with the Okanagan Lake in the distance.
The only problem with lunching here is it’s difficult to quit ogling the panoramic vineyard and lake views long enough to focus on ordering.
Should it be grilled bison with a sweet onion and rocket salad or ruby trout with chorizo tart? Or…?
2) Quails’ Gate Estate Winery
Swish and spit in a 3,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art tasting room and wine shop, complete with self-rinsing stainless steel spittoons built into a granite bar.
The lake and vineyard views at the Quails’ Gate winery are gorgeous!
The winery’s Old Vines restaurant is one of the best in Canada.
If on the menu, try the grilled Caesar salad with local wild boar pancetta and crisped quail.
3) Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Summerhill Pyramid Winery is the most unique of the Kelowna wineries.
Its wines are cellared in a giant white pyramid that’s an exact replica of Egypt’s Great Pyramid.
Upon being led inside the inner chamber, lit only by candles, we were told that invisible energy created by the pyramid’s structure enhances the quality of the wines.
We can’t vouch for that, but its sparkling and organic wines are lovely.
And we can vouch for the winery’s lake-view Sunset Bistro, which serves masterful creations like Moroccan lamb tagine and Spanish paella.
South of Kelowna, close to Penticton, you find a bucolic strip of countryside atop sand cliffs hugging Lake Okanagan.
This is the 10-mile Naramata Bench.
Vineyards grow on the slopes, soaking up the hot sun in summer, and the area is sprinkled with almost 40 estate wineries (download the Naramata winery map).
These are our favorite wineries in Naramata:
4) La Frenz Winery
Few wineries can boast a royal claim to fame. But La Frenz Winery can.
The first time we visited, we learned that its Chardonnay and Merlot were chosen for Queen Elizabeth II’s gala dinner during her 2005 royal visit to Canada.
On our latest visit, we were impressed with its sophisticated new glass-and-timber tasting room and shop, offering comfortable sit-down tastings at several wrought iron tables and chairs outside on a terrace.
And the view? Well, let’s just say that the view of Okanagan Lake from the terrace graced Canada’s $100 bill from 1954 to 1975.
We were each served a flight of wines in glasses presented on a board, along with a list of the tasting notes.
We’d also been told the port was excellent, so we tried La Frenz’s tawny and vintage-style ports as well.
La Frenz had pretty well sold all of its wines for the season on our latest visit. But we were able to walk out with a bottle of its Riesling Clone 21B and a couple of lovely ports.
As a top-tier winery, La Frenz is popular. To avoid disappointment, you should make an appointment for your tasting.
The aromatic Noble Blend (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Auxerrois and Muscat) put their name on the wine map.
Now, more than 15 years after JoieFarm Winery started making their award-winning wines, the winery continues to impress with each vintage they produce.
While you can do a tasting inside their bright red shop, we preferred to take ours outside standing around a built-in concrete bar table.
Joie is one of the prettiest places for a wine tasting in Naramata.
Huge galvanized steel vats serve as planters for lavender and other plants, attracting buzzing bees our planet needs.
While waiting for your 45-minute reserved tasting slot, you can relax at a lime green picnic table under an umbrella on the lawn and gaze out at the lake.
We were familiar with Joie’s Noble Blend and Rosé – which we sampled again at Joie. And we tasted their Brut, Muscat, crisp un-oaked Chardonnay and other wines.
The big hit?
Their slightly oaked, buttery, old vine 2018 En Famille Reserve Chardonnay – we swooned over it, and this is the one we took home with us.
6) Daydreamer Wines
High up on the Naramata Bench, with splendid views of the lake below, sits Daydreamer Wines.
Owner and wine maker Marcus Ansems is a Master of Wine, one of only ten MWs in Canada.
His small family-run winery produces some delicious Viognier, Riesling and Pinot Gris wines, along with award-winning Syrah and Pinot Noir varieties.
Tastings are by appointment at Daydreamer’s wine “shack” – a colorful garage with skylights, decorated with a SUP board hanging on the wall.
And what fun our tasting was!
While we were standing up at the wooden bar inside the shack, two cute babydoll sheep padded in through the open doors, accompanied by Ansems’ young daughter.
After nuzzling us with their woolly heads (saying “pet me!”), the sheep proceeded to pee on the concrete floor, then ran about and broke a couple of bottles of wine stacked in the shelves.
Unfazed, our wine guide asked if we’d like to continue the tasting outside on the lawn at a picnic table, shaded by an umbrella. He left us to sip and enjoy the view, while he shooed the sheep away and cleaned up.
Now, we can’t guarantee your tasting will be as entertaining!
When we returned the next day to buy more wine, we were told the sheep were out in the vineyard, doing their job grazing on weeds.
And the bicyclists and other wine lovers on the lawn were receiving very civilized (if less amusing) tastings.
7) Lake Breeze Vineyards
Lake Breeze Vineyards is known for their clean and fruit-forward wines.
We love their outdoor Patio restaurant – a delightful garden spot for lunch.
Enjoy a glass of the winery’s Pinot Gris while lunching on warm scallop salad or grilled swordfish with lime and cilantro corn.
8) Terravista Vineyards
This small-lot specialty winery was founded by the same Okanagan wine pioneers who started Black Hills Estate Winery in Osoyoos (covered below in #13).
After selling Black Hills, they started Terravista as a passion project to focus on Spanish and Portuguese white varietals.
There’s only room for two or so tables outside the modern winery-cum-commercial building.
And our tasting experience was very pleasant and low-key, where we were made to feel part of the working operation, surrounded by machinery.
The family dog came by wanting to be petted, and we watched with amusement as a truck painstakingly maneuvered its way into the small dirt yard to deliver a large vat.
Our hostess, however, was extremely knowledgeable and charming.
Don’t try and choose which whites to buy here.
Get all of them – the Albarino (with a light melon, citrus and pear juiciness), the Verdejo (perhaps the only Verdejo in Canada), the Fandango (a blend of Albarino and Verdejo – the only wine in Canada made from these grapes), the Figaro (Roussanne and Viognier) and the Viognier.
9) Hillside Winery
One of the best Okanagan wineries to visit for a tasting is Hillside Winery.
It’s lovely to sit outside at a private table nestled in the flower gardens while looking out over rolling vineyards and Okanagan Lake below.
Hillside is one of the bigger Naramata wineries, with a multi-storey wooden building, complete with a 72-foot (22-meter) high tower.
The tower is a definite conversation piece.
Ask about it, and you’ll learn that it serves as a natural ventilation shaft to keep the wine cellar below cool in the hot summer months.
We fell for the floral-and-spice Muscat Ottonel – and we can’t wait to pair this unique white with Indian food or Thai take-out. It should make a perfect partner!
Hillside’s Gewurztraminer is another highly recommended pick.
Oliver and Osoyoos wineries
South of Naramata, you reach the towns of Oliver, then Osoyoos.
Osoyoos is in the very southernmost part of the Okanagan Valley, just north of the U.S. border. This area is the hottest and driest part of Canada, and its landscape is perfect for growing grapes.
We’ve rented bicycles and pedaled along the area’s narrow roads, stopping to taste wines along the way – loads of fun!
The following are among our favorite wineries in Osoyoos and Oliver:
10) Pentage Winery
This boutique Okanagan winery produces small-lot, world-class wines.
It offers wine tastings and tours (which include tours of their 5,000 sq. ft. natural rock wine cellar) by reservation.
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on any Pentage wine, grab it!
11) Black Sage Vineyard
Black Sage wines are a premium brand in the Sumac Ridge Estate Winery collection.
Their wines include a rich, aromatic, bold Cabernet Sauvignon from 20-year old vines (our favorite), a cherry-and-blackberry spiced Cabernet Franc and a luscious Merlot. Delectable!
Tastings are done at the Sumac Ridge winery.
12) Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
One of the best wineries in the Okanagan Valley, Burrowing Owl makes only premium quality wines. We love its Pinot Gris; the Meritage is its flagship red.
Burrowing Owl also boasts a fine-dining restaurant and lovely guest house with 11 rooms and a huge outdoor swimming pool.
13) Black Hills Estate Winery
Rich, luscious and complex, the Nota Bene is one of the best red blends among Okanagan wines.
Of course, Black Hills makes other wines too, specializing in flavorful Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.
When it’s warm outside, you can do wine tastings in your own cabana around the pool. But the glass-walled “wine experience center” is open year-round, so indoor tastings are available too.
5 Other top Okanagan wineries
It was quite difficult narrowing down our list of best wineries in the Okanagan for this post. We tried! The following wineries are also excellent, and so we just have to mention them too:
Blue Mountain (Okanagan Falls) – While perhaps better known for their great sparkling wines, Blue Mountain also makes an excellent Pinot Noir.
Gray Monk Estate Winery (Kelowna) – Gray Monk is one of the oldest wineries in the Okanagan, known for their Pinot Gris.
Le Vieux Pin (Oliver) – Le Vieux Pin is a leader in producing Syrah wines.
Painted Rock Estate Winery (Penticton) – Painted Rock is dedicated to producing ultra-premium Okanagan wines, including its signature Bordeaux blend.
Poplar Grove Winery (Naramata) – Poplar Grove is known for making a delicious Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc plus red Bordeaux blends.
When and how to explore Okanagan Valley wine country
The wineries in Okanagan Valley are generally open from April until October, seven days a week. Several (like Mission Hill Family Estate Winery) are open year-round.
Check with the winery for wine tasting hours and to book a tasting reservation (if needed).
Opening hours for tastings are typically 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Most wineries have a tasting fee, which is applied to your purchase if you buy a bottle of wine (or two). The cost varies from $5 to $20 for the premium Okanagan wineries.
How to get to the Okanagan Valley
The easiest way to explore the Okanagan Valley is by car. And the drive to get there from Vancouver (the closest major city) is extremely scenic! Here are some common distances:
Vancouver to Kelowna – 242 miles (389 km) via the Coquihalla Highway
Vancouver to Penticton – 258 miles (416 km) via the Coquihalla Highway, or 246 miles (396 km), via Highway 3 through Manning Park (we prefer this second alternative route)
Vancouver to Osoyoos – 247 miles (397 km) via Highway 3 through Manning Park
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Photo credits: 2, 6, 9, 10, 13, 16 to 22, 35 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 5 Pentage |15 Naramata Bench Wineries Association |Other Okanagan winery photos courtesy the respective wineries