You may not know that British Columbia produces some beautiful wines.
Fine wines in Canada? Yes. It’s true!
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 wineries in British Columbia.
The Okanagan wineries in BC are especially tempting for wine tipplers – and we’ve spent many lazy summer and fall days smelling, sipping and swallowing their wines. (We’re not into the “spitting” part – who wants to waste good wine!)
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 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, while in the desert-like south end, Cabernet Sauvignons and voluptuous reds take center stage.
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 best Okanagan wineries covered below.
Best Kelowna wineries
Kelowna (population 218,000) is nestled in the heart of the Okanagan, a four-hour drive from Vancouver. We usually drive to Kelowna and then branch out from there for our Okanagan wine tastings.
Here are some top wineries in Kelowna to visit:
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?
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. And 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.
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, you find a bucolic strip of countryside hugging Lake Okanagan, the 10-mile Naramata Bench. It’s sprinkled with some 30 estate wineries.
Check out these Naramata wineries:
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.
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!
La Frenz Winery:
Up the road at the tiny La Frenz winery, we learned that its Chardonnay and Merlot were chosen for Queen Elizabeth’s gala dinner during her 2005 royal visit to Canada.
Osoyoos is in the very southernmost part of the Okanagan Valley, just north of the U.S. border. It’s 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!
These two are among our favorite wineries in Osoyoos:
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. Exceedingly drinkable!
Tastings are done at the Sumac Ridge winery.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery:
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.
When 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 make a tour reservation (if needed).
Most wineries have a small tasting fee, which is applied to your purchase if you buy a bottle of wine (or two).
Photo credits: 2, 3, 8, 9 and 12 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Other Okanagan winery photos courtesy the respective wineries