British Columbia’s Under-The-Radar Wine Regions

By Marcy Gordon
Forbes Travel Guide Correspondent

Photos Courtesy of British Columbia Wine Institute and Chris Mason Stearns

Photos Courtesy of British Columbia Wine Institute and Chris Mason Stearns

The first thing that may come to mind when you think wine and Canada may be ice wine. But all types of wines are made throughout the country, and British Columbia is emerging as one of the most dynamic provinces — thanks to its natural beauty and top-notch vino. Here are some tips for exploring a few of the best under-the-radar wine regions in British Columbia.

Okanagan Valley

Okanagan’s star is on the rise and it’s developing as a premier destination for wine lovers looking for something new and exceptional in a dynamic lake and mountain setting. Just a short flight from Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley is the largest growing region in British Columbia with 122 licensed wineries in 11 sub-regions. The multiple microclimates favor many grapes, with merlot and pinot gris being the most widely planted. A host of outdoor activities including hiking, kayaking and biking around Lake Okanagan make the area a haven for the active oenophile.

Where to Taste

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Oliver. If you are a cabernet franc fanatic you’re in for a treat at Tinhorn Creek. Grab a glass and take in the valley views as you savor one of the many fine selections in the tasting room including the Oldfield Series 2Bench red and syrah. Self-guided tours are offered daily, and the tasting room is open year-round.

Upper Bench Estate Winery, Penticton. From merlot to zweigelt, Upper Bench is creating wines with finesse that just happen to pair perfectly with cheeses from its onsite micro-creamery. The tasting room is open daily May through October and by appointment the rest of the year.

Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, Okanagan Falls. Blue Mountain may have the distinction of being the most picturesque winery in the area, but the first-rate sparkling wine, pinot noir and chardonnay are the main attractions. The tasting room is open daily from May through mid-October and by appointment during the off-season.

Bottleneck Drive Wine Trail, Summerland. This trail showcases 13 wineries clustered on back roads above Lake Okanagan. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of both the lake and vineyards alike as you make your way from Greata Ranch Vineyards in Peachland down Okanagan Highway to Summerland, where you’ll find wineries such as Saxton Winery, Sonoran Estate Winery, Dirty Laundry Vineyards and Okanagan Crush Pad. All of the vineyards welcome visitors, though some have limited hours during the off-season.

Where to Dine

Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery, Penticton. Located on a ridge above town, Vanilla Pod has a changing menu that highlights the bounty from neighboring farms and ranches. Try the lamb chops with potato gnocchi, or when in season, the sockeye salmon with arancini (fried rice balls), roasted beets, Swiss chard, Okanagan berry and chili pepper coulis — and don’t forget a glass of Poplar Grove pinot gris.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Oliver. Combine stellar panoramic views across the South Okanagan Valley with Mediterranean fare inspired by local ingredients, and you have the secret to Miradora’s success. Stop in for a casual lunch with a glass of wine and one of the Neapolitan-style pizzas. Or indulge in sumptuous dinner selections such as the wild boar bacon carbonara with slow poached egg and Parmesan, or choose from the chef’s grand tasting menu and selected wine pairings (all Tinhorn Creek varietals, of course).

Similkameen Valley

If it weren’t for the vineyards you might mistake the Similkameen Valley for a national park, with the soaring Cathedral Mountains as a backdrop and lush valley dotted with farms and fruit orchards. The Similkameen, located about four hours from Vancouver, has an ideal climate for growing grape varieties such as merlot, gamay noir and chardonnay.

Where to Taste

Orofino, Cawston. Orofino specializes in single vineyard wines and its luscious rieslings are worth the trip. It’s Canada’s only strawbale-constructed winery, and the tasting room also happens to be solar powered. The tasting room is open daily during the season (May through mid-October) and by appointment during the off-season.

Eau Vivre Winery, Cawston. Small lots that yield big flavor are the focus at Eau Vivre. Try the award-winning pinot noir, and don’t miss the Cinq Blanc: a five grape blend of gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, muscat, chardonnay and riesling available only at the tasting room, which is open daily during the season (May through October) and by appointment during the off-season.

Clos du Soleil, Keremeos. Featuring Bordeaux-style wines, Clos du Soleil Winemaker’s Reserve (a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc) is a shining example of what the rocky soils and long sunny days in the Similkameen Valley can yield. The tasting room is open Thursday through Monday and by appointment during the season (May through October).

Where to Dine

The Hitching Post Restaurant, Hedley. It’s the original home of the Hedley Mining and Supply store dating back to 1905. Today, the rugged exterior bellies the comfortable interior where you can enjoy a bottle of Similkameen wine with simple but hearty fare of steaks, burgers and salads.

Fraser Valley

The proximity of Fraser Valley to downtown Richmond and Vancouver (about an hour from both) allows for an easy urban wine escape. Many wineries in the area specialize in fruit wines and visitors will be impressed with the range of flavors and styles produced from locally grown fruit. Also of note here are the Germanic whites such as crisp rieslings and gewürztraminers.

Where to Taste

Lulu Island Winery, Richmond. Lulu Island’s large tasting room offers wine lovers a chance to sample many traditional grape varietals including merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc — but the real draw here are the award-winning ice wines and line of fruit vinos including passion fruit, cranberry and blueberry. Tours are available year-round by appointment.

Where to Dine

Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant, Richmond. Blue Canoe in Richmond’s Stevenson Village hits the spot with a great wine list and inventive dishes composed of fresh-from-the-sea ingredients served in an über-relaxed dockside setting. Order from the selection of fresh seafood (including Pacific sablefish, Qualicum Bay scallops and Arctic char) or, when available, the seasonal spot prawns with mixed melon slaw relish.