It's Always Wine O'Clock in this Underrated Corner of Canada
The Okanagan Valley ranks among the most beautiful wine regions in North America, yet it remains relatively unfamiliar to U.S. travelers. (Chalk that up to some frustrating trade barriers that make Canadian wine a non-player in the U.S. market.) Talk to locals, though — as well as Vancouver residents, who are an hour-long flight away — and they know what they've got: more than 8,000 acres of picturesque vineyards surrounding spectacular Lake Okanagan, a serpentine body of water that twists through low mountains for 80 miles in southern British Columbia.
The region's climate is surprisingly varied, creating hospitable conditions for a wide array of grapes. That's partly due to the sheer length of the lake; "The southern part of the Okanagan is hotter than Napa Valley," Canadian wine expert Kurtis Kolt says. "In the north, it's much cooler. You've got bears. They come down in the middle of the night and gorge on grapes. Call it true Canadian-style wine growing."
Those marauding bears have yet to make it inside any of the 170-plus tasting rooms that dot the region, however. In the north, stop by top producers such as Tantalus Vineyards (tastings $4 per person), for subtly aromatic Rieslings, and Mission Hill Family Estate (missionhillwinery.com; tastings $15 per person), for expressive Chardonnays. Then head south along the lake to try warmer-climate reds, which are the focus of both the irreverent up-and-comer Church & State Wines (tastings $7 per person) and the regional leader Black Hills Estate Winery (tastings $10 per person), which occupies an airy, glass-walled space with sweeping views of the valley.
Kolt also points out the bounty of local produce: fresh seafood from the nearby Pacific as well as Lake Okanagan, picture-postcard orchards laden with apricots in the summer and apples in the fall, artisanal cheese producers and cideries, and restaurants that take advantage of all that grows in the Okanagan. Add in activities like sailing; kayaking; biking along winding, vine-bordered back roads; and stargazing in the clear northern night, and it's shocking that more Americans aren't crossing the border.