The secret of Canadian wine
eople are giving it all sorts of titles, but there is no real comparison. British Columbia is the Napa of the north and the Canadian Florida. The coastal mountains protect it from moisture from the Pacific, which creates a microclimate with conditions similar to a desert. It doesn’t have Miami’s 20ºC average, but its contrast to the frozen fields in the rest of the country has been enough for people to make the comparison.
The first name has much to do with the climate, since its extreme temperatures have given rise to surprising wines. From ice wines to aromatic Merlots. While the grapes are growing, it gets two more hours of sunlight than in Napa Valley, the Californian wine paradise. And the advantage is that British Columbia is still awaiting discovery.
When the harvest is over, ice wine season begins. They leave the grapes on the vine until temperatures drop to -8ºC, between November and February. The wine goes to the table as a sweet “golden liquid”, ideal for dessert.
The first vines were planted in 1859. Few winemakers were interested in the region, which was too far north for growing grapes. They were wrong. In addition to the 17 wineries found here in the early 90s, a further 200 have climbed on board. Nowadays, they get about a million visitors each year and people are valuing their wines more, particularly the ice wines, which is their expertise. Canada is the largest producer in the world. In 2015, it received 2,100 awards, and even Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, praised the “sensation of purity”. A purity she said imitated the landscape: the fresh air, the water in the lakes, “ethereal and captivating”.
Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley and the Gulf Islands form part of this Canadian wine country, but 90% of the vineyards are in Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, four hours from Vancouver. They occupy the slopes, surrounded by lakes, like Osoyoos and Kelowna. Near the second, the winemaking tradition of British Columbia was born. It is home to the oldest winery, Calona Vineyard, operational since 1932, and a further 29, distributed across five wine routes.
Festivities all year round
In the Okanagan Valley, they celebrate a wine festival every season. Festivals include tastings, awards and plenty of cheese (the best companion to a glass of wine). What is more, in summer, lots of the wineries have outdoor festivals and picnics.
Some of them are panoramic, like the Lakeshore Wine Route, which passes along the shores of lake Okanagan; or focused on a more gourmet experience, like Westside Wine Trail, stopping at Quail’s Gate, experts in pairing their wines with local ingredients. Highlights on the menu include the duck, accompanied by a Pinot Noir, and the Cache Creek beef. The Kelowna Fab Five route encompasses five wineries distributed over five miles. It includes The Vibrant Vine, the only winery with a tasting room decorated with 3D art. It is one of the most active, with live music and open-air musicals in summer.
Besides the concerts at The Vibrant Vine, there are other activities, like yoga, kayaking and hiking through the mountains or vines. In autumn, several wineries let visitors take part in the harvest or even in stomping the grapes, an activity offered by Dirty Laundry Vineyards. Added to all that, you can enjoy paddleboarding, cooking classes and marathons ending with a picnic accompanied by the best regional wines. Canadian wine country is much more than sipping a drink on a terrace with lake views. It has more than enough titles.