It would be tough to think of another wine region on the planet that has changed as much as the Okanagan Valley over the past 15 years. When I first visited the area, wineries were few and far between, and the wines that were being crafted seemed a bit out of touch with what the rest of the world was doing. But change has come rapidly to B.C’s wine valley, with new wineries springing up on what feels like a weekly basis.
Although we speak of the valley as one entity, it is made up of several distinct microclimates, each with its own unique characteristics. Some, like Oliver, are hot and sunny, favouring late ripening grapes like Cabernet or Syrah. The majority of the Okanagan’s grapes are planted here and further south, where the hot desert climate can reliably ripen the fruit. But there are those that forgo this reliability in favour of a more moderate climate, where risk of ripening grapes comes with the rewards of added complexity and finesse when the season co-operates. Okanagan Falls, or OK Falls as it is locally known, is one of those regions.
Driving into Ok Falls, you immediately become aware of the dramatic changes to the landscape. Nestled between Vaseux and Skaha lakes, this tiny region packs in more drama than the rest of the valley combined. Jagged, vertical rock faces jut up from the earth, carved here 10,000 years ago by the massive glaciers that eventually formed the surrounding lakes. The quaint town offers few amenities other than its old-town charm, but it’s a nice reprieve from the constant development that inundates the rest of the valley.
What strikes me most is the purity of the place. Everywhere you look you see vineyards and nature coexisting in perfect balance, creating some of the most stunning vistas imaginable. It has attracted a small number of quality-minded producers, hoping to capture its raw beauty in their wines. Just eight wineries call OK Falls home, but the overall quality here is unusually high, and all of them are worth a visit.
• Meyer Family Vineyards — Nineteen acres with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but there is also an interesting Gewurztraminer made here. These wines are a great reflection of the cool climate of OK Falls, showcasing wonderful finesse and delicate flavours.
• See Ya Later Ranch Winery — Located on the Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards overlooking the Okanagan Valley, this picturesque ranch produces solid Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Overall the whites are usually the most consistent.
• Blasted Church — Colourful, creative labels have made them a popular choice in many of Calgary’s wine shops. This small estate winery crafts a verity of wines including Chardonnay Musque, Ehrenfelser, Hatfield’s Fuse, Pinot Blanc, rosé, Lemberger, Merlot, Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon and more. The whites are always a hit and the Pinot Gris is one of the stars of the area.
• Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery — Located on 10 hectares with an east-west ridge bisecting the vineyard, providing southern and northern facing slopes. The southern slopes with greater sun offer ideal growing for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, while the northern slopes grow Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Although it’s made in miniscule quantities, the Pinot Noir can be outstanding and is worth searching out.
• Stag’s Hollow Winery — Established by Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger in 1995, this remains a bit of a hidden gem. They craft several wines here from both estate and purchased fruit, but the Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot are the standouts.
• Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery — The beautiful view from its large patio and onsite shop make this a great stop on your wine tour, and it offers good value Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot.
• Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Ltd. — A family-run winery exclusively using estate-grown grapes. It’s well known internationally for Pinot Noir and also produces fantastic examples of Gamay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Lovers of sparkling wines should not miss this estate’s amazing bubbles. This is the winery that started the quality revolution in the region, planting Pinot Noir when all their neighbours were still working with hybrid grapes.
• Liquidity Wines — This new kid on the block has been producing wines for just three years, and its 2012 vintage will be the first from its brand new facility. Look for the opening of its new bistro and tasting room in Spring 2013. The winery crafts wonderful Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Merlot, with a new Viognier in the works. This promises to be the perfect spot to stop for lunch while you explore the surrounding wineries