As I wind my way through the grape-heavy vines of the sun-dappled Naramata Bench in mid-September, I can’t shake the feeling that I must be in the viticultural heart of France or Italy. Surely not British Columbia in Canada.
But believe it. Travelling through Naramata, one of the richest wine-growing regions in the world, the only thing more arresting than seeing the Okanagan Valley is tasting it. USA Today readers seemed to agree when they named the Okanagan Valley the second best wine region in the world.
My mission for the day: taste as many different wines at as many different wineries as possible.
This is no small feat. Over 860 vineyards cover more than 9,800 acres of land in British Columbia. In Naramata, at the southern-most tip of the Okanagan lake, the rolling hillside vines seem as plentiful and natural as the pines. From where I’m standing the Okanagan Valley betrays nothing of its relatively recent coming of age.
The boutique vintners that have perched themselves along this narrow bench betray their true love, creativity and personal investment through their wines. These qualities, the ones you won’t find in the tasting notes, are what set this wine region apart. A fellow wine taster summed up the experience perfectly: “We want this to be our Groundhog Day.”
Our first wine of the day, La Frenz’s Sémillon, is “a perfect breakfast wine.” Or at least according to Matt, our jovial guide. It comes with a perfect breakfast view from the patio overlooking the Okanagan lake; a view that used to be on the back of the Canadian $100 bill until 1977.
Top picks: 2013 Sémillon; NV Liqueur Muscat (2014)
“You want to go into wine making? You’ll be a laughing stock!”
This is what everyone told the two ex-financiers who launched their namesake winery, Laughing Stock. The playful name captures this couple’s serious but light-hearted approach to wine. Many of Laughing Stock’s bottles feature a ticker-tape label with the price of stocks that were traded on the day the wine was harvested.
Top picks: 2012 Blind Trust Red; 2013 Viognier
One of the nicest aspects of the Naramata Bench, a skinny plateau that runs along the southeastern shore of the Okanagan lake, is that it is so small. A majority of the wineries in this region are boutique outfits, and Lock & Worth is a prime example with a miniature production of just 600 cases per year. It’s an idyllic spot, adjacent to Poplar Grove Cheese, for a wine and cheese tasting followed by a picnic lunch of charcuterie and local produce from Old Meadows Organic Farms.
Top picks: 2012 Square One Cabernet Franc; 2013 Merlot
Owner Luke Smith pours us a tasting of his most popular wine, a Sauvignon Blanc.
“I hate this wine,” he prefaces.
Not what I expect to hear; but Luke’s honest, no-nonsense approach to wine making is refreshing. His point? Wine is subjective. If you hate it, you’re right. If you love it, you’re right. At the heart of it, drinking wine is a personal experience and only you can decide what you enjoy.
Top picks: 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; 2010 Sin Cera
Following their divorce, the husband and wife team behind Poplar Grove wine and cheese went their separate ways; the wife with the cheese and the husband with the wine. Whether or not this has spurred some healthy competition, both Poplar Grove Cheese and Poplar Grove Winery are outstanding examples of the agricultural prowess of this region.
Top picks: Blanc de Noir 2013; Legacy 2009
8th Generation Vineyard
Yes, that’s how long this family has been making wine. The vineyard’s roots go back to 1783 in Germany, so you can be pretty sure they know what they’re doing, especially when it comes to Riesling. This vineyard, even after a whole day of wine tasting, actually surprised me with the quality of their wines. They even managed to serve a sophisticated Prosecco. The day was finished on a brilliant sweet note with an unforgettable ice wine, unusually made from Syrah.
Top picks: Riesling 2013, Syrah Ice Wine 2010
WHEN YOU GO
- Book a tour with Matt and Shannon from Experience Wine Tours for a fully customized and immersive experience you won’t soon forget
- Rent bikes from Myra Canyon Bike Rental to explore the Myra Canyon trestles (the #1 thing to do in Kelowna on TripAdvisor) and soak up some of the most breath-taking views of the valley
- Wobble your way across North America’s longest suspension bridge at Kelowna Mountain Vineyards and Bridges to perch atop the rugged landscape alongside birds of prey
- Take a drive through the valley along the Okanagan lake and try not to fall in love with this part of the world