September 28th was the first day of the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival which means 160+ wine related events over ten days. I thought it would be appropriate to write about the Okanagan and why it deserves to be internationally recognized as a wine region that can compete with the world’s best. A bold claim I think the Okanagan valley can live up to.
Most Americans are surprised to learn that Canada has a desert. The Okanagan rests within that desert creating mild winters, hot summers and the ideal spot to grow Pinot Noir, among about 59 other grape varieties. There are over 120 wineries and this number grows yearly along with the number of visitors on the verge of discovering this relatively underrated and young wine region (as opposed to say Tuscany or Bordeaux). So if it is so young why and how does it compare with Tuscany and Napa?
Okanagan vs Tuscany
While I was in Tuscany I wanted to spend the day wine tasting at the local wineries but found that they were often far apart making it hard to visit multiple wineries in one or two days. And I get it, the Okanagan may not have the ancient architecture and medieval villages but other than wine the Okanagan is ripe with artists, history and First Nations mythology. For example, the Okanagan Lake is infamous for its lake monster the Ogopogo which is derived from the Okanagan Sylix First Nations mythology.
Wether you’re staying in Naramata, Kelowna or Lake Country you will be able to visit as many wineries as you feel comfortable fitting into your day. Kelowna, for example, has a unique layout with the city feel downtown and just a 10 minute drive up the busy highway of Benvoulin you will reach what feels like the countryside where various wineries are located up on higher ground overlooking both the lake and city. There are also a few wineries along the lake not far from the centre of the city and yet they feel as though they are located within the countryside. However, the Naramata Bench, only a 5-10 minute drive from the Penticton beach, is my favourite spot to taste wine with so many wineries you couldn’t possibly visit them all in one day. What makes Naramata special is that the wineries are often located right next door to each other, or sometimes the next driveway, making Naramata wine country an ideal spot for bike riding from winery to winery or taking a limo for those who prefer a more relaxed way to see the region.
Visitors can stay within Naramata for that small town experience with their towering elm trees and bountiful greenery along the Okanagan Lake. On the other hand, if a Casino, more restaurant options and a busy beach packed with bodies and lined with classic cars (the last weekend of June)then Penticton is for you and can accommodate any budget.
Okanagan vs Napa
The Okanagan wine region is often compared to Napa and is even called the “Napa of the North” but what makes the Okanagan an edge is the Okanagan Lake and various lakes in general. No matter where you stay within the Okanagan there is a lake nearby and in many cases the wineries and hotels are directly on the lake. Okanagan Lake extends north of Vernon all the way south to Penticton. Osoyoos, another popular wine town is located on Osoyoos Lake and borders Washington state.
Pair gorgeous views of lakes and mountains along with world class food and wine and you’ve got a winning wine region worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as Napa and Tuscany. Although, I am very excited to test this theory in Bordeaux and the Champagne region of France next year.