Exploring British Columbia Wine From Vancouver to the Okanagan
British Columbia has some stellar wine, but it’s a secret that few outside the province know about. Because of complex laws, little of the local vino leaves B.C. -- or perhaps it’s just because the locals want to keep it all to themselves.
The calling card of B.C. is its ice wine, which is produced from grapes -- any variety from chardonnay to merlot -- that are left on the vine long into fall or winter until frozen as hard as marbles. The grapes are then pressed while still frozen, leaving a highly concentrated flavor that develops into a world-class dessert-style wine.
B.C. is not simply a dessert wine region. Dozens of microclimates throughout the growing regions of British Columbia mean there’s no shortage of variety in local wine types. In the heart of the province’s wine country, the Okanagan Valley, numerous grapes thrive. Chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris and pinot noir grow in the south, while pinot blanc, Riesling and gewürztraminer are found north in the slightly cooler climates. The best reds are Bordeaux-style blends, and many of the whites stand alone as single-variety wines.
In total, British Columbia produces more than 15 million litres of wine (about 1 million cases) a year. With this much wine being produced in the region, a trip to Vancouver shouldn’t be considered complete without tasting at least a little of the local juice. Vancouver itself is a city that truly supports local products, making it extremely easy to enjoy the local wines. Here’s how:
In the City
The easiest way to enjoy B.C. wine is by simply eating out. Local restaurant menus are filled with VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) wines from throughout Canada, with a majority coming from within the province. Also stop into any number of wine specialty shops, many of which offer afternoon tastings of local wines on a regular basis. The annual Vancouver International Wine Festival each spring is another great place to explore B.C. wine.
There are a handful of wineries, such as LuLu Island, located within a half hour’s drive south near Richmond and New Westminster. These boutique operations often source grapes from the Okanagan Valley and other growing regions, crushing and making whites, reds and ice wines on site at the winery. Vancouver Island is home to more than two dozen vineyards, too. Popular grapes include pinot noir, Ortega, gewürztraminer and several colder-climate grapes. Most Vancouver Island wineries are located on the Saanich Peninsula or in the Cowichan Valley. A unique way to embark on a wine-tasting experience across the Strait of Georgia is by taking a floatplane to Victoria.
A Multi-Day Trip
A majority of the more than 150 B.C. wineries are located in the Okanagan Valley, which means a trip about five hours east into the dry, near-desert region. The valley itself is known for its picturesque wineries overlooking Okanagan Lake and for producing some of the best ice wines in the world plus a variety of other wines covering everything from sparkling to red, white and dessert. Other wine regions include the Similkameen and Fraser valleys to the south of Vancouver, just north the U.S. border.