BC Wine Country
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 liquor regulations, little of the local vino leaves B.C….or perhaps it’s just because the locals want to keep it all to themselves.
Probably the best known of B.C.’s wines, especially outside of Canada, is the region’s icewine, 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 until the temperature in the vineyard reaches -10˚C (14˚F) for at least several hours. The grapes are then pressed while still frozen, leaving a highly concentrated flavor that develops into a dessert-style wine.
But British Columbia 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, you’ll find familiar varieties of grapes like chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris and grow in the south, while pinot noir, 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 20 million litres of wine (about 2 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 simply by eating out. Local restaurant menus are filled with BC VQA (British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance) wines from different regions throughout 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 about a 30-minue drive south of downtown Vancouver, 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 icewines on site at the winery. Or head out to the Fraser Valley communities of Langley and Abbotsford, about an hour east of Vancouver. Vancouver Island is home to more than three dozen vineyards, too. Popular grapes include pinot noir, pinot gris and ortega, as well as several colder-climate grapes. For a luxury touch, skip the traffic with a SKY Helicopters Fraser Valley wine tour and you’ll enjoy private tastings, spectacular views, and your very own sommelier guide. 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
Boasting about half of the more than 270 B.C. wineries, the Okanagan Valley a five-hour drive east of Vancouver. Running from the Canada-U.S. border where the landscape is almost desert-like, and continuing north 250 kilometres (155 miles) along a string of glacier-fed lakes, the region is divided into seven distinctive sub-regions, each with very different climates and soil types. Along with producing excellent wines, the wineries along the valley are known for their picturesque surroundings, making them well worth the trip. Other wine regions include the Similkameen Valley to the south-west of the Okanagan, and the Gulf Islands which lie between Vancouver Island and the mainland.