In Search of the great Canadian red

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Kelowna, Canada

I had always been under the impression that Canada could make some amazing white wine but always fell flat on reds. That was until I went to Vancouver last year, after months of drinking great red wine from Chile and Argentina I had some from British Colombia that shocked me because it wasn’t just decent it was really good.

Unfortunately I returned to Toronto and discovered that I couldn’t find any of those wines here because our liquor boards and controlled provincially. Since then it’s always been in the back of my mind to head to British Colombia, which was further fuelled by Lindsay’s post about wineries in the South Okanagan.

I had spoken to the folks in tourism in British Colombia but let’s face it, I’m not the outdoorsy girl who wants to hike and kayak all over the place. I mentioned that I was really interested in wine and wanted to bring an empty suitcase with me the next time I came, they said sure and offered a tour after my trip in Seattle.

Although I’m Canadian I haven’t really seen much of my own country. After snorkeling with beluga whales in Manitoba I’ve really wanted to travel more often in Canada. My country is huge and so diverse.

The Thompson Okanagan region is no different.

I know it’s Canada but it feels very foreign. The West Coast is so different from my small town in Nova Scotia and the metropolis of Toronto.

Technically a desert, the Thompson Okanagan is British Columbia’s oldest, largest, and most popular wine-producing region. I like big bold red wines and so I spend the next few days living the Sideways dream eating and drinking but then I actually learn a thing or two and realize I need to spend more time here.

With more than 120 wineries in the Thomson Okanagan it’s impossible to visit them all. I visited so many but I found that the places I connected with weren’t surprising, it wasn’t about the wine but about the people.

 

Okanagan Crush Pad

Okanagan Crush Pad

I loved the approach by Head Winemaker Michael, who made me feel so comfortable. I learned that the terroir isn’t some fancy term to make the rest of us seem like we weren’t sophisticated enough to understand wine but simply about making the wine a product that reflects the sense of time and place of the Okanagan.

The goal isn’t for wine here to taste like it does in Napa Valley or Europe or even South America. The varietal may be the same but it won’t taste like it does in other regions because the land is different here.

Also with my new professed love of learning about farming this place was incredible. They explained that many vineyards in places like Australia or Napa some of the plants that are 12-15 years old are having issues with the vines because they watered so shallow that the roots didn’t seek more depth in the soil and the plants are so big now they are toppling over.  Here Michael jumps in a hole to show they are withholding water so roots dig deeper and four years from now they won’t water at all because the plants will get it from the soil below which will make for a better tasting wine.

 

Kettle Valley Winery

Kettle Valley Winery

I really liked the approachability of this place. They don’t take themselves too seriously and have a slushy machine with Gewurztraminer – seriously how awesome is that?

Tim and Janet started making wine in their apartment in the early 1980s, eventually they realized they needed to move operations out of their apartment because wine stained their carpet, and they needed to grow their own grapes. They moved to Naramata Bench and have been growing the business for the last 20 years.

While it all was delicious I settled on buying a bottle of fortified wine. I don’t recommend them because of the wine but because of their attitude. I asked Tim if it was wrong to think that Pinot Noir tastes like great wine that someone watered down and he just laughed at me and said there was nothing wrong with thinking that.

 

Stoneboat Vineyards

Stone Boat Vineyards

This is a family operation with Lanny starting it and twin sons Jay and Tim now running different parts of the operations. Honestly you need to meet the family because they make the visit all the better. Like typical siblings, the brothers don’t agree on very much.  It’s amusing to see them banter back and forth as they work for their father. But as much as they fight they agree not to change the land to make something taste like a varietal but to make the wine taste like the land.

Lanny shares two things about his appreciation for the land that I really respect:

1) The wine is a result of 95% Mother Nature and 5% their efforts.

2) All automated things eventually fail. They believe in being hands on.

As much as I loved the story, when I told them I liked big reds they gave me one to try and it was hard to walk out only buying one bottle.

 

Forbidden Fruit Winery

Forbidden Fruit Winery

I’ll be honest, as much of a lush as I am, I really don’t like fruit wine. Even when it’s done well I’d rather have a red. But I really enjoyed my time here as it was another small family-run winery and an organic farm. I would have never discovered this place on my own as it’s on the banks of Similkameen River in Cawston and it is gorgeous.

Kim and Steve bought the land in the early 1980s and I’m not sure if I have ever wanted to call people salt of the earth but their respect for maintaining the land is at the forefront of everything they do.  If you like fruit wine they have won lots of awards but I just couldn’t justify luggage space as I was focused on bringing reds home.

When I left the Okanagan I came away with 5 bottles of fantastic reds and a new appreciation for how Canadians are rethinking wine. I also realized that perhaps I need to give my own province a second look, maybe we do have decent reds here? If not, that’s okay as I need an excuse to visit the Thompson Okanagan again. I only scratched the surface and it was a delicious one.

 

 

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association. They did not request that I write a favourable review; but come on, who wouldn’t have a great time spending three days drinking wine and really a Gewurztraminer slushie is one of the best inventions ever.

 

 

Comments

    • Ayngelina says

      I love the wine regions in Ontario but we don’t seem to be able to produce great reds. That said I have been hearing great things about Prince Edward County and want to visit it soon.

    • Ayngelina says

      Everyone else loved the wine so I’m sure if you like fruit wine it would be a good choice.

      I just like really dry wine, I don’t like ice wine either, which is too bad since Canada makes so much of it.

  1. Jane says

    From my chats with folks during wine tours with visiting family and friends – Nova Scotia doesn’t have the soil or climate to produce the reds you like.

    • Ayngelina says

      You know I did a quick tour of vineyards in the valley last summer and had some great wine there. I can’t remember if they were blends with other countries though.

  2. says

    More evidence that there are good and even great wines produced just about everywhere. Haven’t had much experience with wines from the Canadian west but have had quite a few from Ontario. Niagara pioneer Inniskillin has some terrific proprietary red blends.
    Bob R recently posted..A Thousand Fires in Your Belly

    • Ayngelina says

      Hmm any you recommend in particular? I have also heard good things about Prince Edward County. I would really love to buy local if I can.

    • Ayngelina says

      Lady I don’t know how you do that. We started in the morning and once early afternoon hit I was sleeping in the van.

    • Ayngelina says

      They actually have a lot, tons of Pinot Noir, but you can even find Malbecs here – but I didn’t like Malbec in Buenos Aires and I don’t like it here either!

    • Ayngelina says

      The chickens are just hanging out! They have a bunch of animals on the vineyard, trying to keep the balance of the land. It’s quite funny.

  3. says

    We are so lucky in BC and especially in the development over the years of so many fabulous wineries. I remember that it was not that long ago when there were just a handful. Not now. So much to sample. There are so many awesome reds and I will try out your suggestions, thanks. Burrowing Owl Cabernet remains an absolute favorite. Hard to get though. Best to visit and try it yourself :) Love their antipasta plate, sipping a Cab from their library supply on the balcony overlooking the vineyard.

    • Ayngelina says

      I definitely want to go back again, so many people recommended other wineries and there just wasn’t enough time to get to them all.

    • Ayngelina says

      You must go. I was really impressed with what was available but also it’s really fascinating to hear how people are changing the way they grow grapes and make wine.

    • Ayngelina says

      Wine in British Colombia is more expensive than in the US or even Ontario but I think it’s important to support local businesses.

    • Ayngelina says

      Wine is one of those things that you come to love with practice. I prefer vineyards that are easy going and open I find some are really stuffy and actually one here (that I didn’t mention) I really didn’t like. I made a comment that I really liked Carmenere and they snarked back that it was just a dressed up merlot. Who cares? If I like it leave me alone.

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