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.
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.
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.
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.
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.