British Columbia’s Best Kept Secret. *Spoiler Alert: It’s Wine…

This post has been a long time coming. Having recovered from my epic trip last summer, finding the precious minutes and hours to put pen to paper has been near impossible. But, alas, I continue to jot down my experiences. I’ve played around with my writing style in this post – it’s more of an ‘article’ style. I’m trialling different writing techniques, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

*Spoiler Alert: After spending one of the best days with Mike from Roots & Vines Tours wine tasting around the Okanagan, I can safely say I’ve had the privilege of tasting some of the best wines on the planet. I’d suggest a wine trip to anyone visiting the region – it’s definitely one worthy of the bucket list. Cheers to that!

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Amen to that, Canada!

 

The Brits are well known for our love of quaffing quality wine. In fact, it’s no longer just for connoisseurs, as recent research carried out by the WSTA has revealed wine is officially the nation’s most favourite alcoholic drink, with a whopping 60% of the population now opting for this  alcoholic beverage, over any other.

Hundreds of wine buff’s and holidaymakers alike flock to France, Italy, Australia and more recently Chile and California to indulge in a world of wine, but what if I told you there’s a new player making a bid for a seat amidst winemaking aristocracy? What if I told you Canada, in particular British Columbia, is producing some of the best, award winning New World wines on the globe? You may well think it was the punchline to a practical joke.

The Okanagan region of British Columbia is best know as the fruit bowl of Canada, but the region is now replacing its apple orchards with vines and has begun competing with some of the best known European wine producers. A blend of hybrid grape varieties, unique growing conditions and the infamous Canadian entrepreneurial enthusiasm is beginning to knock France off it’s pedestal.

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Roses are grown alongside the vines, as they are susceptible to the same mildew and so give an early warning of the fungal disease.

Wine production is not necessarily new to the area. A French missionary, Father Pandosy settled in the Okanagan in 1859, planting a small vineyard to produce wines for sacramental purposes. Unfortunately, this small, but thriving industry was eradicated by the prohibition laws in the early 20th century, until the 1980’s when the Canadian government introduced incentives – the Vine Pulling Scheme – paying growers to remove non-vinifera crops and replacing them with vinifera vines. Since then – and particularly over the last 25 years – wineries have been flourishing, bringing with it numerous winning medals from across the pond.

Flanked by the Cascade Mountains and the 125 mile long Okanagan Valley lies Kelowna, the region’s largest city. Situated on the shores of Lake Okanagan, the city and its surrounding area boasts over 30 wineries, showcasing some of the region’s best artisanal wines, ranging from family-run boutique wineries, such as Kalala Organic Estate and Little Straw, to larger, more established masterpieces, such as the Mission Hill Estate. With over 2,200 hours of sunshine annually and fertile, mineral-rich, ancient volcanic soil, the region’s distinctive microclimate unifies a perfect combination of mountains, lakes and fresh air for grape growing, that very few wine regions are able to compete with.

Aside from water sports, wine tours are one of the main attractions in the area. Roots and Vines Tours offer carefully crafted excursions combining numerous wine-tastings, insider knowledge, a local history lesson, sightseeing and (in our case) your very own private chauffeur.

 

Try Something New World

When travelling abroad, the inherent desire to try something new is always bubbling away – it’s the reason we travel in the first place. To experience new food, new activities and new scenery in an effort to take us away from our day-to-day working lives. When visiting Kelowna, you’ll be hard pushed to find our European favourites. The hardy Merlot and Chardonnay will still be on the menu, however our European favourite Rioja, will be a distant memory. It is instead replaced by New World hybrid wines, often with some discrepancy over its pedigree, such as a Marechal Foch – a hearty red ranging from a light easy drinking Beaujolais to a dark, fruity, port-like wine, depending on its blend.

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Even on a hazy day, the view is still stunning from Mission Hill Estate, Kelowna.

The extremely technical and labour intensive Ice Wine is the region’s signature product. Icewine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes naturally frozen whilst still on the vine, thus requiring precise timings governed by strict rules and regulations; the frost covered grapes can only be picked and processed at or below the temperature of -8 degrees. This super sweet, highly concentrated syrup is a risky business and one that is taken very seriously – not only does the weather conditions have to be exact for both picking and processing the wine, sugar and alcohol levels are monitored and signed off by official regulatory wine inspectors (VQA), who visit each Estate to take a precise temperature and compositional readings.

 

Kalala Organic Estate, Kelowna

Although the larger wineries hold impressive architecture, polished service and unbroken views of the lake, the smaller farm-gate enthusiasm is contagious and one really worth supporting. Kalala Organic Estate, an Indian family-run winery established in 2006, is often unbeknown to many inhabitants of Kelowna itself, yet is making a name for itself across the globe, bringing home numerous international awards, including a Gold for its 2012 Chardonnay Icewine in France last March and an Outstanding Silver for their 2011 Merlot Icewine at the International Spirit and Wine Competition in London.

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Kalala Organic Estate

It’s not just their crisp whites that are refreshing. The entire ethos behind the Estate, in which even its name translates to ‘Sacred Place’, truly represents a dream come true – not just for visitors but for the founding family running the Estate. The vines are treated as if children, with passion from start to finish. The estate is completely organic, placing every emphasis on the grape itself. A lot of love, sweat and I’m sure tears have gone into creating a winery that contradict the associated pomposity of wine holidays, giving a rare ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into an industry that is all too established in Europe. Kalala Estate is humbly soaring to great heights and reaping a bountiful harvest of awards from the very home of wine – France.

The traditional, staid wine industry is in the midst of a revamp and New World wines from across the Atlantic are doing just that. Canada is a gift that keeps on giving, with a mix of mountains, lakes, sunshine and now wine proving this cowboy country is producing more than just liquor – and has medals to prove it. The cat is officially out of the bag – British Columbia’s best kept secret is no longer a punchline to a practical joke, but rather, can be enjoyed one sip at a time.

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The ‘Fire and Ice’ statues at Mission Hill Estate, Kelowna…

 

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Just hanging out with Mr Ice.

 

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