Creativecommons.org/ Jérôme Decq
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is the northernmost wine region in the world. It runs just over 200 kilometres along a series of lakes from Armstrong in BC to the Washington border. The vineyards are set against beautiful lake backdrops and the wineries produce everything from robust reds to subtle ice wines. Each winery is unique in its own way and offers vintages to match their distinct style. Looking to tour some of these fabulous British Columbia wineries? Here are our top five picks.
Thornhaven Estates Winery
Thornhaven Estates is a small, intimate winery in Summerland. Visitors to Thornhaven are welcome to tour the vineyard and enjoy their wine in a private setting without the crowds that accompany some of the bigger wineries in BC. This Summerland winery offers complimentary wine tastings paired with an assortment of cheese, deli meats and baguettes, all available for purchase, to those that tour in a Santa Fe-style courtyard bathed in Okanagan summer sun. Every vintage sampled from Thornhaven is sure to please and pairs well with the beautiful rolling hills of Little Giant's Head Mountain and Okanagan Lake, which serve as a backdrop to the vineyard. Thornhaven Estates produce several wines including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer as well as several unique blends.
Cedar Creek Estate Winery
A visit to Cedar Creek Estate is considered to be one of the ultimate winery experiences in Canada. While that is a bold boast, it doesn't seem so far-fetched once wine lovers pay them a visit. The winery is situated high on a hill that overlooks their large stretch of vineyards, as well provides panoramic views of beautiful gardens, a lake and the immaculate grounds. Their motto is “Respect the land, honour tradition, pursue perfection," and this is demonstrated in their craft. It is this dedication that has caused the winery to be showered in accolades and international acclaim, including being named Canada's Winery of the Year twice. The wines at Cedar Creek cover a wide variety with eclectic tasting notes. The winery regularly produces region staples like Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, but it also hosts a number of wines not often found in the Okanagan Valley, like Ehrenfelser and Rosé. Wine enthusiasts and critics alike are invited to enjoy complimentary wine tastings, tour the grounds and facilities or enjoy an organic locally-sourced meal at their Vineyard Terrace Restaurant, with plenty of wine to pair with their meal.
Mission Hill Family Estate
Creativecommons.org/ Marcin Chady
Located in west Kelowna in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, the Mission Hill Family Estate is one of the finest wineries in Canada. If there is one thing that owner Anthony von Mandl has a passion for besides making fine wine, it is making his winery a special place where visitors can enjoy them. Their winery provides a modern take on old-world architecture and is set on a hill overlooking Okanagan Lake. The vineyard occasionally hosts Shakespeare in their own personal amphitheatre and visitors can enjoy a dinner at their terrace restaurants under a vibrant Chagall tapestry. Of course, the setting can't quite match the splendour of their wine, but it's competitive. Mission Hill owns five different vineyards around the Kelowna area and uses all of their grapes to create a number of fine vintages and blends. When visiting the Mission Hill Estate, visitors will be overlooking their Winery Hill vineyard that produces their stunning Riesling and Pinot Noir, but they also stock Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah among many others. Essentially, Mission Hill has any wine variety that the palate desires – as well as a few it never knew it wanted.
Quails' Gate Estate Winery
Quails’ Gate is owned and operated by the Stewart family, which has been farming in the Okanagan Valley since 1908. The family’s strong connection to the land is the basis for its commitment to sustainable viticulture and winemaking. Quails’ Gate winery opened in 1989, and is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014. Over the years the winery has earned a sterling reputation for crafting premium wines. While the winery’s Pinot Noir and Merlot are crowd-pleasers, its whites, including Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay, are particularly noteworthy: they feature a wide range of tropical fruit notes and have a light and zesty character that’s treat for the palate. The estate has become a destination for food and wine lovers from around the world who enjoy vineyard and cellar tours as well as award-winning cuisine at the winery’s restaurant, Old Vines.
8th Generation Vineyard
As the name of this Summerland winery suggests, the 8th Generation Vineyard has been using the same traditions and practices of the Schales family for eight generations to produce their wonderful VQA-designated estate wines. Today, this vineyard is under the helm of 8th generation winemaker Bernd Schales and his wife Stefanie, who is a 10th generation winegrower. This combined experience has served to only enrich their wines. The winery produces a number of different wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah (including s a lovely Syrah Ice Wine), however their whole collection of different Riesling vintages prove to be their most popular. Visitors are welcomed for tours during the summer time and again when the winery opens during the holiday season. Their numerous vintages and beautiful vineyards are always a treat for wine aficionados. However, with Bernd and Stefanie Schales instilling the pride and honour of their craft into their children, one has to wonder if the 8th Generation Vineyard will soon be changed to the 9th Generation.