An Introduction to Wine in Oliver...
Welcome to Oliver, BC - the Wine Capital of Canada. Yes, we make wine in Canada and the Okanagan Valley is the best place in British Columbia to make wine. It's the second largest wine region in Canada (after the Niagara peninsula in Ontario) and is fast becoming known throughout the wine world as a place to watch.
If you are surprised that there is wine made here, you aren't alone. Quality wine with international varieties hasn't been made for very long in Canada compared with other parts of the world. The modern industry that we have here today is really only around 25 years old and is still very small compared with other, more famous, wine regions in the world. So while you might be familiar with Bordeaux, Burgundy, or the Napa Valley in California, BC maybe not be on your radar because our wines are rarely, if ever, exported outside of Canada. It's hard to find them outside of BC sometimes!
So what should you expect to find here? First of all, the vineyards around Oliver and Osoyoos produce a wide range of grapes that make a wide range of wines. Unlike some regions in the world where vineyards are made up of a small number of varieties (Burgundy's red wine is made into Pinot Noir, and only Pinot Noir - by a law from the 14th Century) the south Okanagan vineyards grow all kinds of different grape varieties. There are so many different micro-climates scattered around the valley that different varieties seem to thrive in different places. You'll find Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc here among many others. It's a place teaming with diversity and that means that there will be a wine out there for you, no matter what style of wine you like.
Visiting the local wineries is easy enough. Most of them are open to the public and have tasting bars in their wine shop where you can sample wines. Some of them have gifts, wine accessories, and other things in their shops which make touring around to the different wineries fun, if only to see what each one offers. If you've never visited a winery before, it can be a bit intimidating but rest assured, you are not the first or only person that may not have tasted wine at a winery before. Wine shop staff (the good ones) are trained to help you enjoy your wine tasting experience and maybe help you learn a little about wine at the same time. You can also learn about yourself in the process as you discover aromas and flavours that attract or repel you.
So what can you expect from this fledgling wine-producing region that produces such small quantities of wine? Well, the Okanagan is far north and is pretty well at the extreme northern edge for viticulture. This means that the wine produced here will have more natural acidity in them. It's complicated, but basically as the growing season here is relatively short compared to other more moderate growing regions around the world, grapes here in BC don't have a lot of time to get fully ripe. Unripe fruit can seem really sour because the sugars and acids aren't in balance. As grapes ripen, they get more sugar and as they get more sugar, the acidity level starts to fall. In hotter grape-growing places like California, there is never any problem getting grapes to have tons of sugar but there is a problem of grapes retaining their acidity. Many hotter wine regions in the world have to add in acidity to their wines because it isn't there naturally. In BC, the style makes use of that natural acidity, which is plentiful because of our northern climate. Visitors to BC who are trying the wines here for the first time often comment on the higher acidity, which makes for very bright flavours but can sometimes make the wines seem sour at first blush. This will pass as your palette adapts to the local style, which will only serve to help you understand your tastes even more.
If you aren't comfortable driving yourself to the local wineries, there are many local tour companies that can drive you around in style. They can also provide some local knowledge and suggest wineries that they think you will enjoy. Some of them have short tours that are extremely affordable and offer a great introduction to the local winery experience. If you are in a group that can't decide who will be the designated drive, a tour company is probably your best option. Drinking and driving laws in BC have become more severe in recent years and road checks are becoming more common. Leaving the driving to someone else also means that you won't have to fumble with maps or apps and just go for a great ride through some of the most gorgeous wine country in Canada and perhaps North America.
So enjoy exploring the wine scene here in the Oliver Osoyoos area. The wine world is quickly learning about the quality of the wines produced here and when they do, you'll be able to say that you got to experience it in person.
Cheers from wine country!
This article was written by our wine writer, Luke Whittall. Luke is passionate about wine and writes and develops podcasts on his website www.winecountrybc.ca
Photo Credit: Luke Whittall, www.winecountrybc.ca