When people think of wine travel, they commonly have in mind somewhere like Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Tuscany, or maybe even the Rioja valley in Spain. They’re not thinking of the tiny Okanagan Valley in, of all places … Canada.
But those in the know consistently name the Okanagan as among the top five or 10 wine destinations on the planet, and you don’t have to take our word for it.
In 2012 the noted wine and travel writer William Travis chose the Okanagan to top out his list of Top 10 Wine Destinations around the world in Viator magazine. The readers of USA Today consistently put the Okanagan at the top of their annual list, and in the most recent poll the Okanagan placed second after the Alentejo Valley in Portugal. And in 2015 the oenophile’s bible Wine Enthusiast jumped on the bandwagon, naming this region as among the 10 best wine regions to visit.
So, what makes the Okanagan so special? Other wine regions may be larger, but the Okanagan consistently wins the hearts of visitors because of its unparalleled scenery, the intimate and friendly nature of its boutique wineries, the restaurants that consistently punch above their weight, and the wide range of attractions and activities the Okanagan offers. For example, if visiting the Okanagan in the Spring, a traveller could spend one day touring wineries, the next playing golf at one of Canada’s best courses, and the third day cruising the region’s ‘Champagne Powder’ at Big White or Silver Star ski resorts.
The Okanagan is, quite simply, unique among wine regions in that it is also a huge tourist draw for many other things. The area centres on its long, winding lake set between towering hills, and behind them mountains that tower more than a mile above the valley. Big White, for example, is higher than Whistler/Blackcomb!
The Valley runs roughly north to south, and the wine region comprises the area south of Shuswap Lake at the extreme north end, to Osoyoos Lake straddling the US border with Washington State. It’s not a huge area, and can be easily driven in a single day, but it would take weeks to fully explore the diversity and offerings of the Okanagan Valley.
Something else quite unique about the Okanagan is that, despite its small geographic size, it offers an incredibly wide range of wine experiences. The south, around Osoyoos and Oliver, feature big, beefy reds that stand with some of the best wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley. The area around Penticton and Summerland and moving north up to the Central Okanagan produce excellent Merlots and a wide variety of excellent white wines, while in the north, around Lake Country and Vernon the vineyards are best noted for producing excellent Pinot Noir and several varieties of aromatic whites, such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
In short, a trip through this small valley that is easily driven in a single day is like starting in the south of France or Italy, and finishing up in Germany. It is this incredible variety of high quality wines of all descriptions that makes the Okanagan experience so popular among Wine Travellers.
With more than 130 wineries, hundreds of hotels, thousands of restaurants, and a myriad of attractions, jumping into a wine tour of this region can be a bit overwhelming, but that’s where we can help.
Wine Traveller is essentially a complete guidebook to the Okanagan Valley, available free online, constantly updated, and with a comprehensive list of every winery, attraction, hotel or inn, restaurant, and wine related events. If you have limited time, or are looking for a customized vacation around a particular theme (eg. golf and wine, or wine and mountain biking), check out our list of itineraries.
No matter what your interest, in both wine and other activities, Wine Traveller has you covered.