One of the premier wine regions in all of Canada, the Okanagan Valley runs roughly between Kelowna and Osoyoos (British Columbia) along highway 97. With over 200 vineyards, the Okanagan makes the perfect place to spend a few days (or a few weeks) wine touring and indulging in some Canadian wine. There is a lot of diversity in the varietals and growing conditions in the valley, with the best reds typically found in the Southern Okanagan, and more cool climate whites in the North.
The Okanagan wineries range from small, family-run vineyards to high-end estates with glamourous tasting rooms and everything in between. The region has one of the highest numbers of vineyards in Canada and produces about 80% of the province’s wine. Tourism is big in the area, with numerous spectacular lakes, beaches, golf courses, outdoor activities and festivals, most of which are busiest in the summer months between June and September.
If this is your first-time wine touring in the Okanagan, you will likely want to base yourself in one of the main areas, and then explore from there. There is an airport in both Kelowna and Penticton, and both have a wide range of accommodation options. Here is how the main regions of the Okanagan breakdown, and some winery highlights.
The main wine areas of the Okanagan are:
Kelowna & Lake Country
At the northern end of the Okanagan Valley, is the Kelowna & Lake Country sub-region, surrounding Kelowna, the largest city in the Okanagan. With a population of about 100,000, Kelowna is the main hub for most tourism in the area, with an international airport, reports, hotels, fine dining and easy access to amenities. Most people start their wine touring here, with a rental car or wine tour agency.
Begin by heading east of the city and down the edge of the Okanagan Lake, where some of the most luxurious tasting rooms area. In this area of the Okanagan, cool-climate white wine varietals stand out, and here are some popular wineries that you should consider visiting:
Sperling Vineyards was my first stop East of Kelowna, and a very enjoyable one. The staff were friendly, entertaining and there were a wide variety of wines available for tasking. In particular, I enjoyed their Old Vine Foch, which is a red I don’t see often in the valley but is growing in popularity. It has nice strong spice and smoke flavour, without being as watery like some of the other reds you find this far north in the Okanagan. Not inexpensive at $30+ for a bottle, but a unique varietal and a quality wine to pair with a special dinner.
Summerhill Winery is famous for its giant pyramid and organic/biodynamic wines and is one of the most popular wineries east of Kelowna. This tourist hot spot has a huge tasting room bustling with tour bus visitors, complimentary tastings, and a beautiful restaurant overlooking the lake (not gluten-free friendly, however). They offer premium wines, as well as their regular label selection. A nice place to visit and enjoy the views, but overall none of their lower-price-point production wines massively impressed me. Worth a visit still however.
St Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery
Just a bit further south from Summerhill is St Hubertus & Oak Bay, a smaller, family estate winery, offering sustainable & Organic wines at a reasonable price. They have a beautiful tasting room with a variety of gourmet food products and $5 tasting fee. A stand out for me was the Reisling, which has a velvety mouthfeel without being overly sweet. Nice for a summer patio sipper, or to pair with a light meal.
Cedar Creek Estate Winery
Going even further down the East side of Okanagan Lake from Kelowna, you’ll find this amazing gem. Cedar Creek Estate Winery is beautifully situated with a gorgeous restaurant on site, overlooking the lake. The staff were very knowledgeable and friendly, and the wines fantastic and reasonably priced. In particular, they have a nice old vine Foch (growing in popularity in this area), a crisp and fruity Ehrinfeltsler, and a lovely Pinot Noir. The wines were consistently good across the board, and if I were going to join any Okanagan wine club, this would be the one.
Located just north of Kelowna in Lake Country, Arrowleaf Cellars is a hidden gem in an area that struggles to produce. They are a small winery with a selection of unique, aromatic white wines, such as Bacchus and Snow Tropics Vidal, as well as one of the loveliest picnic areas. At the time of writing, they offered free tastings and gourmet food items for sale. Come for the wine, stay for a summer picnic.
No matter which wineries you decide to stop at during your tour of the Kelowna viticultural area, you will have a fantastic day enjoying Canadian wine and spectacular views.
Summerland & Peachland Sub-Region
Heading south from West Kelowna stretches the arid Central Okanagan sub-region of Summerland and Peachland. This area consists of a few distinct areas such as Summerland and Peachland, and has some wineries and vineyards that are over 25 years old. The best wines in the area tend to be aromatic white wines and sparkling wines, and the views over the lake are spectacular. There are also numerous orchards and some delicious cider companies in the area that are well worth a visit. On a recent trip touring around the area, I was fortunate to visit several fine wineries.
Sage Hills Winery & Vineyards
The arid landscape and crisp, modern tasting room at Sage Hill Winery set the tone for the range of pure varietal, organic wines offered here. They even have a unique ‘orange wine’ available and a surprisingly good Syrah rosé (for someone who typically doesn’t love rosé). The somewhat high $10 dollar tasting fee was well worth it for the quality wines, informative and entertainment tasting and gorgeous tasting room experience. Highly recommended.
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery
Sumac Ridge was B.C.’s first operating estate winery and is another popular stop during a Central Okanagan wine tour. They offer a great selection of VQA wines to taste, but the really unique experience is underneath the winery. The ‘sparkling cave’ is a beautiful room located just below the main tasting room that provides event space and maturation of the Champagne style wine they create there. Every day at 4pm they offer tastings in the cave, and you can learn about ‘riddling’ their naturally carbonated selection of sparkling wines.
Okanagan Crush Pad
The Okanagan Crush Pad is a unique co-operative winery, creating interesting organic wines made in concrete casks, which give a nicely oxidized wine without the character of wood. A different take on the classic varietals but felt a little flat compared to some of the oaked wineries in the area.
Their Narrative 12 Botanical Gin on the other hand, is one of the most amazing craft gin’s I’ve tasted. Everything the product offers, down to the modern label and dripped wax glass topper was beautifully crafted to suit the delicious gin. Highly recommended.
Dominion Cider is one of several Cideries in Summerland, but with a few twists to differentiate themselves. They offer five different craft ciders, all worth a try if you like a very dry, classic cider.
They have apple, perry (pear), ginger, hopped and rhubarb ciders which all have their own merits and target audience. I quite liked the hopped cider for something a little different for summertime sipping, and the ginger which packs some zing. I am really loving how cider is growing in popularity in the area and looking forward to trying more.
Golden Mile Bench Sub-Region:
The Golden Mile Bench is the first official sub-region in the Okanagan, located in the south of the valley near the town of Oliver. The area is on the cooler west bench across from the warmer Black Sage bench. Some of the best premium varietals produced in the region are Chardonnay and Merlot. The views are incredible over the valley, and there are a variety of well-established vineyards to tour, taste or dine at.
The Golden Mile bench has some amazing vineyards to visit. Make sure to saviour in the crisp whites and cooler temperature reds, which gazing out at the views. This is a special wine region that you need to experience.
One of the larger South Okanagan wineries, Tinhorn Creek owns land in both the Golden Mile and Black Sage appellations, which allows them to produce a wide selection of wines. The winery has incredible views over the valley and its possible to take a self-guided tour of the winery and vineyard. It’s a great way to learn more about the winemaking process and stay a little longer while enjoying the property, sampling the wines and browsing the gift shop. Try the Merlot or Pinot Gris.
Hester Creek Estate Winery
Hester Creek is a well-established winery in the Golden Mile bench and has a stunning tasting room, bistro, patio and grassy picnic area. They also host a variety of events and have a gorgeous villa to accommodate guests. Their Pinot Gris is one of my favorite whites in the area, with pears and melon flavours, or their Cabernet Franc and Merlot are standouts for strong reds.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery
Located across the street from Hester Creek, the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery is one of the original wineries in the South Okanagan. Most famous for their Riesling, but their Ehrenfelser is one of my personal favourites if you are looking for something different. It is smooth with refreshing acidity and flavours of apricot and honey, delicious on a hot day.
Road 13 Vineyards
Road 13 Vineyards looks like a fairytale castle upon first appearance, but their wines are serious. Their blended reds, like ‘Honest John’s Red is a winner at a very reasonable price point, with an interesting blend of Merlot, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Viognier. If you prefer whites, try the intensely fruity Viognier, with stone fruit and honey flavours.
In the far south of the Okanagan Valley along the US border is the Osoyoos sub-region, which is Canada’s hottest area and the perfect spot for red wines. The arid landscape is flanked by some lovely warm lakes and this area is a summer hot-spot for tourism. Some exceptional wineries are in this area and full-body red wines are the area’s speciality.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Borrowing Own Estate Winery is located on road 22 south of Oliver, they are a nice family run winery with a fantastic restaurant on site (The Sonora Restaurant). Enjoy lunch with a beautiful view or a wine tasting. Donate $6 to the Burrowing Owl Foundation and you can taste 3 wines. Their Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir were great.
Nk’Mip Cellars is located East of Osoyoos and is North America’s first aboriginal-owned and operated wineries. They offer both tastings and winery tours at set times. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage are nice choices.
No matter where you go in the Okanagan Valley, you are sure to experience some of Canada’s best wine and most amazing landscapes. Enjoy it!