Sun-bathed hills, vineyards as far as the eye can see… Welcome to Canada, to the Okanagan Valley! Located in British Columbia, 300 km east of Vancouver, this land of plenty, rich in lakes and orchards, is the second largest fruit growing region in the country. But the Okanagan is best known for its cellars and vineyards. The region is also home to the highest point in the Canadian Rockies and the country's only desert environment. A land of contrasts, as surprising as it is diverse, it is good to explore by car or by bike, on the wine route.
Wines in British Columbia? You don't necessarily expect it, yet the Okanagan Valley is one of North America's major wine-producing regions. If viticulture is a rather recent activity - the oldest farms date from the years 1980-1990, there are now a good hundred producers in the region.
Today, the Okanagan Valley concentrates all kinds of cellars, from small family farms to luxury establishments. Many of them also serve as restaurants. At their head, we often find renowned chefs who offer culinary workshops in the middle of the vineyards.
Almost all the wineries take part in tasting tours widely promoted by the local tourist offices ... The ideal way to discover all the variety of local production at will, especially since the tastings are often free. And then, it would be a shame to travel around the region without tasting the Okanagan wines!
On site, you will surely hear about Mission hill. Its chardonnay is the first wine produced in the Okanagan. It was awarded at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London in 1994. In addition to chardonnays, the Okanagan region produces Pinot Noirs, Merlots, Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, Gewurztraminers, Icewines and even sparkling wines.
Small local peculiarity, the NK'Mip vineyard is the first domain in North America managed by First Nations. Located in Osoyoos, it produces some 200 bottles per year. To test !
Between vineyards and wine festivals
If you are by car, stop by a Visitor Center to find free routes. Two options: the Circle Routes Scenic Driving Guide, a loop between Hope, Kelowna and Osoyoos. It also contains some alternative routes, such as the wine route. Or the Kelowna Wine Trails, really focused on the winegrowers' circuit (be careful, no drinking and driving of course!). The path is well signposted: just follow the white and burgundy signs. Quite close to each other, the cellars are also accessible to cyclists.
Among the most famous vineyards, do not miss the Quail's Gate Winery which produces high quality wines. On the red side, we recommend the Pinot Noir which has made the reputation of the house. Those looking for new flavors will try the foch instead, a rather rare hybrid grape from Alsace in the XNUMXth century. It gives thick-skinned grapes, whose aromas are similar to tobacco. Surprising!
In any season, a cluster of wine festivals is scattered throughout the region. During these festivals, most vineyards and orchards welcome tourists for tours and tastings. The opportunity to meet local producers and to taste, once again, the great specialty of the area.
The best known, which takes place at the time of the harvest, is theOkanagan Fall Wine Festival, with more than 165 events spread over ten days in October. A little later in January, the Sun Peaks Resort serves the famous beverage at the base of the ski slopes in the mountains of British Columbia during the Winter Festival of Wine. In May, the Spring Wine Festival sees hundreds of events unfold throughout the Okanagan Valley. Finally, in August, the Silver Star Mountain Resort offers wine courses, tastings and food and wine pairings during the Summer Wine Festival.
The essentials of the valley
With such a climate, it would be a shame to spend all your time deep in the cellars! In summer, the mild weather allows a dip in the sparkling lakes of the valley before basking in the sun on a beach on the side of Kelowna orOsoyoos.
Take the opportunity to visit Osoyoos, a small town straddling the shores of the eponymous lake. Stack where it seems almost cut in half. Located just 3 km from the American border, it is next to a geological curiosity: a mini desert of about thirty hectares, in fact an extension of the arid zones of Utah. Two centers to visit allow you to better understand this unique ecosystem: the Desert Center and Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center managed by the Syilx First Nations.
The valley, with its mild, dry and sunny climate, is also attractive for its environment and its quality of life. No wonder, then, that it abounds in spas and wellness centers. On the program of these institutes: cold sauna at - 110 ° C and wine therapy sessions. As verdant as you want, the valley is also very famous for its many golf course, which host major events.
The Okanagan Hills are easily accessible to outdoor enthusiasts. A vast network of cycle paths and hiking trails, which crisscrosses the valleys, allows you to breathe in oxygen while admiring the landscapes. We end the day with a dinner cruise on the lake, against the backdrop of hills carpeted with vineyards and orchards.
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