Wine Culture Magazine

The vineyards at Liquidity Winery. Photo courtesy of Wines of British Columbia.

This spring’s Okanagan Falls | Skaha Lake Winery Association tasting in Vancouver was significant in more ways than one.

Notably, of course, it was the first major trade tasting since the lifting of pandemic restrictions, including the end of mandatory indoor masking. More importantly, it continued to underscore the maturing of B.C.’s sub-regions; most of the wine poured was from grapes grown within the Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake sub-GIs (Geographical Indications).

Even as the pandemic has reshaped the ways in which we consume and market wine, the vineyards themselves have cycled through two often challenging vintages. At the same time, the last two years have seen the launch of Sustainable Winegrowing British Columbia, an increasing number of organic certifications and more sub-GI initiatives—including Lake Country and Summerland, which are currently awaiting ministerial approval.

In 2019, Okanagan Falls became the second sub-GI to be approved in B.C. (after Golden Mile Bench), and Skaha Bench received its go-ahead shortly afterwards.

At the April 13 tasting of the regions’ wines, a tour around the Terminal City Club room revealed the wide range of vinifera grown in the centre of the Okanagan. The diversity of varieties grown by this small group of wineries dotted around Skaha Lake and Okanagan Falls yields a microcosm of the valley at large.

You can find everything here from powerhouse Bordeaux blends (Noble Ridge Meritage) to keenly honed nods to Burgundy—such as Meyer’s Maclean Creek Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—and plenty more. Stag’s Hollow has been successfully pioneering Italian grapes such as Teroldego and Dolcetto, not to mention Albariño. All are grown within the Okanagan Falls sub-GI.

Just north, on Skaha Bench, long-established Crescent Hill grows some of the oldest Gewürz in the valley (a “suitcase” German clone planted in the late 1970s), while Pentage crafts focused Rhône-style drops such as their GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), as well as their namesake Bordeaux blend and Tempranillo. Further down Eastside Road, Blasted Church includes a rare B.C. planting of Chardonnay Musque. Syrah also does well here, as does Cabernet Franc.

Other wineries in the association include See Ya Later Ranch and Nighthawk, high up on Hawthorne Mountain, and Penticton’s Play Estate, while Kaleden’s Black Market Wine Co. continues to impress across the board.

The group’s marketing tagline—The Heart of Wine Country—is more than mere bravado. It may well be true.

A decade or so ago, well before discussions on sub-appellations began, B.C. wineries banded together in a handful of marketing associations. The Okanagan was essentially divided into two main regions, one north of Summerland and the other south of it. Most in the south belonged to the South Okanagan Wineries Association—SOWA. However, some expressed concern that “SOWA” was too easily confused with “WOSA”—Wines of South Africa.

As the search for a new identity unfolded, it became apparent, in viticultural terms, that the more logical dividing line was McIntyre Bluff. Also, conventional wisdom held, in general, that it wasn’t possible to consistently ripen Bordeaux varieties north of the bluff.

Hence the “south” wineries decided to create the Oliver and Osoyoos Winery Association—in the process excluding everyone in Okanagan Falls and beyond.

Not to be outdone, the “northerners” formed their own association and truly discovered their own identity and unique soils. In the process, that laid the firm foundation for the sub-GIs that have since been confirmed.

There’s no doubt this tasting was light years beyond OK Falls and friends’ tastings held even just two or three years ago. The Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench sub-GIs, along with the west side of Skaha Lake, have emerged as its own, distinct region, with characterful wines and wineries.

The heart of wine country, indeed.

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