Wine Culture Magazine

West Kelowna is one of B.C.’s oldest wine regions—and its newest, too

Mount Boucherie towers above West Kelowna, a landmark drawing wine lovers to one of B.C.’s most dynamic regions.
Photo courtesy of Wines of British Columbia

Tucked away beyond West Kelowna’s bustling shopping centres is a fascinating group of wineries large and small, from pioneering wine families and organic producers to newcomers with big dreams. However, that view from Highway 97 reveals little of the area’s agrarian character past or present.

A century ago the only way for everything—from people and cars to horses, peaches and sheep—to reach the west side outpost from Kelowna was by ferry. The fleet of vessels of varying seaworthiness included the phonetically named MV Pendozi, a tribute to the Oblate father of B.C. wine, Charles Pandosy. Then, in 1958, came the original floating bridge, opened by then-premier W.A.C. Bennett and Princess Margaret. The bridge helped lay the foundation for today’s wine industry.

Three years later, in 1961, an orchardist of Irish stock named Richard (Dick) Stewart planted grapes on the volcanic and glacial deposits below Mount Boucherie. There his son, Ben Stewart, and his wife, Ruth, would go on to establish Quails’ Gate Winery—among the first in the Okanagan to focus on Pinot Noir. Close by, vineyards planted in 1966 were the humble beginnings (purchased in 1981 by Anthony von Mandl) of what became landmark Mission Hill Family Estate.

Quails’ Gate Winery offers elegant Pinot Noirs and spectacular views from its Old Vines Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Quails’ Gate Winery

Others followed, including the Slamkas (Little Straw Vineyards) and, later, the Gidda family, whose extensive plantings in time led to the founding of Mt. Boucherie and Volcanic Hills wineries.

Today West Kelowna is home to some 15 wineries, whose vibrant and diverse ethnic backgrounds mirror the valley at large, a snapshot of the new Okanagan.

When the pandemic hit, Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery (under new ownership since 2016) was just reopening following a dramatic, extensive rebuild. The new 15,000-square-foot vista-kissed wine experience centre comprises tasting room, restaurant, private event spaces and rooftop patio, as well as luxuriously appointed adjacent guest houses.

The switch to curbside service was seamless, recalls director of winemaking Jeff Hundtermark, who adds that the farm-to-table fare from The Modest Butcher Kitchen & Market has earned a loyal following. Mt. Boucherie’s four tiers now include a Reserve Series, Original Vines (showcasing the oldest home and estate-owned blocks) and the Modest Collection of “fun house-style wines that gives us an avenue to experiment with different grapes and different styles, such as an Okanagan ‘super Tuscan’ with Cab Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese from Black Sage,” says Hundtermark.

Others have also taken COVID-19 in stride. Volcanic Hills president Bobby Gidda says having one of the valley’s largest tasting rooms means social distancing isn’t that big a challenge. The winery offers seven separate tasting stations, with dividers as well as plexiglass barriers to protect staff and customers. Blu Saffron Bistro continues to be a draw for locals and visitors alike. Popular too are “Sip & Dip” workshops, where guests learn how to make their own water-marbled silk scarf or art canvas, with complimentary wine tasting. In the bottle, this year sees the introduction of a Gidda Family Reserve Label, with a Pinot Gris-Gewürztraminer-rosé blend, as well as a Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Crown & Thieves is the latest winery from Jason Parkes (founder of The Hatch), an eccentric, antique-filled “ruin” overlooking Okanagan Lake. Photo courtesy of Crown and Thieves Winery

If anyone were to claim the title “Laird of Boucherie” it might well be winemaker-musician Jason Parkes, whose first brainchild, The Hatch, was an giddy, irreverent departure from the predictable tasting room norm. Always intended to be first of a series, it was followed by Black Swift Winery and, most recently, Crown & Thieves—quite possibly the most unusual tasting room ever.

Housed in a deceptively derelict-looking ruin overlooking the lake, Crown & Thieves aims also to be “more fun, less snobby, but with serious wines,” says Parkes, who used his own antiques, including a 150-year-old confessional, to achieve an aesthetic “intended to recall a different time and age.”

Downstairs is more 1920s “speakeasy,” while upstairs sports a tongue-in-cheek, distinctly Renaissance feel. Each is happily contrived and deliberately confusing to offer an escape from everyday life, suggests Parkes. A self-proclaimed “little brat,” he loves the increasingly eclectic mix of wineries on Boucherie Road, which he sees eventually growing to compare with the likes of Naramata. Next up? A brewery, and The Hatching Post, a dedicated sparkling wine room. And then, who knows?

Parkes makes wine also for Indigenous World, the north valley’s sole First Nations’ winery. Just on the other side of Highway 97, its tasting room—adorned with Indigenous arts—enjoys views looking north up Okanagan Lake.

Frind Estate is B.C.’s only beachfront winery, an ideal place to stop for a snack and sip of winemaker Eric von Krosigk’s wines.. Photo by Jon Adrian for Frind Estate Winery

Making the biggest splash on West Kelowna’s shores, Frind Estate Winery is located on the lakeside spread of former B.C. Premier Bill Bennett (son of W.A.C.). In addition to creating a destination beachfront tasting room, café (with dome dining) and home vineyard, owner Markus Frind (of Plenty of Fish fame) and winemaker Eric von Krosigk have been busy developing significant plantings in the north valley and elsewhere.

Just down the way from Frind, further south on Boucherie Road, you’ll find a reminder of those days not long gone by. High and dry in its final resting place at West Kelowna Yacht Club is the MV Pendozi.

A taste of West Kelowna

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2019
(Okanagan Valley VQA, $29.99) Forward cherry, cocoa and raspberry, savoury blackberry, leather wrapped in silky tannins.

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2018
(Okanagan Valley VQA, $21.99) Vibrant acidity and freshness, crisp pear, green apple, lime and stony minerality.

Mt. Boucherie Original Vines PTG
(Okanagan Valley VQA, $29.99) Black, red fruits, spice, tobacco, earthy and mineral undertones.

Volcanic Hills Pinot Gris 2019
(Okanagan Valley VQA, $20.50) Light bodied, apple, pear and citrus, orchard fruits through a zesty end.

Crown & Thieves The Dimber Damber 2017
(Okanagan Valley VQA, $69.68) Cab Franc, Merlot and Cab Sauv. Dark red berries, leather, anise and plum.

Frind Estate Winery Sparkling Brut
(Okanagan Valley VQA, $24.99) Riesling-Chardonnay blend, fine bubbles, bright citrus, stone fruit through a crisp, fresh palate.

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