Discovering the Wines of Northern Okanagan Valley
By now, fans of Okanagan’s phenomenal wines will know the more famous subregions found around the valley. These regions and their wineries are continuing to receive well-deserved recognition in the form of praise and awards from other corners of the wine world. We’ve sampled wines from the Golden Mile and sipped on Black Sage-Osoyoos. But there’s more to BC wine country and more emerging regions to explore – a wonderful thing for all us wine lovers!
Thompson Shuswap and Kamloops are two rising stars in British Columbia. Though small, their wines are mighty in flavour, complexity, and of course, drinkability. Though not home to as many vineyards as the more well-known regions in the heart of Okanagan Valley, that doesn’t mean these up and coming regions or their wines are any less exciting.
Varieties-wise, both Kamloops and Thompson Shuswap are all about cold climate grapes. It’s no surprise given these regions are at the uppermost limits of where folks consider quality wine can be made. You’ll see a combination of international grapes like Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, along with cool crossings like Ortega, Madeleine, Angevine, and hybrid grape Marechal Foch. This last grape is a red French American hybrid grape planted in cool regions. Cold and disease resistant, it makes excellent wines in the right hands.
Thanks to plenty of sun, the grapes up here to manage to get plenty ripe in spite of the cold. The resulting wines are deliciously flavourful yet have that characteristic elegance you’d expect in a cool climate. The soils here are ancient, a combination of volcanic and sedimentary rock which contributes to the quality of the grapes. Winds help regulate temperature and humidity in these semi-arid regions, preventing rot in the vineyards. The rainshadow effect of the Coast Mountains means that rainfall is low and there’s plenty of sunshine to ripen the grapes to perfection. In short, despite their northerly positions on the map, Kamloops and Thompson Shuswap are excellent regions for cultivating the vine.
Currently, the number of wineries dotted throughout these regions is fairly small. Although they may be few in number, the quality of the wines you’ll find in both Kamloops and Thompson Shuswap will have you refilling your glass without a second thought. Here are some of our favourites.
The first winery to open its doors in the area, the award-winning Harper’s Trail makes one hundred percent estate grown wines from noble varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. They also make a fantastic Cab Franc, as well as bubbly. Their wines are crisp, refreshing examples of Kamloops’ potential as a wine region.
Monte Creek Ranch
Didn’t think Cabernet Sauvignon could grow this far north? Think again. Monte Creek is proving that you don’t need a warm climate to produce outstanding Cab. Their line up of wines is truly impressive. In addition to the Cab, they also offer Merlot, Pinot Noir, and a lovely array of whites like BC standards Riesling and Chardonnay. They also make a stellar Frontenac Gris, an aromatic hybrid that is a must for dishes laden with exotic spices. This organic winery also produces delightful fruit wines from blueberries and the unique haskap berry.
Privato Vineyard and Winery
The third member of the Kamloops Wine Trail is Privato Vineyard and Winery. This family-owned artisan winery specializes in Burgundy-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s no wonder they’ve picked up a few awards in the eight years since they first opened. Given their Burgundy inspiration,
you can expect terroir-driven wines that will satisfy sip after sip.
Thompson Shuswap is home to a handful more wineries than Kamloops. It’s on the northern limits of Okanagan Valley and consequently has a cooler climate. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Ovino Winery
- Larch Hills Winery
- Celista Estate Winery
- Marionette Winery
- Recline Ridge Vineyards
- Waterside Vineyard and Winery
This far north, you’ll see even more cold-resistant white grapes like Ortega, Siegerrebe, and Madeleine Angevine. But don’t despair red lovers – both Ovino and Waterside make top-notch Merlot while Sunnybrae, Recline, and Marionette offer terrific Pinot Noir. If you’re in the mood to try something a little different, the latter two wineries also bottle some seriously delicious Zweigelt.
Once you’ve gotten to know Okanagan Valley’s big names, definitely be sure to cast your gaze northwards to these exciting emerging regions. Right now they’re BC’s best-kept secret, but considering how delicious the wines are, this may not be the case for much longer!