June 27, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

A tour of Canada’s wine region 

After a decade of hard work, Okanagan wineries are going for it

People who have been drinking B.C. wines for more than 15 years probably remember a time when the only varieties available were red and white. It usually came in jug, in sizeable quantities that may or may not have had handles and a wicker liner.

The emphasis was on quantity, alcohol content and price – the top winery was the one that offered the biggest bang for the buck.

The B.C. wine market definitely had some growing up to do…

* * *

What a difference a few years can make.

In 2003, the Okanagan wine region has succeeded in producing some award-winning varietals, while steadily increasing market share at home, across Canada and abroad. Some B.C. wines are so popular with customers, including restaurants and connoisseurs, that wineries don’t even have enough left over to export.

Although the wineries are, by European standards young, they have worked hard to cultivate an old-world feel, with a product that looks and tastes like its been cultured over the ages.

With wines that are finally worth drinking, the Okanagan region is now taking the next step – inviting the world to the valley to see and taste it for themselves, and to offer a visitor experience that’s on par with the Napa Valley and Sonoma wine regions of California.

Estates have been built. Gardens have been planted. Winemaking operations are now open to the public, providing wine lovers with a more intimate opportunity to learn about the people and the countryside that makes the Okanagan so unique.

By opening their doors, the Okanagan wineries are creating new forms of revenue for themselves, eliminating the middle men at the provincial liquor distribution branch by selling directly to customers, while expanding operations to include inns, outdoor concert venues, restaurants, and other attractions.

Letting the public in also helps to establish the area’s reputation as a first-class destination for the wine tour crowd.

And it’s adding credibility to the B.C. product as people tend to think more highly of wines when they can see for themselves the thought and care that goes into making them, and can appreciate the investment that winemakers’ have made.

In a short period of time, B.C. wine has gone from the class clown to valedictorian. It has matured and grown in popularity, the winemakers are as knowledgeable as they come, and the finished product is earning top marks from the people who judge these things.

* * *

Over a hectic day and a half, I had the opportunity to accompany David Foran on a whirlwind two-day tour of the Okanagan wine region.

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