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

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Foran is a sommelier by trade and, since last summer, a partner in the David Mitchel Wine Group, a tour company offering clients custom and package tours of the Okanagan.

He organizes transportation, accommodation, winery tours, sightseeing and recreation for visitors to the area, and he will accompany groups as their personal tour guide and wine expert. Having your own personal wine expert on hand to answer questions and explain different bottles and winemaking processes adds a unique educational element to a tour, Foran believes.

"Wine is one of those things that you really have to get to know at a lot of different levels to really appreciate fully," he says.

His business is targeting the Vancouver and U.S. market, arranging tours to the Okanagan from Victoria, Vancouver, Whistler and other destinations. A typical tour will include a scenic flight to the region, visits to several wineries, four-course meals, accommodation at local inns and bed and breakfasts, and a variety of other options, including golf at one of the valley’s top-rated courses.

Wine tourism to the Okanagan Valley is relatively new industry, but one Foran believes has a lot of potential. Although he expects things to start slowly for the David Mitchel Wine Group’s B.C. Wine Tours, he wanted to be one of the first agencies to create and package comprehensive wine tours to the region.

"Is there a market? I’ll say this – Napa Valley is one of the top tourism destinations in the U.S., and with the quality of B.C. wines increasing exponentially, there’s the potential for something like that here. It’s an area that’s just starting to get put on the map."

He’s got a point. Disneyland gets about 14 million visitors each and every year. Napa Valley, which is located in northern California, gets about 5 million visitors, contributing billions of dollars to the local tourist economy, while providing a direct market to wineries for millions more in sales.

And the Okanagan is perfect for wine. According to Foran, the south-facing slopes receive ample sunlight, have excellent drainage, and boast soil conditions that rival California and Europe. The water is ample, and, most importantly, it’s hot – grapes thrive in the heat, and in regions that border on being desert because it results in sweeter, plumper fruit.

"It’s not California," says Foran, "But in some ways it’s even better."

* * *

Our group included myself, Mr. Foran, and concierges from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Club Intrawest and the Westin Resort and Spa.

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