The Okanagan jigsaw puzzle 

A case of appellations, sub-appellations and single vineyards

Imagine a world without addresses. How would we find anything?

Despite a sizable proportion of males who embrace the notion of vague directions, as in, turn right past the big oak tree, or turn left three blocks north of town, most clear-thinking humans cannot fathom a world without street addresses, maps or the latest in geographical precision - GPS co-ordinates.

Now, think wine.

Every wine worth drinking comes from somewhere, so it only makes sense that the label accurately reflects its address. In Burgundy, hundreds of years of refinement have subdivided the land into a patchwork quilt of appellations and classified single vineyards.

Now, it's over 30 years since the first estate wineries opened in the Okanagan Valley yet for some reason the 200-kilometre long valley remains a single undifferentiated region as far as wine label terminology is concerned. I've heard the arguments, most of which begin with you, the consumer, not needing to be confused by such esoteric information as the true origin of a wine. But I'm not buying it, figuratively or literally, and neither should you, especially if the price is $50.

In response to what I'm sure are many other same-thinking wine buyers, two Okanagan Valley "sub-regions," my words not theirs, are frantically trying to pull together the necessary information to launch the valley's first recognisable subdivisions.

Just east and north of the town of Penticton lies the geographically well-defined Naramata Bench, home to scores of vineyards and at least a couple of dozen wineries. The word "bench" is money in the bank in the wine business so bet on this sub-region being one of the first to appear on British Columbia wine labels, perhaps as early as this year.

Much further along the accreditation process are the growers and wineries of Golden Mile Bench, a spectacular-looking hanging plateau made up of a series of well-defined alluvial fans just south and west of the town of Oliver. Here you can almost imagine the Burgundian model as you look up at the wineries and vineyards that dot the hillside. All we need are some meaningful lines on a map.

Strangely, producers in Naramata and along the Golden Mile are locked in a race to be the first to launch an Okanagan valley sub-appellation, but why compete? Why not release the subs together and enrich a story whose time is long overdue? As the valley continues to mature and growers come to know every square inch of land it will not be long before our patchwork of sites are described with the same reverence given the great clos' of Burgundy, thought to be already growing vines when the Romans arrived in 51 BC.

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