Winning British Columbia Wines

For many years, wine produced in British Columbia was considered inferior but that has since changed with the Canadian province now being recognized as a winemaking powerhouse. British Columbia wines date back just one hundred and forty years when Father Pandosy set up the first vineyards at the Obelate Mission near Kelowna. Nineteen twenty-six saw the advent of the first commercial vineyards with a winery that sold to the public.

The main wine-growing region in this Canadian province is composed of the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in the south-central part.

Though the total land and freshwater area of British Columbia is larger than France and Germany combined, with approximately five and a half thousand acres under cultivation on fewer than one hundred wineries, the area is tiny by comparison to France, Italy, or even Spain.

The Okanagan Lake filling a large portion of the valley floor moderates the heat in this semi-arid desert region. From the soil of glacial stone, fine sand and silt and clay in the north, to the south's sand and gravel come Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot as well as the German Siegerrebe, Sylvaner and Ortega. Merlot and Chardonnay top the list as most commonly planted, but Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gew├╝rztraminer are grown as well.

However, with a climate governed by the region's proximity to the Coast Mountain Range, which produces hot, dry summers, ample hours of sun and low humidity, vintners have ideal conditions for producing award-winning wines, which they do in abundance. Here the wineries of the Okanagan Valley produce 95 percent of British Columbia wines. With only six inches of rainfall annually in the south and sixteen in the north end, this is no mean feat. This achievement is even more amazing when you consider that the average vineyard is less than 10 years old.

Crisp, fruity whites are often in the German off-dry style, but there are many in the French tradition as well. Reds have advanced in recent years with the Pinot Noir producing an enviable medium-bodied drink from this finicky grape. Despite its small size, British Columbia boasts a range of dessert wines, including flavors of plum, blueberry, raspberry and others.

Ever iconoclastic, British Columbia counts among its exports a highly respected German-style icewine made from grapes picked and crushed while frozen. For 200 years a German specialty, in the last 30 years Canada has become one of the world's largest producers of this unusual drink.

Whites range from the honeyed Riesling with a citrus aftertaste to the Gray Monk Pinot Gris, a recent favorite. The flagship early ripening Merlot with tones of plum and coffee aftertaste won't disappoint the lover of red, nor will the later Cabernet Sauvignon from the Similkameen Valley.

Even tiny Vancouver Island, a relative newcomer, is getting into the act and experimenting with Ehrenfelser, Muscat, Siegerrebe and other exotic varieties. Most of these 135 acres are planted on hillside vineyards that serve 10 small wineries. But look for great things in the future.