What struck me first, was how strikingly different the Similkameen Valley is from other southern Okanagan wine regions. Although gaining in popularity, this is still a relatively undiscovered and often overlooked wine travel destination. Here, you will discover small artisan wineries where some of Canada’s top growers and winemakers are producing world-class wines.
The Similkameen wine region is a scenic 24-kilometre stretch just 30 minutes from Osoyoos and Penticton, through the charming small town of Cawston and ending at Keremeos. The road winds through rolling countryside, past small farms, orchards, fruit stands, cideries, and artisan studios.
There are only about 15 licensed wineries situated along a narrow corridor, sheltered by mountains and the Similkameen river running alongside. Although this region comprises only 6 per cent of all B.C. vineyards, it is the province’s second-largest wine producer.
Take note of the diversity of terrain on each side of the river: green and lush with cedars and ferns — in contrast to the opposite side with arid desert-like conditions, including an array of cactus.
This unique and varied ecosystem is producing some of the most interesting wines to be found in B.C., an area with the highest density of organic vineyards in the province, producing many age-worthy bottles — with vibrancy, minerality, complexity, elegance — all without being over-ripe and too high in alcohol.
This climate is conducive to organic farming due to the higher diurnal temperature changes, because there are no lakes nearby to radiate warmth, which moderates the overnight temperatures (vines love cold nights and long sunlight hours during the day). The valley winds also contribute to keeping the plants dry, thereby reducing the risk of fungus and pests.
“It’s a laid back wine region where visitors can slow down and chill out,” says John Weber, owner/winemaker of Orofino Winery. John explains that the diversity of microclimates allows winemakers to take advantage of the best sites to plant certain varietals. He hopes you’ll stop by for a sampling of his 100 per cent Similkameen-grown wines with an invitation to enjoy a picnic in their lovely courtyard — or stay longer in their five-star accommodations overlooking the vineyards.
I highly recommend taking a day or two to enjoy Similkameen Valley wines. These are a few premium wines that are available to Alberta shops, but if you have the good fortune of exploring the region, there are loads more available from their wine clubs and on-site at their tasting rooms (except Little Farm Winery).
LITTLE FARM RIESLING $40
There isn’t a tasting room here, but you’ll find the wines at wine shops and restaurants in B.C. and here in Alberta. These are more serious wines that are favourites of wine geeks and low-intervention wine lovers, producing an intense, bone dry, racy and mineral-driven Riesling with notes of juicy apples and pears, a crisp and mouth-watering palate with lemon, lime, peach, and green apple chalky minerality.
LITTLE FARM CHARDONNAY $40
A Chardonnay with that beautiful crisp and refreshing acidity along with stony minerality, layers of ripe peach and citrus that mingle perfectly with the textured palate from the barrel fermentation and ageing.
OROFINO GAMAY $30
What a perfect slightly chilled summer picnic wine! It’s exactly what’s required — light, fresh and loaded with juicy ripe red berries, you’ll want a second pour, guaranteed.
OROFINO HOME VINEYARD PINOT NOIR $38
A smooth and juicy medium-bodied Pinot Noir that’s a crowd-pleaser for sure. There’s a lovely balance of freshness with juicy ripe red berries, herbs, and a touch of spice that’s just divine. An easy choice to enjoy alone or for any al fresco summer dining.
SUNDAY IN AUGUST PINOT GRIS $33
This one is a little funkier, natural wine that’s unfiltered. The winery describes it as an ‘adventurous’ wine with grapes from both Kelowna and Keremeos, with blended batches of skin contact before bottling, creating an orange/amber-styled wine. This is a textured and cloudy wine with an attractive sour/tart note like fresh grapefruit and a splash of citrus zest.
CLOS DU SOLEIL CAPELLA WHITE MERITAGE $28
Bordeaux-influenced wines made by Swiss banker-turned-winemaker Michael Clark. This is their flagship white wine — a barrel-influenced blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that’s built to cellar. An elegant, yet rich wine with the classic notes of a Bordeaux blanc that’s aromatic with lemon yogurt, grapefruit and exotic fruits leading to a complex, medium-bodied palate with a long lingering finish — and it will only get better with time.
SEVEN STONES ROW 128 MERLOT $40
George Hanson retired and left the Yukon to make wine in the valley. This Merlot is a full-bodied wine bursting with ripe blackberries, dark fruits, spice, espresso, fresh herbs and cocoa. There’s also a Tesla charging station and helicopter pad on-site if required.