Tucked into the interior of British Columbia is a spectacular landscape of valleys, mountains, lakes, desert and grasslands. This the Okanagan Valley and besides being beautiful, it is also Canada’s second largest wine region.
This surprisingly diverse region is quickly growing a reputation for quality wines and beautiful boutique wineries.
Stretching 250km from north to south, the Okanagan Valley is a wine touring dream with a high concentration of wineries and relaxed tasting rooms. I fell in love with the area after moving to Penticton a few years ago. I’ve managed to visit over 70 wineries so far!
Read on to discover more about the stunning Okanagan Valley region and the Okanagan wineries that showcase its bounty.
I’ll start with a little more info about the terroir and wine varietals to expect before moving on to the individual micro regions and my recommendations for the best Okanagan wineries in each.
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Okanagan Valley terroir
The hills, valley and lake terrain of the Okanagan were shaped by the retreat of glaciers around 10,000 years ago. The glacial melt left rich deposits of silt, sand and gravel, providing a composite soil makeup that is ideal for grape growing.
The Okanagan Valley has a continental climate with plenty of warm sunshine and low rainfall throughout the grape growing season. Winters are kept mild by the 135km long Okanagan Lake, running down the centre of the Valley. The warm days and cool nights allow the grapes to develop ripe fruit character and naturally high acidity.
Growing grapes in the Okanagan Valley
The growing season in Okanagan Valley is long. Most vineyards are planted on high benchlands, which low for good drainage, longer sunlight exposure and excellent frost prevention. The grapes here receive more sun than their counterparts in the Napa Valley in California.
With the Okanagan Valley stretching 250km from north to south, there is surprising variation in topography, weather and geology in this wine region. The diversity is what truly sets the Okanagan Valley apart from other wine regions around the world.
More white and early-ripening grape varieties are planted in the north (Lake Country, Kelowna, Summerland) and more red and late ripening varieties planted in the south (Oliver, Osoyoos). The area by the US border is technically a semi-desert region, with half the rainfall of the northern region.
There are more than 60 grape varieties grown in the Okanagan Valley, producing wines across the full spectrum of sweetness levels. There is a fairly even split between red and white grapes being planted.
The Okanagan Valley is generally considered a cool climate region but with summer temperatures reaching around the 35c mark, this classification doesn’t tell the full story.
Cool climate wines are embraced throughout the Okanagan Valley but as you travel further south, more and more full-bodied single varietal wines appear. This is especially true in the Oliver and Osoyoos area.
Okanagan wines are fresh and fruity, with a wonderful balance of acidity. The most common wine varietals you will come across at Okanagan wineries are:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Ice wine is also produced at some Okanagan wineries.
There are over 40 wineries in the Kelowna area, generally found on the western and eastern fringes ofthe city.
The wine touring experience in Kelowna can certainly be a varied one, with tasting rooms ranging from small, informal family run affairs all the way to grand, flagship corporate complexes.
Okanagan wineries to visit in Kelowna
Vibrant Vine – This winery brings art and grapes together in a unique way – 3D designs on both the tasting room walls and wine bottles. With a large expansion in 2018, it’s clear that the fun vibe of this winery is proving popular.
Mission Hill Winery – Grand in scale and Tuscan in theme, a visit to Mission Hill isn’t only about the wine. The 12 storey bell tower is a landmark in the area and is just one part of the breathtaking Mission Hill grounds. A one of a kind destination that is not to be missed.
Little Straw Vineyards – For a more casual wine tasting, head to family run Little Straw Vineyards in West Kelowna. Friendly, approachable and fun, Little Straw offers free tastings with knowledgeable staff plus a cozy patio grill.
Where to stay in Kelowna
Summerhill Estate House – Stay on the grounds at one of Kelowna’s most popular wineries. Spacious rooms with stunning views of the lake and vineyards.
Hotel Zed Kelowna – Funky rooms in great downtown location very close to Okanagan Lake.
Teehouse Bed & Breakfast – Ideal for touring wineries in West Kelowna, the Teehouse offers large rooms, great views and a free breakfast.
Located just across the lake from the Naramata Bench, the community of Summerland hosts a dozen individual wineries.
Being on the west side of the lake, Summerland has hot summer mornings and cooler evenings, the opposite to the Naramata Bench. There are also a few wineries just north of Summerland, towards Peachland.
Okanagan wineries to visit in Summerland
8th Generation Vineyard – If you like Italian sparkling wine, this tasting room is a must stop. 8th Generation’s two varieties of sparkling are the closest I’ve tasted to prosecco anywhere in the Okanagan Valley. Small, relaxed and friendly tasting room.
Dirty Laundry Vineyard – A destination winery for many visiting the Okanagan, Dirty Laundry embraces its cheeky history with an exuberant tasting. Huge patio with fantastic views and wide range of food.
Sumac Ridge – As the first operating winery in British Columbia, Sumac Ridge has plenty of heritage to draw on. Impressive grounds with engaging tastings. Tours of the winery are available.
Where to stay in Summerland
Summerland Waterfront Resort & Spa – Fabulous lakeside location with great views from most of the well equipped rooms. Large swimming pool.
Rosedale Motel – Good value option with spacious and clean rooms, conveniently close to Highway 97
Dogwood Bed & Breakfast – Comfortable rooms with small balcony, perfect for enjoying a bottle of wine after a day’s tasting. Within walking distance to the centre of Summerland.
The Naramata Bench is home to the highest concentration of Okanagan wineries – at the time of writing, there are over 40 distinctive boutique wineries located along 20km stretch.
There’s also only one way in and one way out to this beautiful area, which also happens to be my favourite wine region in the Okanagan Valley.
Many winery tasting rooms offer stunning views of Okanagan Lake, surrounding hills and vineyards.
Okanagan wineries to visit on the Naramata Bench
Van Westen Vineyards – Any fans of big, bold reds should make a beeline for Van Westen. One of the most informal, down-to-earth experiences on the Bench, tastings are held in ‘the Shed,’ a large open warehouse room within the working winery.
Lock and Worth – With most of their wines being unrefined and unfiltered, Lock & Worth maintains a purist approach to winemaking Sharing a tasting room with Poplar Grove cheese, the paired tasting here is one of the best experiences on the Naramata Bench.
Daydreamer – Daydreamer’s unique blue ‘wine shack’ tasting room is refreshingly casual with a hint of rustic surfer chic. A good example of Naramata Bench’s boutique wineries.
Bench 1775 – If you like Sauvignon Blanc, this is a must stop. In addition, Bench 1775 is credited by many having the best patio of all Okanagan wineries.
Where to stay on the Naramata Bench
CastleRock – Spectacular property perched high above the lake with incredible views and quiet environment. Stylish and modern rooms.
The Village Motel – Highly rated, great value rooms in the village of Naramata, close to Okanagan Lake. Pretty courtyard for outside relaxation.
Above Naramata Bed & Breakfast – Minutes away from wineries and the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, this B&B is run by generous and welcoming hosts.
While being local to the Naramata Bench, Penticton also has a few wineries of its own to visit.
TIME Winery is located right in the heart of downtown Penticton. The stylish, brand new wooden building is hard to miss on Martin Street. A fully functioning winery, TIME offers tastings every day, Lunch and dinner, incorporating local produce, is available in the lounge or on the patio.
Also fairly new, Play Winery is situated at the south end of town and has an enviable elevated position looking over Skaha Lake. Besides the tasting room, there is a bistro and patio stunning by spectacular views and 14 acres of vineyards.
Where to stay in Penticton
Penticton Lakeside Resort – Penticton’s flagship hotel has the best location in town. Right on the waterfront, most rooms have impressive views of the leafy downtown area or Okanagan Lake. There is an on-site Wine Experience Centre.
Bowmont Motel – Good value option close to Okanagan Lake with fun 1960’s theme and heated outdoor swimming pool.. Walking distance to downtown Penticton.
House Victoria Bed & Breakfast – Welcoming hosts, comfortable rooms and free tasty breakfast help House Victoria to be one of the best rated places to stay in Penticton.
Okanagan Falls and Kaleden
There is a small but notable collection of wineries around Okanagan Falls, mostly found on the eastern side of Skaha Lake and just south of town. Being in the middle of the valley, these wineries have wonderful views of the vineyards and lakes in both north and south directions.
The small community of Kaleden also has a couple of wineries.
Okanagan wineries to visit in Okanagan Falls
Liquidity Winery – Modern and artisan inspired winery with simply stunning views over vineyards and towards Vaseux Lake. On-Site bistro specialising in seasonal and sustainable food.
See Ya Later Ranch – Relaxed and friendly, See Ya Later Ranch is tucked away on a quiet road near the southern end of Skaha Lake. It has one of the highest elevation vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. Dogs are very welcome.
Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery – Something of a hidden gem, this winery has majestic valley views, passionate staff and a wide range of wine.
Where to stay in Okanagan Falls
Holiday Beach Resort Motel – Great value option with spacious and well equipped rooms situated just across the street from Skaha Lake.
Casa Colina B&B – Luxurious bed and breakfast in nearby Kaleden. Each of the three rooms (and separate cottage) have outdoor space and access to the heated outdoor pool.
The self-proclaimed ‘wine capital of Canada,’ Oliver is home to nearly half of all vines in British Columbia. Though Oliver may only be a 35 minute drive from Penticton, this distance can make a lot of difference to the terroir.
Longer, sunnier days and a degree warmer than the Bench, Oliver is the start of Okanagan red wine country. With so many wineries in the Oliver area, it can be difficult to know where to start. Below are some of my personal favourites.
Okanagan wineries to visit in Oliver
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery – It is worth a stop at Burrowing Owl just to take a peek at the immaculate grounds. There is also an on-site restaurant and guesthouse (complete with swimming pool).
Road 13 Vineyards – As well as impressive estate buildings (a castle!) and views, Road 13 offers some of the best red wines in the Okanagan Valley.
Platinum Bench Estate Winery – Wine tastings at Platinum Bench are offered with samples of homemade artisan bread and local cheese. Definitely one of the best tasting experiences in the Okanagan Valley!
Where to stay in Oliver
Coast Oliver Hotel, Oliver – Well located
Elm Tree Farm B&B, Oliver – Highly rated on Booking.com
Located at the southernmost tip of British Columbia, Osoyoos is officially Canada’s hottest spot. The vineyards stretch all the way to the US border. If you like full bodied wines, this is the place to start your Okanagan winery tour.
Many Okanagan wineries located further north in the Valley source grapes from the Osoyoos and Oliver area for their big, deep reds. So even if you don’t visit Osyoos proper, you’ll probably still taste the resulting wines elsewhere.
Okanagan wineries to visit in Osoyoos
Nk’mip Cellars – Wine tastings and tours are both on offer at Nk’mip, Canada’s first Indigenous owned winery. Stunning desert location with views of Osoyoos Lake.
La Stella Winery – Get a taste of Europe at this beautiful Italian inspired winery that sits close to Osoyoos Lake. It is also possible to conduct tastings on La Stella’s spacious patio.
Moon Curser Vineyards – Just on the edge of Osoyoos, Moon Curser Vineyards produces wine with grapes not commonly found in the Okanagan Valley. Inviting tasting room with picturesque terrace.
Where to stay in Osoyoos
Watermark Beach Resort – Close to the lake and downtown Osoyoos, the Watermark has a great location. Both rooms and outdoor pool are large.
Lakeview Motel and Suites – Good value motel just a short drive away from wineries, downtown and the main highway. Outdoor swimming pool.
Spirit Ridge – Fabulous resort surrounded by desert and vineyards within same complex as Nk’mip Cellars. High end facilities with great attention to detail.
Other notable wine regions in and around the Okanagan Valley
There are some other local wine regions that may be of interest when wine touring the Okanagan wineries.
The most northern part of the Okanagan Valley wine region, Lake Country is best known for Pinot Noirs and aromatic white wines.
There are eight wineries on Lake Country’s Scenic Sip wine trail, with most squeezed in between Okanagan Lake and the southern end of Wood Lake.
Keremeos and Cawston
A little off the beaten path, there are some real winery gems to be found in Keremeos and Cawston.
Located in a parallel valley to the Okanagan, the Similkameen wine region is characterised by steep, rugged mountains and a flat valley bottom. Summer temperatures in the Keremeos and Cawston area regularly reach 40c.
Thompson Valley (Kamloops)
A relatively new wine region, the first winery opened in the Thompson Valley in 2012. Now home to four unique wineries, there are 107 acres of vines planted along the North and South Thompson rivers near Kamloops.
Having recently been recognised by the BC government as a new wine region, the Thompson Valley wineries are now able to participate in the BC VQA program.
How to get to the Okanagan Valley
The Okanagan Valley is most easily reached by road. The drive is scenic, no matter which way you approach.
Here are the common distances:
- Vancouver to Kelowna: 389km, 4 hours 15 minutes (via the Coquihalla Highway)
- Vancouver to Penticton: 416km, 4 hours 30 minutes (via the Coquihalla Highway). An alternative route is 396km, 4 hours 30 minutes (via Highway 3 through Manning Park)
- Vancouver to Osoyoos: 397km, 4 hours 30 minutes (via Highway 3 through Manning Park)
In the winter, the Coquihalla can sometimes be treacherous. Watch for highway warnings and closures. The Manning Park route is also mountainous but has lower speed limits and less traffic.
- Calgary to Kelowna: 605km, 7 hours 15 minutes (via Highway 1)
- Calgary to Penticton: 667km, 8 hours (via Highway 1)
- Calgary to Osoyoos: 728km, 8 hours 45 minutes (via Highway 1)
The Oroville border crossing just to the south of Osoyoos is open 24 hours a day.
- Spokane, Washington, to Osoyoos: 234 miles (300km), 3 hours 45 minutes
- Seattle, Washington to Osoyoos: 273 miles (439km), 5 hours
Flying to the Okanagan Valley is also possible, with regular flights to both Kelowna and Penticton from Calgary and Vancouver.
Since the demise of Greyhound in late 2018, bus services to the Okanagan Valley are limited. New bus companies are appearing though, such as eBus which offers services between Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna.
How to tour Okanagan Valley wineries
If you have someone in your group who is willing to be a sober driver or spit wine at tastings, the most ideal way to tour Okanagan wineries is with your own vehicle.
Wine touring in your own vehicle allows ultimate flexibility in choice of wineries and length of Okanagan wine tour. It is best to concentrate on just one micro-region per touring day.
Alternatives ways to tour Okanagan wineries include:
- Large group wine tour (click here for an example)
- Private small group wine tour (click here for an example)
- Shuttle bus
- Taxi hire
- Self guided bike tour (bike rentals available in numerous locations)
- Self guided walking tour (possible on the Naramata Bench only)
Okanagan wineries touring tips
- Most Okanagan wineries open daily from mid June to early September. A small minority of wineries open all year round with limited hours.
- Opening hours at Okanagan tasting rooms are typically 11am-5pm. If planning a long touring route, check individual winery tasting room hours first.
- Summer is the most popular time for touring, but I’d highly recommend late spring (May and June) for quieter tasting rooms and more choice of varietals.
- Tasting fees vary quite widely at Okanagan wineries. The larger and more upmarket wineries (most often found in the Osyoos/Oliver region) charge up to $15 for a tasting. The majority, however, of wineries stick around the $3-5 mark for pours of 5/6 varietals. Most will refund on purchase. Some Okanagan wineries (usually the smaller ones) ask for a donation or do not charge.
- Spitting is OK. If you want to stay more objective about the wines, every winery usually has a receptacle for spitting. Can’t see one? Just ask the tasting room staff.
- If unfamiliar with BC wines, keep in mind that the BC VQA is an “appellation of origin” system much like the DOC system in Italy and AOC in France. It stands for “British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance.” The BC VQA label guarantees that the wine has been made from 100% BC grapes and meets a minimum quality requirement.
- Some Okanagan wineries have on site bistros or restaurants. Designated picnic areas are popular too. The latter are unfortunately not always licensed for drinking wine purchased on the premises. Always check first!
A Wine Lover’s Guide to the Naramata Bench
Planning to visit the most beautiful of all Okanagan wine regions, the Naramata Bench?
Make the most of your wine touring adventure with the Wine Lover’s Guide to the Naramata Bench, a 70+ page eBook produced by yours truly.
It includes everything you need to know about planning a wine touring trip to this unmissable region:
- Review of every single Naramata Bench winery (35+!)
- A quick on-the-go reference guide
- Accommodation information
- Restaurant advice
- Touring itineraries
- Custom made Naramata Bench winery map and more!
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