Wines produced in BC are becoming a mainstay on the world stage, winning numerous awards and capturing attention in markets across Europe, Asia, and the USA. Our blog follows the guidelines of regional history, geography/terroir, grape varietals, main producers/iconic wines, regional maps, and reference links that will help you familiarize yourself with BC wine production and . what its uniqueness. There are 4 primary regions that are key contributors to wine production in BC: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, and Vancouver Island/Gulf Islands.
In the beginning, BC wine production suffered as a result of unpopular local grape varietals and a lack of expert wine making skills. Father Charles Pandosy was one of the first growers in BC, producing grapes from the Oblate Mission near Kelowna in 1859. Commercial grape growing didn’t materialize until 1907 and things remained largely unchanged with the exception of prohibition until three monumental events in the late 1980′s. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the inception of Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) and a major vine replanting program helped transform the BC wine industry. To help with a growing need for education, The Wine Research Centre at the University of British Columbia (founded in 1999 and open by 2002) followed by the Okanagan University College’s Oenology and Viticulture wine program have paved the way for future generations to promote the BC wine industry. The present day figures include close to 200 BC wineries with VQA wine sales in excess of $196 million.
Okanagan Valley - This is the largest and most productive region in BC ranging approximately from Enderby in the north to Osoyoos in the south, a distance of 180kms. As an inland growing region, it experiences hot, dry summers, low humidity, and long hours of sunshine followed by cold winter months and frost. Average elevation is around 350m or 1150 feet with soils mostly comprised of glacial stone, fine sand, silt and clay in the north while sand and gravel dominate the southern areas. The region experiences over 2200 hours of yearly sunshine with the northern section receiving less than 16 inches of annual rainfall; the southern “desert” classified area only sees 6 inches or less of precipitation per year. Lake Okanagan provides water for irrigation in most vineyards and the gentle rolling slopes create ideal growing topography for grape vines.
Similkameen Valley - Located just west of the Okanagan Valley, the Similkameen region stretches some 100kms from Princeton to Osoyoos. Winters can be colder here with persistent winds and without a major body of water to regulate temperature; the summer months see more heat retained in the valley due to the high mountains and reflective rock surfaces. Average elevation is approximately 380m or 1300 feet, a much steeper terrain than the Okanagan so vineyards experience slightly different terroir here. Irrigation is sourced from the Similkameen River which runs through the Coast Mountain Range.
Fraser Valley - This region covers the 150kms from Hope to Vancouver and is considered a coastal growing region. The climate is more moderate here than in the interior with humid summers and wet winters, creating challenges for proper ripening of the grapes and the threat of mildew. The soil here is extremely fertile, predominantly silty and high in organic matter. The occasional rolling hills dot the otherwise flat landscape ranging from sea level to 39m (130ft) while irrigation comes largely by way of rainfall except in the months of July and August.
Vancouver Island/Gulf Islands - With vineyards on Salt Spring, Pender, Saturna, Quadra and Bowen Island among others, the Gulf Islands along with Vancouver Island sit offshore in the southwest corner of the province. Though most vineyards exist at lower altitudes, elevation ranges from sea level to a staggering 2195m or 7200 feet in the central zone of Vancouver Island. The Cowichan Valley vineyards of Vancouver Island experience a rain shadow effect from nearby mountains and have a long growing season. While the area receives excessive winter rainfall, irrigation is required for most vineyards in the summer months.
Grape Varietals in BC
Whites - (Majority): Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, (Minority): Kerner, Viognier, Siegerrebe, Sylvaner, Optima, Ortega, Vidal Blanc, Auxerrois, Chasselas, Chenin Blanc, Ehrenfelser, Muller Thurgau, Scheurebe, Cayuga, Bacchus, Muscat, Seyval Blanc, Schonburger and Semillon.
Reds - (Majority): Merlot, Syrah or Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, (Minority): Gamay Noir, Marechal Foch, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Zweigelt, Baco Noir, Barbera, Chancellor, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, Lemberger, Pinot Meunier, and Pinotage.
Major Producers/Iconic Wines
(Prices approx and in $Cdn)
Mission Hill - Oculus (Bordeaux Blend red wine) $80
- SLC Riesling Icewine $80
- Vidal Icewine $50
- Perpetua Chardonnay $40
Inniskillin - Riesling Icewine $60
Jackson Triggs - Riesling Icewine $55
Osoyoos Larose - Le Grand Vin (Bordeaux Blend red wine) $45
Black Hills - Nota Bene (Bordeaux Blend red wine) $60
Painted Rock - Icon (Bordeaux Blend red wine) $55
Laughing Stock - Portfolio (Bordeaux Blend red wine) $40
Poplar Grove - Legacy (Bordeaux Blend red wine) $50
Tantalus - Old Vines Riesling $30
Burrowing Owl - Cabernet Franc $35
Blue Mountain - Reserve Pinot Noir $40
Obviously, there are other great wines not on this list. These are some of my favorite selections from a few chosen producers (and I had to create a short list!).
The BC Wine Industry has exploded over the past 20 years. Government taxation accounts for seemingly high prices of BC wines in comparison to some countries. This will hopefully put pressure on producers to keep their wines competitively priced. With increased educational programs, better wine making practices, healthy competition inside and outside of BC and strong marketing campaigns, BC wines will carve out a welcome niche in the world wine scene.
- Canadian Vintners Association
- Wines of Canada
- BC Wine Institute
- Wine Islands Vintners Association
- UBC Wine Research Centre