Oleksyn: A tour through some of my favourite spots in Okanagan wine country

This month, the northern part of the valley is profiled. Watch for the south in August

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Wineries in British Columbia’s Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys will have almost no grape crop this season because of severe damage to buds and vines this winter, but that doesn’t mean they are out of wine.

Because the production of wine takes one or more years depending on the wine and the aging processes, the loss of the crop won’t be felt until next year and the years after. While a massive replant is likely because the cold killed many vines, wineries are hoping a strong tourist season can bring some much-needed support.

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To help plan a B.C. wine trip, my next two columns will highlight some of my favourite spots to visit. This month I look at the northern half of the valley. Next month I’ll look at the southern half of the valley, plus the Similkameen Valley.

Lake Country

The region north of Kelowna along the east side of Okanagan Lake is usually where my wine vacations begin since it’s close to Highway 97, the gateway to wine country from Calgary. It’s also handy to the Kelowna International Airport.

White wines such as riesling, pinot gris and chardonnay do well in this cooler area, as well as pinot noir and sparkling wines. One of the Okanagan’s oldest wineries – Gray Monk Estate – offers stunning views, tasty food and highlight wines such as pinot auxerrois and the Odyssey sparkling wines.

Also in Lake Country, former Calgarians Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel are marking 15 years in the wine business at their showpiece 50th Parallel Estate winery and restaurant. The energetic couple offer aromatic whites and pinot noir, plus a few tasty sparklers. My favourite has always been the pinot gris.

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The largest city in the interior wine country has top wineries scattered throughout, many with long histories. CedarCreek Estate Winery has committed to organic farming and wildlife-friendly practices. Scottish highland cattle trim the grass and fertilize the vineyards while worm farms and kestrels renew the soil and keep nature in balance. The organic Estate Series wines offer great value. Check out the pinot noir.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery was one of the first spots in the valley to go organic while harnessing ‘pyramid power’ for wine storage. The tours are fun here, and so are the wines, particularly the deep lineup of bubblies.

Up the hill on the east side of Kelowna, Tantalus Vineyards offers expansive views from a sleek, LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) winery. While all the wines are very high quality, the riesling and old vines riesling are the stars.

If pinot noir is your pleasure, visit SpearHead Winery, also in the eastern hills. Winemaker Grant Stanley has a soft spot for the often challenging grape, bringing out its best. The single-vineyard wines made from pinot noirs grown in different parts of the valley offer a window into terroir.

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West Kelowna

Across the lake from downtown Kelowna are some standout wineries, led by the magnificent Mission Hill Family Winery. It’s a stunning architectural spot with a deep core of wines. I find the Perpetua chardonnay a consistently outstanding premium bottle.

A visit to Quails’ Gate, with vineyards overlooking Okanagan Lake, is always a must for both the wine and the food at the Old Vines Restaurant. The pinot noir and chardonnay offerings have been expanded at the winery, though it’s hard to beat the value offered by the chasselas – pinot blanc- pinot gris white blend on a hot day.

For something a little different, pop into the hatch, just down the road from Quails’ Gate. Quirky and unique, it’s a fun, unpretentious place to taste. Give the B.Yanco a try. It’s an off-dry white blend featuring chenin blanc, gewurztraminer and several other grapes.


The next wine stop south of Kelowna is Summerland, with an array of smaller, family-run wineries. But a popular stop along the way is Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards at Greata Ranch, located about halfway between Peachland and Summerland. Perched in a spot overlooking the lake, the focus is on aromatic whites and sparkling wines. The Fitz Brut is a classic cuvee blending pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

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In Summerland, the almost electric sparkling wines at Lightning Rock, made from grapes grown on two distinctive terroirs, are worth trying side by side. They show the difference place makes.

Haywire Winery started as a custom crush facility for budding new winemakers, but now the facility primarily produces its own wines, with an emphasis on fresh styles thanks to the use of concrete rather than oak for much of its winemaking. The Garnet Valley pinot noir offers a taste of a new high-elevation vineyard area northwest of Summerland.

Lunessence Winery & Vineyards is a boutique winery in a quiet spot with views east toward Naramata. Certified organic since 2020, the wines are vibrant, with bright acidity, particularly in the memorable ESV riesling.

Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines. 

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