The Okanagan Valley has become a mecca for wine lovers from across North America, but few British Columbians are aware of how important one small 40-kilometre stretch has been in the region’s success.
On the drive from McIntyre Bluff north of Oliver to the U.S. border south of Osoyoos, there are 39 wineries, according to Tony Munday, executive director of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association.
“Over 60 percent of the grapes that grow into the entire B.C. wine industry are produced inside our borders,” Munday told the Georgia Straight by phone from his office in Oliver. “Having the most amount of grapes in this area, we also have one of the densest populations of wineries to go with it.”
They include large wineries with full-service restaurants and guest rooms, like Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Hester Creek Estate Winery. There are also many charming smaller farms along the route, such as Maverick Estate Winery or Covert Farms Family Estate, which offer visitors an opportunity to learn how wine is being produced as naturally as possible in this region.
Veteran winemaker Michael Bartier of Bartier Bros. told the Straight by phone that a combination of factors, including very young soils, has created ideal conditions for growing exceptional wines in this part of the province. The retreat of glaciers and the melting of an ice dam some 10,000 years ago caused soil and rock to come rumbling over McIntyre Bluff into the area around Oliver.
“It’s all been transported here from elsewhere,” Bartier explained. “We’re farming on quartz. We’re farming on gneiss. We’re farming on granite. We’re farming on limestone. We have this incredible suite of soils.”
Bartier said that this gives wines produced in the Oliver-Osoyoos region their mineral tastes, enhancing their complexity. According to Bartier, the northern latitude also provides the Okanagan with more light during the growing season than exists in any other wine region in the world.
Another industry veteran, Bruce Schmidt of Intersection Estate Winery, described Okanagan grapes as being more “fruit-forward” than those produced in any other wine-producing country.
“Even if it’s the same genetic subtype of grape and it’s imported here and put in our ground as opposed to somebody else’s ground, it expresses differently,” Schmidt told the Straight by phone. “We’re taking advantage of that.”
The popularity of Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country is reflected in the association’s events, such as the annual Pig Out!, which will bring together chefs from eight local restaurants for a feast on April 30.
Munday said that this year, the theme is "if pigs could moo". The chefs will create dishes with pork and beef, which will be paired with different wines from the area.
Meanwhile, the Half Corked Marathon Weekend (May 27 to 29) features a 17.8-kilometre running event with winetasting and fruit stations along the route. Now in its seventh year, the association had to introduce a lottery system to cope with the demand by potential entrants.
“It’s a 1,000-participant race,” Munday said. “This year, we had over 4,000 people register to get tickets.”