Golden Plates 2022: Sunshine and geology add plenty of zip to Okanagan wines

Georgia Straight readers voted for Poplar Grove and Burrowing Owl as the best B.C. wineries for white and red wine, respectively, in this year's Golden Plates awards

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      Several years ago, veteran winemaker Michael Bartier of Bartier Bros. Vineyard and Winery told the Straight why the Okanagan region produced such exceptional vintages.

      He pointed to such factors as latitude and geology, among others.

      The Okanagan enjoys almost two more hours of sunlight per day during the growing season than is available in any other wine-growing region in the world.

      In addition, Bartier stated, the area around Oliver has relatively young soils as a result of the retreat of the glaciers and the melting of an ice dam about 10,000 years ago.

      “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.

      These minerals enhance the complexity of wines in the Golden Mile Bench subregion of the Okanagan Valley.

      The Okanagan wine industry is also benefiting from some top-flight scientific research at UBC Okanagan. Its wine and grapes “cluster” of researchers, headed by biochemistry and molecular-biology assistant professor Wesley Zandberg, is proving biochemical and genetic analyses to support the wine industry’s efforts to adapt to climate change and respond to changing consumer preferences.

      There was once a time when people in B.C. feared for the future of the province’s wine industry as free-trade talks were underway between the U.S. and Canada in the 1980s. That was back when many British Columbians were buying their plonk by the box.

      Nowadays, the Okanagan Valley is a premier wine-growing region with 86 percent of the province’s vineyard acreage, according to the Wine Growers of British Columbia. The association points out that the industry contributes $2.8 billion to the B.C. economy and there are more than 370 licensed wineries in nine different growing regions.

      Basically, it’s become a huge industry with some sprawling estates that rival those in California. Busloads of tourists are among the more than one million people who visit B.C. wineries every year.

      But there’s also something endearing about this sector. Even if you show up in grubby camping gear, you’re likely to receive just as warm a welcome as those who arrive with their Gucci bags. Just tell them what you like, whether it’s a Syrah or Pinot Noir, and obliging staff will do their best to accommodate your wishes.

      Here’s a tip. If you’re planning a wine-tourism trip to the Okanagan, check out #BCWineChat on Twitter every Wednesday night from 8 to 9 p.m. Wine aficionados from across the province participate in a group conversation using that hashtag. There, you’ll learn about everything from the newest high-end winery to limited-production wines worth sampling.

      Here’s another tip. You might want to look at the wineries listed in the Georgia Straight's annual Golden Plates survey of readers.

      The family-owned Poplar Grove, one of the original five wineries on the Naramata Bench, received the most votes this year as the best B.C. winery for white wines. Over the years, it's been a popular destination not only for tourists, but also for those exchanging wedding vows.

      Poplar Grove was followed by Burrowing Owl and CheckMate Artisanal Winery in Oliver, which tied for second place. La Frenz in Penticton and Quails’ Gate in West Kelowna tied for third in this category.

      As far as reds go, Burrowing Owl came out on top, followed by Sandhill Wines in Kelowna. Tied for third were Mission Hill in West Kelowna and Road 13 in Oliver.

      We’ll drink to that!