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The desert-like Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are the primary source of fruit and are about a four-hour drive, due east, over the Coast Mountains. By the summer of 2010, nearly 500 independent growers will be farming grapes and some 175 wineries will be making wine in B.C., including several on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and, closer to Vancouver, in the Fraser Valley.
Our Italian visitors will be interested to know pinot gris leads all white plantings in the Okanagan, followed by chardonnay, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc and riesling. Our best chardonnays with unobtrusive oak are a cross between France's Chablis and Meursault - the perfect match to local halibut and free run chicken.
In terms of style, our aromatic white blends are more than up to global standards and the best of our aromatic varietals fit in well with our blend of seafood, lighter West Coast dishes and pan-Asian menus. Imagine a crab and spicy black bean sauce dish or a fabulous Indian curry heating up your palate and then washing it all down with a juicy, aromatic, slightly sweet ehrenfelser, riesling or multi-varietal aromatic blend.
Among the red plantings, merlot tops the list followed by pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc. That said, our future is likely to be syrah and merlot followed by blended reds with some space for pinot noir grown on cooler sites.
Our best syrah is alarmingly good, and given we've only been producing it for less than a decade makes you wonder how good this peppery, dense red will be 20 years from now.
Merlot doesn't get the press it should because there is so much dross made in the world but B.C.'s cool climate and special soils converge to make this variety work in most instances. It is not Bordeaux but we take our cues from the elegant French version and give them a West Coast accessibility.
Here's a short list of winery names to look for followed by some personal label picks. Put them up against the world and see for yourself why British Columbia is considered one of the small but emerging elite wine regions.
Blasted Church : Chardonnay Musqué, Hatfield's Fuse
Black Hills : Alibi
Blue Mountain : Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Reserve
Burrowing Owl : Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay