Which wineries to visit in the Okanagan Valley is a constant query from readers. Just in time for the busy, late summer/fall harvest period we turn to the considerable results of the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada for some direction.
The competition was the largest ever look at Canadian wines totalling over 1,700 wines from 242 wineries from across the country. The wines came from eight provinces and British Columbia had the highest representation with 132 wineries entered. Ontario had the second-largest contingent at 77 followed by wineries from Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Prince Edward Island. You can find all the individual results online at WineAlign, but this month we chose to highlight the five, highest-ranked B.C. wineries to put together your must-visit touring guide.
The No. 1-ranked B.C. winery and No. 4 in the country is Road 13. Based along the Golden Mile south of the town of Oliver they grabbed one platinum medal and four gold medals. A competition star was the Road 13 Vineyards 2014 Similkameen Collective GSM ($44); the 2015 Syrah Malbec ($32), the 2013 Sparkling Chenin Blanc ($40) and the 2012 Fifth Element Red Blends ($42). The Luckhurst Family has owned Road 13, formerly known as Golden Mile Cellars, since 2003. Today the property boasts 20 hectares of Castle Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench and four hectares of East Bench Vineyard on Black Sage Road. The winery has one of the finest private tasting rooms in the valley open to highly valued Club 13 members. Drop by, sign up and get ready to receive some amazing bottles.
Mission Hill finished No. 2 in B.C. this year and fifth in the country as the winery settles in under new winery GM and chief winemaker Darryl Brooker. The judges meted out four gold medals to the Mission Hill Family Estate Quatrain ($85), the 2014 Compendium ($85), the 2014 Reserve Merlot ($24) and the 2015 Perpetua Chardonnay ($50). The winery's new tour program features first-class wine country experiences that range from 45 minutes to five hours. Tours can sell out quickly and guests who arrive without a reservation will be offered tour space on a first-come, first-choice basis.
No. 3 in B.C. and sixth in Canada went to Quails' Gate Estate Winery. Winemaker Nikki Callaway continues to amp up the quality at Quails' Gate wine grabbing four (difficult to win) gold medals for the Quails' Gate 2014 The Connemara ($63), the 2016 Botrytis Affected Optima Late Harvest ($31.15), the 2015 Rosemary's Block Chardonnay ($56) and her 2016 Rosé ($18). Callaway seems to have the magic touch injecting some fun into the wines after upping the overall quality of fruit and tannins. It's no simple task. The winery tasting room is spectacularly situated, but a dinner reservation at the Old Vines restaurant may be the best way to enjoy these wines.
From West Kelowna, we head back down to Oliver and Burrowing Owl, fourth in B.C. and seventh in Canada. The south Okanagan heat is good for Burrowing Owl's red as evidenced by a trio of gold medal competition winners: Burrowing Owl 2015 Syrah ($44), the 2014 Merlot ($41) and the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($31). The best way to enjoy Burrowing Owl wines is to stay overnight at The Guest House. The winery is offering a series of fall getaways during and after the harvest and right on through to the holiday season. Each getaway package includes dinner at The Senora Room.
Jeff and Niva Martin are co-founders of the Naramata Bench powerhouse La Frenz, No. 5 in B.C., No. 10 in Canada, but with case production under 10,000 cases it also took home the 2017 Best Performing Small Winery of the Year at The Nationals. As for the wines that made it all happen, La Frenz grabbed a coveted platinum medal for its 2015 Ensemble Reserve ($25) a 70/30 blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon, and a gold medal for its 2016 Semillon Knorr Vineyard ($22). Drop by the winery and enjoy the view that once graced the back of Canada's $100 bill.
Meyer Vineyards, Bench 1775, CedarCreek, Inniskillin Okanagan and Lake Breeze round out the top-10 list of B.C. wineries at The Nationals, which seemingly goes from strength to strength with each succeeding year.
After 17 competitions as a judge, it's clear British Columbia wine has come of age. We no longer need to copy the competition; in fact, given the fresh, sometimes electric, style of B.C. wine it's quite possible others will soon be copying us. Many love to compare Old World and New World wines but it's clear a lot of what's happening in British Columbia, right now, is next world wine. It couldn't be more exciting and all the more reason why you should plan a trip to wine country and discover for yourself the remarkable evolution of British Columbia wine. The harvest awaits you.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine, log onto www.gismondionwine.com.