After spending another beautiful day rock climbing at the Skaha Bluffs near Penticton, it was time to continue our way to the Canadian Rockies. But before leaving the beautiful British Columbia behind, we made a few stops to indulge in some quality wine tasting at the Okanagan Valley. Around this area, there are many wineries and fruit orchards. They cover the terrains along the lakes, all the way from the US border and up to Kelowna.
This was my first time ever tasting Canadian wines. I really didn’t know much about them, even if I spent a few years of my youth living in Montreal. I’m not a wine expert by any means, but I do enjoy wine and love to learn about it. When I found out that there is some wine production in Canada, I was excited to try it out. It turns out that even though the Okanagan Valley is one of the largest producing regions in Canada, wine is also made in the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Prince Edward County among others.
Of all the wineries we visited, our favorite was Dirty Laundry; not only because they had the best wines we sampled, but also because their history is quite interesting. Back in the day when they were building the Canadian Pacific Railway, the place started as a Chinese laundry that would serve the town of Summerland. However, the owner soon realised that he could also cater to his neighbours dirtier desires, so he also had a gambling den and a brothel on the second floor.
Somehow, the place evolved into a vineyard and instead of being embarrassed by their soiled past, they have turned it into the base of their marketing strategy. Everywhere you look, the theme of their laundry store front operations is present; as well as the references to the sexier activities that went on behind closed doors. But make no mistake, their success is not only due to wise marketing. Their wines are truly remarkable and continue to win awards and recognition in British Columbia and Canada.
Another vineyard worth mentioning is Quails’ Gate, in West Kelowna. They have a beautiful place overlooking the Okanagan Lake, where you can enjoy a glass of wine outside with a beautiful view on the vines. Also, the people working there were the friendliest by far and made us feel very much welcome as they presented their wines. We ended up buying a bottle of their rosé wine, with part of the proceeds going to support breast cancer research.
After tasting these wonderful wines, I started to look for them in the liquor stores around the country. In Canada, most provinces have governmental control on the sale of alcoholic beverages, so most stores are government-owned. The one exception is Alberta, where all shops are privately owned. As we made our way further East, it became harder and harder to find wines from the Okanagan Valley. In that part of the country, national wines come mostly from the Niagara Peninsula; or they are what they call “Cellared in Canada” — which are wines made mostly with foreign grapes.