From growing grapes you’ve never heard of to producing wine in a garage, these 5 wineries are all uniquely making wine
Mention the Okanagan Valley and someone within earshot is likely to pipe up about their latest vacation or wine find. With more than 200 wineries in British Columbia and over half of them in the Okanagan, this hot spot is about more than just warm temperatures.
The summer Okanagan landscape reveals tended green vines reaching up sloped hillsides, creating vibrant blocks of colour surrounded by dusty sagebrush and golden grasses. The area emits a boomtown vibe, and each year fresh faces join the quest to stake their wine claim.
Growth in this wine industry means increased variety for consumers, which can be challenging to navigate. As rows of unknown names stare at you from store shelves, choosing a newer label can feel somewhat risky – sometimes, it’s easier to slip into the familiar than to try something new.
With that in mind, here are five wineries doing cool things in hot BC wine country.
Covert Farms Family Estate
Why it’s cool: their 600 acres has furry cows & roaming sheep – these folks live farming
Wine to watch: happy, big, luscious red blend 2010 Amicitia (A-mee-chee-tee-ah)
Covert Farms is a study in history – of the people who made it their home and the geography that provides a unique agricultural microclimate. Grandpa Covert settled his family here in the 1950s; Gene Covert has maintained and grown the family farming business, expanding ground crops like tomato and muskmelon to include 325 acres of vineyards.
With the majority of their vines under contract, Gene and Shelly maintain 25 acres to support Covert Farms Family Estate winery and produce approximately 3,000 cases per year. All wines are made from organic grapes – the entire farm is certified organic, right down to the pumpkin patch.
As Covert’s acreage is tabled atop McIntyre Bluff at an elevation of just over 600 meters (2,000 feet), in autumn, frost visits Covert vineyards a few weeks after it lands on the valley floor – which can mean a slightly longer hang time for their grapes. Pinot blanc and semillon respond well up here, and under the guidance of Gene and his team the bigger reds like syrah, zinfandel, and petit verdot are also quite happy to be there.
If you visit, be sure to ask about their permaculture program: those furry cows and roaming sheep provide the farm with much more than a great photo-op.
107th Street, Oliver, B.C. covertfarms.ca/winery
Why it’s cool: old vines, new wines – and summertime outdoor live theatre
Wine to watch: slightly-brooding, in-a-very-good-way, 2012 Pinot Noir
A less-heralded but quite remarkable region in this valley is Okanagan Falls – home to eight wineries, with four more in neighbouring areas. Small wineries are starting to join the few that have been here since the 1980s. In 2014, Liquidity Wines officially opens to the public and is a stellar addition to this group.
On entry to the grounds, outdoor art sculptures guide you along the laneway to a contemporary tasting room with a perfectly framed postcard-worthy view of vineyards and nearby McIntyre Bluff. Lucky for us, this is where Liquidity Wines president, Ian MacDonald’s love of art, food, and wine intersect.
An open-kitchen bistro headed by Chef Rob Walker features a fresh sheet program serving lunch and dinner, with wines from around Okanagan Falls. Starting in July, Liquidity will host fringe-festival style stage productions on their crush pad complete with outdoor wine bar. Dinner and a show, at a winery? Yes please.
In the cellar, winemaker Matt Holmes has acted in what he describes as “helpful observer” capacity here since 2010. Matt’s hands-off winemaking style results in approachable wines with subtle layers and complexities, showcasing the terroir of Liquidity’s 20+ year-old vineyards as well as its newly planted ones.
4720 Allendale Road, Okanagan Falls, B.C. liquiditywines.com
Why it’s cool: they grow delicious grapes we’ve probably never heard of
Wine to watch: pour-me-another-refreshing-glass-please white blend 2013 Fandango
The job of winemaking is anything but glamorous, with grapes to press and tanks to clean, not to mention long harvest days. So when Bob and Senka Tennant sold their Okanagan winery in 2007, it was nice to see the couple literally roll up their sleeves and start Terravista Vineyards the following year.
Bob and Senka have planted 4.5 acres of albariño and verdejo on the Naramata Bench – two white wine grapes heralding from Spain, and not planted anywhere else in Canada. Winemaker Senka prefers to take the road less traveled; use of oval-shaped stainless steel tanks in the cellar is part of this philosophy.
The couple do most of the work here themselves, from pruning the vineyard to playing host in the modernist concrete tasting room all summer. Bob is constructing a movable tasting bar that can play multi-function, and Senka can talk for hours about art history or literature. They’re a kind and generous renaissance couple.
At present, Terravista produces 1,200 cases of wine per year with a capacity for 1,600 as demand increases – and with wines like these, it will.
1853 Sutherland Road, Penticton, B.C. terravistavineyards.com
Why it’s cool: super small lot wines, made by hand, in a garage – literally
Wine to watch: luscious-and-fresh, 2013 Viognier
Some wineries boast luxurious tasting lounges with snazzy stemware and majestic views. Not so here. In 2011, Tyler Harlton leased a space in a small Summerland industrial complex and opened TH Wines: a fledgling winery wedged beside a fleet of vintage automobiles – and seasonally, a boat in winter storage.
Tyler’s by-your-own-bootstraps business approach has meant a slow and modest start; 1,000 cases in 2012 with 1,500 expected for the 2013 vintage. TH Wines reflects Tyler’s wine preference: crafted by hand with minimal interference, the greatest influence being the land and how it’s farmed. His grower partners are like-minded.
Their grape press is old school, can press a small amount of grapes at once, and requires a hands-on approach that larger wineries wouldn’t easily be able to facilitate. Smaller production means the use of this softer press method that results in less juice, but the wines better fit with the TH Wines way of thinking. Here, “small lots” is taken literally – as in two or three barrels at a time.
TH Wines is open this summer, newly finished and freshly painted – likely by Tyler.
#1 – 9576 Cedar Avenue, Summerland. B.C. thwines.com
Upper Bench Winery & Creamery
Why it’s cool: a really good winemaker married a really good cheesemaker
Wine to watch: takes-me-to-a-happy-place, 2012 Pinot Noir
Destiny, at times, has a funny (and tasty) sense of humour. Like when a winemaker met a cheesemaker and they fell in love, got hitched, and opened a wine and cheese shop. If this sounds like a fairytale, it kind of is.
Gavin and Shana Miller are a husband-winemaker and wife-cheesemaker pair who in 2011, along with business partners Wayne and Margareta Nystrom, opened Upper Bench Winery & Creamery outside Penticton. Shana is known for making delicious cheeses, and Gavin has a solid reputation for crafting bold red wines.
This year, Upper Bench anticipates expanding wine sales – including into Alberta. The winery and creamery are open seven days a week; if you visit, you might catch Shana singing to the cheeses
170 Upper Bench Road, Penticton, B.C. upperbench.ca