Kelowna Wine Tours – Connecting History to Taste Buds
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia’s southern Interior, along with the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, is home to over 200 different wineries. Boasting close to 4,000 hectares of vineyards planted in the region, the two valley’s produce over 90-percent of all wine within the province. The economic impact of the Okanagan wine industry places it second in all of Canada with Ontario’s Niagara Region taking the top spot.
an early settler in the region and a French Catholic Priest, planted the first Okanagan Valley vineyard in 1859. The wine that was produced there was intended only for sacramental purposes however, a few smaller vineyards appeared in and around the area in the following years. Fruit wines produced from local crops of cherries, apples and berries became the norm in the 20th century with the first commercial winery established in 1932. Calona Wines is still in production and has the distinction of being the oldest continuously running winery in the province. It was also British Columbia’s first winery.
Wine Industry Grows
Experimental plantings of the European grape Vitis vinifera by a number of growers in the mid-1970s expanded the grape varieties available in the region. It was also at this time that German viticulturalist and grape breeder Helmut Becker promoted the need for German grape varieties to be grown in the Okanagan. He even gave growers clones that were developed in the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute in Germany.
When the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in the late 1980s, more growers planted vinifera in an effort to pull attention away from the influx of imported wines that entered the marketplace from Washington, Oregon and California. The increased competition from American wines that were now available in retail outlets saw the Canadian government create a grant program for growers who uprooted hybrid vines so they could replace them with vinifera.
Wine Tasting & Tours
In order to compete with imported wines, the quality of products produced in the Okanagan Valley increased and led to the development of another industry – wine tours. Heavily promoted to today as a tourism attraction, Kelowna wine tours feature a variety of programs as vast as the selection of different wines coming from the region. Tour operators are located up and down the entire valley providing mini to large scale tour programs ranging from luxury wine tour packages to smaller trips to specific areas such as a Naramata tour or South Okanagan tour.
In addition to tours, UBC Okanagan launched the Okanagan Wine School program in 2010. It included a course that provided a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Foundation certification. The course was designed to provide information on how to store and serve wine, what to say to customers about the product and how to engage with them. The program included field trips to area wineries and vineyards to gain additional basic knowledge on the wine industry starting with where the grapes are grown. It also features extensive wine tasting and food/wine pairing tutorials.
The Types of Tours
Individual Self-Guided Tour – This is the back-to-basics approach to visiting local wineries and tasting rooms. All you need is a map of the wineries in the region, available from the local tourism information centre, and away you go! Pamphlets developed specifically on Kelowna wine tours or tours within the region will outline locations, hours of operation, tasting room availability and whether or not tours of the vineyard or facilities are offered.
Guided Tour – Okanagan tour operators will pick you up and add you to a group or will pick up your entire group. Packages range from visiting a few smaller wineries to full scale luxury wine tours featuring dining, tastings, winery visits and accommodations. These programs can run for a day to several days. The tour guide will be knowledgeable about all venues and amenities.
Special Event Guided Tours – Whether you are planning a family wine tour, a get-together with friends, a wedding or special occasion, luxury wine tours can be personalized to your specific requirements. This may include pairing an Okanagan tour with golf or other outdoor activity. The limits are only within your imagination as many Kelowna and area wine tour operators are prepared to create the experience you dream of as a personalized tour/tasting package.
For More Information
Tourism Kelowna is a great source of information on guided wine tours as well as on the many companies that offer these programs in the Central Okanagan. The Penticton Wine Country Visitor Centre features wines from local wineries and information on tours of South Okanagan wineries including Naramata tour details. In the Similkameen Valley the same information is available from Similkameen Country Information Centre in Keremeos.