Thomas J. Story
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The Okanagan Valley’s main city, Kelowna, is 240 miles (a five-hour drive) east of Vancouver and a six-hour drive from Seattle. You can fly to Kelowna directly from Vancouver or Seattle.INFO Thompson Okanagan Tourism (800/567-2275). For details on wine-tasting events, visit the British Columbia Wine Institute.
By Margo True, Sunset food editor
My favorite scene in the Disney classic Fantasia is the one in which the Earth evolves at warp speed, from a dark mass to a frenzy of erupting volcanoes and thundering dinosaurs. Normally, wine tasting does not make me think of this movie. But in the Okanagan, it does.
The wine scene in this achingly gorgeous British Columbia valley, with its long chain of lakes gleaming down the center, started heating up only about 20 years ago.
That's when Okanagan winemakers, facing a new free-trade agreement with the United States, started ripping out the musky hybrid grapes they'd been using (mainly for jug wine) and furiously planting high-quality European varietals so that they could compete with American imports.
They tried everything and anything, because the valley's unique geography ― cooler in the north and hot in the south, with 100 miles of microclimates in between ― makes it possible to grow an incredible range of cold- and hot-weather grapes.
That's why wine tasting in the Okanagan today is so much fun: The valley is still in full-throttle discovery mode, with a 19 percent increase in the number of wineries in the past two years and different kinds of grapes going in all the time ― nearly 60 varietals, planted all over the benchlands, hillsides, and valley floor.
Where else are you going to find South African Pinotage, German Riesling, Swiss Chasselas, Italian Sangiovese, and French Mourvèdre growing in such close proximity ― and for the most part done well?
Add to this the Okanagan's natural beauty (it's a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do (from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking), and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside, and you've got a wine-country experience like no other.
Next: Where to sip