Let’s put the Okanagan wine industry, on a world scale, in perspective:
Spain – 2,990,000 acres of vineyards
France – 2,134,000 acres of vineyards
California – 543,000 acres of vineyards
Okanagan – 9,500 acres of vineyards
In the whole scheme of things, we’re only a drop in the bucket of the world of wine. So what makes us so special? Why are Okanagan wines so expensive?
The Okanagan is one of the most northern areas where grapes (that are used to make wine) can grow well. Because of our short growing season and the vines’ struggle to ripen fruit, the quality goes up! One of the other things which makes our region special is, of course, Okanagan Lake and the steep slopes that meet it on both sides. Because of these slopes, there are many different ‘aspects’ or ways the vineyards are able to slope, which means we can tailor the vineyards to the types of grapes that would do best in each specific aspect. We’ll get more into what makes us unique another time!
What most people find discouraging about buying Okanagan or BC wines is the price. It’s hard justifying spending 20-40$ a bottle on an Okanagan wine when you can get the same grape, grown in Argentina, for 10-14$ a bottle. There are a few major factors that lend themselves to this price difference, most have to do with the newness of our industry. Okanagan wine has only been popular since the 80’s, giving us less than 40 years to fine-tune our craft and to pay off all of our initial overhead expenses!
In comparison, some wineries in France have been around for hundreds of years and have had more than enough time to pay off buildings, machinery and land. Because of VQA rules, all BC wineries must have their own equipment to qualify for approval. In France, there are communal areas for grapes to be processed, taking the financial burden off of new and smaller wineries.
Wineries in the South Okanagan tend to focus on, and excel with, red grapes. They need a bit more heat to ripen and Osoyoos can be 4-5 degrees hotter every day, perfect for the grapes! Try a Merlot – Cab Sauv blend from there for a rich and full bodied wine with lots of dark fruit characteristics.
North Okanagan wineries typically work with vineyards that are a little cooler and produce better white grapes. Check out a Riesling for a typically sweeter white with good acidity (great for food pairing).
Two of my current favorite wines are the Pinot Gris from Tight Rope in Naramata and the Screaming Frenzy Meritage from The Hatch in West Kelowna.