Fall in Love with Okanagan Wine

okanagan wine

If you visit the Okanagan region, you can’t leave without trying Okanagan wine. South Okanagan in beautiful British Columbia is a fabulous summer destination. While you’re there appreciating the unique landscape, and the changing hues of the fruit trees and the vineyards, sample some of these outstanding Okanagan wines created by the many established growers and newcomers to the region. We’ve come up with a few must-tries for you.

Where to find the best Okanagan wine:

1. Upper Bench Winery & Creamery

Okanagan winery

If you’re lucky, you’ll find Shana, the ‘Big Cheese’ – half of the duo responsible for this small family-owned winery (husband Gavin Miller is the winemaker) – in the tasting room when you arrive. She treats all guests to her expertise and enthusiasm as they taste their unique cheeses, alongside various wines.

Their Brie is wonderfully creamy, with a lovely soft, yet textured rind. The Gold offered a firmer texture, a golden-washed rind and a slightly nutty flavour. The Grey Baby, named for Shana’s cat, has a lovely bloomy grey rind, almost no typical blue cheese veining but an absolutely melt-in-your-mouth texture and delicate flavours. Truly cheese heaven!

Our recommendations:

Upper Bench Riesling

Their brie pairs well with their Dry Riesling. Light-mid weight, the nose is floral and fruity with underlying mineral notes, the palate crisp and bright offering flavours of orchard fruit and lemon zest, the finish tart and tangy yet fruity.

The Chardonnay continues to be made with an emphasis on purity of fruit, half the wine aged only 3 months in French oak, the balance in stainless, so that the delicate notes of spice and warm pastry garnish the aromas and flavours of tropical fruit, melon and juicy pear, while a hint of pithy grapefruit adds tang to the creamy finish. It provided a great pairing with the Oka-like Gold cheese.

The Grey Baby cheese is a perfect complement to their Pinot Noir red wine – an elegant, silky wine with lifted floral notes, bright red fruit and hints of earth and spice. Medium-bodied, it’s intensely flavourful, and subtly structured, the flavours of ripe red fruit interwoven with delicate notes of spice and mineral.

Their Yard Wine is a signature wine, a Bordeaux-style red wine blend of co-fermented Merlot and Cabernets (mainly Franc) that’s medium-full bodied, full of aromas and flavours of sweet black and red fruits, hints of chocolate-coated caramel and spice as well as complementary undertones of tomato leaf and earth. Underpinned with ripe tannins and fresh acidity, it’s a very approachable, gulpable wine!

While the small production of Upper Bench wines means that they won’t be found in the LCBO, you can always join their wine and cheese clubs.

2. Painted Rock Winery

If you’re making your way along the east side of Skaha Lake from OK Falls toward Penticton, make your way up the bench to Painted Rock, where you may be lucky enough to find proprietor John Skinner at the tasting bar.

Okanagan winery - Painted Rock

John worked in the financial industry in Vancouver for many years, all the while developing his fascination with fine wines and the wine industry. In 2004, he and his wife Trish purchased a former fruit orchard on the bench that had lain fallow for almost 2 decades. About 25 acres were planted to a variety of vitis vinifera clones in 2005 and 2006. As a result of his interaction with the nursery from which he sourced his clones, John was contacted by wine consultant Alain Sutre (who also consults with Don Triggs’ Culmina estate winery), who continues to work with Painted Rock to this day. As an example of the valuable input he provides, during the extremely hot 2015 vintage, Alain counselled John and his team to allow the vine canopy to grow to ensure shading of the grapes from the sun and to prevent scorching. This allowed for a longer hang time, good maturation of the fruit and retention of acidity.

John’s commitment to premium Okanagan winemaking and his delight in his property and the local trails was evident as he interspersed our tasting with anecdotes of the recent vintages and photos of local pictographs he has found on the granite outcroppings.

Our recommendations:

Painted rock bottle

Their Rosé wine is a Saignée, an assemblage of his red grapes, including Merlot, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Francs, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah. A lovely salmon hue, it shows some residual sugar and warmth from the hot vintage, aromas and flavours of strawberry/rhubarb compote, dried cherry and dried herbs, and a lovely silky, fruity finish.

Their Merlot, aged 18 months in a combination of new and second-fill French oak, is dry, full-bodied red wine with tangy, showing rich lifted aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and raspberry, warm sweet spice and hints of menthol and herbs, underpinned by ripe tannins and a fresh texture.

Their Cabernet Franc was a particular favorite, seducing with its lifted floral notes of red rose and violet, the sweet hints of baking spice, cocoa and plummy fruit, and a subtle whiff of graphite. Dry and firmly structured, it’s loaded with flavours of black currant garnished with notes of herbs and cracked pepper. Finishing long and dry, this red Okanagan wine shows great cellaring potential.

None of these wines are on the LCBO website, but John also offers a wine club.

3. Nk’Mip Winery

Nestled on a bench just above Lake Osoyoos, the Nk’Mip Cellars is as much a part of the land as its owner/operators, the Osoyoos Indian Band. In a partnership with the then-Canadian wine conglomerate, Vincor, the band established the first indigenous-owned winery, and winemaker Randy Picton started there in 2002, just in time for the first harvest.

British Columbia Wine Region

Located on a small campus that includes the Desert Cultural Centre, the Sonora Dunes Golf Course and Spirit Ridge Resort . Purchased by Constellation Brands Canadian wine properties (including its investment in Nk’Mip) a few years ago by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund means that the winery is now fully in Canadian hands once again.

The view from this Okanagan winery is idyllic, rows of golden-leaved vines marching down the sloping vineyard to Lake Osoyoos, the small resort town of Osoyoos rising from the lake to a backdrop of rugged Sonoran desert mountainous landscape.

Winemaker Randy has honed his craft so that no matter the level of wines tasted, you can expect deftly crafted high-quality wines made to his standards. To quote Randy, “My approach is to focus on every detail in the vineyard in order to bring the best possible grapes to the winery. The vineyard is expressed in the bottle.” He is assisted at the winery by Justin Hall, a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band who has studied viticulture and enology in Canada, as well as in New Zealand, and previously worked in the industry in Australia before landing at Nk’Mip.

You see his experience in cool climate winemaking in the vibrant, fresh Pinot Blanc a great value white wine that offers subtle aromatics of citrus and orchard fruit, with clean, crisp flavours of lemon, pithy grapefruit mineral through a zesty finish.

Our recommendations:

The Merlot is an easy-going crowd pleaser, a dry mid-weight red Okanagan wine aged 12 months in a combination of French and American oak, offering flavours of cherry and plum, herbs, spice and cocoa through a nice lively finish.

The signature Syrah is produced from estate fruit, this Okanagan wine aged 18 months in French oak is a complex, full-bodied deep purple wine with layers of flavours – dark berry fruits, exotic spice, Okanagan sage, and cracked pepper with notes of dark chocolate and coffee bean wrapped in a firm structure. It’s a great value and worthy of cellaring.

Check out their wine club.


Now you have 3 more reasons to pack your bags and head to British Columbia wine region!

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