A guide to Okanagan Wine Country

This Okanagan Wine Country guide delves into the region’s top wines and the vineyards that produce them. In addition, for those who want to visit, here are a few travel tips for the wine aficionado. You’re about to learn about an incredible wine region that you won’t be able to sample unless you visit. This is because Okanagan wines don’t move far from British Columbia. Having saying that, it’s well worth the trek.

Beauty surrounds Okanagan vineyards, such as this vista of Blue Mountain Vineyards in South Okanagan.

Most wine connoisseurs consider Canadian wine country to be ice wine country. They are, for the most part, correct. Canada produces almost two-thirds of the world’s ice wine. Thus, Okanagan has reputation for being “another ice wine region of Canada.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Making wine here is no easy task. The Okanagan wine valley is on the upper limit of viticulture. It is located just below the 50th parallel which is similar to the northern wine regions of France. Unlike these parts of France, though, Okanagan is dry, sunny, and hot.

So, how do they get red grapes to ripen?

For one thing, the summer months have lengthy daylight hours. (It’s still light outside after 9 p.m.!) Furthermore, the 83-mile-long (134-kilometer-long) Lake Okanagan moderates temperature extremes in the summer and winter. The nicest thing is that the region has a lengthy agricultural heritage. Long before know for wine, this region was famed for its peaches, cherries, and apples. This is significant because it indicates a strong agricultural basis.

Wineries in the Kelowna area are near the northern end of the wine grape growing region. Grapes that grow well in milder and less hot climates thrive in this location. Most wineries have vineyards in the southern Okanagan Valley and bring the grapes up to their winery to make wine. Many of the red wine grapes are sourced from the south, as one would expect.

Map of Okanagan wine region
3 regions of the Okanagan Valley – hotter regions are to the south where more red wine grapes are grown

What kind of wine is Kelowna known for?

Ancient Hills Winery is located close to the 50th parallel in Lake Country

Bordeaux Blends

In Canada you will often hear of Bordeaux referred to as Meritage. Meritage is a term used to describe red and white Bordeaux-style wines. Meritage does not infringe on the legally protected designation of origin for the Bordeaux (France) region. Bordeaux blends made with Merlot and Cabernet Franc provide even more surprises. While Cabernet Sauvignon appears to struggle here, Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive on the lakes’ eastern benches.

The Merlot is similar to what you might find in Bordeaux, but it’s a little leaner and fruitier.
Sweet cherry fruit, black currant, cocoa powder, tobacco, and schistous wet gravel are among the flavours.

Wine lovers will like Okanagan Cabernet Franc’s characteristics of dried pepper flakes, cherry sauce, chocolate powder, and moderate acidity. However, the wines taste riper and sweeter here, with more strong, suede-like tannins.


Many people are surprised to learn that Syrah grows here. Syrah grows well in hot, sunny climates such as South Australia, South Africa, and the Northern Rhône Valley. The majority of the best Okanagan wine Syrah wine grapes are grown in the south, near Oliver and Osoyoos (“oh-soy-yoos”). A notable wine grape production area can be found on Oliver’s east side, on the Black Sage bench. Wineries you visit in the Kelowna area will only have wine in their wine shop from grapes grown here.

Okanagan Syrah tastes considerably more like what you’d find in cooler sections of the Northern Rhône. The finest examples have flavours of red cherry, dried cranberry, sage, and white pepper. The tannins in the wines are medium-plus, the acidity is moderate, and the finish is sweet cherry. This is not your normal big, bold Syrah. It’s exquisite and typically smells a little meaty.

More Okanagan Reds

The region is currently extensively invested in Bordeaux-style red blends. This is undoubtedly due to excessive demand. However, the future may reveal a different story.

What blends with Syrah

These aromatic red wines are produced by the granite and volcanic sandy soils on the lake’s southern and eastern slopes. This region is suitable for Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah mixes. These mixes are all known for creating full-bodied, tannic wines. It’s no surprise that a blend of these will have a similar flavour profile. Cabernet contributes structure and body, as well as classic varietal characteristics like as green pepper and blackberry.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir flourishes here? There is some powdery, clay and sand-like soil in the north, especially East Kelowna. This region’s Pinot Noir wines will appeal to people who enjoy pure, delicate, fruity reds. Sweet raspberry, cranberry, and pomegranate flavours combine in well-made specimens from whole cluster fermentation. This is where the whole grape cluster is harvested off the vine and then crushed and fermented with stems.

Little Staw Vineyards wine - They have old vines  Maréchal Foch you can sample and buy at the wine shop.
Little Staw Vineyards wine – They have old vines Maréchal Foch grapes so you can sample and buy the wine at the shop.

Maréchal Foch

The beautiful Maréchal Foch grapes offer a rich taste for wine enthusiasts. It thrives in colder climates and resists fungus when it came to Alsace, France from Eugene Kuhlmann. This grape is available in many different regions such as Okanagan where they became popular, but are no longer common. The wines vary greatly depending on the location and offer a soft flavor, chocolaty or light fruit flavors. Regardless of what you’re looking for, one thing remains true: these grapes will provide a new experience for any connoisseur!

Maréchal Foch was widely planted in the Okanagan because of its early-ripening and cold hardiness.  This was done before the climate of the Okanagan and its regions were fully understood (the climate has also changed). Maréchal Foch  is used to produce a variety of styles of wine.  Many vineyards were torn out and replaced with the European varieties we see now.  A few wineries in the Kelowna area still have access to the old vines and are making wine. This unique wine is gaining resurgence in popularity.   

Popular Okanagan White Wines


Riesling from the Okanagan Valley is unique. Substantially drier than most, Riesling competes with popular dry white wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. East Kelowna and south sheltered vineyards on the west side, are some of the best climates for this grape.

In your glass of Okanagan Riesling, anticipate kiwis, limes, and richness from long contact with the lees. Lees are a mix of dead yeast, grape skins, seeds and stems. It is similar to dry German Riesling from the Rheingau or a Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace, France.


Chardonnay is where the Okanagan is getting world-class recognition. Some say it is like Chablis, but with a hint of oak. To avoid the afternoon sun, the ideal plantings in the South are on the west side of the valley. Aromas of passion fruit, yellow apple, and apricot mingle with toasted notes of creme brûlée and lemon curd in these wines. They are notable for their extraordinary, mouth-watering acidity and rarely taste heavy.

In the north, Chardonnay thrives in the chalk like soil of East Kelowna. Wines with aromas of green apple, blossoms, gun flint, and pine needle are generally fairly light. From ageing in neutral oak puncheons, expect sky-high acidity balanced with subtle hazelnut flavours.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is a tried-and-true varietal in the Okanagan. There is nothing not to love about Pinot Gris. It doesn’t disappoint with its dainty blend of honeysuckle, orange blossom, and peach flavorings. This wine has such an impeccable balance between fruitiness and acidity; it leaves you feeling refreshed.

Other Okanagan White Wines

Although most connoisseurs drink mainly red wine, Okanagan can boast some of the top white wines in North America. They know how to nail those refined flavors – which include high acidity, fruity notes, and floral aromas.

Sparkling Wines.

Known for being a shorter season sparkling wine grapes are picked earlier than usual because they have higher acid levels. This creates a sparkler that deserves to be savored. Opportunity will only present itself once every couple of decades at least.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery (founded in 1991) is Canada’s largest organic winery. It is BC’s first Demeter biodynamic vineyard, and Canada’s leading sparkling wine producer. Its winemaking belief is that organic and biodynamic farming is the royal route to producing incredibly beautiful, authentic, terroir-based wines that will connect you with the stunning Okanagan Valley.

Summerhills’ Cipes Brut NV. Riesling makes up 70% of the blend, Pinot Blanc makes up 20%, and Chardonnay makes up 10%. Organic to the core.

In Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada 2021, this wine received 90 points and a silver medal!

Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Summerhill Pyramid Winery view of the lake and patio with sparkling wine fountain. Tasting room and Summerhill Organis Bistro overlook the lake.

Sauvignon Blanc.

 British Columbia and the Okanagan style. The fifth most popular white varietal is Sauvignon Blanc. The styles range from flinty Sancerre to creamy Bordeaux Sémillon blends, as well as cool New Zealand varieties with tropical fruit aromas.

The best Sauvignons are generally found in coastal areas with less sun exposure – this helps preserve the zesty citrus notes that give Sauvignon it’s distinctive character and make them such an attractive option for pairing with seafood or salads!


Viogniers can be huge, especially those grown in Paso Robles or the North Rhône Valley. Meanwhile, Okanagan Viogniers are light and mineral; think flavours of key limes, honeysuckle, honeydew melons – all balanced by a robust sour tartness.

Also see: Can they really make great wine in Canada?

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