Taking a wine-themed trip to Italy or the Napa Valley is on every oenophile’s bucket list. And, while less famous internationally, visiting Canadian vineyards is a fun and educational trip on its own. So, book a cheap flight (then you’ll have more money to spend on wine) and a hotel in one of the sites mentioned below to explore the best in Canadian wine.
Encompassing Kelowna, B.C., the Okanagan Valley has been producing wine since the 1850s. It’s one of British Columbia’s two big wine regions (the other being Similkameen) and is notable for the variety of grapes grown there today. Along with Canada’s famous ice wine (a sweet variety produced from grapes frozen while still on the vine), in Okanagan wine lovers can find everything from merlot to tempranillo and chardonnay to gewürztraminer. An easy drive from Kelowna, the Okanagan Valley has many wine tours starting from the city.
South of Okanagan, the Similkameen Valley was one of the first parts of British Columbia to be farmed by European settlers. It was the site of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in the late 1800s, but now most visitors are interested in its liquid gold — wine, that is! It stretches from the town of Princeton along the Similkameen River and over the American border. Take tours starting from Keremos; this valley and Okanagan make up 90 percent of British Columbia’s wine production.
The Niagara Peninsula
Another well-reviewed wine region in Canada is in Ontario on the Niagara Peninsula. Featuring a variety of vineyards operated by vintners big and small, this wine region also has many accommodation options, often on the winery properties themselves. Although a common misconception some travelers have is that Canada is too far north for many grape varieties, the Niagara Peninsula is actually at the same latitude as many famous and well-regarded wine regions in France, such as Bordeaux.
Prince Edward County
Although it’s one of the most southerly parts of Canada, Prince Edward County in Ontario was one of the last places to take off as a wine destination. It became a Designated Viticultural Area in 1997 and now boasts about 30 wineries. The region’s cuisine also gets rave reviews, so wine enthusiasts who are also gourmands will be especially happy visiting here. It’s an easy drive from Toronto and Ottawa — and has plenty of accommodation options.
If your travels take you to the West, spend a day or two exploring Vancouver Island’s wineries. Although some of the wines made there are simply casked and not grown, the local pinot noir and pinot gris get good reviews as do their sparkling wines. Most of the wineries are based on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, near Victoria, so that’s a good starting point.
Back in British Columbia, the Fraser Valley offers some interesting wines for the travelling connoisseur. An easy drive from Vancouver, the 15 Fraser Valley wineries host tastings, farm tours and dining events. Accommodation is available, but some visitors prefer to stay in Vancouver. Fraser Valley’s most popular wines are Blattner reds and whites, and pinot noir.
Pelee Island and Creston Valley
Two more Canadian wine areas deserving of mention are Pelee Island and Creston Valley. Lake Erie’s Pelee Island in Ontario is the southernmost inhabited area in Canada. This small island, accessible by ferry from both the U.S. and Canadian shorelines, has roughly over a hundred permanent residents and a well-reviewed winery. The winery offers tours, tastings and pairings. Creston Valley in British Columbia, on the other hand, has three wineries and aspires to have more soon. While in the area, visitors can also go trout and salmon-fishing, or enjoy other water sports on the Kootenay River in warm months.
About the Author: Robert Johnstan worked in restaurants in Toronto for many years before deciding to go back to school and open a consulting business for startups in the food industry.