elowna is the birthplace of winemaking in British Columbia with the first B.C winery “Calona” opening in 1932. Known for its top-quality new world wines, Kelowna is an ideal jumping off point for wine enthusiasts. The city lies at the north end of the Okanagan valley, which contains 8,619 acres of planted vineyards making up 84% of the province’s vineyard acreage.
The valley stretches over 250 kilometres covering several distinct sub regions including: Peachland/Summerland, Naramata/Penticton, Okanagan Falls, Oliver, Golden Mile and Osoyoos. Each of these regions has distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing a range of varietals from sun-ripened reds to lively fresh and often crisp whites.
What is the Okanagan’s Signature Varietal?
The Kelowna area wineries are rich in tradition and character with over 40 wineries in the Kelowna area, from quiet, family-run boutique vineyards to world-class operations.
The varietals that are grown in the Okanagan are numerous, but the stand out grapes are: Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Merlot. Merlot may be the most planted varietal in the Okanagan, but the region is most well known for the Pinot Noir, a characteristically fruit forward explosion of cherry and stone fruit which dances on the palate and makes a totally “crushable” summer red.
The Cabernet Franc, though more often seen in a blend, is a single varietal masterpiece in the Okanagan, with flavours of black licorice, raspberry and violet, and is a favourite among winemakers and local wine nerds alike.
In the world of whites the Oaked Chards from the Okanagan Valley taste like we really deserve the title, “Napa of the North”, with textbook examples of proper wine making showing off the malo-lactic talents of the Chardonnay grape.
High acid, sweet and sour pleasure bombs, Rieslings not only grow well here, but thanks to the climate, may be the best Rieslings outside the Mosel Valley. If you were to replace the ubiquitous sauerkraut and smoked ham hock with maple smoked bacon and a grilled peach salad, you may start to believe that Riesling was first planted in Canada!
Local Wine Country Cuisine
Wine region cuisine can be simply described as farm to table cooking with delicious wines, but it is so much more than that. Wine region cuisine is a sun drenched and hard working attitude, a non-fussy approach to cooking the most desired and inspiring ingredients, preparing them simply and serving confidently alongside great juice. The same kind of attitude that eventually leads to feelings of “we don’t need to go back to work”, or “ I could live this way”, and “this is one of life’s perfect moments”. An attitude that becomes a lifestyle for those lucky enough to live here.
Like all good cuisine, wine country cuisine starts with great local ingredients, the kind that scream, treat me gently and prepare me simply. The techniques come from classic wine regions, like France, Italy and Spain, where by nature the food will match wine easily. Despite the deep rooted history of wine cuisine in Europe, every year we are finding new world answers to old world problems, like pairing spicy Indian food with Gewurztraminer or Moscato.
The final element of wine country cuisine, is to never make a dish too complete. A great pairing of wine and food always is the dish needing the wine, and the wine needing the dish. Without this slight “incompleteness”, the dish would not long for the wine and the wine not long for the dish. Every perfectly paired wine region dish should be like a beautiful kiss.
The wine country cuisine of the Okanagan where many wines can be described as fruit forward “juice bombs”, has a unique style all its own. We find ourselves pulling fruit into pairings, like quince mostarda to complete with a rustic country terrine, or glazed plums served alongside a grassy, naturally raised chèvre and rustic red fife baguette.
The less tannic and light bodied nature of the reds speaks more to vegetables, cheeses, fish and pork then it does to beef and lamb, but a bison or wild game from B.C would be right at home next to a robust Bordeaux style red blend from the Okanagan. Our single varietal Cabernet Franc, being some of the best and most unique in the world, want one thing: foraged wild mushroom and steak grilled over fruit wood and vine trimmings. Our barrel aged whites remind us of Burgundy, so we find ourselves baking fresh sourdough croissants to serve with peach preserve, or a pan seared diver scallop with corn and truffle beurre blanc, while our high acid whites sit down comfortably beside a plate of salmon crudo or roasted baby beets and ash rind local chèvre.