Monday, 10 June 2013

lake country wines: more german than german...

The 50th parallel passes through the town of Winfield in the heart of Lake Country, about 30 minutes north of Kelowna. The significance of this is 50 degrees north or south of the equator marks the text book limit of viticulture, which therefore places Lake Country at the extreme northern limit of grape growing. Elsewhere in the world, only the vineyards of England and Germany are as far north as Lake Country (England benefits from the warming Gulf Stream).  When BC growers started to plant quality vitis vinifera grapes (i.e. European grapes as opposed to American or hybrid species), most looked to German varietals because of the shared latitude and cool continental climate. No doubt the stunning Alpine environment reminiscent of Austrian and Alto-Adige vineyards helped influence these decisions as well.

As growers became more familiar with the geographical and climatic differences within the Okanagan Valley, red wines took over plantings in the south (Merlot is, after all, the most widely planted grape in BC). However, the northern reaches of Lake country still remain a smorgasbord of German grapes that, as one visitor pointed out, are more common here than in Germany. While Riesling and Gewurztraminer are well-known throughout the wine world, Ehrenfelser is one such grape that has a cult-like following here but is not well-regarded back in Germany. The cool-climate Austrian reds Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch are gaining a following here too. Small, scattered plantings of Bacchus, Siegerrebe, Schonberger, and Rotberger will have you wearing lederhosen to your next tasting bar experience.

Arrowleaf ( – owned and operated by the Swiss-born Zuppinger family, Arrowleaf is a young but well-respected boutique winery. They have won multiple national awards, with their slightly off-dry Pinot Gris leading the medal count. Their Zweigelt is also leader among others in the province, and their First Crush Series are a great everyday wine - and well-suited for anniversaries and Valentine's Day.

Alpine Vineyards at Gray Monk
Grey Monk ( – established by the Heiss family in 1972, Gray Monk is not just an original of Lake Country but indeed among the oldest in BC. With 100 acres of stunning property, Grey Monk is a destination winery complete with tasting bar and restaurant. The wine portfolio is Lake Country/German classic, balancing the popular Gewurztraminer and Ehrenfelser with unique-even-for-Germans Siegerrebe and a Rotberger rosé.

Ex Nihilo ( – a beautiful and modern Lake Country winery but most grapes come from the warmer south, especially for their excellent Meritage. The Sympathy for the Devil Icewine, however, is among the top and most sought-after in Canada.

50th Parallel ( - Arguably Canada's northernmost winery, 50th parallel is a new venture with sleek design and small but quality-minded portfolio. With just four wines, the portfolio reflect both consumer trends and the northern terroir.

A couple of days in Kelowna complete, it is back down to a last run of the Naramata. From there, homeward bound through the up-and-coming Similkameen Valley.

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