With its five distinct wine growing regions, British Columbia is able to produce a wide range of award winning wines. From Vancouver Island to the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia can boast some of the best wines in Canada. Each region in the province will be discussed with a focal point on sub-appellations, degree days and predominate grape varieties. Based on the information provided, a conclusion will be made to select an appropriate region to develop and build a winery. Although the BC wine regions are fairly close in proximity, each region has it own topography, climate and characteristics, which in turn can be found in its wine.
The Okanagan Valley, in BC’s interior, runs north from the US border 160 kilometers. It has several lakes that run on the Valley’s floor with a wide range of climatic differences. Summers are generally very hot with average temperatures running in the 30 degree range. Five sub regions have been identified within the Okanagan Valley.
The Kelowna sub-region has 1200 degree days with heavier soils with sandy loam, clay and limestone. The pre-dominate grape varieties range from Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Merlot.
Further south on the eastside of the Valley is the Naramata sub-region. This area makes some of the finest wines in the Valley. Its long frost free autumns and sloping vineyards, makes it an ideal area to grow grapes. It has 1319 degree days with lots of excellent exposure to the afternoon sun. It’s ideal for growing Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Okanagan Falls, in between Skaha Lake and Vaseux Lake, boasts diverse soils and aspects with some vineyards on terraced slopes. OK falls can reach 1407 degree days but will grow cooler growing grapes such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer but also succeed in the growth of Pinot Noir. Golden Mile has roughly 1484 degree days as the climate changes to a desert-like weather pattern. The Golden Mile sub region has well drained gravel, clay and sandy soils. Merlot, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer thrive in this Terroir. The final sub region in the Okanagan Valley can be found at its most southern tip, the Black Sage/Osoyoos. Considered Canada’s only desert, degree days can reach up to 1492. Soils are very deep sand and heat is abundant. Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and even Syrah thrive in this type of condition.
Another wine region in British Columbia is the Similkameen Valley, just west of the Okanagan. Known for its organic farming, the Similkameen Valley’s vineyards extend from Keremos to Chopaka on the US Border. The region has been quietly tolling away, growing outstanding grapes and fruits that have contributed to award winning wines. The Valley is long and narrow with steep mountains sides but unlike the Okanagan, there is an absence of major lakes. The average number of degree days was 1360 in 2003. Due to the large mountains on both sides of the Valley, and the reflective action of the rock, heat is held in the valley long after the sun sets. The Valley is arid with persistent winds which can reduce the moisture in the vines and soil. Various soil types in the Similkameen include stony, gravelly and silt loams from glacial rock formations. Predominate grapes varieties in the Similkameen include Merlot, Gamay and Chardonnay. In total there are 12 wineries in the Similkameen with 3 of them producing fruit wines.
Heading further west towards the Pacific Ocean, lies another BC wine region called the Fraser Valley. A very large valley in comparison to the Similkameen, the Fraser is generally flat with occasional rolling hills. The fertile soil are predominately silt and is high in organic matter. The climate can vary across the Valley with certain areas receiving higher rainfall than others. With heavy rains in the spring and fall, July and August can be very dry and growers must rely on irrigation. The main climate concern for the Fraser Valley is the limited amount of degree days resulting in the potential lack of ripeness in certain vintages, particularly with late ripening varietals. Humidity can be a factor due to its relation to the Pacific Ocean. This may cause concern for grape growers with regards to destructive fungus such as Powdery Mildew and Botrytis Cinerea. Due to the cooler weather, grape varieties like Chardonnay and Germanic White varieties do very well.
When thinking of wine country, Vancouver Island doesn’t always come to mind. However the produces of wine on the Island range from Cowichan Valley to Nanaimo to Saanich Peninsula. Vancouver Island lays at 49 degrees North latitude which is similar to great wine growing areas such as Burgundy region in France and also the Alsace region which produces wonderful Riesling wine. One sub region of the island is the Cowichan Valley, which literally means “warm land”. It has a year round temperature mean warmer than any other place in Canada.Although The Island has cooler summers than the Okanagan, the average temperature in July is 18 degrees. The region has minimal degree days. An important factor to grow grapes in a region is its geography. The soil is made up of glacier till, sand and gravel which offers very good drainage. One benefit of having a wine region so close to the ocean is something called ocean terrain. It loads the soil with limestone, which helps out the mineral rich wine notes. An interesting technique is used in the Vancouver Island Wine region due to the shorter growing season, its called Tenting the Vines. This is a technique in which a grape grower will place plastic over top of the vines to create a greenhouse effect. Tenting the Vines does cause a lot of headaches for the vineyard staff but the end product is worth the while. Pre-dominate grape varieties in the region consist of Merlot, Gamay, Pinot Noir and even Gewürztraminer. The final wine region in British Columbia to be discussed is the Gulf Islands. Situated between Vancouver Island and the lower mainland, The Gulf Islands offer a distinct terroir. There are a handful of vineyards and wineries in the area, notably Salt Spring Island, Saturna and Bowen Island. The climate is similar to Vancouver Island although generally drier. The number of degree days are minimal. Although the micro-climate can be vine friendly as they call the islands the Mediterranean of Canada. The soils, which you can taste in some of their Pinot Noir, are marine fossil, gravel, limestone and clay. The mountain rain shadow to the west and the temperature moderated by the ocean, positively influence the vines grown on the Gulf Islands. A number of different grape varieties are grown, but some of the more popular one are Pinot Noir Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.