On a gorgeous afternoon, I served a couple traveling through Washington from British Columbia. What a treat to share insights into camping and hiking with our neighbors to the north. In turn, we waxed poetic on the growing wine regions of British Columbia. In February 2015 our wine club featured British Columbia, specifically Okangonan Valley. It is not uncommon to view BC regions similar to Washington- but closer together. The diversity of British Columbia’s terrain and terroir, though similar to Washington, are unique and loaded with potential.
British Columbia has five VQA regions- Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands, Similkameen Valley and the Okagonan Valley. Three of these regions have martime influences which can define them together and very similar to the Puget Sound AVA. That would be the Islands and the Fraser Valley. The other two regions are continental with lake mediating factors. The Okanagan Valley is the top contender as the Similkameen Valley the second to all five regions. These two regions have short yet hot seasons. The vineyards need to be on the low slops of the steep valley walls to acheive enough sunlight hours to ripen. Amidst the northern hills and mountain ranges, is the northern most point of the desert network that range from BC into Mexico. This desert range is very similar to the Columbia Valley, especially with needs for irrigation. Lake factors assist in mitigating harsh winters and frost outbreaks in spring or fall. The Okanagan Valley produces Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; whereas in the Similkameen Valley (say that five times fast), we additionally find Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The three other regions are all coastal with variable weather influences which greatly impact the production. Most of the wine is sold to local markets. Varietals grown in these regions are obscure with some boasting of success with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. As our climate adjusts and change our environment, keep your eye on these vineyards. They may be locals only now, but cult wines in the making.
British Columbia is beyond beautiful. The region is diverse- from mountains to desert to islands and vineyards. Explore!
Sommelier, Food + Wine writer