by Tania Tomaszewska –
One of my favourite drives anywhere is the stretch of road from Hope to Osoyoos on Highway 3. Climbing into Manning Park, passing through historic mining towns like Princeton and Hedley, winding along the Similkameen River framed by the soaring Cascade Mountains and arriving in Canada’s only true desert. It’s spectacular.
My favourite leg is the hot and arid Similkameen Valley, which runs along the U.S. border and offers stunning vineyard landscapes. With just around 700 acres under vine, the Similkameen appellation has about 15 wineries and a growing foodie scene. It’s fast becoming a wine traveller’s destination in its own right, and for years now winemakers from the neighbouring Okanagan Valley have sourced Similkameen grapes. There’s some great juice going on here.
Why? It’s got a perfect mix of being located in the Cascades’ rain shadow, well-draining rocky soils comprised of sand, gravel and mineral deposits (including calcium carbonate) remnant from glacial and fluvial activity, and a growing season which, at its peak, has two hours of sun per day more than Napa Valley and large diurnal swings (from high daytime temperatures to cold overnight ones).
Vines have to work hard here. They produce quality ripe fruit which retains that B.C. hallmark fresh acidity. Minerality in texture and tone comes through too.
The Similkameen is also the organic capital of British Columbia. If you’ve stopped at any of the scores of fruit and veg stands in Keremeos or Cawston you know what I’m talking about. Strong afternoon winds (like the Rhône’s Mistral) blow through the Valley cooling things down and keeping pests and mildew at bay, which supports the organic and sustainable farming practises many local vintners have adopted.
Only two of these wineries are mentioned below but, whether you jump into the car and make the drive or search for Similkameen grapes in your local wine shop, there’s so much to explore. Santé!
When Vanessa Vineyard opened its new tasting room in 2017 it’s game was already strong.
Their 75 acres of south-west facing, rocky sloped vineyards were first planted in 2006 and have been producing premium wine since 2012. In 2017 Howard Soon joined their team as Master Winemaker. (Involved in the BC wine industry since 1980, Mr. Soon is the first B.C. winemaker to receive the Order of Canada and was a trailblazer during his long career at Sandhill Wines by developing strong relationships with growers and producing single-vineyard, terroir-driven wines, including from Vanessa Vineyard).
Vanessa Vineyard grows five varieties (cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and viognier) and is aiming to become one of Canada’s best sites for reds. Watch this space (and check out their fantastic sweeping views across the Valley’s expanse when you visit).
Recent favourites: viognier, rosé, syrah and meritage (Bordeaux red blend).
(www.vanessavineyard.com 1090 BC-3, Cawston, B.C.)
Clos du Soleil Winery
Clos du Soleil has made Bordeaux-inspired wines since 2006. French for “Enclosed Vineyard of the Sun,” the rocky terrain and stone wall created by the mountain backing this Estate vineyard traps afternoon heat. Vines love this, especially late-ripening Bordeaux varieties which have a hard time achieving phenolic ripeness in other parts of B.C.
Clos du Soleil uses biodynamic viticulture and minimal intervention winemaking to produce a wide range of quality wines. There’s something for everyone here and I pretty much enjoy the entire lineup (as well as their lovely tasting room (below) where you can experience it). “Old World Elegance, New World Edge” indeed.
Recent favourites: Fumé Blanc (barrel fermented sauvignon blanc), rosé, Jupiter (orange wine from pinot gris) and Célestiale (Bordeaux red blend).
(www.closdusoleil.ca 2568 Upper Bench Road, Keremeos, B.C.)
Have any questions or comments? Drop Tania a line at email@example.com. See www.ttwineexplorer or Instagram @ttwineexplorer for more.
Photos courtesy of Vanessa Vineyards and Clos du Soleil Winery