Exploring British Columbia’s award-winning wine region

When discussing all things wine, Napa Valley often winds its way into the conversation, and for good reason, they know a thing or two about creating a beautiful Cab Sav. Napa Valley put itself on the map in 1976 after beating a French wine in a blind tasting competition. BC’s Okanagan Valley has become known as Napa North due to its award-winning wines.

Drive a mere 17 hours north and you’ll find that Canadians are making some delicious and award-winning wines. Surrounding Okanagan Lake, and nestled amongst fruit orchards, there are over 200 vineyards and almost as many wineries. Okanagan Valley is becoming known as the Napa of the North. Having done wine tastings and tours in both regions, I would have to agree.

The Okanagan Valley is located in British Columbia and consists of four cities: Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton and Osoyoos. Locations and details can be found using the wine explorer app. I had the pleasure of visiting four wineries on my recent drive between Vernon and Kelowna. The first stop, 50th Parallel, came at the recommendation of a friend.

Four Okanagan Valley, aka Napa North, wineries worth visiting

50th Parallel Estate Winery

50th Parallel Estate winery grapevines in Okanagan Valley, Napa of the North
Picturesque views from 50th Parallel winery

I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the views from 50th Parallel Estate Winery after I parked my car. On one side, you have mountains and the lake, while on the other, endless rows of vineyard grapes. After snapping several pics of the breathtaking views, I entered the building for a tasting. I was immediately greeted and pleasantly surprised that I would not have to wait as I did not make a prior reservation, which I would recommend doing if you plan on visiting to ensure a spot.

You have a choice between the Essential tasting, four wines for $5, or the Elevated tasting, $8 for 3 premium wines. With either tasting, your fee is waived upon the purchase of a bottle. I opted for the Essential tasting and, my friend was not wrong, this winery serves up some great wine with its amazing view. Their international winemaking team has produced a number of award-winning wines. I tend to favour red wine, but I found a lovely and refreshing Gewertztremeiner to add to my list of whites.

Blind Tiger Vineyards

Four glasses of wine provided during a tasting at Blind Tiger Vineyards in Okanagan Valley, Napa of the North
Outdoor, self-guided wine tasting at Blind Tiger Vineyards

This stop happened solely because of my love for spontaneous stops. If you read my last blog post How to Plan an Epic Road Trip, you’ll know I love these unplanned surprises. I was simply driving down the road when I saw the sign for Blind Tiger Vineyards. With a name like that, how could I not stop? I am a huge fan of Speakeasies and Prohibition-style bars. That’s exactly what a Blind Tiger was back in those days.

As this was an impromptu stop, I did not have a reservation. Luckily for me, they offer a self-guided tasting when they are fully booked. They provided me with a spot on their outdoor terrace and brought out a tasting of four wines along with a paper detailing the characteristics of each wine.

While soaking up some rays, I sampled my first ever white Pinot Noir. Have you ever had one? It was delicious. So naturally, I purchased a bottle to bring home. Tastings here are $5 and waived with the purchase of a bottle.

Indigenous World Winery

Entrance to Indigenous World Winery in Okanagan Valley, Napa of the North
Indigenous World Winery in Kelowna

The first, and currently only, 100% Indigenous winery in North America, Indigenous World Winery merges modern culture with Indigenous history. Because of its unique nature, this winery was a planned stop for me. I was curious to see how they married their history with modern culture.

During the tasting, my guide discussed Indigenous history, as well as the owners and their connection to the land. There are also a few varietals of wine that have Indigenous names.

I sampled five wines and I have to admit that their 2015 SIMO was, as my guide said it would be, the best red wine I’d had all day. It is their signature Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. SIMO (pronounced See-Moo) means “connected to the land” and is the traditional name that was given to owner Robert Louie by one of his elders.

As with the previous three wineries, tastings are $5 but waived with purchase. While I was paying for my bottle of SIMO, I couldn’t resist, I was offered a shot of vodka. Honestly, I thought he was joking and it would be water since no winery has ever offered me vodka. Surprise, it was straight vodka!

It turns out they have just begun distilling their own vodka and it won a Bronze Medal at the IWSC (International Wine & Spirit Competition). Thankfully, this was my last tour of the day. Mission Hill wasn’t until tomorrow and by then I would be fresh and ready to sample more wine.

Mission Hill Family Estate

Arched entrance to Mission Hill Family Winery in Okanagan Valley, Napa of the North
The elaborate archway entrance to Mission Hill winery

My fourth and final winery on this trip was Mission Hill Family Estate. Famed for shocking the wine world in 1994 when their Grand Reserve Chardonnay 1992 won the Avery Trophy for Best Chardonnay Worldwide at the IWSC in London. This helped put Kelowna on the map and likely played a huge part in the Okanagan Valley being referred to as Napa North.

This winery visit was to celebrate a friend’s birthday so we enjoyed a full tour before our lunch with wine pairing. The grounds are beautiful with sweeping views of Okanagan Lake. Our tour began outside amongst the grapevines.

Grapes on a vineyard vine
Premature grapes at the Mission Hill winery

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always wondered what the grapes at vineyards taste like. It turns out that in the summer they are very tart, lol! My tour guide let me try one and then encouraged me to eat some of the stem tips as well, which tasted like a green bean.

After munching on the vines, we moved on to the dark, cool cellar. The temperature was a welcome respite from the hot summer temperature. The cellar at Mission Hill was blasted into volcanic rock and houses approximately 800 barrels of wine.

Mission Hill Winery Cellar full of wine barrels
The underground wine cellar at Mission Hill winery

Our lunch with wine pairing experience was lovely, but it’s hard not to enjoy a wonderful meal paired with wine. We sampled five of their wines during the course of our lunch. Currently, reservations are required for all tastings and experiences. A list of their experiences and pricing can be found online here.

And there you have it, a brief glimpse into Okanagan Valley, the Napa of the North. We barely grazed the surface in this post, but I hope to have a follow-up post with a few more wineries after a visit to explore Osoyoos next month.

Update – I went back and checked out more wineries! Here is a follow-up post on Beautiful Oliver Wineries That Are Worth a Visit as well as a few more stunning wineries in Kelowna you should visit.

Okanagan Valley is Napa North, visit these BC wineries today.