Home to more than 200 wineries, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is upping its tasting game. A number of estates in this mild-climate lake district 250 miles east of Vancouver have introduced distinctive, high-end oenophile experiences, from an exclusive tasting in an art-filled lounge to a series of wine dinners in partnership with a local organic farm.
If you’re looking to explore this growing Canadian wine region, consider adding these unique offerings to your tasting itinerary.
Road 13 Vineyards
Known for Rhône varietals including syrah, viognier, and roussanne, this family-owned winery in the south Okanagan town of Oliver gives wine lovers personalized tastings in a contemporary, vineyard-view lounge. With this customized experience, you’ll typically talk with one of the winery’s owners and work your way through a guided sampling of more than a dozen bottles.
Between May and October, the vineyard offers a series of long-table, locavore dinners in partnership with Backyard Farm, a nearby organic grower. Each of the multiple courses is matched with a Road 13 wine, and it’s all served with a panorama of the surrounding vines. And don’t worry about driving back to your hotel; the dinner package covers transportation to local lodgings.
Checkmate Artisanal Winery
This boutique Oliver winery’s tasting room is one of a kind. Housed in a glass-walled pop-up space designed by Seattle architect Tom Kundig, the venue sits on a mountaintop, providing spectacular views from every angle.
Producing just 2,000 cases annually, Checkmate crafts nine chardonnays and four merlots, most of which are natural ferments. Book an appointment and allow about an hour for the guided tasting, where you can sample high-end pours with names inspired by the game of chess, from Queen’s Advantage Chardonnay to Silent Bishop Merlot.
A reason to return: The winery is constructing a new tasting room on the property, slated to open later this year.
Ian MacDonald needed a home for his extensive collection of contemporary art, so he opened a winery — at least that’s how the owner of this vineyard, restaurant and gallery tells the tale.
To try the best of his Okanagan Falls winery, arrange a tasting of its reserve wines in the Equity Lounge, filled with pieces from MacDonald’s private collection. Highlights of a tasting in this modern space might include an aromatic viognier, a smooth and flavorful reserve chardonnay, and Equity, the flagship estate-grown pinot noir.
Afterward, have a meal in the bistro (which opens for the season March 21), where you might dine on inventive plates like ostrich with black barley and sea buckthorn, or lamb paired with clams, edamame and wild herbs as you look out over the vines.
Black Hills Estate Winery
Known for its limited-production Nota Bene wines, which frequently sell out as soon as they become available, this south Okanagan vineyard offers a unique setting for a sampling.
Book a tasting in one of the patio’s private cabanas to savor expansive views of the Black Sage Bench, the desert-like hills that produce many of the region’s finest grapes.
Led by one of Black Hills’ “wine evangelists,” your scenic sampling will feature six current releases, which typically include the flagship Nota Bene, along with viognier, chardonnay, carménère, syrah and vintages from the estate’s Alibi label.
Great Estates Experience Centre
Taste your way across the region in one fell swoop when you pay a visit to this newly constructed space.
Opened last fall, this contemporary tasting room at Penticton Lakeside Resort & Conference Centre in central Okanagan is a collaboration between nine area wineries — Black Sage Vineyard, Inniskillin, Nk’Mip Cellars, Jackson-Triggs, Sunrock Vineyards, Dark Horse, Steller’s Jay, See Ya Later Ranch and Sumac Ridge — where you can sip to your heart’s content.
Opt for the Portfolio Room Tasting to savor selections (each served in a varietal-specific Riedel glass) paired with small plates. And if you’re unable to move on after enjoying your epicurean adventure, head upstairs to one of the boutique-style guest rooms and rest up on your balcony overlooking Okanagan Lake.
Mission Hill Family Estate
One of Okanagan’s most physically striking properties is this long-established winery, with its envy-inducing location — and panoramic views — high on a bluff in West Kelowna.
Mission Hill provides a variety of customized tastings experiences that change with the seasons. A good example is the 60-minute sommelier-guided option, which starts with a walk through the vineyards (glass of vino in hand), moves on to the underground barrel cellar for wine-making secrets and concludes with a tasting — all led by one of the estate’s knowledgeable experts.
Another Mission Hill highlight is the annual summer concert series, where performers from Sheryl Crow to The Gipsy Kings have taken the stage in an intimate outdoor amphitheater. David Foster (July 9) and Michael McDonald (July 21) headline this year’s excitement. The winery curates special experiences in conjunction with the shows, from wine receptions to multi-course dinners.
50th Parallel Estate Winery
Situated in the northern reaches of the Okanagan Valley, this modern Lake Country winery, which specializes in pinot noirs and aromatic whites, takes its name from its location near the 50th parallel.
Oenophiles should reserve the Grape to Glass Tour to stroll through the vineyards and production facilities and taste the full portfolio of wines. Also check the calendar for special sommelier-led events held in the outdoor Gravity Lounge, where the tasting bar was constructed from a local barn’s reclaimed wood and the views of lake are expansive.
And if all this wine tasting makes you hungry, stop into Block One Restaurant, which the 50th Parallel team opened in 2018. Bowls filled with quinoa, spiced chickpeas, roasted corn and other veggies, or locally raised chicken paired with squash gnocchi and Brussels sprouts feature ingredients sourced from the estate’s own gardens.