It’s been called the next Napa Valley. But in the 1970s, as the first vineyards popped up in the region, the pioneers of the industry were regarded as pleasant nutcases. After all, this was orchard country, not vineyard country. Today, vineyard plots go for millions of dollars.
I’m talking, of course, about Canada’s Okanagan, a narrow strip of land surrounding a massive, skinny lake in the province of British Columbia. At one end, it’s Canadian California; at the other, a desert. German varietals like Gewurtztraminer, Kerner and Riesling do well here, along with big reds like Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
Today I get to introduce you to some of my favourite wineries from Kelowna, Summerland and the Naramata Bench. This is not an exhaustive list by any means; I’ve mostly explored the northern areas. I’m going to update this post in October when I spend more time in Oliver and Osoyoos, the southern towns.
Here are four Okanagan wineries that you absolutely cannot miss:
Laughing Stock Vineyards
I love everything about Laughing Stock. The husband and wife team behind this winery left the financial industry and threw all their money at creating this place. They were afraid to be the “laughing stock” of the wine industry – so they turned that into their name, and a play on words for their former careers.
From their stock symbol logo (LFNG) to the stock ticker wrapped around each bottle displaying real TSX values on bottling day, Laughing Stock brings an attention to detail that’s rare in any industry. Not only does it make every piece of their brand a delight to discover and interact with, it elevates their wine to some of my favourites in the world.
While their single varietals are great, the real treasures here are the red blends. The first, Blind Trust Red, changes percentages and varietals each year. You won’t find out what they are until you buy a bottle – it’s hidden under the label, in a fun nod to the financial blind trust (where assets are held in blend of investments hidden from their owner). I’ve had several vintages of this and it’s been wildly different and amazing each time.
The second blend, Portfolio, is a cellaring wine. While the fresh version is pleasant enough, members of their wine club can purchase a vertical tasting pack of Portfolio vintages from the past five years for comparison (and getting blind drunk, one assumes.)
Red Rooster Winery
One of my old standbys, everything about Red Rooster feels steady-but-quirky, like meeting up with an old friend and laughing for hours.
Their location is lakeside on the Naramata Bench Road, and they have a laid-back restaurant and patio to take full advantage. If you want to work off your fire chicken pizza and merlot, there are plenty of lush grounds to explore, and more than a few truly bizarre sculptures. You’re going to take a lot of pictures here, then promptly consume a great deal of wine, forget about it, and create a surprise for yourself later.
As for the wine, they’re mostly fruit-forward expressions of single varietals. The reds tend to taste younger than a lot of others from the same area, so fans of juicy wines should line up here. (I’m particularly enamoured of the Pinot Noir.)
At first glance, The Hatch seems more like an art project than a winery. Their massive, egg-head-on-chicken-body sign out front does nothing to quell the feeling that you’ve walked into an alternate dimension. Mason jars and antique chairs abound in the tasting room, and there’s a shiny new hearse in the driveway. (Is it actually their hearse? What is the story with the hearse, you guys?? Now I’m mad I didn’t think to ask about it.)
If you don’t believe me about the astoundingly bizarre vibe, go read the about page of their website and come back here. See? If you understood a goddamn word, email me.
This is exactly why The Hatch works, though, because it kind of feels like the setting of a murder (albeit with a spectacular view) but everyone is so friendly inside you immediately forget your suspicion from just moments ago. The wines are a similar mindfuck.
Dirty Laundry Vineyard
Set on the scene of a former Chinese laundry, which was also a brothel, Dirty Laundry Vineyard is the Vegas of the Okanagan wine scene. Everything inside is dark drama, with boas, damask velvet and red spotlights. It looks like a strip club, but the staff are more like friendly neighbourhood bartenders.
Possibly the highest winery in the Okanagan (don’t fact check me but we basically drove up a mountain to get there), Dirty Laundry has bird’s eye view of the area. On the other side of the lake, in the distance, you can see the Naramata Bench. Closer, nothing but vines.
Cheekily named, with NSFW labels, Dirty Laundry wines run the gamut from patio sippers to patio sippers. That’s not a typo, this vineyard specializes in wines that delight, not challenge. Best paired with whatever the hell you feel like, there’s an extremely approachable sip for everyone, from your mom who only drinks warm Muscato to your snooty brother-in-law (as long as you hide the bottle). Maybe leave them both at home and drink their share on the patio in the sunshine.
To be continued…