Traveling the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys

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View from Mission Hill

This summer Jamie Goode and I converged on the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in British Columbia and spent a week there touring wine country together. The trip then culminated in a few additional days serving as International Judges for the annual National Wine Awards of Canada.

Combining the two events – touring some of British Columbia wine and the National Wine Awards judging – gave a great opportunity to both dig deep into the local region’s wines and then get an overview on the state of Canadian wine as well. There were so many great people along the way I even felt home sick after leaving. It’s a special and strange thing to feel right at home with people so easily.

Okanagan and Similkameen really impressed me. Parts of both valleys are so beautiful it is almost shocking. About half way through the trip, for example, I woke up in the middle of the night of a full moon. I was turned towards the open windows and awoke to a full panorama of the moon lighting up Okanagan Falls – an incredible valley largely undisturbed by industry, carved on each of four sides by young mountain peaks. It was overwhelming to go from full sleep to that scene at first view. What a treat.

Though far smaller than the Okanagan, Similkameen too hosts a range of beauties. It’s one of those regions that feels like suddenly falling back in time to something closer to frontier explorations just by driving around one last corner and popping into the valley. It also hosts the highest concentration of organic farming in the entire country of Canada. A couple hours into our day there we even got interrupted by cowboys driving their cattle up the highway. It’s one of those things that in a movie or television show would look far too staged to believe but in real life reminds you of the incredible diversity of this planet.

One of the other special moments came in meeting Justin Hall, assistant winemaker at Nk’Mp also in charge of the white wine program, the first aboriginally owned winery in North America. Justin is also the first indigenous winemaker in North America, and I’m the first Alaska Native/Native American wine writer. Justin and I had so much fun chatting and laughed a lot about contemporary realities of Native life. Later when I tried to recount parts of the conversation to some non-Natives they had no sense of what I was talking about whereas when I called my mom a couple days later and recounted the conversation to her she couldn’t stop laughing. Indian humor. Whatya gonna do?

The wines from the region cover a real range. It’s a relatively young region with vitis vinifera really only taking hold in the late 1980s, though modern planting started in the 1960s and 1970s. (First vineyards arrived in the Okanagan as early as the 1850s, earmarked for sacramental wine but the region went through a massive replant to European varieties towards the end of the 1900s.) With a relatively young modern wine industry the quality and stylistic interests of the region are profoundly diverse – younger regions tend to show a wider expanse of style as people experiment with what grows best and makes the best wines. Those wines that rise to the top from the area are special. There are some distinct and beautiful wines coming from the region with a few people really devoting themselves to understanding the unique conditions of their home and what it means to make wine of that place. I’ll get into some of those projects more in a future post but in the meantime here’s a look back at my Instagram collection from the trip that will give you a taste for how very much is happening in the Okanagan and Similkameen for wine.

 

Wine writers at the lake. @drjamiegoode + @hawk_wakawaka + the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

The man goes out for his run. @drjamiegoode + the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Leaning in at Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna overlooking Lake Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Entering the Pyramid…

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Based on principles of sacred geometry Summerhill ages their biodynamically farmed wines inside a four-sided pyramid (shown here looking to the top of the pyramid) w angles matching the Great Pyramids of Giza + the north wall facing true north w no metal forming the structure of the building. Tonight for the Summer Solstice the pyramid will host a meditation circle. Asked what they believe the pyramid does, the Summerhill team explained they believe the pyramid accentuates + clarifies whatever is there. For aging wines, then, they are careful to make sure the wines that go into the pyramid are essentially free of flaws. In their view, in the pyramid flawed wines become more flawed. Good wines get better. In the Mission of east Kelowna overlooking the shores of Lake Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

@drjamiegoode + @hawk_wakawaka in pursuit of balance. cc: @rajatparr @jasminehirsch #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Stunning in Okanagan Falls. View from @liquiditywines #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Regional Chardonnay tasting looking at 5 subzones of Okanagan Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Wine writers practicing their healthy skepticism for the sake of objectivity… #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Proper desert cactus beneath Orofino Mountain along the Upper Bench of Similkameen Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

And then there were Cowboys… #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… real ones. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Walking the Little Farm @littlefarmwine near Cawston in Similkameen Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Delicious, refreshing, fresh. Awesome wine. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

This is fricking good. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

We call this a good time. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Dear Canada, this whole duck confit for dinner, duck confit for breakfast thing? I’m a big fan. Love, Elaine #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Fresh + sophisticated whites at Le Vieux Pin. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Really fun group for an interesting + delicious Syrah tasting. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… and two hours later the sky has cleared again. June in the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

It is honestly shocking how good cherries from the Lake Okanagan area are. These darker ones are juicy fantastic. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Jamie @drjamiegoode + Bill @billzacharkiw playing while we all sing… #nwac16

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… with some of the best wine folks on the planet. #nwac16

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Cheers!

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