With its warm and sunny temperatures, the Okanagan region provides some of the best climate for grape and wine production in Canada (and with local pride, dare I say “the world”). With the changing of seasons, I couldn’t help but notice vineyards across the region were springing to life and I realized I had to give into temptation and visit at least a couple. With close to 30 wineries in Kelowna and West Kelowna alone, I also had to find some way to narrow down my selection before setting off, however.
I’ve always been environmentally minded, so I decided to bike around Kelowna to visit Kalala Organic Estate Winery, Tantalus Vineyards and Summerhill Pyramid Winery. I made my selection based on wineries that were within a reasonable cycling distance and had an emphasis on sustainable grape growing and wine production methods.
Riding up and down the rolling hills of West Kelowna, I was able to soak in gorgeous vistas of both the surrounding mountainside and also Lake Okanagan all the way to Kalala, which is a sight in itself.
Reaching the winery, I was able to explore the hilltop vineyards and speak with the resident winemaker, Tibor Erdélyi in the small wine shop. He explained that Kalala grew all of its grapes organically onsite, which you could tell because the ground surrounding the trunk of their vines was covered in grass and plants (in non organic wineries, pesticides clear this area of ground).
He then elaborated to explain that these grapes then went in to a variety of wines as well as many custom crushes, his personal pride and joy being the Chardonnay Icewine, a recent gold medal winner in France’s Chardonnay du Monde competition. While still carrying the trademark sweetness of an icewine, I particularly enjoy this bottle for its smooth, well-balanced flavours.
I hopped back on my bike and headed across the lake to Tantalus, whose vineyard and wine shop were easy to pick out with the yard’s grassy covering and the shop’s iconic LEED certified design.
Entering the building, I entered an open and sunny room and was greeted with equal warmth by Jane Hatch, the GM and Warwick Shaw, the Vineyard Manager. I was able to sample both the standard and juvenile Pinot Noir and while both wines carried a berry undertone, the older vines also contained significantly more tannin and the overall difference in flavour was quite stark for two wines of the same type, from the same year and winery.
While sipping my wine, Jane was able to tell me that Tantalus positioned itself in the premium sustainable market by focusing on Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir wines (all three of which flourish in the Okanagan). This also meant that ten acres of Tantalus’ land had been converted into a mature forest of Ponderosa Pine, with the oldest trees being over 250 years old. In addition, the winery has a partnership with Arlo’s Honey Farm and 52 hives on their property. These efforts have helped to encourage and promote biodiversity within the vineyard monoculture.
My interest had officially been piqued and I decided to explore the vineyard’s forest to see if I could track down the hives. After about a 2-minute trek, I arrived a collection of hives, all buzzing loudly with bees. I had only managed to snap a few photos before a flock of deer pranced past and two dogs bounded up to me – I was officially convinced Tantalus was doing an amazing job of promoting permaculture and biodiversity.
I then left Tantalus, cruising downhill to my final stop – Summerhill. I met with Ezra Cipes, the CEO and quickly made the connection to the premium Cipes wines Summerhill produced. I had always known the Alive red and white blends from Summerhill to be certified organic, with the red’s dark flavours making it a favourite of my own to pair with lamb or steak. During my tour, I also learned that several of the other Summerhill wines are also certified organic, like the 2013 Riesling and the 2009 Merlot.
In addition to the wines, Summerhill also features an organic bistro, open from 11am – 9pm, along with their giant signature pyramid and Summerhill World Peace Park. The winery invites guests to centre themselves inside the pyramid before each tour. It’s a calming experience and a staple for any Summerhill tour.
Altogether, its clear that Kelowna’s wineries are working to both create fantastic quality wines to enjoy today, and in a greener future.
Wineries and Vineyards in Kelowna, BC