Bounded by the foothills of glacial carved mountains and set along the shore of a picturesque lake, it’s easy to see how Kelowna earns the nicknames Orchard City and Four Seasons Playground. Bluebird ski days and sun soaked summer beaches are within easy seasonal reach, making it perfectly suited to adventure seekers and agri-tourism. Kelowna is the land of wintry slopes, summer ale trails, and more all-season wine tour days than you can fit into one visit.
A Little Background
This area has been home to the Syilx peoples for thousands of years. Before European settlers arrived, an estimated 12,000 First Nations lived in the Okanagan Valley. The traditional language is Nsyilxcən (also called Okanagan), an Interior Salish language used by eight Syilx communities. Kelowna is Nsyilxcən and translates to grizzly bear. Indigenous peoples today have a strong presence and The Westbank First Nation own and operate many businesses. When exploring here, it’s on their lands we travel.
The larger regional wine-touring catchment includes Kelowna with +20 wineries, 4 cideries / breweries, and one meadery plus Lake Country to the north (+7 wineries) and West Kelowna to the southwest (+14 wineries). Father Pandosy, a French missionary with the Roman Catholic Church, planted the region’s first vines in 1859. He and others brought with them vineyards, orchards, ranches, and even a brief dabbling in tobacco. More than half of the land in city limits is now zoned for agriculture, hence the name orchard city. It’s been a few years since the last official report, but as of 2014 there were 85 vineyards with more than 1,037 acres. A recent spurt of plantings and new wineries has substantially increased this number.
Calona Vineyards is officially the province’s first commercial winery, established in 1932. Those early efforts were admittedly less than ideal. Winegrowing in the Kelowna region got serious in the late 1960s and into the 1980s, when wineries received licenses to sell wine. Some of the foundational families include Heiss (Gray Monk, now owned by Andrew Peller Ltd.), Stewart (Quails’ Gate), and Cipes (Summerhill Pyramid Winery). Like other regions in British Columbia, farming here is not for the feint of heart. Temperatures can soar over 100F in summer and dip below freezing in winter, despite the moderating influence of Lake Okanagan.
Oh, that picturesque lake. It’s known as a fjord lake, formed by glacial movement cutting a deep u-shaped valley into bedrock. Lake Okanagan is 84 miles long, 700 feet deep, and relatively narrow at around three miles wide; it’s deep enough to hold folklore (the mysterious water creature Ogopogo) and ancient enough to keep legends (water demon N’ha-a-itk by the first nations). Whatever the story, Lake Okanagan is something truly special in the elusive equation that is terroir.
Like the rest of the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna receives little precipitation so farming requires irrigation. An increase in wildfire frequency and intensity adds pressure to a region already pushing the edges of winegrowing. But those who grow know that with risk comes reward: a network of geological deposits along Lake Okanagan adds to that terroir equation and can be discovered in mineral-driven Chardonnays, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Heavier soils are comprised of sandy loam, clay, and limestone. West Kelowna even has an old volcano, Mount Boucherie.
Perhaps the best way to describe Kelowna is urban country. It is complex wines, bold foods, and kind people, surrounded by deep blue waters and sage-covered mountains, set beneath a brilliant blue sky. Choose your own wine adventure, because it’s here.
Getting to Kelowna
Kelowna is in the central Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, accessible by major highways via Route 97 (extending through Washington state) and serviced by international airlines. It’s an adventurous drive or quick flight from major centers like Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, and Calgary. If you’re arriving by road be sure to check provincial resources like DriveBC.com for traffic news and weather updates.
- From Seattle: 310mi
- From Spokane: 240mi
- From Vancouver: 245mi
- From Calgary: 375mi
Wineries To Visit in Kelowna (you’ll notice a theme)
- Indigenous World Winery in West Kelowna, for their single vineyard series (hello Chardonnay)
- Tantalus Vineyards for Riesling, old vines Riesling, and Pinot Noir
- Sperling Vineyards for their Heritage Series (try the sparkling brut) and Vision Series Natural Amber Pinot Gris
- Ricco Bambino downtown Kelowna for a Very Troubled Child Rosé Brut, a luscious Viognier, and bright KOCC Brut
- St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery for Riesling, Riesling, and more Riesling (get it by the case)
- 50th Parallel Estate in Lake Country for Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir
- Arrowleaf Cellars in Lake Country for delightfully aromatic bubbles, Riesling, and Pinot Noir
- Martin’s Lane Winery (by appointment) for vineyard-specific Rieslings and Pinot Noirs
Winery Educational Experiences, Groups, Site Tours
- Mission Hill Family Estate Winery for educational and group tours through a winery designed by Tom Kundig
- Sandhill near downtown Kelowna for a historical perspective and educational overview of regions, thanks to their single-varietal and small lots series
- Summerhill Pyramid Winery for a deep-dive into organic and biodynamics, a tutorial on traditional method sparkling wines (they have so many), and maybe a glimpse inside a to-scale pyramid
- Quails’ Gate for hour-long guided estate vineyard tours and group experiences, in a vineyard, overlooking the lake
Restaurants To Try in Kelowna
Casual & Cool
- Salt & Brick for food with attitude and a dinner menu that can change daily
- Krafty Kitchen & Bar to find your new favorite anything (and everything)
- Micro bar • bites for shared plates and brilliant beverages
- The Table at Codfathers to focus on fresh and sustainable seafood sourced from an actual fishmonger and deliciously prepared (oysters, anyone?)
- Vice & Virtue Brewing Co. for brunch, lunch, and easy bites (order the side of pickled vegetables)
Adventurous and Approachable Elegance
- RauDZ Regional Table for a commitment to community food sourcing and hyper-local wine list
- Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar to indulge your senses and gastronomic curiosity
- Bouchons Bistro where French cuisine meets Okanagan wine country
- La Bussola for a glimpse of Italy through the eyes of the Okanagan Valley
- Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate
- Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill for plein air dining (seasonal)
- Summerhill Pyramid Bistro
- Red Fox Club at Indigenous World Winery
- Block One Restaurant at 50th Parallel
…or anything from any fruit market, but especially Paynter’s Fruit Market.
Hotels in Kelowna
On-site winery digs
- Summerhill Pyramid Winery
- Quails’ Gate
Downtown and Waterfront
- Hotel Zed Kelowna
- Manteo Resort
- Coast Hotels Kelowna
- Delta Grand Okanagan Resort (by Marriott)
- The Royal Kelowna
- The Cove Lakeside Resort
Questions? Ask us anything in the comments! There is a lot to explore.