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Whether it’s to feel Canada’s Warmest Welcome or you want to see exactly where Canada’s Wine Capital is, visiting the southern Okanagan Valley means spending time in Osoyoos and Oliver respectively. Each of these small communities has its own lake and abundance of seasonal outdoor activities, but what makes the region truly special is that it’s home to more than 40 wineries (truth). Even some of the most dedicated wine adventurers might not know this region exists, but that’s starting to change.
Long before Europeans ‘discovered’ the area, Osoyoos and Oliver were home to the Syilx Indigenous peoples. Osoyoos translated is sẁiẁs (pronounced soo-yoos) and means ‘narrowing of the waters’ in the Okanagan language of Syilx’tsn. It’s also where you can find Canada’s first Indigenous owned and operated winery, Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced inn-ka-meep). Here you’ll find road signs in both English and Syilx. The provincial government has also renamed Haynes Point Provincial Park to its original place name of Sẁiẁs Provincial Park, and McIntyre Bluff is in the process of being renamed its original place name of nʕaylintn. When we explore Oliver and Osoyoos wine country, it’s on Syilx lands we travel. Their roots here run deepest.
Some Regional History
European settlers arrived in the south Okanagan in the early 1800s and brought with them ground crop agriculture and ranches. Today’s orchard and vineyard landscape didn’t manifest until the 1920s, after an irrigation channel helped ensure access to water in this arid and desert-like climate. What we see now is the direct result of a century of trial and error and only truly began in earnest commercially in the 1990s. Hybrid grapes were the norm until the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect and Canada realized it would need to take itself a little more seriously to compete on quality. Farmers ripped out hybrids from their vineyards by the acre, some savvy enough to participate in a government replanting initiative to focus on vinifera while others left plots fallow. Driving along the Black Sage Bench or Golden Mile today, it’s hard to imagine anything but the postcard-worthy vineyards that stretch for miles.
Unofficial and Official Sub-Regions
Along the east of the valley is the Black Sage Bench, an unofficial sub-region but one recognized by growers for its unique offer. Stretching from Oliver down to the north end of Osoyoos Lake, this bench is known for enormous sand deposits; at times hundreds of feet deep, they date back millennia to the glacial age when this was truly a bench in a large glacial lake. The south and west-facing vineyards get hours of sunlight well into late day and an enormous granite rock face holds heat long through the night. The north end is an active floodplain with alluvial fans and terraces, and soils along the bench are composed primarily of glaciaofluvial materials underpinned by granite bedrock.
To the west of the valley is the Golden Mile Bench, the province’s first official sub-gi (geographical indication). It was established in 2015 by the efforts of a dedicated group wanting to show definitively why their region was truly exceptional. The Golden Mile Bench is determined by landform, landscape position (aspect, elevation), mesoclimate, air drainage, and soil materials. Only nine wineries qualify to use the designation, and the process wasn’t without controversy. Still, rigor and science prevailed and set the tone for subsequent regions seeking official designation elsewhere in the province.
Oliver and Osoyoos are where up to half of the grapes are grown in the Okanagan Valley. It’s the northernmost point of the Great Basin Desert and one of the hottest areas in Canada, where average summer temperatures reach 35C / 95F during the day and exceeding 100F is not uncommon. Extremely low precipitation levels means the area relies on irrigation and although vineyards hold more ground there is still a healthy representation of orchards to keep agriculture somewhat diverse. Osoyoos Lake works to moderate and provides reflective qualities, lengthening ripening times so grapes can reach good sugar levels (brix) and develop complex phenolics.
Overall, the Oliver and Osoyoos area has +40 wineries to explore. Give yourself plenty of time, because even the most seasoned wine pros would have difficulty visiting every winery in a week. Your adventures can take you from the US border where in one vineyard your mobile phone won’t know whether to join a US or Canadian network, to the magnificent basalt-faced McIntyre Bluff north of Oliver that holds many first nations legends and is large enough to impact local weather patterns. Serious geography.
Grab a map of Oliver and Osoyoos wine country, make a list, and choose a starting point. Then take an unexpected detour because that’s where the best adventures are found. Happy exploring.
Getting to Oliver and Osoyoos
Osoyoos and Oliver are in the southern part of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, accessible by Highway 97 (extending through Washington state) and a scenic 120km / 75mi drive from Kelowna where there’s an international airport for arrivals from Seattle, Spokane, and larger centers in the US and Canada. Penticton, a 60km / 39mi drive from Osoyoos, has a regional airport with daily flights to/from Vancouver and Calgary that will tempt you to extend your visit to Canada by just a few days. Because we’re nice like that. If you’re traveling by road be sure to check provincial resources like DriveBC.com for traffic news and weather updates.
- From Seattle: 282mi
- From Spokane: 186mi
- From Vancouver: 246mi
- From Calgary: 450mi
Wineries To Visit in Oliver and Osoyoos
- Moon Curser Vineyards in Osoyoos for their signature blend ‘Afraid of the Dark’ (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne), Carménère (indeed), Dolcetto (truth), Malbec (you got it), plus much more of the like
- Bartier Bros off Black Sage Road south of Oliver to fall in love again with Semillon (ask winemaker Michael why it’s one of his favorite grapes and settle in for a long story), Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Rosé (grab what you can)
- Gehringer Brothers on the Golden Mile Bench south of Oliver and drink like a local because it’s our secret go-to for Rosé (while it lasts), Ehrenfelser (fact), and Optimum Series Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir
- River Stone Estate Winery in Oliver for the Pinot Gris, Malbec Rosé (also while it lasts), Cabernet Franc, and magnificent red blend Corner Stone
- Maverick Estate Winery between Osoyoos and Oliver for the sparkling Ella, red blend Rubicon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc
- Culmina Family Estate Winery on the Golden Mile Bench in Oliver because Don Triggs is one of the wine visionaries in the province and this is his swan song so try everything you can but take note of the Decora (Riesling), Unicus (Grüner Veltliner, I’m serious), Saignée (a most delicate and intense rosé), Chardonnay, and red blend Hypothesis
- Hester Creek Estate Winery on the Golden Mile Bench south of Oliver and try one of the only Trebbianos in Canada (rumour is the vines were smuggled here by the original property owner), Pinot Blanc, Reserve Cabernet Franc, a co-fermented Syrah Viognier (as it should be), and a signature red blend called The Judge named after one of the area’s largest early-settler property holders, Judge Haynes, whose ranch you can see the crumbling remnants of on Black Sage Road (it’s now a protected site)
- Vin Amité Cellars just south of Oliver for the most adorable wine experience you can imagine with some seriously heavy-hitting wines like the Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir (join team #gogamaygo), Petit Claret (your new fave, trust me), and red blends Hidden Corner or Ouest
- Nk’Mip Cellars on the edge of Osoyoos, Canada’s first winery owned and operated by First Nations (the Osoyoos Indian Band) and known for so many tasty offers but particularly the Qwam Qwmt series (pronounced kw-em kw-empt) including a Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah
- Covert Farms Family Estate north of Oliver next to that high elevation McIntyre Bluff, for organic farming practices and a true farm experience (they have Barbados blackbelly sheep and Highland cattle) and be sure to find their Roussanne Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon, Pinot Blanc, red blend Amicitia (pronounced ah-mee-cha-tia), and Grand Reserves when available
Small lots, by appointment, and for serious collectors
- Lariana Cellars in Osoyoos, almost at the US border, for a garagiste winery experience, tastings in a Quonset hut / cellar or on the crush pad and be sure to buy several of whatever you fall in love with because it will be gone in a flash – the entire portfolio consists of a Viognier, Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a ridiculously remarkable red blend named after the vintage (Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, etc)
- Fairview Cellars on the Golden Mile Bench just west of Oliver for serious wines in a most unexpected place; try everything you can and take note of the Sauvignon Blanc (it can age), Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon if still available, Two Hoots (a cab/merlot blend), and the Premier Series including The Bear (a giant of a red blend) plus the Iconoclast (a four-barrel run of special Cabernet Sauvignon) and even a Grüner Veltliner (yes, another one – we’re beyond excited around here)
- Le Vieux Pin meaning “old pine”, on the Black Sage Road outside of Oliver, a study in elegance and attention to detail; book a tasting in advance and be guided through the portfolio to fully enjoy yourself; make note of the Vaîla Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Ava (blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne that’s named after winemaker Severine’s daughter) Chardonnay (take home as much as you can), Syrah (the Cuvée Violette, Cuvée Classique, and Equinoxe), and Cabernet Franc but the entire portfolio truly sings in Sev’s hands
Winery educational experiences, small-to-medium groups and/or site tours
- Self-guided property and cellar tour at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, on the Golden Mile Bench south of Oliver
- Private Experience Program at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, on the Black Sage Bench south of Oliver
- The Wine Experience Centre at Black Hills Estate Winery, on the Black Sage Bench south of Oliver
Casual & Cool
- Oliver Eats for a true deli experience in the Oliver industrial park (yes it actually has one), owned and operated by nice people who believe that ‘connecting people through food creates a better community’ (the sandwiches will absolutely slay you)
- El Sabor de Marina food truck / seasonal joint just on the town line south of Oliver, for authentic and delicious Mexican foods (you might not get what you order but you’ll be too happy to care)
- Campo Marina in Osoyoos, because it’s a local institution with a lovely BC wine list and if you order well you’ll have delicious leftovers
- Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek (March through December)
- Terrafina at Hester Creek by RauDZ (seasonal)
- The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery (seasonal)
- The Patio Restaurant at Nk’Mip Cellars (seasonal)
Hotels in Oliver and Osoyoos
On-site winery digs
- Hester Creek Estate Winery
- Burrowing Owl Winery
- Spirit Ridge Lake Resort by Hyatt (at Nk’Mip Cellars)
In-town and waterfront
- Watermark Resort, Osoyoos
- Walnut Beach Resort, Osoyoos
- Coast Hotels, in Osoyoos and now also in Oliver
- Best Western Sunrise Inn Osoyoos
- Holiday Inn & Suites Osoyoos
- The Lakeside Resort, Oliver (a self-proclaimed “Okanagan classic”)
- Gallagher Lake Lodge north of Oliver, for cabins or motel-style accommodation
- At one of dozens of B&Bs, too numerous to name