The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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Page 76 of 112

76 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2015 Don't look now, but the Okanagan Valley in Canada's British Columbia has emerged as one of the most important wine regions in the world. Any region growing wine grapes at the very edge of the 50° N latitudinal line— be it Germany's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer or British Columbia's Okanagan Valley (both between 49° N and 50° N), or France's Champagne (closer to 48° N)—has to be seriously considered for several reasons pertinent to us today: ❱ These are cooler-climate regions predisposed towards wines with higher grape acidity and lower wine pH—and sharply edged wines are becom- ing more and more of a consumer preference. ❱ At higher latitudes, grapes are exposed to as long as two-plus more hours of sunlight during the growing season than in traditional Mediterranean regions, such as Southern France, Italy, Spain and California's North Coast— and it is sunlight, and the process of photosynthesis, that most directly correlates with increased phenolic compounds in grapes that contribute to aroma, flavor and structure in wine. ❱ It is easier to pick grapes of optimal maturity at lower sugar levels in north- erly latitudes—which makes it more possible to produce wines possessing moderate alcohol and terroir-related tertiary qualities (such as minerality), which today's consumers are also look- ing for. As in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, it is topograph- ical proximity to bodies of water that make the Okanagan Valley ideal for wine grapes. Vineyards are planted in largely sandy, gravelly, silt, clay and limestone deposits along classic low-vigor/well- drained bluffs and terraces overlooking a long, narrow stretch of lakes—primar- ily Lake Okanagan (running north-south for 84 miles, averaging just three miles in width), looming north of Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake and Osoyoos Lake, close to the Washington State border. The only real issue with the Okanagan Valley, of course, is that it is such a young wine region. It was only after the Canada- U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1988 that the British Columbia wine industry seriously began its transition from Vitis labrusca, hybrids like Maréchal Foch and German crosses like Optima and Bacchus, to more classic Vitis vinifera such as Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (the five most widely planted varieties in British Columbia today). Six Geographical Indications (GIs) are recognize by the BC VQA (British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance), but more than 90% of the region's wines are sourced from the Okanagan Valley. (The other GIs are Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and the broader British Columbia GI.) Despite the fact that there are now actually over 240 Okanagan Valley wineries producing wine from about 9,900 acres of planted grapes, most of the top brands, and most interesting wines, are just beginning to trickle into the American market. Okanagan Valley Foray Okanagan Valley Foray EXPLORING BRITISH COLUMBIA'S CONTEMPORARY, WORLD-CLASS WINES story and photos by Randy Caparoso Naramata Bench vineyards spilling out into south end of Lake Okanagan.

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