As you leave Penticton to visit the southern Okanagan wineries in Oliver and Osoyoos, most people take Highway 97 as that is the most direct route. However, a couple of years ago I tried out Highway 3a so I could go through the Similkameen Valley. And not only was it a beautiful drive, I found – for me – a new wine region, with some fabulous up and coming wineries! There are, literally, only a handful, so you can taste at almost all of them if you want. But if you are limited for time, check out three for sure that are making some of the best wine in BC.
1. Eau Vivre
What a revelation Eau Vivre was! Like all wineries in the Similkameen, it is small and the tasting room the front room of the proprietor’s house, but the wines are good to amazing (the latter being the Pinot Noir) and the prices ridiculously low for the quality.
For whites, Eau Vivre has Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, and both are worth tasting. The latter, in particular, is nice, made in a classic Alsatian style. But it is the reds that I come for! They have a Bordeaux blend (called “Bhuddaful) and, the piece de la resistance, the Pinot Noir (which last year one a Lieutenant Governor’s Award). It is a beauty – a mix of California and Burgundy, with ripe but not jammy red cherry fruit and spice. I’m not sure of the aging potential yet, as there are only three vintages, but the ’08 is still drinking nicely. And only $19!!!
If you are have time to stop at another Similkameen winery, definitely make it Orofino. It is bigger than Eau Vivre with a more elaborate tasting room, but some of the wines are just as good.
For whites, there is Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, with my favourite being the Riesling. It is made in a Alsatian style, full bodied and super ripe. Also, Orofino makes a vintage sparkling Muscat (called Moscato Frizzante) that is quite amazing! For reds, I like the Syrah and Pinot Noir the best. The former is French in style, the latter a cross between Burgundy and California.
3. Robin Ridge
This is the definition of an unobtrusive little winery! You turn into a driveway with vines on both sides, and pull up to a regular house. Inside is the tasting room, where you will find some solid – and good value – red and white wines.
For the whites, its Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, with the former being my favourite – made in the Alsatian style, with nice lychee aromas and medium body. For reds there is Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gamay, and I particularly like the last two. The Pinot Noir, while not as outstanding as the Eau Vivre (and a couple of bucks more), is still a great buy. It is a Cali/Burgundy cross with ripe red cherries, earth and spice, and enough tannin to age and develop for a year or two.
So there you have it…a wine trip through the Similkameen Valley. Enjoy!