When I first found out that the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference would be in the Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia, I, like many fellow bloggers, was somewhat dubious.  Canada?  Passports?  No transport of wine?  What the heck?

Little would I know that many months later, I would fall in love with this isolated region east of Vancouver.  When flying in to the Okanagan Valley from Calgary, as I did, you get a bird’s eye view of the long, thin lake and the mountains that surround it.  It reminds me a lot of Lake Tahoe, except that is a glacial valley and not a caldera as Tahoe is.

It’s here that the requisite lake monster, Ogopogo calls home.  You know the type – looks like a dinosaur, swims around, might be friendly, might eat small children.  Every large inland body of water has one:  Lake Tahoe has Tahoe Tessie; Lake Champlain has Champ, and of course – Loch Ness has Nessie.   These Darwinian mysteries swim the depths of these lakes and draw tourists to the souvenir stands.  But…I wonder if Ogopogo likes wine?
The wine region is located in a narrow glacial lake valley, with Okanagan Lake to the north, and the much smaller Skaha Lake to the south.  There are actually several lakes dotting the region to the south, with the Okanagan River connecting them.  Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake were at one point a continuous body of water after the glaciers melted, but now, the town of Penticton  separates the two on a narrow strip of land.

It is there in Penticton, and the base of Okanagan Lake that the wine bloggers will gather in June of 2013.  A small beach resort town, it’s cleverly walkable, with the lakeshore next to our host hotel (and casino…which I expect will have an interesting impact on the bloggers!), and wineries within a short drive.

This steep sided valley is very reminiscent of the Rhine in Germany.  Historically fruit orchard territory, it is increasingly becoming the Napa Valley of the north.  The first known wine was produced in the Okanagan in the mid 1800s for the mission, which of course required Sacramental Wine.  However, much like the U.S., Prohibition wiped out the early vinous settlers, and the area turned the focus back to fruit production.  Once Prohibition was repealed, there was a booming fruit wine industry, but traditional wines were not produced here again in earnest until the 1970s.

At that time, the first vinifera grapes were planted, focusing on the aromatic whites of Europe, such as Riesling, Ehrenfelser and Scheurebe which were well suited to the northern climate.  In the late 70s and early 80s, more and more wineries popped up.  The region has seen a massive growth in the last 20 years and has changed from a fledgling area with experimental still wines, to one of elegance and unique terroir.

 The Okanagan started to gain more attention int he early 1990s when winemakers and consultants from around the world were courted to produce in the region.  This draw resulted in cross border penetration, with Old World winemakers from France and Germany mingling with New World rebels from Napa and Chile.  In fact, the Agricultural Research Station in the area is second only to Davis in it’s reputation.  Many post doctoral candidates are working here on fruit and grape research, and have come up through the Davis ranks to graduate to the new frontier of the Okanagan.  The region is still young, but really took off when one of the larger wineries, Mission Hill, entered wine in an International competition and several of them medaled.  Today, there are over 120 wineries producing premium wines.

From our home base in Kelowna, the largest town, sitting on the eastern edge of Okanagan Lake, we explored the history of the region as orchard lands, as well as a summer lake resort.  While it is still a summer resort destination, the growth of the wine industry has made it a year round place to explore, with ski hills, swimming beaches, great food, and interesting wines.
Our first stop, Dirty Laundry Vineyards, was like visiting Vegas, if there were vinyards, old washing machines, and a stunning view.  Intrigued?  Stay tuned!

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