British Columbia, Canada

After long being considered a producer of inferior wines, British Columbia has finally been recognized as a winemaking powerhouse.

The wine from British Columbia dates back only 140 years when Father Pandosy set up the first vineyards at the Obelate Mission near Kelowna. In nineteen twenty-six the first commercial vineyard and a winery sold to the general public.

The main wine-growing region in this Canadian province is composed of the Okanagan and Similkameen Valley in the south-central region.

While the total land and freshwater area of British Columbia is larger than France and Germany combined, with approximately 5,500 acres under cultivation on fewer than 100 wineries the area is tiny by comparison to France, Italy or even Spain.

The Okanagan Lake fills a large portion of the valley floor and moderates the heat in this semi-arid desert region. The soil is of glacial stone, fine sand, silt and clay in the north, and sand and gravel in the south. This soil produced Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, as well as the German Siegerrebe, Sylvaner and Ortega. The most commonly planted are Merlot and Chardonnay, but Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer are grown also.

Vintners have ideal conditions for producing award winning wines because the climate is governed by the region's proximity to the Coast Mountain Range which produces hot, dry summers, ample hours of sun and low humidity.

The wineries of the Okanagan Valley produce 95% of British Columbia's wine. They have only six inches of rainfall annually in the south and sixteen in the north making it no mean feat. Especially considering that most vineyards, on average are less than 10 years old.

Crisp, fruity whites are most often produced in the German off-dry style, however there are many produced in French tradition as well. The reds of this area have advanced in recent years with the Pinot Noir producing an enviable medium-bodied drink from this finicky grape. Regardless of its small size, British Columbia boasts a range of dessert wines, also, with flavors of plum, blueberry, raspberry and others.

British Columbia counts among its exports a highly respected German-style ice-wine made from grapes picked and crushed while frozen. In the last 30 years Canada has become on of the world's largest producers of this unusual drink that has been a German specialty for 200 years.

Whites vary from the honeyed Riesling with a citrus aftertaste to the Gray Monk Pinot Gris, a recent favorite. The early ripening Merlot with tones of plum and coffee aftertaste will not disappoint the lover of red, nor will the later Cabernet Suavignon from the Similkameen Valley.

Tiny Vancouver Island, a relative newcomer, is also getting into the act and experimenting with Ehrenfelser, Muscat, Siegerrebe and other exotic varieties. Most of these 135 acres are planted on hillside vineyards that serve 10 small wineries. However, look for great things in the future.

Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.

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