Similkameen Valley Wine Country...
Never heard of it ?
British Columbia’s Similkameen Valley earned the spotlight in enRoute magazine when it was identified as “one of the world’s five best wine regions you’ve never heard of.” It is not likely this status will last long, so if the idea of discovering a new premium wine region sounds exciting to you, the time is right for Similkameen Valley wine touring.
A familiar trend is emerging here in this desert-like southern B.C. wine-growing region along Hwy 3 between Princeton and Osoyoos... a trend seen again and again throughout the Pacific Northwest. First come the successes and notoriety of vineyards, with most grapes being sold to wineries outside the area; next, growers begin holding back some of the best grapes and planting more to produce wine under their own labels.
The level of viticultural and enological activity in the Similkameen Valley appellation has increased markedly in the last few years as the wine-growing potential of this little-known, narrow mountain valley has been demonstrated. The Similkameen Valley’s vineyard acreage has increased by 73% since 2006 and its wineries now number sixteen.
When a wine-growing region begins to support more than just a few wineries, it is common to see the next step in that region's development to be the formation of a grass-roots winery association aimed at leveraging the power of numbers in collaborative marketing and regional wine-event coordination.
The Similkameen Wineries Association currently represents nine out of the 16 local wineries. Its first region-wide planned event was a Fall Wine Festival organized to showcase the wineries and the wines of the appellation. The association's first Spring Wine Release & BBQ King Competition was held in May of 2010 when the new event's 1st BBQ King was crowned. The Similkameen BBQ King event continues annually and is held on the beautiful grounds of heritage site of The Old Grist Mill & Gardens.
The expansion and increased activities of the Similkameen Valley DVA/appellation suggest the region is in a growth spurt. Its close proximity to its better-known neighbors in the Okanagan Valley position it well for realizing its potential as a wine tourism destination.
Using our recently updated map of the Similkameen, you can plan plenty of wine tasting experiences well before reaching Osoyoos (just 20 minutes away on Hwy 3) in the southern Okanagan Valley. While support services for wine-country travelers are limited, a list of suggestions has been created for convenient browsing. It includes a number of choices for lodging, RV parks and dining opportunities while touring the beautiful Similkameen Valley. With Osoyoos just a 20-minute drive to the southeast, many other choices are available nearby.
Be sure to visit and bookmark the Association's website and check back from time to time to stay up to date about Similkameen Wine Country and what it offers wine enthusiasts and travelers.
About the Valley
Named for one of the twelve tribes of the native Okanagan people, the Similkameen is similar to the neighboring Okanagan Valley wine region. That said, the characteristics of the Similkameen Valley are distinct enough to have earned its own status as a Designated Viticultural Area (DVA).
Many of its distinctions are easy to see; this mountain valley cuts through the northern reaches of the Cascade Mountains, making it much more narrow than the Okanagan Valley which lies between two separate mountain ranges. The Similkameen's narrowness is the primary geological ingredient for the Valley's notorious winds - winds that help maintain disease-free vineyards.
The mountainous nature of the Similkameen Valley appellation creates a wide variety of micro climates, a result of its east-west orientation through the Canadian Cascades. Just as the short 40-mile east-west stretch through the Cascades of Oregon and Washington to the south creates a multiplicity of micro climates within the Columbia Gorge appellation, the Similkameen Valley provides a variety of terroir as well. The Valley’s climate becomes progressively more moist from east to west and with the higher elevations of bench lands. The marine impact from the west stalls as it encounters the mountains, and the rain-shadow affect of the Cascades begins to spread eastward through the Valley and on into the Southern Okanagan region.
A variety of soil types exist in the Similkameen along with a slightly higher elevation (about 150 feet higher) than the Okanagan Valley to the east; heat-storing geological formations also give back their warmth to nearby vineyards well into the cool of the evenings.
The Similkameen Valley's diverse terroir supports an intriguing array of wine-grape varietals, and the persistent winds throughout the valley support wineries' efforts to grow organically.
Some Quick Facts
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Susan R. O'Hara. All rights reserved.