What comes to mind when you think of British Columbia? The beautiful, mountainous landscape? That laid back, Western Canadian attitude? Maybe Lake Okanagan and fresh salmon? Or, if you're into wine, the whole "big reds" thing? Well, all of those do come to mind for us, but... so does sparkling wine of course! Inspired by a coast-to-coast tasting of Canadian sparkling wine at the 2017 Terroir Symposium, we made it our personal mission to visit the main wine regions of Canada in 2017-2018.
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And, with our trip out to the Okanagan of British Columbia... our mission was accomplished! After several jaunts throughout Wine Country Ontario and a trip out to Nova Scotia last summer, we can say with confidence that sparkling wine is a standout for Canada and is our next great hallmark. Yes, we have the venerable and wonderful Icewine and are known for our aromatic whites, but... we would be remiss to say that sparkling wine is the next big thing for our great country. Surely, our trip out to the west coast is further evidence of this!
So, what did we learn?
1) The Terroir is Truly Special
While all of Canada's wine regions are beautiful, and both Ontario and Nova Scotia benefit from gentle, rolling hills and the effects of large bodies of water, British Columbia's mountainous terrain contributes to a terroir that's unique among Canada's wine regions. From high altitude growth, to the benefits of aspect, to the generally warmer weather, the Okanagan - as a wine region - is unique in that regard.
2) The Climate is Fair, and Acidity is Key
With that in mind, the fair climate and an abundant environment that can support just about any grape variety can lead to a lack of focus. With the ability to grow Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and just about everything in between... how does a region focus on finding its signature varietals? While the whole signature varietal discussion is ongoing, we were impressed by the consideration given to sparkling wines in the Okanagan. Not just an afterthought or opportunity (despite the ability to grow just about any red variety to full, phenolic ripeness) most winemakers we crossed paths with saw sparkling as an important part of their portfolios, and harvest the grapes destined for sparkling early to create the perfect acidity-driven base wines for their bubbles.
3) They've been Getting their Sparkle On since the 1980's!
That's right! The pioneering winemakers behind Steller's Jay produced the first traditional method sparkling wine in BC in the late 1980's, followed not long after by Blue Mountain Winery. Both are still going strong with a full lineup of beautiful bubbles. 🤗
4) And the Commitment to Traditional Method Sparkling is Strong
Full disclosure: we came out to BC to try the west coast's take on sparkling wine. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that the sparkling scene out here is ... well, sparkling! From pioneers like Blue Mountain, Steller's Jay at Sumac Ridge, Summerhill Pyramid and trailblazers like Tantalus, Haywire and Sperling, the commitment to traditional method sparkling wines is strong. So on that front, BC, we thank you! 🙏
5) Extended Lees Aging is Quite Common
And, we couldn't be happier! We were over the moon when we encountered extended lees aged sparklers in BC. From the patience required in the winemaking, cellaring and, ultimately, marketing of these wines, sparkling that's been aged on the lees for an extended period of time is a labour of love. So when we encountered an aged beauty at almost every winery, we laboured in our love. From the Blue Mountain Brut Reserve 2009, to the Steller's Jay Pinnacle, to the full range of extended lees aged wines at Summerhill Pyramid and, of course, the full line up of Sperling Vineyard's wonderful bubbly. 😍
6) The Demand for Local Vino is Even Stronger
We come from a region which loves local... the demand for Ontario wines in restaurants, bars and generally among the public has been rising. But in BC, west coast Canadian wines are the kings and queens of the wine list. So much so, that some experts we had the chance to interview noted an insular perspective. While expecting all Pinot Noir to taste like BC Pinot Noir isn't a good thing, we were pleased and happy to find so much local wine on wine lists across our travels!
7) The Commitment to Single Vineyard Wines was Impressive
We cannot say enough about our friends at Tantalus. From the commitment to terroir focussed, single vineyard wines, to their design aesthetic, to their honest and approachable ethos to wine... Tantalus is tantalizing (calm down, dad pun). And what a perfect introduction to the BC sparkling scene. If you haven't tried Tantalus' Old Vines Riesling Brut... do you even bubble, bro? It showcases the ability of the grape to shine in the traditional method (which is not easy) and the Blanc de Noirs sings with beautiful, fruity notes akin to a carefully crafted rosé champagne.
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8) The Natural Wine Conversation is Groovy, Man
BC is Canada's laid back, relaxed Province with a heart of gold and a green thumb. Or, something like that. So it's no surprise that the natural wine conversation is alive and well on the west coast of Canada. So much so, that we've had the pleasure of encountering natural sparkling wines. What?! YES! From facilities/co-operatives, like Okanagan Crush Pad (which produces natural still and sparkling wines without the use of oak) to small, salt-of-the-earth (but incredibly ambitious and respectable) farm wineries like Bella Wines, there's something special happening out here. And... spoiler alert: we may have had some of the best Pét-Nats we've ever tried. And that's a big endorsement, as we tend to drive in the traditional method lane. 😎
9) The Weird and Wonderful Intersect with Tradition Beautifully
From the experimental (yet respectful) wines of Bella, to the divine symmetry (it's a thing - Google it) at Summerhill Pyramid and the laid back attitude of The Hatch, we loved how weird and wonderful co-existed with respect for tradition. And, we may have tried the longest-on-the-lees wine in Canada while appreciating the philosophical and mystical in a beautiful stone pyramid (thanks, Summerhill) and appreciated some serious wines and then sabred with a shovel (ty, Hatch!).
10) You can Most Definitely Make a Weekend out of it!
If you're curious, you can definitely make a weekend out of sparkling wine hunting in the Okanagan. So look for our weekend guide, coming verrrry soon! 😉 Until then, why not check out our other Sparkling Wine Travel Guides?