I've worked in the wine industry for most of my adult life - I've graduated a few times over, in terms of knowledge, general awareness and wherewithal of quality, style and regional focus.
Having worked in tasting rooms, wine festivals, vineyards and cellars, you get a lot of people demanding extremely specific styles of wine that may not necessarily be available in the region they are visiting- and this is definitely the case in the Okanagan.
There's an assumption since we're the not so far neighbour of the North, (Napa, specifically), we produce very similar styles. As such, I often get a lot of requests for suggestions of big meaty, fat Cabs and other similar stylistic expressions. Simply put, the Okanagan does not produce wines of this style. If you've had a big, juicy, velvety Cab - most likely it's been manipulated (additives to give the perception of a full bodied wine) to appease the general public's palate.
Don't misconstrue what I'm saying here - the Okanagan produces gorgeous styles of wine - but when you drink varieties that thrive here - they're not in the same vein or style of wine of our southern counter part.
Here is a snapshot of wines I guarantee you'll love with input from gang bangers in the industry. They may not be the varieties you were expecting, or drink on the regular - but I can guarantee you'll be a convert once you give them a try.
The Hatch - Jason Parkes, winemaker + Andrew Melville, marketing director
"Go on an adventure with what you feel is the variety you think you like and learn about it. If a cat digs a Pinot Gris, try it from Lake Country, Westbank, Summerland, Silkmakameen and Osoyoos. This way, you can learn what style of Pinot Gris you dig. Once you learn what climate you like, you may learn that other varieties from that climate also tickle your fancy - this will teach you about your palate. You'll learn what acidity, and phenolic ripeness you like. Sounds crazy, but the point is, there are few places in the world you can taste differences in only a few hours of travel. A bit geeky - so maybe tell them to drink grappa."
"Anything but Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and other Rhone Reds. Drink Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Gamay. Spend your money, and go get your hands on Syrah. And then drink more Riesling. If you can't get Riesling, just get some Ehrenfelser."
Kitsch - Grant Biggs, winemaker
"Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are my favourite from the Okanagan. Other than those four, I'm pretty fond of whatever wine happens to be in my glass at any given moment. Don't over think it, wine is meant to enhance an experience, not be the experience."
Rhys Evans - Township 7, assistant winemaker
"The breadth of options are endless. Riesling and Gruner Veltliner show well from producers in Lake Country. I think there will always be a place for Cabernet Franc. They are delicious and pretty unique here in that they stand alone. The warmer "cool climate" regions are doing well with Cab Franc, so I think it will only get better here. I would love to see a more aggressive move into Rhone varieties and styles - Syrah, Marsanne, Rousanne. The variation in climate, soils, aspects and pockets from north to south, is like nothing else anywhere around the world."
Jasmine Lee Black - Van Westen Vineyards, assistant winemaker
"Over most of the Okanagan, I would say the varietal I am most excited about is Cabernet Franc. I adore Loire Valley Cab Franc, and many of the Ontario versions. The Okanagan versions, are much different than these two examples, but I have come across some from down South all the way up to Northern Naramata that I'm into. There are some awesome pockets for other varietals but I have seen great of examples of Cabernet Franc from a more broad space in the valley."
Micheal Alexander - Summerhill Pyramid Winery - assistant winemaker
"I would say Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot do well here. There is no shortage of killer, long lived Merlot in the valley."
Bill Eggert - Proprietor/Winemaker - Fairview Cellars
"The biggest strength of the Okanagan is its diversity of varietals and styles. Riesling tonight, could be Chardonnay tomorrow. Pinot is good for sipping, Cabernet Franc and lamb, Merlot and pulled pork, Syrah and moose, bubbly Chenin Blanc and that special gal (or guy), Sauvignon Blanc and oysters - need I go on. Diversity. Most awesome. We've got it all."
Jak Meyer - Meyer Vineyards - Poprietor
"What is becoming our signature? Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah, obviously Merlot and Pinot Gris are two of the most planted, but I don't think they get the same international recognition."
Bradley Cooper - Black Cloud Winery, proprietor and winemaker
"A great route of exploration would be to try all the things "Pinot" based, both red and white. There's going to be some distinct, and unique plays, on each variety. Pinot's, in general, are well suited to BC growing regions with few exceptions. We should be drinking other BC examples of other varieties. Anywhere north of OK Falls there will be good Pinot sites for noir, gris, blanc etc."
The beauty of BC, and the Okanagan specifically, is our diversity. What thrives in the north will be a completely different story in the south, and differ yet again everywhere in between. We're an incredibly special region despite our size. Consider these varied suggestions next time you're visiting the Okanagan, or picking up a bottle of wine to enjoy - the choice is truly endless.