Having grown up in Calgary and summered in BC for the first 16 years of my life I was familiar with the Gala keg bottle of wine on the picnic table. And when things went upscale the Blue Nun and Black Tower came out. At the time the BC Okanagan was best known for its Apples and other Tree fruit and as a Kid it was Surplus Herbies in Vernon and the Alpine Slide at Tillikam Valley. Once I got a little bit older it was sitting on the top of a bus at the Salmon Arm Drive In with a gang of friends from Summer Camp. Wine wasn’t even part of the equation and when beverages finally started to factor in Beer was the choice.
In 1997 we made a journey to the Okanagan to see what was new and how things had progressed with BC wine. It was a combination holiday and exploration trip. I had a willing accomplice in my Father Inlaw, who thought there was nothing better than starting wine tasting at 8 AM. At the time there were a bunch of new wineries opening up in Naramata and down Oliver way. I had heard rumours about a place called Poplar Grove so I made an appointment with them and was treated to a most enjoyable morning with Gita and Ian. I left making a commitment to take some wine and that was the start of it all. In fact I finally pulled the last bottle out of our cellar this fall, that we had picked up on that trip. It was a 1995 Poplar Grove Reserve. Another great winery we came across was Blue Mountain. They had been a well established vineyard and had started making their own wines. Their commitment to quality was evident and I believe they set the bar for people to follow. After hitting up a few others we left with the feeling that we might just be able to piece together a wine list.
The BC Wine list
It was hard going those first few years finding a variety of good wines especially at a good price point. You could find some great wines but they were expensive. It was all about value and we knew that people needed to see good value or it would be a big obstacle. And it was! The other major obstacle was the past reputation of Canadian wines. We had some push back initially from our guests but we persevered by putting only the best wines on our list and offering them at a deep discount from the established norm. All this was done with the intention to introduce people to the bounty in our backyard. Most of the resistance came from local folks, us Canadians. A lot had to do with our collective history with wine production in this country and the plonk that we all grew up drinking behind the barn or out by the hockey rink with our friends and then of course around the dinner table. It was a well deserved reputation. Things had changed exponentially over the years, however we were all stuck back in the 1970’s thinking about the sweet sparkly wines. Do you remember Baby Duck?
Today we continue to offer a 100% BC wine list at theLodge. Over the intervening 20 years our guests have embraced the Canadian wine scene. Our commitment to bringing in great wines form a variety of wineries, offering first hand “Drinking Experience” of these wines and showcasing winemakers and proprietors through a variety of hosted events over the years I believe has helped. Arriving guests are now sharing their own stories after travelling to the Okanagan valley and also enquiring about what new treasures we have found on our last foray/buying trip down to the “Valley”. The value quotient of Canadian Wines has also increased dramatically with new producers on the block, improved viticultural practices and a host of talented winemakers from all corners of the globe bringing expertise to the table. I also think that the other reason for the vast improvements is the collaboration I see happening between wineries, winemakers and vineyard managers. Sharing ideas, thoughts and experience all going hand in hand to improve the lot for everyone.
So next time you are at your local wine shop stop at the Canadian section and see what is on offer. If you need a starting point download a copy of some of our favourite BC wines. Or better yet come join us at Lake O’Hara Lodge and see for yourself what new wines we have discovered this spring when we head back to the Okanagan.