These award-winning BC wineries will change your life...or at least your next vacation!

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By Claire Newell - Travel Expert, media personality, corporate spokesperson, author, worldwide wanderluster. Over 24 years of experience on all things travel. Follow Claire on Twitter or Facebook

The Best of BC Wine Country annual awards are basically the people’s choice awards of wine. Every year, tourists and locals vote on their top wineries around BC, making this a true consumer-based award, and not just more expert criticism. Each of these wineries had something special and unique to offer, so let’s take a look at the winners!

Dirty Laundry Winery – winner of the best overall experience, best patio, best place to bring out-of-towners and best Hush rosé, wow! This vineyard started out as laundry for cowboys, but after realizing that they barely changed their clothes… the owners opened a bordello. Nowadays they offer wine and craft beer with a “naughty” theme, so even if you’re not a wine lover, you’ll be sure to have a good time!

Other region winners of overall experience include Enrico Winery (Vancouver Island), Orofino Winery (Similkameen Valley), Backyard Vineyards (Fraser Valley) and Fort Berens Estate Winery (Fraser Canyon).

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Mission Hill Family Estate Winery – winner of the best tour, best view, and best architecture, this vineyard really has it all! The owner took six years, with the help of a team of international architects, designers, and craftsmen, to create his landmark winery. They even have an outdoor amphitheater with seating for over 1,000 guests and a 12-storey bell tower.

Other region winners of best winery tour include Seven Stones Winery Cave Tour (Similkameen Valley), Backyard Vineyard (Fraser Valley) and Fort Berens Estate Winery (Fraser Canyon).

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery – winner of the best accommodation, this winery features 10 guest rooms, complete with private fireplaces and balconies overlooking the vineyard, an outdoor pool and a fireside lounge. Combined with all the amenities of a winery, I can’t think of a better weekend getaway! Another accommodation winner is Orofino Winery (Similkameen Valley) for their Vineyard-suites.

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery – winner of the best kept secret, this vineyard is perfect for you wine connoisseurs who have already been to many of BC’s wineries and are looking for somewhere new. Overlooking Vaseux Lake in the Okanagan, you can enjoy both Merlots and Pinots thanks to the ridge that runs through the property creating a cooler south-facing slope.

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If you’re looking for another area to visit, other winners of the best kept secret were Corcelettes Estate Winery (Similkameen Valley), Backyard Vineyard (Fraser Valley), Enrico Winery (Vancouver Island) and Fort Berens Estate Winery (Fraser Canyon).

Thinking of showing off one of these amazing BC vineyards to out-of-towners, or maybe you’re an out-of-towner yourself looking for a staple BC adventure?

Consider visiting one of these most-impressive winners per region: Dirty Laundry (Okanagan), Enrico Winery (Vancouver Island), Orofino Winery (Similkameen Valley), Backyard Vineyards (Fraser Valley) and Fort Berens Estate Winery (Fraser Canyon).

I can’t wait to go back to some of the incredible vineyards I have visited on this list…and of course, try out some of the ones I haven’t yet experienced! We are so lucky here in BC to have so many award-winning wineries in our backyard, so let’s take advantage of them!

Dazzling and delicious makes BC Wine Country unique.

nikki_headshot1.jpgBy Nikki Bayley – Award-winning Travel Writer, Guide Book Author, Wine, Spirits and Cocktail Journalist, Nikki writes B.C. Living's 'B.C. Wine 101' column, and writes regularly for the B.C. Wine Institute about wine, culinary, and everything else that makes B.C. wine country unforgettable.

I’m heading to the U.K. next month and (shh!) my suitcase will be clanking with well-wrapped B.C. wine. One taste for my friends back home and I know they’ll be hooked; especially when I break out my photos of what visiting a winery is like in B.C. See, we’re spoiled here, we assume that maybe B.C. isn’t so very different in the general scheme of things: that in other parts of the world the service is great, the views are breathtaking, and the wines are wonderful too. And yes, you can absolutely find those things, but all at once? And almost everywhere? Never! Yet beautiful B.C. delivers the whole package.

It’s those extraordinary winery experiences which pull us back time and again to explore this dazzling and delicious part of the world. Which neatly lets me jump to what I’ve been asked to write about, the ‘Best Atmosphere’ category in the Best of B.C. Wine Country Awards—essentially the ‘People’s Choice’ of the B.C. wine award world. Whether it’s the great tasting room staff who take time to talk to you about the wines, and (patiently) answer all your questions without making you feel silly, or if it’s the cute puppy who gambols up to greet you with a lick and a wagging tail as you stroll the vines, it’s those small moments of personal connection that go to build the best experiences, and the people have spoken and voted in droves!

With more than two dozen winners and runners-up across this category, this should probably form the basis of your next few planned visits to B.C. wine country, but let me tip my hat to a few of the highlights which for me, truly show what happens when a winery, its wine, the people and surroundings come together to create a harmonious whole that lifts a good experience into a truly great one.

Let’s start with the Architecture category, I remember how my jaw hit the floor the first time I visited Mission Hill Family Estate Winery thanks to its elegant beautiful design, no wonder they scooped a prize here —and a first in ‘best view’ too— sharing honours with Vancouver Island’s Blue Grouse Estate Winery; and if you’ve not visited this glorious spot in the Cowichan Valley yet, what are you waiting for? Go see the soft sloping hills cradling the vines running downhill from the sleek modern tasting room where you can try their terrific fruit salad-y Ortega!

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Because it’s B.C. we can skip from bucolic beauty and Tuscan elegance to the mischievous folk at the Dirty Laundry and their award-winning patio, who seduced fans with their flirty undies on the line, saloon-style tasting bar, and the Kettle Valley Railway trail chug-chug-chugging past the vines below, smoke billowing above the lake.

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From the irreverence of Dirty Laundry Vineyards to the pioneering folks at Lillooet’s first winery, Fort Berens Estate Winery, who scored best Tasting Room in the Emerging Regions category. True story: I got pulled over by the police the first time I visited—I was dumbstruck by the swooping mountains and gleaming turquoise lakes and so busy gawking, I veered over the other side of the road. Fortunately, it’s a small town and there’s not much traffic, but you get my point. Gorgeous! Go see them.

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Finally, to the cutest category: Winery Pet, of course I can’t recommend a favourite here; puppies and hedgehogs, goats and chickens all bring joy to the winery experience (and awards for their owners!), but I can recommend checking out the whole list: it’s a roll-call of guaranteed good times in the world of B.C. wine. 

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Bring your appetite and your corkscrew!

Best of BC Wine Country honours the best in BC cuisine

joanne_photo.jpgBy Joanne SasvariJoanne is a food, drink and travel writer who contributes to Postmedia publications, Destination BC and WestJet Magazine, and is the author of the forthcoming Wickaninnish Inn and Vancouver Eats cookbooks. 

Wine country is more than just a sip of Semillon or Syrah. It is a way of life, a celebration of all the pleasures of the table, of lively conversation, generous hospitality and fine food, as well as the liquid in our glass.

And so we raise that glass to the culinary winners of the Best of BC Wine Country Awards.

Even though the Okanagan Valley has long been BC’s orchard, it was only recently that it became a foodie destination. The wine came first; the chefs followed, drawn by the extraordinary quality of the local produce. Now visitors can enjoy terrific wine country dining experiences from Vernon to Osoyoos, Vancouver Island to the Kootenays.

Many of them made the Best of BC Wine Country Awards. Nearly 2,000 consumers cast their votes over four weeks, and of those, 30 per cent voted on multiple wine regions. Clearly, wine lovers like to get out and about, and they’re hungry for delicious new experiences. Here are the winners that best satisfied their appetite.

Best Winery Restaurant: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

The Stewart family has been growing grapes here in West Kelowna for three generations, so by now they have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing. Just over a decade ago, their smart idea was putting Chef Roger Sleiman in charge of their restaurant. Since then he has quietly been cooking up top-notch local ingredients in an approach he calls “fresh simplicity.” As a result, the food on the plate is as spectacular as the view from the dining room; plus it pairs seamlessly with winemaker Nikki Callaway’s elegant wines.

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Honourable mention: Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards; Liquidity Bistro at Liquidity Wines.

Other region winners: Unsworth Vineyards; Crowsnest Vineyard; Bacchus Bistro at Domaine de Chaberton; and The Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery.

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Best Restaurant Showcasing Local Foods: RauDZ Regional Table  Raudz.JPG

Sourcing local has been chef Rod Butters’ mission since long before it was fashionable. He had the first restaurant rooftop herb garden in Vancouver in the early 1990s, built a network of farmers and fishers at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn a few years later, and in the Okanagan has discovered a whole valley full of local delights that end up in the kitchen at RauDZ. From bacon to beets to blackberries, if it grows here, he finds some delicious new way to serve it.

Honourable mention: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery; Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards; Liquidity Bistro at Liquidity Wines.

Other region winners: Unsworth VineyardsBacchus Bistro at Domaine de ChabertonThe Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery and Grist Mill and Gardens.

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Best Local Food Product: Poplar Grove Cheese

Say cheese! Wine lovers adore their fromage, and they have plenty to choose from in BC wine country. Their favourite? Poplar Grove, a boutique cheesery owned by Gitta Pederson and nestled amid the vineyards on the Naramata Bench. Swing by the tasting room and sample cheesemaker Louise Pearson’s truffly, creamy Okanagan Double Cream Camembert, complexly earthy Harvest Moon Washed Rind, mild Naramata Bench Blue and the rich, intense, mouthwateringly salty Tiger Blue. cheeseplatter.jpg

Honourable mention: Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan Inc.; cheese from Upper Bench Winery & Creamery.

Other region winners: Little Qualicum Cheeseworks cranberry pepper cream cheese; Harker’s Fruit Stand organic tomatoes; Vista D’oro jams; pork loin from Spray Creek Ranch in Lillooet.

Best Overall Culinary Experience: Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

It’s not just the food. It starts with that view, sweeping up and down the valley, over the rolling vineyards and the lake sparkling below. It continues in the tasting room, where thoughtful staff lead guests through the crisp whites, delicate Pinot Noirs and irresistible rosé. And then the experience moves on to the dining room, elegant and understated, surrounded by gardens and that breathtaking view. Here chef Sleiman prepares farm-to-table fare – think roast pork chop with Tiger Blue cheese or herb gnocchi and squash in sage butter – with the understated finesse that earned Old Vines a spot on the list of Canada’s top 100 restaurants.

Honourable mention: Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove WinerySonora Room at Burrowing Owl Estate WineryMiradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

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Other region winners: Orofino Winery dinner series in the Similkameen Valley; Enrico Winery on Vancouver Island; The Kitchen at Fort Berens Estate Winery.

Other region honorable mentions: Benja Thai in Keremeos, Similkameen Valley; The Terrace at Monte Creek Ranch Winery.

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How BC's Rieslings Resonate

By Treve Ring - Treve is a wine writer and editor, judge and speaker, and perpetual traveler. Her work appears in publications around the globe. A certified sommelier, WSET diploma holder, French wine scholar and instructor, and Sherry instructor, she is based on Vancouver Island, Canada, though is most often found on a plane or in a vineyard. 

While people may associate British Columbia’s generous warmth and sunshine with red wines, it’s clear that white wines, of all grapes and styles, excel here. From crisp, marine-influenced light wines, to cool-climate and nervy examples, through to sun-ripened, richer styles, British Columbia’s numerous terroirs and microclimates yield a wide diversity of whites that shine. 

The acreage of white grapes planted nearly mirrors red grapes across the province (49 percent to 51 percent respectively), with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer leading the plantings. That said, there are dozens of other white grapes planted across the province, reflecting our adventuresome winemaking spirit, and in some cases, our colourful collective heritage. You can easily find the aromatic Germanic varieties like Riesling, Kerner,  Ehrenfelser, and Auxerrois, planted alongside Rhone varieties such as Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Albariño and Ortega, Chenin and Chasselas, Sémillon and Sauvignette: who knew there was such a rainbow of colours, aromas, textures and flavours within the colour white?

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In this year’s Best of BC Wine Country Awards, Tantalus Vineyards Riesling shone the brightest, selected from nearly 2000 voters as their favourite white wine overall, and their top from the Okanagan Valley. It’s a fitting tribute for the winery that put BC Riesling on the world-wide map a few years back, attracting critical acclaim from international and local wine writers for its potent, electric energy and effortless longevity. The striking label, with its proud First Nations mask, has become a BC symbol for quality on lists and in cellars across the country and the globe. Fittingly, Tantalus has helped shape locals’ perception of what Riesling is (versatile and vibrant), and isn’t (all sweet and confected). 

Riesling continued to streak, taking top spot for Similkameen Valley white with Orofino Winery Scout Riesling_Scout_-_Orofino.pngVineyard Riesling. This wine shows the grape via the bracing minerality, refreshing winds and the rocky soils of the Similkameen. It’s a treat to pour Orofino’s tightly wound Riesling alongside the juicy Tantalus Riesling for a contrast in styles, and terroirs.  

You could have an entire Riesling party when you invite the Emerging Regions winning white to the table:FortBerensRi111111.jpg Fort Berens Estate Riesling. Crisp and refreshing, with that ideal snap of orchard fruit, this profiles Lillooet’s grape growing potential. Reflecting B.C.’s pioneering spirit, this winery, along with others, has proven that high quality wine exists beyond the famous lakes and valleys of the Okanagan and Similkameen, and has paved the way for more exploratory producers and plantings to follow.

NoseyNeighbour.jpegSpeaking of existing beyond the Okanagan, the Fraser Valley has long been overshadowed by its other fruit growing prowess, leaving their grape wine industry in the shadows. An award for Backyard Vineyards Noisy Neighbour White, an aromatic, off-dry and ripe blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay will share some light on the area, an easy and accessible visit from the Lower Mainland. 

Two wines, but one winery, shared the top spot for Vancouver Island’s top white. Unsworth Vineyards excels with Allegro-Unsworth.jpegUnsworth_X2.jpegboth vinifera and hybrid grapes, crafting distinctively fresh and nimble wines from their warm CowichanValley vineyards, only a few kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. Allegro, a fruity and honeyed blend of hybrid grapes Petit Milo and Sauvignette, and their barrel-fermented, creamy solo Sauvignette shared the top spot, a welcome recognition for the high quality coming out of the Wine Islands, and for one of the most forward-thinking of Island wineries, the family at Unsworth Vineyards. 

Showing more of the rainbow that exists within white, honourable mentions were awarded to Riesling (Harper’s Trail), Chardonnay (Painted Rock Estate and Seven Stones), Pinot Gris (Poplar Grove), Bacchus (Chaberton Estate), and blends of Chasselas, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay (Corcelettes Estate), as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat (Lunessence). 

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The People's Reds ... who are they?

By Kurtis Kolt - Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based freelance wine consultant, writer, and competition judge. Certified by London’s Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Court of Master Sommeliers, his enthusiasm and experience have resulted in many high-profile appearances, from being the subject of a Wine Enthusiast magazine profile and appearing at New York’s James Beard House, to leading wine festival seminars and beyond. Catch him at KurtisKolt.com.

There’s a certain element of democracy in the wine industry, in that it’s the people who hold much of the power. While wineries and regions are always free to pursue their own style, if things aren’t selling, you can bet they’ll change. When we look at broader trends in the world of wine, from the oft-swinging pendulum of oak levels, to the skyrocketing success of both the sparkling and pink wine categories, these are the results of consumer desire and demand.  

The consumer’s opinion holds a lot of sway, so any savvy industry player is wise to keep engaged with their thoughts and actions. Recently, the British Columbia Wine Institute held the Best of BC Wine Country Awards, where wine enthusiasts of all stripes voted on their favourite wines and experiences over a period of four weeks to the tune of almost 2000 votes in total.

Now that the season’s first snow has fallen on much of B.C. wine country, there seems no better time to tuck into some local reds. Let’s look at those that rose to the top in each regional category. 

Painted Rock Estate Winery Red Icon 2014 – Okanagan Valley PaintedRock.jpg

It takes guts to call your wine ‘Icon,’ but proprietor John Skinner knew his estate vineyard on the Skaha Bench would lend itself darn well to what has become a – yup – iconic British Columbian ode to Bordeaux.  Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon all show in fine form, whether for immediate consumption, or for an excellent Christmas gift that can be cellared for five or more years with ease.

Orofino Winery Scout Vineyard Syrah 2016 – Similkameen Valleyorofino_SV_syrah-2.png

The rugged, windswept Similkameen Valley is known as the organic agriculture capital of Canada due to its extremely dry conditions. It’s also home to plenty of hot, beaming sunshine throughout the summer, a high level of calcium carbonate in the soil lending well to wines with great mineral character, plus a broad diurnal temperature swing allowing natural acidity and excellent structure. All of those things come into play with John and Virginia Weber’s Scout Vineyard Syrah, which is chock-full of meaty, peppery blackberries and charm. Syrah’s quickly becoming one of the most acclaimed varieties in B.C., this example shows why. 

Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015 – Fraser ValleyNelson-Mouellic-Photo-7400-e1497900729689-279x1024.jpg

While Backyard Vineyards is located in the Fraser Valley on the outskirts of Vancouver, the fruit here is sourced in the Okanagan Valley, where Cabernet Franc thrives. Outside of France’s Loire Valley and bits and bobs around Napa, California, seeing a single-variety wine made from the grape is a rarity. It’s quite possible we’ll see British Columbia casting a brighter light on Cabernet Franc, as our local examples burst with freshness, including ripe, delicious red fruit and a dusting of hallmark wild sagebrush seen dotted around the landscape.  

Enrico Winery Cabernet Foch 2015 – Vancouver IslandScreen_Shot_2017-11-14_at_1.41.57_PM.png

We don’t get the heat units on Vancouver Island to properly ripen classic big, red varieties like we do in the Okanagan or Similkameen. At the same time, there’s a desire to have hyper-local, juicy reds - so it’s necessary to broaden our scope. Enter Cabernet Foch, a grape variety created by Switzerland-based grape breeder Valentin Blattner, when he crossed the richness and sturdy character of Cabernet Sauvignon with the cool-climate hardiness of Marechal Foch. The result is an herbal, savoury wine ready for rich, wintery stews. 

Fort Berens Estate Winery Meritage 2014 – Emerging RegionsFortBerensM1.jpg

The ‘Emerging Region’ in question here is Lillooet, B.C., about a two-hour drive northeast of Whistler; that’s where this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is made. A quintessential British Columbian wine, the fruit here is sourced from Lillooet, the Okanagan Valley and the Similkameen Valley – think of it as a provincial highlight reel. A dark and brooding red ready for a host of grilled meats, this ain’t a shy wine, which is probably why so many have taken notice.