B.C. Wine Culture

Hugging Tree is one of several new wineries making sun-drenched wines from the Similkameen Valley’s rocky soil and sun-soaked terroir. Similkameen Independent Winegrowers Association photo

Long known for its rare, terroir-driven wines, the Similkameen Valley at last is becoming a tourism destination, too

The Similkameen Valley likes to operate under the radar. Actually, it doesn’t have much choice, being off the well-beaten wine-tourism track of the Okanagan Valley. It was even dubbed by enRoute magazine as “One of the top 5 wine regions you have never heard of.”

Still, an increasing number of visitors are making their way to the Similkameen, typically on a pilgrimage for rare, small- production wines that speak of the unique terroir in which they are grown.

This setup works well for producers committed to quality because they can focus on wines that reflect the terroir, the gravel and calcium-carbonate-rich soils that are producing grapes and wines that have people taking notice.

Orofino Vineyards has for years been revered for its terroir-driven wines. Now it’s opened a handful of well-appointed guest suites, giving visitors a reason to stay and explore the Similkameen Valley a little longer. Similkameen Independent
Winegrowers Association photo

Instead of the Similkameen being a quick stop on the way to or from the Okanagan, high-end guest suites now make it well worth a longer stay.

A region of hands-on producers, the Similkameen is building an enviable reputation for quality that is drawing attention from far and wide. New wineries are popping up and wineries outside the region have taken notice of the quality of grapes coming off Similkameen soils. Phantom Creek Estates, Road 13 Vineyards and Monte Creek Ranch have all recently purchased land in the Similkameen and prompted visits from their global superstar wine consultants, Alsatian Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht and terroir specialist Pedro Parra. They seem impressed.

New faces have arrived, too. Howard Soon, longtime winemaker for Sandhill, has worked with Similkameen grapes for decades. It only took him two weeks after retiring from Sandhill before taking up the winemaking job with Vanessa Vineyard, a vineyard-operator-turned-winemaker in southern Cawston. Their grand tasting room opened last year and exciting Syrah and Bordeaux variety wines have been launched from their rock-strewn vineyard.

There are new owners at Eau Vivre winery. Stalwarts of the Similkameen, Orofino Vineyards, has a new grape-growing partner to make fresh, juicy Cabernet Franc. Clos du Soleil has established a new vineyard to grow Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes for their Capella and Estate Reserve White.

The Similkameen Wineries Association has rebranded as the Similkameen Independent Winegrowers, their new mantra to put local authenticity in every bottle. Twelve of the nearly 20 Similkameen wineries are members. They have banded together to spread the word of what makes the Similkameen special with events such as Devour! Osoyoos—The Food Film Festival, an event at Watermark Beach Resort complete with Similkameen master classes, culinary challenges and a gala event pairing food, Similkameen wine and film.

The wine tourism infrastructure is starting to blossom in the valley, too. So instead of the Similkameen being a quick stop on the way to or from the Okanagan, high-end guest suites now make it well worth a longer stay. There are now self-contained units where you can savour the local bounty at Orofino Vineyard Suites, the Studio Guest Homes at Farmersdotter and Klippers Organics Guest Suites.

The Caves at Seven Stones Winery offer new experiences for guests, from tours to winemakers’ dinners. Similkameen Independent Winegrowers Association photo

Tasting-room renovations over the last year or two have seen impressive new wine shops pop up at Clos du Soleil and Corcelettes, as well as the opening of The Caves at Seven Stones Winery. The Caves hosts tours and winemaker dinners while Orofino celebrates the local bounty at its Farm Focus Dinner Series during the summer.

The Similkameen Valley is quickly becoming a destination in itself. While the wines have been gaining interest and acclaim from international critics and consumers alike, the infrastructure to make wine tourists want not just to visit but to stay is finally starting to take shape.

The Similkameen Valley is indeed quickly becoming the place to be heard of.

Rhys Pender is a Master of Wine who combines his time writing, judging, teaching, consulting and dirtying his boots at his four-acre vineyard and winery, Little Farm Winery, in the Similkameen Valley.

Rhys Pender is a Master of Wine who combines his time writing, judging, teaching, consulting and dirtying his boots at his four-acre vineyard and winery, Little Farm Winery, in the Similkameen Valley.

Follow us on Instagram