In the push to buy local, Keremeos and Cawston wineries are as close as it gets.
And Princeton wine-enthusiasts can now sample grapes that have proven to easily compete against ones from more established regions like Oliver and Osoyoos.
Similkameen Valley wineries won 37 medals at major awards this past month, proving tough competition for other B.C., Alberta and American vineyards.
In fact, the majority of wineries in the Similkameen Valley won awards, including Orofino, Seven Stones, Eau Vivre, Rustic Roots and Clos du Soleil.
“It’s a combination of good organic fruit and a focus on making easy-drinking wines,” says Forbidden Fruit owner Steve Venables, who won gold medals at the All Canadian Wine Championships in Ontario for his 2009 Earth Series cabernet sauvignon, 2010 Impearfection asian pear late harvest and 2011 Earth Series sauvignon blanc.
The winery also won two Best Of double golds at the Okanagan Spirit Wine Awards for a sauvignon blanc and an off-dry Asian pear wine.
The Similkameen Valley has a micro-climate extremely conducive to growing fruit-forward wine, Venables says.
The region has 600 acres of vineyards and a large number of fruit orchards. Around 40 per cent of crops are grown organically, naming the area the Organic Capital of Canada.
The region’s highs and lows in temperature, absence of lakes and moderating affect of the wide valley makes a difference in the wine style, Venables says.
“The soil can be completely different. We have such a range of course, rocky and silty soil.”
Tourists often take the southern route through Penticton to Oliver instead of stopping in Cawston.
“But the more we get known, the more people are coming this way. It’s getting a lot better.”
EnRoute Magazine names the Similkameen Valley one of the world’s five best wine regions “you’ve never heard of.”
This week Venables served a group of people from Princeton who were specifically looking to try Similkameen Valley wine.
The Similkameen Wineries Associations wants the Valley to be a destination for tourists, says the association’s marketing director Kim Lawton.
“The Similkameen has so much going for it, amazing geography and a great, growing wine industry.”
The word is being passed around through the website www.SimilkameenWine.com and on its Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blog pages.
Similkameen BBQ King competition in Keremeos is a way for Princeton residents to try all the Valley’s wine at one place, as well as eat from chefs vying for the title of King. It will be held on July 14 at the Grist Mill.
“We enjoy the same rain-shadow effect as Oliver and the rest of the Okanagan, said Robin Ridge Winery owner Time Cottrill, who won Best Of category double gold and Best of Best for his 2009 Reserve Merlot,
“We have a bit more wind, which can be detrimental but it can also be nice to keep the canopy dry so mildew doesn’t grow.”
Cottrill and his wife Caroline turned the rocks and weeds of the ridge into a winery in 1996.
Their gold-medal winning 2009 merlot was a light crop because of winter damage.
“We were only 60 per cent of what we normally produce, but having a light crop makes an exceptionally good wine with intense flavours and good balance.”
The list of award-winning Similkameen wines goes on: Orofino won gold for the 2009 Beleza-Bordeaux blend and Seven Stones also won gold for its 2009 cabernet franc.
The Similkameen wineries were also awarded 14 silver medals, with Forbidden Fruit winning eight, Orofino two, Seven Stones two, Eau Vivre two and Rustic Roots one.
Finalist awards were given to Clos du Soleil, Rustic Roots and Robin Ridge.