We are extremely fortunate in the Okanagan Valley to have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and also a widely diverse selection of fantastic wines. Spending an afternoon wine tasting in the Okanagan is one of the great pleasures of being in this area, and it’s our aim to make this experience enjoyable for all of our guests and show off this area that we proudly call home.
If you’re looking to spend some time touring the local wineries we have outlined some tips for you based on our own experiences around the valley.
Where Should I Go?
Well, we’re partial to Okanagan Falls and feel that this area is the dark horse of the local wine industry, but we may be a bit biased! Otherwise the entire valley is filled with stunning views and some great wine.
Okanagan Wine Regions
- Similkameen Valley (Cawston / Keremeos)
- Oliver (Black Sage Bench / Golden Mile)
- Okanagan Falls (Corkscrew Drive / Skaha Lake / Kaleden)
- Naramata Bench
- Summerland (Bottleneck Drive)
- West Kelowna
- Kelowna (The Mission / East Kelowna)
- Lake Country
What Should I Wear?
While there is no set dress code, we would imagine that most wineries adhere to a “no shirt, no shoes” policy. A good rule of thumb would be to dress as if you were going out for a casual bistro meal. Dress comfortably for the weather, and a day spent wandering around outside and travelling between wineries. Also, try to avoid heavily scented perfumes and colognes as this might interfere with your wine tasting experience and that of others.
Who Should I Go With?
Bring all of your best friends, or go it alone! Either way can be a great experience, but we do recommend a designated driver or tour service to make the day safe and enjoyable.
Do I Have to Drink the Wine?
Most definitely not. You are free to taste from available selections, and it is perfectly acceptable and non-offensive to spit discretely into the spittoon, or dump out the remaining contents of your glass. In fact, professional wine tasters always spit when judging wines as it allows them to keep their wits about them for the duration of the tasting day and properly taste a larger quantity of wines.
Are There Wine Tasting Fees in the Okanagan?
This depends on the winery specifically. It is common practice now for most wineries to charge anywhere from $2-10 per tasting flight. Some reserve or special vintage wines may be available to taste in addition to that. Many wineries waive the tasting fee with a purchase on a per person basis. Some wineries do tasting fees by donation to a local charity. Again, it varies from winery to winery, but in our experience it is best to bring some cash along for the day as it seems difficult to find an ATM when you need one.
How Old Do I Have to Be?
The law in British Columbia dictates that you need to be 19 years of age to consume alcohol, so basically you need to be 19 or beyond to try our wines at the winery.
What Kind of Wines Can I Try?
Most wineries pour a selection of their wines depending on availability. Typically many of the white wines are released in the spring around the Spring Wine Festival, with the big reds being released around the Fall Wine Festival, however, there are exceptions to this. Also, while the Okanagan is considered cooler climate, and well suited to grapes like Pinot and Chardonnay, we also get some intense heat and sunshine, particularly in the most southern parts of the valley, so we also have some nice Merlots, Cabernets, and Syrahs.
At Blue Mountain we produce Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a Sparkling Brut. We typically taste 4 of these wines at any given time depending on availability.
While wine tasting can be a bit intimidating at first, the most important thing to remember is to have fun. Wine means many things to many different people, but ultimately we feel it is meant to be a part of a great social experience.
Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a first time wine drinker, we hope that what you take away from your wine tasting experience is an appreciation of the experience. We want you to have a fantastic time and go home with fun filled memories of your time in the Okanagan. Read our "How to taste wine for beginners".
Our tasting room staff is here to make your experience enjoyable, so please don’t hesitate to ask any questions while you are here. We are always more than happy to help you have the best experience possible.
The act of tasting wine itself can look a bit strange to the newcomer, so we’ve put together this handy beginner’s guide to wine tasting, so you can look like an expert on your visit to the tasting room should you so desire!
Step 1 - Select Your Wines
Typically the host will explain what is available for tasting and ask you which ones you’d like to try. Most Okanagan wineries will allow up to 5 tastings.
To maximize your experience, it’s usually recommended to start with the lighter wines and move to the heavier ones, as the heavier ones will have a dominating effect on your palate which would make tasting a lighter wine more difficult should it be done the other way around.
So typically it’s advised to taste from white to red, and within those two categories from light to heavy, or dry to sweet. Most tasting room menus are ordered in this way, so simply following from top to bottom on the list will usually suffice.
Step 2 - Swirl Glass
You’ll notice people swirling their glasses. Unless you’ve developed impeccable wrist twirling technique, it’s best to do this by placing the base of the glass on the counter and moving it in a circular motion. The purpose of this is to aerate the wine. The wine has been trapped in a bottle sometimes for a couple of years, so it needs to “breathe” a little to reach its optimum flavour.
Step 3 - Sniff
Stick your nose right in the glass, close your mouth, and breathe in giving the wine a good sniff. Take the glass away and think about what it might smell like. The scents that you pick up might remind you of cherries, raspberries, tobacco, chocolate, or leather in a red wine; while in a white wine you may detect citrus fruit like lime or grapefruit, stone fruits like peaches and apricots, grass, and honey.
What you pick up here is entirely about you. Don’t be swayed by what other people think, and feel free to come up with your own observations. If you smell waffle cones and butterscotch then that is what you smell. Everyone has a different point of reference when it comes to tasting wine.
Step 4 - Repeat Steps 2 & 3
It’s ideal to take another run at the swirl and sniff as often you’ll pick up more the second time around.
Step 5 - Sip Wine
Take a little sip from the glass and hold it in your mouth for a couple of seconds. Some people will take air in at the same time making a little gurgling noise. This is for the same reason as step 2. Otherwise give the wine a little swish in your mouth, and take note of the flavours. Often what you taste initially on the tip of your tongue will be a bit different than what you taste mid-tongue, or mid-palate after the wine has lingered a moment. Spit or swallow the wine as you desire, and then think about the flavour or aftertaste that remains in your mouth. This is described as “the finish.” Does the flavour linger for a long time, or does it disappear quickly? What does it taste like. If you breathe back into your mouth what flavours remain?
A wine could have a smoky finish, or some nice caramel on the finish. Repeat the process a second time or until the wine is gone.
Step 6 - Pontificate
Many people find it fun to think about the wine and share observations about it after. This can be educational, interesting, and sometimes even downright hilarious. Again, serious tasters will have very seasoned palates and astute observations, but this should not turn you off as wine is different for everyone. Try to form your own opinion, and remember that it’s okay to start with whether or not you like it. This is probably the most relevant piece of the puzzle.
Step 7 - Buy Wine
While you certainly don’t have to purchase wine after a tasting, if you do like one, some, or all of the wines it may be nice to bring some home for dinner that night, or to take some home to enjoy at a later date.
We welcome you in the tasting room Monday through Sunday from 11am -5pm, May through October.
Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars's Tasting Room/Wine Shop.
Ask a Winemaker
This is the first in a series of ongoing conversations with our winemaker Matt Mavety.
Today, Friday, July 20 from 9:30am - 2:30pm our very own winemaker Matt Mavety has been asked to speak at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference (iC4) in St. Catharines, Ontario. He will be representing Western Canada and be part of a panel discussion along with winemakers from several other cool climate Chardonnay regions including Argentina, Burgundy, Australia and Niagara.
Growing up in the Okanagan valley, particularly in the summer, most of us would not have considered cool climate and Okanagan as three words that could be used in the same sentence. However, apparently that is what we, in parts of the Okanagan are considered. Here are the questions we asked.
So what exactly constitutes cool climate?
A cool climate wine region can be located anywhere in the world. A cool climate region is determined by the growing degree days which is the amount of heat accumulation during the entire growing season. A very cool climate growing area might have 1000 - 1200 growing degree days. We at Blue Mountain Winery have between 1200 - 1400 growing degree days so we are considered cool climate. In order to adjust for varying latitude a system was created called Latitude-Temperature Index (LTI).
LTI = mean temperature of the warmest month x (60 - latitude)
And what makes a cool climate so special for growing Chardonnay?
Cool climate allows for the retention of acidity and a slower maturation period. It also can enhance aromatics and have the capacity to produce table wines of distinction. “Cool climates help to preserve acidity which enhances the elegance of fruit around a core of minerality” Seb Jacquey, Winemaker, Le Clos Jordanne, Niagara.
What is unique about Blue Mountain that makes it considered a cool climate for Chardonnay?
1. Topography, at the latitude we are situated.
2. Lake Moderation - Vaseaux Lake moderates early and late
3. Geography - the narrowness of the valley in our section of
Okanagan Falls creates cooler days and in some vineyards a heat
effect from heat dissipated off the nearby rocks.
If you have any questions for Matt please feel free to submit them, and when he isn’t out in the vineyard driving the tractor we will get him to answer them.
The i4C event in Niagara is a great chance for consumers to taste some great cool climate Chardonnay and learn about this challenging grape, and for winemakers to meet and share ideas with other exceptional producers of Chardonnays that flourish under extreme conditions like steeply sloped vineyards, huge annual temperature fluctuations, high altitudes, ocean gales, etc.
All participating winemakers, and many other Ontario winemakers and industry professionals will join with consumers in structured tasting, interactive discussion and luncheon.
Catena Zapata (Argentina) – Assistant Winemaker Pablo Sanchez
Flowers Winery (Sonoma Coast, USA) – Director of Winemaking Jason Jardine
Blue Mountain Vineyards (BC, Canada) – Winemaker/Proprietor Matt Mavety
Decelle-Villa (Burgundy, France) – Winemaker Jean Lupatelli
Yabby Lake (Australia) – Director of Viticulture Keith Harris
Duarte Oliveira (Niagara, Canada) – representing Grape Growers of Ontario
Craig McDonald (Niagara, Canada) - Hillebrand
The tasting room at Blue Mountain is a place that from a visitor’s perspective possesses a sort of mystical quality. With its high ceilings, and windows looking out to the infamous view over Vaseux Lake and McIntyre Bluff, it feels totally removed from my normal reality. In short, it's a beautiful place to come and taste some nice wines, but it is also a beehive of activity — most of which happens oblivious to people like me who normally spend their time in front of the tasting bar, gazing out the windows, and sipping my way into an ethereal wine high.
Recently I awoke from that wine daydream when an invitation was extended by Christie to come work a shift in the Blue Mountain tasting room to see what really goes on in a typical Saturday. As a more-or-less behind the scenes marketing and social media consultant for the winery, my inner wine geek jumped at the chance to get my hands dirty so to speak.
Right from the get go I had to question my own sanity for accepting this temporary role! I am exaggerating of course, but from my first step onto the tasting room floor everything was more complicated and busy than I could ever have expected.
The first visitors in for the day were tasting with a fairly intense looking notebook filled with detailed observations about each wine, and their questions were nothing short of expert. It was only 11am and I was already well out of my depth.
Julie, who is a regular host in the tasting room, acted as my mentor for the day and upon seeing the look of bewilderment on my face, smartly sent me to the back room to deal with dishwasher and glass polishing duties.
While I've loaded and unloaded many a dishwasher in my day, it became apparent that I was not actually that great at this. The sheer number of tasting glasses that get used in a day creates a constant need for glasses to be cleaned and polished. While I was thorough, I noticed that I worked about half the speed of Julie. When it came time to carry the glasses I could carry maybe four or five at best, Julie can carry twice this amount — my technique is clearly lacking.
After several rounds of dishwasher duty, I find myself back in the tasting room where I am running boxes of wine from the warehouse to the front as the supply levels dwindle in front. Also, with the number of white wines that Blue Mountain tastes it's always important to have the supply fridge stocked with the next few rounds of Sparkling Brut, Pinot Blanc, etc., so that the visitors can enjoy their wine tastings at the correct temperature. I'm breaking a sweat, but this is apparently normal.
Finally, just after lunch, the tasting room erupts into pandemonium…at least for me.
While I'm still sweating, Julie is looking quite calm dealing with the four groups of five or so that have just shown up. I see a chance to make myself useful, and bring glasses to the waiting folk and start pouring some wines in the small groups that have formed while waiting.
By this point I have become fully aware that about all I can do competently is be a good host, tell some bad jokes, and keep people happy, which in some sense is what wine is really all about — fun times, good people, and good conversation — simple moments. Still, I’m looking over at Julie for approval as I’m starting to realize that things are a bit different on this side of the bar.
Around mid afternoon I finally start to hit my stride, and this whole tasting room adventure is becoming less stressful and much more fun. The sheer variety of people that come into the tasting room is fascinating, and there are literally people from all over the world that come to visit. Older folk, younger folk, wine connoisseurs, and newbies, that all share a common interest in wine.
Everything is going swimmingly until the barrage of technical questions begin in my sidebar tasting group. First a question about battonage, then carbonic maceration, then electric fencing in the vineyard, then Methode Traditionnelle champagne making, then about French Oak and forests in the nether regions of France, then about vineyard microclimate, then about corks vs. screw caps, then about…well, you get the idea. Thankfully by this point Blue Mountain's winemaker Matt Mavety has stepped into the tasting room and is able to answer all of these inquiries in great depth.
By the end of the day my feet are tired, I’ve talked to a couple hundred people, and I’m starting to wonder where I left my half-eaten sandwich. Perhaps Nikita or Chablis the vineyard dogs ate it while I wasn't looking.
Over the course of the day I had memorized most of the information available on the back of the bottle, and also picked up a lot of interesting knowledge from Matt & Julie. Most importantly though, it was a fun day for both me and hopefully for the people I had the opportunity to chat with.
While it was a completely humbling experience, I come away from this with a great appreciation for how much there is to know about wine, and the level to which many wine drinkers really want to learn about the craft of winemaking.
Next time I'm in for a tasting I will have an understanding of just how hectic things can be in these summer months, and will appreciate the knowledge of those behind the bar much more. Who knows, I may even moonlight on the other side of the tasting room again again if the good folk at Blue Mountain will let me.
The stories and happy visitors made for a hectically satisfying day!
Chris Stenberg is a guest contributor to the Blue Mountain Winery blog.
By day he is a media producer and online marketing consultant to the winery, and has spent a good deal of time around the wine industry in the Okanagan, but still considers himself a humble student, learning as much as he can one glass at a time.
Although the weather remains unstable and rather unseasonal, summer is in full swing! School’s out, the roads are jam packed with travel trailers and RV’s, the cherries have hit the fruit stands, and the farmers markets are filling up with all of the local produce. Summer in the Okanagan also brings weekends filled with various events and festivals, and in particular one of our favourites, The Summer Okanagan Wine Festival.
The summer wine festival calendar is filled with great events from outdoor wine tastings with more bold flavored wines than you could ever desire, to wine and cheese beach parties, road bike races, tailgate parties in vineyard settings, and the visceral sound of Spoken Word poetry paired with equally feisty wines. There truly is something for everyone.
With over 30 eclectic events spread over 10 days at the height of summer in the Okanagan, this year’s summer wine fest promises to deliver some fantastic experiences, culture, and of course — great wines.
Many events this year are inaugural events and you could be the first one to check them out! Here are a few events that we found particularly enticing. For a complete listing of events check out the Okanagan Wine Festivals website.
We look forward to seeing you in the tasting room during the festival!
Okanagan Falls Winery Association Party in the Park - July 6th, 2012
The Ok Falls Winery Association is hosting the first annual “Party in the Park” July 6th with the great sounds of Kyle Anderson and his Amazing Rubber Band. Meet the elusive winemakers and owners of the 12 OK Falls Winery Association wineries and enjoy the excellent southern BBQ prepared by The Chef Instead. Dinner and dancing with a live band at Kenyon Park seems like an awesome way to kick start the 2012 Okanagan Summer Wine Festival. Tickets are $50 + HST and are available at http://www.eventbee.com/v/okfallswineriesparty
Valley First Pops The Cork- July 7th, 2012
For those of you in the North Okanagan…What are the three simple steps to fun on a summer’s evening? Wine, cheese and music … then repeat wine, cheese, music. This event celebrates summer in Kelowna with over 30 Okanagan wineries breaking out the wines for a hot summer night of wine tasting, live music and light tapas. Hosted in the beautiful Arts Common beside the Rotary Centre for the Arts in Kelowna, and supported by Tourism Kelowna, this promises to be an eye stopping, cork popping party. This is a get home safe event, sponsored by BC Liquor Stores and Valley First Insurance. Tickets at: selectyourtickets.com or 250.717.5304
Valley First GranFondo Wine Tasting - July 8, 2012
Whether you have just ridden the GranFondo Axel Merckx Okanagan or you live for the beach, it is never a bad time to celebrate summer in the Okanagan. And when Okanagan wines are involved, you don’t want to miss the party. Over 300 wines will be available for your sampling along with light tapas, cheeses and breads to cleanse your palate. And of course, no party is complete without great dance music. Supported by Tourism Penticton and the GranFondo Axel Merckx Okanagan, this fun informal and casual wine tasting is not to be missed. Look for your favourite cycling celebrity or look for your favourite wine celebrity or just look for your favourite person! This is a get home safe event, sponsored by BC Liquor Stores and Valley First Insurance. $59, 6:30pm Gyro Park Penticton email@example.com
There are many more events to experience. Let us know what you attended and what you enjoyed. No matter what you choose to attend this summer, make the most of the Summer Okanagan Wine Festival taking place at locations throughout the valley. It’s going to be hot!