If you were to visit B.C. Wine Country every year for the next 10 years, chances are you still wouldn't cover everything it has to offer. That's because there are almost than 250 grape wineries (299 if you include those which make other fruit wines) in the province, offering unique experiences and thousands of signature wines. It's culturally, naturally diverse and the unique terroir from the Gulf Islands to deep in the interior make for scores of eclectic wines.
Once considered an up-and-coming region, B.C. Wine Country now tops lists of notable international wine destinations. It's a magnet for its natural beauty, its enduring hospitality, its varied culture and countless attractions.
Your inspiration for visiting British Columbia may be its wine, but depending on the length of your stay you may be compelled to step off the wine trail and take in some of its other incredible experiences and attributes.
The province is loaded with options for those with an adventurous mind. Consider a whale watching, fishing, zip line or gold panning excursion. Climb a mountain, take a hike or cycle a trail. Take a train, floatplane or helicopter tour.
Relax by setting aside time for a trip to a botanical garden, hot spring, lavender farm or cheese maker. Consider also that B.C. is home to a desert interpretative centre, old growth forests and marine-life migration points. It's a golf and ski mecca, offers world-class fishing, snowmobiling and boating opportunities and some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.
The area is also teeming with a diversified arts and cultural community that continues to flourish and enrich the experience of visitors. There are ballet companies, theatre groups, galleries and museums. You'll find symphonies, chamber orchestras, jazz clubs and French cultural centres. The streets are home to public art. The parks are filled with buskers and craftspeople.
There are thriving multicultural organizations, which embrace the province's undeniable First Nations heritage or embrace the traditions of the region's newcomers. There are countless festivals dedicated to music, theatre, art and wine, and ones that combine them all.
B.C. is really coming into its own with its food scene. Restaurants in the province are in a unique and enviable position when it comes to sourcing food. Ideal growing and farming conditions, coupled with abundant natural resources allow for chefs across B.C. to easily source regional and seasonal goods. This includes the endless bounty of orchard fruit; earthy wild vegetables like morel mushrooms, asparagus and fiddleheads; wild game like venison, quail and duck; fresh local cheeses; seafood and fish such as salmon, oysters and spot prawns.
B.C. is the ideal place to practice the 100-mile diet, as so much is easily and naturally produced within that radius just about anywhere in the province. And a lot of it is organic and sustainable.
Many wineries, which once offered only wine to those who appeared on their doorsteps, now have added cultural and food components to their venues. Several have in-house restaurants. Some have outdoor amphitheatres, which provide concert series or theatre productions during the summer months. Some have onsite art galleries featuring local artisans. Others offer cooking classes and educational wine seminars.
Getting back to the wines, there are an abundance of crisp and aromatic whites, luscious Icewines, assorted dessert wines and an endless flow of ripe and juicy reds. The varied winegrowing pockets of the province deliver micro-climates that make it possible to grow a broad range of varieties not previously expected to thrive. So not only will you find plenty of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Ehrenfelser and Pinot Noir, but the vineyards are filled with Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes that truly deliver in the glass and have wowed enthusiasts and critics worldwide.
There are more than 10,000 acres of planted grapes, comprised of 80+ varieties, compared to 2,100 acres two decades ago. And the ratio of red to white is 51 to 49 per cent, with the top planted grape being Merlot. B.C.'s wine industry is in a very strong growth pattern. More than 60 new wineries have opened their doors in the last five years alone.
Numbers aside, B.C. wines are impressing consumers and critics where it counts the most - in the glass. The hardware from international competitions is piling up and it's rare when wines from the province get shutout. Local wines have captured the imagination of Hollywood stars and royalty.
Perhaps the only complaint regarding the wines from the province is their availability - or lack thereof. While one's cup runneth over while on tour in B.C., out-of-country enthusiasts haven't been able to find very much of the product when they return home. But there are initiatives being taken to change all that. For example, the B.C. Wine Institute recently established an e-commerce retail outlet for U.S. consumers - winebcusa.com.
The site garnered the attention of The Village Voice in New York City, which praised B.C. for having "Vivid pinot noir, chiseled syrah, savory cab franc, and attractive Bordeaux blends." The writer was so impressed with what the region has to offer, he advised readers to "Go there, and bring along a big suitcase.
People often wonder why a wine made in the same style by the same producer using the grapes from the same vineyard often tastes quite different from year to year. The short answer to that is weather. The best wines are primarily made in the vineyard, so Mother Nature plays a critical role in how the final product will show in the bottle. Each year, grape growers are at her mercy.
The 2014 growing season turned out to be another banner year for vintners in British Columbia. Early spring was warmer and drier than the norm and bud break was slightly ahead of schedule. There was a little late spring rain, but not enough to impede growth and that was followed by a long, warm and dry summer - perfect conditions to ripen the fruit. The evenings were cool enough to guarantee healthy acid levels for balance.
Véraison - when grapes change colour - occurred in early August and growers began picking fruit the last week of August, mirroring the harvest of 2013, which was the earliest on record. Across the province, there were few complaints as fall wrapped with moderate temperatures and little rain.
With the harvest for table wines put to bed by the end of October, vintners turned their thoughts to Icewine. And they didn't have to wait long. On November 12, temperatures dipped below the required -8°C prompting two wineries to brave the cold and collect the frozen grapes for their liquid gold. It was the second earliest day on record. The earliest Icewine harvest in B.C. was November 5, 2003.