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When the Heiss family established Gray Monk Winery above Okanagan Centre in Lake Country in 1982, there were only a few wineries operating up and down the expanse of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. They were the first and only producer based in Lake Country for many years.
With a focus on white and rosé winemaking, Gray Monk was an early champion of pinot gris, which is now well established as a signature grape variety in B.C. Not all of the Heiss’ family’s viticultural passions were shared, mind you. Their love for wines made from rotberger or siegerrebe grapes didn’t catch on as well with other wineries.
But British Columbia’s wine industry is seriously infatuated with the potential of Lake Country as a whole. A growing consumer appreciation for crisp and refreshing styles of white wine and bright and juicy expressions of pinot noir has led a number of wineries to establish vineyards north of Kelowna, while there’s been a succession of ambitious wineries cropping up along the wine route.
Gray Monk, which is now owned by Andrew Peller Limited, now has company. There are many compelling reasons for wine lovers to head north towards Vernon instead of south towards Osoyoos to find exciting wines.
Arrowleaf Cellars started growing grapes just up the road from Gray Monk in 1996. Ex Nihilo planted its vineyard in 2004, while Intrigue Wines opened in 2008 and 50th Parallel planted vineyards 2009. The slightly cooler region is helping these producers and others craft bright and refreshing wines across a range of grape varieties.
A recent addition to the Lake Country scene, O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars, which opened as The Chase in 2017 before a trademark dispute prompted a name change, is preparing to release an impressive range of aromatic white wines from the 2020 vintage. Billing itself as 100-per-cent Lake Country and 100-per-cent estate-grown grapes, the winery’s lineup includes a mix of the expected and exotic, including chardonnay, riesling and pinot gris as well as an expressive gruner veltliner and blend made by simultaneously harvesting and co-fermenting a vineyard block containing pinot gris, riesling and gewurztraminer. These are sure to add to the enthusiasm for Lake Country’s flourishing wine community.