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B.C.’s billion-dollar wine world might seem cutthroat, but in the South Okanagan, the grape grower hath no wrath.
I love bad TV. Give me a trashy, contrived, brain cell-destroying reality show over “good” television any day. It’s a guilty pleasure: watching folks who likely need professional help—rather than another drama-filled cocktail party—destroy their personal and work relationships is its own kind of therapy. From desperate, starry-eyed singles to impossibly fashionable real estate agents, I’m all in.
And on a recent trip to the South Okanagan, I discovered what I thought could be reality TV’s next hit. Picture this: there are 200 licensed grape wineries in total between the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. Each is at the mercy of the desert climate—wildfires and cold snaps included. They’re all competing in the same market. And there’s a lot of money on the line (according to the BC Wine Institute, the wine industry contributes $3.75 billion to the B.C. economy every year).
Money, alcohol, competition—it’s the perfect recipe for a bingeworthy series that you’re embarrased to admit you like. Right?
Wrong. On my Okanagan journey, at least, there was one reality TV essential that the wineries were missing: conflict. Amanda Elyzen, the ridiculously charming tasting room manager at the Clos du Soleil winery (co-owned by Dr. Bonnie Henry), was thrilled to hear that we were dropping by neighbouring Corcelettes Estate right after. The down-to-earth folks at Covert Farms Family Estate wanted to hear all about our tour of the fortress-like Phantom Creek. It’s community, not competition, that rules this wine region—and Oliver’s District Wine Village is perhaps the best example.
The village is a collection of 12 small-batch and startup wineries (plus a brewery, distillery and restaurant), all occupying the same leased land from the Osoyoos Nation. Think: 16 sleek, corrugated metal-clad buildings arranged in a circle around an open-air pavilion. It’s beautiful from a design perspective, and even more beautiful from an ambitious—but lazy—wine-taster’s perspective: a dozen wineries, with only a few steps (and a couple of artistic water features) between them.
Darcel Giesbrecht, general manager of the village, gives us a tour of the (notably dog-friendly) district, explaining that it was dreamed up by friends Max Brock and Matt Kenyon. Wine buff Brock had seen the village model work in other parts of the world, and Kenyon’s background in construction (he’s the general manager of Penticton-based Greyback) was an asset in building the community. Brock unfortunately passed away before the dream came true, but Kenyon and wine industry vet Michael Daley brought District Wine Village to life in his honour.
Kenyon and Osoyoos Indian Band chief Clarence Louie had been working together for years, and Kenyon leased the 10-acre property the village is built on from the Nation. An awesome metal statue by Clint George of the Penticton Indian Band greets guests, inviting gatherings no matter the season: outdoor concerts in the summer, artisan markets in the winter (get handmade decor, baked goods and local preserves here).
To operate in the village, each winery must produce 2,000 to 2,500 cases annually (for comparison, Phantom Creek bottles eight times as much wine every year). To keep costs down, they share pressing and de-stemming equipment—GM Giesbrecht says it’s common to see the wineries working together, whether they’re moving the industrial-sized winemaking machines or simply chatting over a glass or two. “It really is that community feel,” says Giesbrecht. “Everyone is always recommending neighbouring wineries and helping each other out.”
From my spot on the Canter Cellars patio, I can see folks enjoying a tasting at JoiRyde Winery and a dog resting under a chatty table at Nk’Mip Cellars. It’s truly a good-vibes-only sort of space, so, admittedly, it would not make a good trashy reality TV show. But it is the ideal place to find the perfect bottle to pair with my next guilty-pleasure binge.
READ MORE: 5 More Awesome Places to Visit in B.C. This Winter