October 10, 2014

Wineries of the Interior

Kamloops is becoming the hub of the emerging Thompson Shuswap wine region

Debbie and John Woodward of Private Winery and Vineyard.


It is a sign of the times: This spring a businesswoman named Maatje Stamp-Vincent opened TasteFull Excursions, the first wine touring company based in Kamloops.

Kamloops, you ask? Here’s the surprise: there are now four wineries in Kamloops. This Interior city, better known for mining and ranching, is becoming the hub of the emerging Thompson Shuswap wine region. Stamp-Vincent contends that the strategic location of Kamloops (on both the Trans-Canada and Coquihalla highways) is a northern gateway to the Okanagan.

Vicki and Ed Collett of Harper's Trail Winery

There is a considerable tier of wineries strung across the central Interior. It begins with the Fort Berens Estate Winery, an attractive new winery in Lillooet. The string sweeps through Cache Creek and the 15-year-old Bonaparte Bend fruit winery. After a dog-leg to Left Field Cider at Ashcroft, it continues with the quartet in Kamloops and then with five wineries clustered around Salmon Arm. Figure on two days for the wine tour with an overnight in Kamloops, where recent renovations at the hotels and motels have raised the standard dramatically.

Most of the wineries near Salmon Arm benefit from the moderating effect of Shuswap Lake

The Thompson River valley is an unexpected locale for vineyards because winter here is colder than in the Okanagan. However, there are three wineries now about 10 km east of the city close to the river, with a fourth north of Kamloops beside the North Thompson River. All have, or soon will have, new tasting rooms.

Sagewood Winery, which just opened in August, claims to be the oldest commercial vineyard. The varieties it planted in 2005, including Kerner, are thriving. At nearby Harper’s Trail Estate Winery, Ed and Vicki Collett began planting in 2008. While their Merlot did not survive the winters, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc are producing superb wines.

This cluster is completed by Monte Creek Ranch Estate Winery, where a new winery overlooking the TransCanada will open in 2015. Monte Creek has hedged its bets. The vineyard beside the highway, developed since 2010, is planted with Minnesota hybrid grape varieties (like Frontenac) which were developed to be exceptionally winter hardy. Monte Creek’s vineyard north of the highway, an ideal south-facing slope, is being planted with Riesling.

At Privato Winery and Vineyard, a half-hour north of downtown Kamloops, John and Debbie Woodward began planting their four-acre vineyard in 2010 with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Winter damage forced some replanting. Meanwhile, they have contracted Okanagan grapes for the premium wines they make with the help of consulting winemaker Jacqueline Kemp.

Most of the wineries near Salmon Arm benefit from the moderating effect of Shuswap Lake, but they all played it safe by planting hardy, early-ripening varieties. Maréchal Foch is the primary red at Celista Estate Winery, Recline Ridge Vineyards, Sunnybrae Vineyards, Ovino Winery and Larch Hills Winery. The leading white varietals here include Ortega, Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine.

These are not the mainstream varieties found in the Okanagan, which is why wine tours in the Thompson Shuswap are full of novel tastings. Stamp-Vincent counts on the tours catching on – she has already ordered a second 13-passenger Mercedes-Benz van for TasteFull Excursions.

John Schreiner is author of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide and other books on wine. goodgrog@shaw.ca

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