Old World intersects with New World in Oliver, Canada’s wine capital


Rebecca Bollwitt

It was 9 a.m. and cool clouds of mist hovered over Tuc-el-nuit Lake, soon to be burned off by the morning sun peeking over the South Okanagan valley’s eastern ridge. The pastel landscape looked so peaceful. I, on the other hand, was catching my breath and trying to tame my wind-blown hair after letting out a hearty “whoo!” - disrupting the serenity.

I had just whizzed to the top of the Golden Mile Bench on the back of Walter Gehringer’s ATV. I dismounted and took another look at the expanse before me that contains eight micro-climates, spanning from the U.S. border to nʕaylintn (McIntyre Bluff), and is home to 43 wineries across just 36 km. 

Begin your #OkanaganExploring adventure by checking into Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country's website.

Watch Old World intersects with New World in Oliver, Canada’s wine capital on YouTube.

The Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery was built in 1985 with two generations of brothers at the helm. Walter and his brother Gordon carry on the craft they learned in Germany, where they specifically went because they wanted to answer the question: Can we grow the grapes we want in the South Okanagan?

“We were growing hybrids which are heartier but weren’t making the quality of wine we were looking for,” Walter said as we looked out over his vineyards from the top of the valley. “Terroir is almost everything.” He added that viniferas (old- world style European grapes) are more tender. And, interestingly enough, the white grape varieties are more frost-resistant than the red grape varieties, hence Germany is a white grape region predominantly because they are cooler, and the southern parts grow more reds. It was the ideal place to learn about what they could grow in Oliver, and what would survive winter in B.C. 

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

We zipped back down to some vines just across from the tasting room. “Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are considered sisters,” Walter handed me a grape, warmed by that morning sun and it burst with flavour in my mouth. “And all pinot grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris – can grow from the same vine trunk but have their own unique character.”

There’s a harmony in this valley, and it’s a key asset for winemakers.

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Bringing a touch of old world to the new

“We purchased this property in 1979 from John’s parents, when it was a fruit orchard,” says Maria Ferreira. She and her husband were both born in Portugal and then moved to Oliver at a young age with their parents. I was sitting on the Quinta Ferreira Winery patio at lunchtime, eating a delicious take-out picnic from Oliver Eats.

The pair founded the winery after 20 years of growing fruit, starting with Chardonnay grapes in 1999. Merlot went in where the apple orchard was, and then the peaches and cherries were replaced. “We had no intention of opening a winery, it was just to grow and sell grapes but after three years our son showed an interest in winemaking.” In 2005, they made their first wines and their packing building was transformed into a tasting room in 2007. 

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

“We opened our doors and went, now what? But the people came!” What Maria and John love is all the visitors they get from around the world, and of course, the regulars they see coming back every season. They also host special events like a Portuguese luncheon in the spring, a paella lunch in July, and in the fall, they have a wine-masters’ dinner in their cave. “It has been a lot of growing, and we’re still growing and learning.”

Elevate your wine knowledge at the Vinstitute

With so many micro-climates, ridges, soils, benches, and other ecological factors, there’s so much for a wine-drinker to digest. As Maria says, growing and learning is a part of the culture, for someone completely new to wine or even the most seasoned oenophile. That’s where Intersection Winery’s Vinstitute Wine School comes in. You can learn all about wine-tasting and winemaking and it will be the most fun you’ve had in a classroom, mostly because sipping, sniffing, swirling, and tasting wine is all part of the program. 

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

“The whole concept behind Intersection and the name is founded around the idea that there are all these convergences, both in the technical level of making wine and also in more of a grand philosophical level,” says Moss Scheurkogel, general manager and wine school instructor

The Vinstitute offers tasting seminars year-round and its goal is to help you hone your senses and improve your knowledge.

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

“The idea is that we try to educate everybody that comes through the door in the way that wine can be made but also the things that make our wines unique.” Intersection’s four-hectare vineyard sits directly at the crossroads between these different geologic areas. “We have different soil compositions on this tiny little area. We’ve got sand immediately next to alluvial soil, next to richer more clay-based soil. So, we can grow the exact same grape, the same Merlot - our flagship - in the three different areas and get three different wines.”

A marriage of wine and weddings

At the northern tip of the Great Basin Desert in Oliver, you’ll find a lush forest setting at Hidden Chapel Winery. The vineyard of cabernet sauvignon grapes was planted in spring 2006 and they also we bring in grapes from other neighbouring growers, creating harmonious blends of Okanagan wine available in their tasting room.

The property has a beautiful lawn, garden, and fairyland-sized church where I practiced my budding wedding photography skills as co-owner Deborah Wilde showed me around. “We’re going to open up another pathway to the chapel on the side there,” she said pointing around some trees and shrubs. “We’re going to call it the Stairway to Heaven.”

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Hidden Chapel’s wines have playful names like White Wedding (Sauvignon Blanc/Viognier/Riesling), Amazing Grace (Riesling), Nuns on the Run (Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah), and Shotgun Wedding (Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot). You can sip them by flower beds and under a canopy of leafy trees. Playful pup Gracie might be around, or you’ll find senior golden retriever D.O.G. lounging by the patio.

By 4 p.m., I was trying to get a photo of winery cat Boots, who eventually flopped down on the pavement by the wine cellar doors. I felt like I had been globetrotting all day, without ever leaving the valley. This unique and distinct district was full of international heritage and locally nurtured flavour, just like the wine in my glass at the end of the day.

When You Go

Start planning your #OkanaganExploring adventures with these websites:

Learn more about Oliver on the Hello BC website.

Did you know that Oliver is the Wine Capital of CanadaStart planning your trip. 

Learn more about Oliver's Winery Diversity

Make sure to check out the Festival of the Grape while exploring the area.

Uncover more about what the Okanagan’s offers for adventure. Check out ZenSeekers' #OkanaganExploring Expedition page to see how you can have an adventure like this.

Thanks to the Honda Canada for getting us around on this expedition in the Canadian-made CR-V. Honda has been building cars in Canada for the last 50 years! #HondaCanada50  

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