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Finding the Heart of BC’s Wine Country

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Visitors to Church and State can check out the vineyards where the winery grows its grapes and taste the wines at a stunning outdoor bar. This row shows the petit verdot lot on the property. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Vacay.ca is publishing a series of articles by Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi focused on the wine region of British Columbia. The following article is the second in the series. Click here to read the first  entry that covered the new mega-wineries in BC’s wine country.

In a viticulture region experiencing rapid change with seemingly each new growing season, Ted Kane is one of an ever more rare breed. A self-professed wine geek, Kane is a home winemaker turned boutique producer who epitomizes the qualities that make the Okanagan Valley among the most charming places to visit in Canada. In recent years, transactions in the tens of millions of dollars have involved properties in the vicinity of Kane’s River Stone Winery, yet he and his wife, Lorraine, continue to lovingly care for their land and their wine as if they lived in quaint farm country.

But River Stone is amid a hot bed of the finest wine production in the country, and Kane is surrounded by businesses that routinely charge $50 or more for a bottle. At River Stone, no bottle costs more than $40, and even the most frugal wine consumer might be compelled to encourage Kane to charge more. He makes some outstanding wines imbued with his desire for balance between minerality, acidity, sweetness, and flavour. His geekiness shows in interesting vintages like his 2017 sauvignon blanc, which surprises with a burst of spice, and a 100-per-cent cabernet franc that manages to be well-rounded and bold.

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Ted Kane turned a hobby for winemaking into one of the South Okanagan’s best-loved wineries. His River Stone Winery focuses on Bordeaux grapes from his 10-acre farm. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

“I want to make wines that are still accessible and at a fair profit but it’s more about introducing people to what I do and turning them onto these wines,” says Kane, who moved to Oliver from Edmonton to pursue a passion he acquired as a teenager.

He credits his father for always having “nice wines in the house” and his own interest in chemistry for inspiring his pursuit. He shifted from a medical career as a respiratory therapist to tending to the property he and his wife, Lorraine, a doctor, purchased in 2001 when they moved to British Columbia. The land River Stone sits on hadn’t been farmed in 30 years before the Kanes made the purchase, but it had the benefits of the valley’s rocky subterranean surface and proximity to the Okanagan’s namesake tributary that provides consistent moisture.

Since launching its wines in 2010, River Stone has acquired a devoted following and most of the approximately 4,000 cases of wine it produces each year quickly sells out, often to the operation’s wine-club members.

Discover More: Okanagan’s Changing Landscape

While conglomeration is a reality in the Oliver-Osoyoos area these days, Kane revels in leading a small business where “I get to run my own show.” He’s not alone. Attend one of the region’s fun-filled festivals, such as the Half-Corked Marathon that takes place at the end of May or the annual Pig Out Festival at the start of that month, and you’ll learn how united the South Okanagan community is in producing artisanal wine and food, and then sharing them at eccentric parties reflective of the area’s residents.

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The Covert Farms’ red truck is a famous vehicle in BC Wine Country and a centrepiece at the annual Pig Out Festival. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

The 2019 version of Pig Out took place on May 4, thus encouraging a Star Wars theme (“May the Pork Be With You” was both a marquee sign and a hashtag). Pig Out, which celebrated its eighth year, is annually held on Covert Farms, another family-run establishment that attracts oenophiles, brides and grooms, and kids who want to see the farm’s llamas and other animals while parents sip wines in the foothill of the valley’s peaks.

It’s the kind of pleasure outing urban travellers adore. Many of the best wineries in Canada are within minutes of each other. For example, just south of Covert Farms on Highway 97 are CheckMate Artisanal Winery, which recently earned a historic 100-point rating from wine critic John Schreiner, Culmina Family Estate Winery, which belongs to the pioneering Triggs family, and Road 13 Vineyards, the 2018 British Columbia Winery of the Year. All three are exceptional and all can be accessed from the same street. Across the way on Black Sage Road are the likes of the soon-to-open winery of the $100-million Phantom Creek Estates, the much-lauded Black Hills Estate Winery, and Church and State, a well-regarded producer with one of the province’s most stunning tasting rooms.

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The CheckMate tasting room looks onto an exquisite view in Oliver. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Church and State pours its wines indoors in a tasting room fronting the barrel room and outdoors at a covered patio bar that overlooks mountains and farmland. It is a jaw-dropping view. The winery has recently undergone a rebrand and a refocus on single-variety grapes, including a unique 100-per-cent petit verdot. Guests can picnic beside the vineyard where the grapes from the wines they sip are grown.

Romanticism will always be entwined with notions of wine country. In the Okanagan, the affability of the people, the allure of the grape, and the accessibility to an experience that soothes the soul remains a magnet for those who venture through Western Canada. As long as farmers like Ted Kane remain toiling at their passion projects, the hope is it will stay that way.

MORE ABOUT VISITING RIVER STONE WINERY

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Ted Kane pours a glass of River Stone’s Gewurtzaminer during a tasting session at his winery that is just north of Black Sage Road. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Location: 143 Buchanan Drive, Oliver, BC
Website: www.riverstoneestatewinery.ca
Tastings: The winery is open for tastings daily from 11 am to 6 pm until mid-October. It encourages visitors to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on its patio while sipping its wines.
Best Wine: 2015 Corner Stone ($34.90), a smooth blend of five Bordeaux grapes, with body, spice, and the distinct mineral texture that defines many wines of the South Okanagan.

MORE ABOUT VISITING COVERT FARMS FAMILY ESTATE

Location: 300 Covert Place, Oliver, BC
Website: covertfarms.ca
Events: Covert Farms hosts a series of events, including a Father’s Day treat on June 16 where dads and granddads receive complimentary tastings and a free glass of wine. Bookings can be made on the property’s website using the promo code “fathersday”.
Best Wine: 2015 Amicitia ($29.90), a blend of six Bordeaux grapes, with merlot (45%) prominent. Roundness, body, and easy-drinkingness epitomize this gem. (Connoisseurs can still purchase online a 1.5-litre bottle of the 2009 Amicitia for $174.90.)

MORE ABOUT VISITING CHURCH AND STATE

Location: 4516 Ryegrass Road, Oliver, BC
Website: churchandstatewines.com
Tastings: The winery’s tasting bar is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 am to 6 pm.
Best Wine: The 2016 Syrah ($39.90) is a full-bodied wine that showcases one of the Okanagan’s leading grape varietals.

MORE WINE COVERAGE

How Indigenous Practices Influence South Okangan Wines

Vancouver Island Wineries Sparkle

Canada’s Impact on Oregon’s Wine Scene

A MAP SHOWING THE WINERIES FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.