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Touring The Wineries

British Columbia has a long history of producing wines, ranging from fantastic to truly bad. In 1859, missionary Father Pandosy planted apple trees and vineyards and produced sacramental wines for the valley's mission. Other monastery wineries cropped up, but none worried about the quality of their bottlings. After all, the Canadian government had a reputation for subsidizing domestic industries, such as book publishing and cleric wineries, to promote entrepreneurial growth.

In the 1980s, the government threatened to pull its support of the industry unless it could produce an internationally competitive product. The vintners listened. Rootstock was imported from France and Germany, and European-trained master vintners were hired to oversee the development of the vines and the winemaking process. The climate and soil conditions turned out to be some of the best in the world for winemaking, and today, British Columbia wines are winning international gold medals. Competitively priced, in the range of C$10 to C$50, they represent some great bargains in well-balanced chardonnays, pinot blancs, and Gewürztraminers; full-bodied merlots, pinot noirs, and cabernets; and dessert ice wines that surpass the best muscat d'or.

The valley's more than 100 vineyards and wineries conduct free tours and tastings throughout the year. The Okanagan Wine Festival (tel. 250/861-6654; www.thewinefestivals.com), an annual celebration of wine and food, is held in early October at area vineyards and restaurants; for many, the key event is a B.C.-wide tasting held at the Penticton convention center.

Contact local visitor centers for information, as new wineries continue to open and established ones reinvent themselves with new and ever more sophisticated facilities. Vineyard restaurants are particularly in the vanguard, and many tasting rooms now offer food in addition to wine, and some offer lodgings.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.