About the Area

The Okanagan Valley

The Okanagan Valley is in south-central British Columbia, spanning 200 km from the US border. It runs northward from the 49th parallel to above the 50th parallel; in places, the Valley is 20 km wide, although the valley is generally 10-12km wide is most locations. Lake Okanagan is the Valley’s dominating feature, and acts as an ‘air conditioner’ of sorts with respect to the area’s unique climate. Kelowna is the Okanagan Valley’s largest city: an ever-evolving, bustling, medium-sized city that we are proud to call home. Beautiful weather, four distinct seasons, an abundance of lakes and beaches, and iconic scenery are part of the reason why so many tourists venture to the Valley each year.

The Okanagan Valley was first inhabited by the Okanagan of the Interior Salish, who gave the valley its name, translated roughly as “place of water.” There are large reserves on the northwest arm of Okanagan Lake, southwest of the lake and north of Osoyoos, and others near Enderby and Kelowna.

The three largest population centres are Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon. Enderby and Armstrong lie in the dairy and vegetable-growing region of the northern valley, and Okanagan Falls, Oliver and Osoyoos lie in the dry fruit-growing area south of Penticton.

 

Lake Okanagan

Our namesake body of water, Lake Okanagan, is the largest in a series of lakes in the Valley. The big lake feeds into into Skaha Lake, Vaseaux Lake, and Lake Osoyoos (along with a number of wetlands) before flowing into the Columbia River, eventually spilling out into the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon.

Stretching from just north of Vernon all the way south to Penticton, the lake is 135 km (84 mi) long, and between 4 and 5 km (2.5 and 3.1 mi) wide; with an average depth of 76 m (249 ft), the lake’s maximum depth is 232 m (761 ft). So, it’s kind of a big deal around here. Dozens of beautiful, sandy beaches and fabulous parks line the shores of the lake, attracting visitors and locals alike. It’s natural beauty aside, the lake plays an incredibly valuable role in moderating the climate in the Valley, keeping winters relatively mild (although tending to be quite grey), and turning scorching days into cool, comfortable nights during summer. While the residents enjoy this ‘climate control’ effect, it has benefits for fruit & vegetable crops, particularly grapes!

The lake is home to several species of fish, primarily including rainbow trout and kokanee… but, the most notable aquatic resident is the Ogopogo. Think of the Loch Ness Monster lake serpent, but with a Canadian accent and a penchant for PDP (People Drinking Pinot).

 

Geography

The Okanagan Valley lies between the Columbia and Cascade mountain ranges in south-central British Columbia. Its landscape of low hills and oblong lakes was formed by glacial activity during the Pleistocene epoch, the final retreat of the ice between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago. The glaciers left large deposits of gravel, silt and sand on the bottom and sides of the valley. These sediments were eroded by water and wind, resulting in large alluvial fans (i.e., triangle-shaped deposits of sediment) and deltas such as those on which the cities of Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton partly stand. These sediments are rich in minerals, and is ideal for agriculture such as grape-growing.

 

Climate

The valley lies in a rain shadow created by the Coast and Cascade mountains, creating a hot, sunny, dry climate. Most of the valley receives about 2,000 hours of sunlight per year and 250–400 mm of precipitation. Generally, Kelowna is the transition zone between the drier south and the wetter north. The southern valley, which gets about 300 mm of precipitation, is desert-like, with cacti, rattlesnakes and mantids.

The Okanagan Valley receives hot summers and moderately “cold” winters, although by Canadian standards the winters are extremely mild. Areas near Osoyoos and Oliver claim to be Canada’s only desert, comprising the northernmost point of the Sonoran Desert. Daytime highs in summer typically range from 30°C to 35°C (86°F to 95°F), although it is not uncommon for highs in the south to surpass 40°C (104°F) in July and August.

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Wine

Just over 8,000 acres under vine and around 150 wineries make us a very small growing region from a global perspective. For example, E. & J. Gallo Winery farms 16,000 acres of vineyard in California alone!

What do you like to drink? Chances are we grow it here in the Okanagan! As a relatively young wine region with grape growers and wine makers from around the world, we have a vast variety of grapes and wine styles represented in our valley. How is this possible? We have a very diverse and unique growing region, with distinct differences between north and south. The Northern section of the valley is cooler than the southern section. Aromatic white grapes and lighter-bodied red grapes thrive here. Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer and lighter reds like Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir thrive in many of the vineyards.

The South Okanagan (between Oliver and Osoyoos) grows over 60% of all grapes in British Columbia, and that percentage is still growing! The South Okanagan is a referred to as a “pocket desert” at the Northern tip of a chain of deserts linked to the Sonoran Desert that stretches north from Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. If not for the burlap coloured mountains, you wouldn’t know it was a desert at all! Lush green vineyards and orchards fill the slopes and centre of the valley floor in a vast expanse of agricultural wonder. Both red grapes and full bodied whites thrive in the hot days and cool nights in this desert area. Some of the more common of the many grapes found growing in the South are Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Food

Possibly the most highly coveted of the crops grown in the Valley, grapes only represent a percentage of the region’s local produce. Each new season brings forth a bounty of new produce that makes its way to local dinner tables. With such an amazing selection of locally grown produce, it’s easy to see why so many amazing chefs make the Okanagan their home.

The abundance of produce is evident in the ever-changing menus at the many fine restaurants in the here.  The best constantly change their menus to showcase the products that are in season. The Valley is chalk full of orchards, offering a bounty of seasonal delicacies.

You may want to plan your visit around the seasonality of your favorite Okanagan fruits. This way you can plan to eat it fresh while you are here, or take it home to preserve for your family to enjoy year-round. Here are the average times when our beautiful tree fruit is in season:

 

Apples: Mid August to late October
Apricots: Mid July to Mid August
Cherries: Early/Mid July to Early/Mid August
Peaches: Late July to early September
Pears: Mid August to Late September
Plums: Mid August to Mid September

Golf

With close to 40 golf courses, the Okanagan is a Canadian Golf mecca! From fun executive courses to absolute world-class tracks, there is a course to challenge everyone’s game. Check out www.golfkelowna.com to learn more about some of the area’s fantastic courses.

From mountains to lakes, vineyards and orchards, beaches and golf courses, the Okanagan is a special place that we are proud to call home. We would be honored to personally share with you what makes this valley so special and unique.

Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

The Cultural District was developed in what was once the center of the Okanagan’s historical Fruit Packing Industry. Through the dedication of the arts community, municipal leadership, strong community planning and major investments, the Cultural District has become the hub of Kelowna’s artistic and cultural activity. This district is home to a number of theatres, playhouses, and galleries, including the Kelowna Art Gallery.

Within the District’s eclectic six blocks, there are also 18 pieces of Public Art on display, created by local, regional, national and international artists.

(Source: City of Kelowna)

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