How frequently do our out of province guests, in pursuit of quality British Columbian wine, pack up their cars and follow the Trans-Canada Highway south to the Okanagan Valley without realizing that they’ve just passed through one of the province’s most promising viticultural regions? When thinking of Kamloops, one’s first thoughts might not be of wineries, however, overnight this has become a reality in the Thompson Valley. And while one certainly can’t blame the people of Kamloops for wanting to keep their wines to themselves, it’s becoming a region of quality wines which are impossible to ignore.
The best way to experience Thompson Valley wines is to pull off the Trans-Canada at Miner’s Bluff Road, just outside Kamloops. At the site where Billy Miner conducted the last train robbery in Canada, you’ll now find the charming Monte Creek Ranch Winery. A working ranch with a commitment to local agriculture where you’ll find grass-fed Black Angus cattle, an impressive bee colony, and batches of haskap berries. But most importantly, you’ll find a large selection of local wines. Sourced from estate vineyards on both sides of the river, and guided by winemaker, Galen Barnhardt, who brings to Monte Creek his experience from the Okanagan, Oregon, Australia, and New Zealand, these wines show a healthy balance of aromatics and body. But it is not the winemaker alone that is responsible for such great wine.
Those familiar with the Okanagan might notice the visual similarities between the two valleys, the chaparral landscape dotted by sage brush. But this is where the similarities end, as geography blessed the Thompson with a terroir that distinguishes its wines from its southern cousin. The magnificent coastal mountains surrounding the valley leave the region in a rain shadow, which produces hot days and cold nights, perfect for maintaining both the ripeness and acidity of the grapes. Meanwhile the infrequent humidity minimizes the need for sprays. The most notable distinction however, lies in the valley’s glacial history, which has left in its place calcareous soil like that of the Champagne region of France. With a world-class terroir and experienced winemakers taking root the Thompson Valley should be on any wine lover’s list, for much like Billy Miner, you’re bound to find a rewarding bounty out here.
~ Blake Allen