Certified in only 2019 as a new wine sub-appellation in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Naramata Bench has quickly established itself as a premium region. A low plateau sitting on the eastern bank at the southern end of Okanagan Lake, Naramata Bench has vineyards planted to the edge of the cliff, overlooking the water. Climate, soils, and winemakers from many of the 50-plus wineries on the Naramata Bench combine to produce outstanding wines that are among the best of British Columbia.
The recognition of Naramata Bench as an officially recognized wine region—a Geographical Indication (GI), as it is known in the wine world—is part of the spread of appellations in Canada. Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Niagara Peninsula in Ontario are well known GIs, but there are many more: Ontario has three and British Columbia has nine. All are designated on the principle that certain places have distinctive geographical and climatic conditions that enable them to produce distinctive wines.
A GI, then, can be a code for a style of wine—Niagara pinot noir differs from Okanagan pinot noir—but GIs usually produce a range of styles. This is especially true in large GIs, such as the Okanagan Valley, which has a cooler, wetter north and a warmer, drier south. Throughout its length are pockets, such as Naramata Bench, where the climate and soils vary significantly from other districts.
As a result, larger GIs are often divided into sub-GIs. That happened in Niagara Peninsula, which created a patchwork of sub-GIs in 2005, and it has been happening in Okanagan Valley since 2015, when Golden Mile Bench became the first sub-GI. While Niagara developed its sub-GIs in one fell swoop, in the Okanagan Valley, sub-GIs are being recognized as wineries make a strong case for it. To date, there are 11 Okanagan sub-GIs, including Naramata Bench.
The benefits of labelling wine with the name of a sub-GI depend on its reputation and consumer recognition. California is a GI in its own right, but within it are many other GIs (known as American Viticultural Areas or AVAs). Some, such as the Napa, Sonoma, and Russian River Valleys, are well known and are good brands for wineries to associate their wines with. But who has heard of California AVAs such as Lime Kiln Valley, Pacheco Pass, and Ballard Canyon? So it is with many Canadian sub-GIs, because while a large GI might be known and respected by consumers, a sub-GI might be an unknown quantity.
A GI that succeeds in establishing itself as a known brand does so for a number of reasons. There’s advantageous location in terms of climate, exposure, and soil, but there must also be a concentration of superior wineries. Despite what is sometimes said, no wine makes itself, even when grapes grow in ideal conditions. Wine is not a natural product but the result of hundreds of decisions and skilled work in the vineyard and the cellar
Naramata Bench’s natural advantages include the temperatures during the growing season, which are similar to Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Yarra Valley. Its proximity to Okanagan Lake reduces the frequency of frosts in spring and fall. And its wineries include the likes of Nichol, Tightrope, Roche, One Mill Road, and Poplar Grove, all highly respected names in B.C. wine. Some top B.C. wineries, such as Martin’s Lane, located elsewhere, have vineyards on Naramata Bench.
The wineries on Naramata Bench make a wide range of wines—more than 30 grape varieties are planted–but some stand out. Among the whites are excellent chardonnays and pinot gris; among the reds, pinot noir, syrah, and merlot are some of the best. For the most part, the wines are characterized by well-defined flavour profiles, good refreshing texture, and excellent balance.
Moreover, Naramata Bench caters to all palates because it has breweries and distilleries as well as wineries. It is almost perfect for beverage-tourism, with its tasting-rooms, restaurants, and accommodations concentrated in a compact area. It already has the infrastructure to become a destination for wine-lovers, yet another reason to think Naramata Bench is destined to be one of Canada’s iconic wine regions.
A half-case of Naramata Bench wines
Lock & Worth Winery Semillon 2018
Nichol Vineyard Syrah 2020
Roche Château 2018 (merlot-cabernet sauvignon-cabernet franc blend)
Three Sisters Winery Cabernet Franc 2020
Tightrope Rubis Pinot Noir 2020
Upper Bench Estate Winery Chardonnay 2019
Photography by Jon Adrian.