British Columbia is known for its mountains, lakes, forests, wildlife and, increasingly, its wine. The provincial license-plate slogan, Beautiful British Columbia, reflects both the natural splendour and local pride in Canada’s westernmost province. Such is the sheer size of British Columbia that it shares borders with the Yukon and Northwest Territories and the US state of Alaska to the north, with the province of Alberta to the east and with the US states of Washington, Idaho and Montana to the south. North to south, British Columbia is longer than California and larger than Texas. The city of Vancouver is the province's biggest and boasts a number of wine regions – as well as the resort village of Whistler – within a 60-mile (97-km) radius.
There are more than 6000 coastal islands off British Columbia's rugged coastline, including Vancouver Island – home of the provincial capital, Victoria – and the Gulf Islands, a small group between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Vancouver Island has been successful with early ripening grape varieties and has developed a reputation as a culinary centre, and since the 1990s, some of the Gulf Islands have been producing wine in small quantities.
Without question, the major wine-growing region in British Columbia is the Okanagan valley, midway between Vancouver and Alberta. Augmented by the Similkameen valley, the Okanagan area produces more than 90% of the province's wine. Temperatures in British Columbia’s interior tend to be warmer than on the coast, with the sub-region of Osoyoos regularly reaching highs of 90F (32C) in July.
From humble beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, growth in the British Columbian wine industry has been exponential since the 1970s. In 1990, less than 1500 acres (607ha) was under vine, but in just 20 years, this figure had grown to 10,000 acres (4047ha). The split between red and white grapes is almost even, with Merlot and Pinot Gris the most commonly planted varieties. Almost every style of wine imaginable is produced in British Columbia, from robust Cabernet blends to aromatic Gewurztraminer and sparkling cuvees to ice wine.
The British Columbia Wine Authority is the regulatory viticultural and oenological body charged with guaranteeing the quality of the province's wine production. To qualify as a British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance wine, the grapes used must be grown entirely in the region.