Wine 101: On B.C. Pinot Noir

We’re just around the corner from the third annual B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration, happening Saturday, August 22 in the Okanagan Valley. So what’s the scoop with the Celebration? In their own words…

The celebration aims to bring together passionate Pinot Noir producers in the province in an interactive and fun atmosphere giving guests an intimate experience with our winemakers and winery principals whilst building education and excitement about BC Pinot Noir.”

The programming looks to be mighty fun, beginning with a sparkling reception with special guest speaker, Decanter’s Steven Spurrier. Then a day filled with blending sessions, tasting salons, a canapé competition, dinner and more.

Granted we could have an equally lively, quality and valuable event centred around British Columbian Riesling, Chardonnay, or Syrah, I’m personally glad we’re putting our Pinot foot forward. While our most-planted red variety is Merlot, Pinot Noir is the second most-planted at around 1100 acres, or 10.5 per cent of B.C.’s entire vineyard acreage. It’s certainly acclaimed, in fact it was just two years ago that Mission Hill Family Estate’s Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir was declared ‘World’s Best Pinot Noir Under £15’ at Decanter’s World Wine Awards. If you look at popular, wine-forward restaurants throughout Vancouver and the rest of Western Canada, you’re likely to see the presence of at least one or two coveted pours of local, acclaimed examples.

Our Okanagan hot days and cool nights, and many vineyards having close lake proximity, are key to the preservation of natural acidity, allowing for proper structure. Our mineral-rich soils play a big part, too; it’s not uncommon for distinct minerality to take centre-stage in the glass. I like to think that if we were to generalize, and that’s always a risky proposal, one commonality B.C. Pinots share is that they tend to bridge Old World and New World styles. While our Pinots are generally a little more fruit-driven than the delicate or nuanced examples of Burgundy, they’re generally not as ripe, heavy or lush as California’s.

Place matters, and while I say that as a broad reference to B.C. wine country, we can (and should) certainly drill down, too. Our Pinots from Vancouver Island (see Unsworth Vineyards) are as cheery, aromatic and sea-breezy as you’d hope. In the northern part of the Okanagan Valley around Kelowna (see Tantalus Vineyards or SpierHead Winery) where it’s a tad cooler than down south, they’re just as bright and upbeat with lofty acidity and chiming with berry fruit. Head south to Okanagan Falls where it’s a fair bit warmer than Kelowna (see Stag’s Hollow Winery), and that extra heat translates to more ripeness and concentration, bringing a little more oomph. Toddle over to the Similkameen Valley (see Orofino), and you’ll enjoy similar concentration and weight due to its hotter climate, but also notable in most Similkameen Pinots is good lashing of calcium carbonate (or limestone) soils expressed in the glass.

Grab yourself a few B.C. Pinots next time you’re having people over, and there’s an opportunity to try ‘em side by side. Hopefully you’ll see the difference place can make as you explore their respective attributes. Yup, there’s certainly a lot to discover and enjoy when it comes to B.C. Pinot Noir, and it seems more and more people are catching on to that being something worth celebrating.

For more information on the B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration, click here.


Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. Track him down at, or on Twitter and Instagram @KurtisKolt.