History

Okanagan’s Well Kept Secret for Wine Lovers

Okanagan Falls – named for the twin falls that once existed where Skaha Lake empties into the Okanagan River before they vanished in the early 1950’s. The area was once a major meeting and trading centre for the local aboriginal people. In 1876, the Okanagan Falls area was established because of its strategic location for shipping and freight both along water and the Kettle Valley railway. Later it was recognized as a prime location for ranching and fruit growing.

The first commercial orchard was planted in 1886 – with orchards developing as irrigation became available. The main water source for irrigation in the beginning was the dams in the high country east of town. Unfortunately, these catastrophically failed three times, sending heavy white clay silt across the valley floor. Subsequently, irrigation water has been sourced from the Okanagan River. Okanagan Falls is now home to over 32 individual vineyards as well as other fruit orchards.

Terroir

Warm days, Cool nights, Accentuated Fruit Flavours

In 1984 Agriculture Canada and the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers published a remarkable book that is still referred to today. It included detailed maps that identified the best places for planting vines. Sites in and around Okanagan Falls proved to have some of the best potential in the region. With highly-rated soils in Class one or Class two, a low risk of autumn frost, and ratings for solar radiation measurement and growing degree days that showed how well suited the lands are, there is no doubt that the Okanagan Falls area is very desirable for vineyards.

Soils and topography of the area are characterized by the hills made of bouldery gravel, ideal for providing proper drainage, and the steep slopes. The soils can vary greatly from vineyard to vineyard, with sites of gravel, some with clay and those classed as sandy loam.

According to Blue Mountain founder Ian Mavety, who has been growing grapes at Okanagan Falls since 1972 “The most important feature of the Okanagan is the warm days and cool nights,” he says. “…the warm days with the bright sunshine result in ripe fruit character. The cool nights retain the acidity in the grapes, which just accentuates the fruit flavours and aromatics.”

Geology

A Unique Land Like No Other

A hike to the top of Peach Cliff, with an elevation of 600 meters, affords a great view over Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake. The hike is also a walk through geological history. Peach Cliff was formed during explosive volcanic eruptions 50 to 60 million years ago. Peach Cliff was rounded off by the four to six ice ages that swept across the Okanagan Valley.

What geologists call the Okanagan Valley Fault swings around the east side of Peach Cliff. The fault extends south down the middle of the valley and north along the eastern side of Skaha Lake. The rocks and often the soils on the two sides of the valley do not match up. Most Okanagan Falls vineyards are on the east side of the fault while those on Hawthorne Mountain and Kaleden are on the western side of the fault.

Skaha Lake once emptied into a river over a robust waterfall that can be seen only in early photographs of the community. The falls vanished after 1946 when a dam was installed here to moderate the peak flows down the river each spring.

Just over a kilometer east of Okanagan Falls, on the northeastern side of Peach Cliff lies Dusty Mac open pit mine which has since ceased production. It was a brief-lived but prodigious mine, producing 10.5 tonnes of silver, 0.6 tonne of gold and minor values of copper and zinc.