British Columbia or Ontario—which wine region reigns supreme? Both are, ahem, crushing it on the quality front, bringing home more awards every year. But that doesn’t mean success is going to their heads. Many wineries are accessible and local, dusting off old notions of pretentious oenophiles of the past and embracing the surge of millennial wine aficionados.
BC’s game is strong, with 344 licensed wineries that earn acclaim at major competitions, while Ontario’s commitment to quality is undeniably thriving. The province created the Vintners Quality Alliance, which fine-tuned production standards across Canada’s wine country, and Ontario earns international acclaim with increasing frequency.
Which place comes out on top? Choosing between provinces is quite a subjective matter, so take our advice or follow your own path–you’re in for a win, wherever you land.
For the Experienced Wine Lover
You know your way around a wine menu and may even consider yourself a pseudo-sommelier, so this battle of the vines should interest you the most. Okanagan Valley and Niagara-on-the-Lake are producing liquid gold on the reg, and garnering medals to match. When only the best will do, these are the regions for you.
Standout region: Okanagan Valley
Okanagan Valley boasts an impressive 172 wineries, and is the gold standard of British Columbia wines. Okanagan wineries brought home both Best Red and Best White of the Year at the All Canadian Wine Championships in 2017.
- Red lovers will relish Sandhill Estate Vineyard near Oliver, where the 2014 Howard Soon Red will show you why it earned top marks. Get it while you can—its namesake wine maker is set to retire this year.
- Crescent Hill Winery in Penticton offers the stuff of dreams for white wine fans with its Gewurztraminer. It doesn’t hurt that this homey winery is a joy to visit, with beautiful views, and deep family roots.
Standout region: Niagara-on-the-Lake
Speaking of accolades, the birthplace of the Ontario wine industry has some hefty titles under its belt. The 37 wineries in this region have taken high honours in many competitions, from the Ontario Wine Awards to international prizes. The Niagara Wine Festival is a must-attend event, where regional wines and cuisine delight the palate, and concerts and parades entertain the other five senses.
- The toast of the town, Tawse Winery, has taken Winery of the Year at four WineAlign National Wine awards and is the whole package, with consistent quality, world-class pinot noir and Riesling (to name a few), and an on-site restaurant.
- Two Sisters Vineyards pairs high quality wine with a pleasing atmosphere and delicious pizza from their authentic brick oven.
This one almost came to a draw. Canada’s most decorated winery, Jackson-Triggs, has a location in both regions, and public opinion is very split. However, BC crept ahead by a nose with a slight percentage edge in win rates*. Okanagan Valley is the most popular and most awarded wine country in Canada, and vintages like the Hatch’s Black Swift Long Road Syrah 2013, are so highly rated they could run for Prime Minister.
For Activities and Adventure
Sure, you enjoy wine very much, but it takes more than a full-bodied vintage or a fresh, floral white to set your heart aflutter. If you, like a newly-opened bottle of red, are better after a little aeration, then these activity-laden regions will be a breath of fresh air.
Standout region: Fraser Valley
With Vancouver in close proximity, Fraser Valley is an ideal Canadian wine region for those who also want to do some exploring. Pop over to the city or enjoy farm visits, fishing, paragliding, water sports, and farmers markets—there are unending things to do in the area. There also happens to be some great wineries.
- Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley has an on-site bistro and hosts events and year-round tours and tastings.
- For something different, sample award-winning fruit wine at Angel Estate Winery after a day exploring the paths and ponds of nearby George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Standout region: Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island
Bike trails and beaches are waiting to be explored, while summer festivals entertain during Ontario’s longest growing season. Warm up on an outdoor adventure, then cool down with a crisp white. Hike through Carolinian forests and explore Point Pelee National Park. The bounty of things to do in this sunny, beautiful region is ripe for the picking.
- Viewpointe Estate Winery hosts festivals and barbecues, and the activities calendar is packed. Take in the lake views as you sip world-class wine and bring home a bottle or two from their winery shoppe.
- Head to Harrow to taste some of the best of the region at Cooper’s Hawk Vineyard or Oxley Estate Winery, where periodic events have a foodie flair.
WINNER – Ontario
Beaches, forests, parks, and wine? Sign us up. Cultural attractions such as the Art Gallery of Windsor or the Windsor Symphony Orchestra round out the bevy of things to do that keep travellers and locals as busy as they want to be.
For the View and Atmosphere
Pairing the finest vintages with the freshest views is your MO, and you understand that the impression on the eyes is just as important as on the palate. A truly good wine deserves an aesthetically divine backdrop, so put these places at the top of your must-see list.
Standout region: The Gulf Islands
Comprising one of the smallest regions in BC, the Gulf Islands are so charming and gorgeous, you won’t even need wine goggles to fall in love. Incidentally, you’ll encounter some wonderful vino while taking in the fetching setting.
- Sea Star Vineyards on Pender Island is tucked against a forest backdrop with direct views of the sea, making this a truly unique environment. Come for award-winning wines in a blissful setting, leave with a big smile on your face.
- Salt Spring Vineyards invites you to picnic by their pond and enjoy a complimentary tasting. If you’re celebrating something special, order the Karma brut-style bubbly, and let the cheery atmosphere send you to your happy place.
Standout region: Prince Edward County
With its southerly locale on the shores of Lake Ontario, this pretty county is a wine lover’s paradise with the views to match. Picturesque is an understatement in this neck of the woods, where charming villages dot the coastline of the country’s finest freshwater beaches.
- Waupoos Estates Winery the stunning views of Lake Ontario make this winery a prime location for special events and unforgettable days. The sparkling white rounded pavilion offers almost a complete circle of enviable vantage points, and once the sun starts to set, everything is bathed in pinks and golds.
- Huff Estates lets you enjoy vineyard views from the large patio at the restaurant, but get ready to see more than leaves and vines at the on-site art gallery featuring Canadian and international multi-media artists.
WINNER – BC
The advantage lies with BC for its Gulf Islands region, where there is diverse landscape and hardly a bad view to be had. But there are awesome sights to drink up all over the province like the breathtaking Cowichan Valley.
For Unpretentious Relaxation
You like to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor (or someone else’s, for that matter), and you prefer to savour the end result than examine the ins and outs. You’re not one to mince words like tannin, briary, or vinous. Like ‘em leggy? Sure! A toasty varietal, you say? Bring it on! From fruity to flinty, you’re about drinking what you like, and enjoying the process.
Standout region: Similkameen Valley
Merlot and chardonnay are top grapes here, and the 19 licensed wineries of the region produce world-class vintages with no aftertaste of attitude. Rugged mountain landscapes, organic farms, and friendly small towns make up the personality of this area, where there is much to take in, and peaceful scenery to soothe.
- Seven Stones Winery holds tastings in the underground caves, where the cool, dusky atmosphere lends itself to quiet contemplation. The gorgeous views don’t hurt, either.
- The small-batch, single-vineyard Little Farm Winery is as unpretentious as they come, lovingly operated using sustainable practices.
Standout region: Georgian Bay
With a handful experimental wineries set against Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment, this emerging region is the perfect place to stretch your legs and expand your knowledge. The VQA Wine Truck stops at events and festivals throughout Ontario, brining regional wine in its wake.
- The deck at Coffin Ridge beckons with soft music, vineyard views, and the vintner’s cheese and bread plate with custom wine pairings.
- Learn about the art of cool climate wines at Georgian Hills Vineyards, where no reservations are needed at their inviting tasting room and you’re encouraged to linger over charcuterie and wines to suit your tastes.
Though both provinces have many welcoming wineries where relaxed enjoyment is key, Ontario took this one for laidback small-batch wineries and a joie de vivre attitude. I mean, they have a wine truck. The wine COMES TO YOU. What could be more chill than that?
When it comes to the perfect place to sip, swirl, and savour wine, superiority is in the eye of the beholder. Ontario and British Columbia bring unique terroirs, producing wines with distinctive character. If you want the full package, pick between jam-packed adventure itineraries or relaxed tastings in peaceful surroundings. The exceptional regions of these two provinces are enough to satisfy every personal taste. So, who really wins? You do.