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An architecture enthusiast's guide to Okanagan wineries

Terravista Vineyards Winery Building
Terravista Vineyards Winery Building
CEI Architecture

The Okanagan valley, known for its wineries and its natural splendor, is a favored getaway for wine lovers in western Canada. There are dozens of new and established wineries to seek out for the wine, but for the architecture and design enthusiasts among us, there are a handful of wineries that are worth the visit for the architecture, though do stay for a sip or two.

There is a strong trend in Okanagan winery architecture for the buildings to be designed with the surrounding nature in mind and to be in sync with the surroundings, whether taking advantage of the landscape or opening up the views of the valley.

This is summed up well by architect Nick Bevanda, "We had many discussions with winemakers who understood that part of the story was to produce wineries that were also uniquely representative of the Okanagan. Bob and Senka Tennant of Black Hills [and now owners of Terravista Vineyards] recognized their beautiful setting was worthy of responding to and so the building form opened to the views, responds to the vineyard and the owners' criteria."

It wasn't always this way though, and the design aesthetic has developed in stride with the quality of the wines in this young and blossoming wine region.

As Bevanda noted, "initially after the free trade agreement was implemented (1988) the wine industry was producing buildings as imagery, the Disneyland affect. The were French Chateauxs, and Italian Villas, because that is what the owners believed represented the wine industry and is what the public expected. Incidentally, the wine was still not great either. As the industry matured, the wine became more responsive to its context and the public wanted to know how Okanagan wines were different from other wines around the world".

I've included three wineries that are representative of intriguing architectural details while begin in harmony with the surrounding nature.

Tantalus Vineyards

The first time I visited Tantalus, there was only a portable at the edge of the vineyard from where the wine was sold but what we came away with was some of the most memorable Riesling I've ever tasted, wines that Jancis Robinson, the influential British wine writer, called “outstanding”. Construction of the winery was only beginning then.

Now a sleek, white building stands on this site that was first planted to in 1927 and today is known as the oldest continuously producing vineyard in British Columbia offers visitors a thoroughly different perspective. The gallery style tasting room offers views of the historic vineyard and the lake beyond.

Terravista Vineyards

High up the hill on the Naramata Bench and off the beaten path, Terravista Vineyards is a fun visit for the drive alone. The winery facility's architecture is a modernist, utilitarian structure with Mondrian touches in the glasswork. Designed by award-winning architect Nick Bevanda of CEI Architecture, the facility - made entirely of concrete - is nestled in a natural hollow in the hillside at the corner of the property.

Proprietors Bob and Senka Tennant display a singular of purpose - limiting their production to only three wines: a winery-only Viognier and the seafood-friendly Fandango and Figaro white blends - that matches the purposeful build of the winery building.

Mission Hill Winery

The iconic Mission Hill Winery was designed by Tom Kundig. Admittedly taken aback by the natural beauty of the location when he first laid eyes on it, Kundig strived to create an architectural environment with a primitive yet modernist aesthetic.

Now the most visited winery in the Okanagan, visitors are drawn in not only by the spectrum of wine that ranges from the everyday to exquisite, award-winning wines but the winery itself, including the contemporary, curved arches held together by a single keystone that is the entrance, the 12-storey bell tower, and the underground cellars that have been blasted into volcanic rock and with capacity for 800 barrels.

From the winery complex, vineyards roll their way down to the lake shore. There are so many view to behold from various points around the winery and vineyards that roaming the grounds is more than encouraged.

Terravista Vineyards Winery Building
Terravista Vineyards Winery Building CEI Architecture

Terravista Vineyards Winery Building

Terravista Vineyards is on the Naramata Bench about halfway between the towns of Penticton and Naramata. The winery facility was constructed entirely of concrete and sits in a natural hollow in a corner of the farm.

Tantalus Vineyards Tasting Room
Tantalus Vineyards Tasting Room Tantalus Vineyards

Tantalus Vineyards Tasting Room

Situated on the eastern slopes of the Okanagan Valley, the view from the tasting room overlooks the home vineyard, the shores of Lake Okanagan, and the township of Kelowna.

Mission Hill Winery
Mission Hill Winery Mission Hill Family Estate

Mission Hill Winery

The Mission Hill Family Estate Winery is located in West Kelowna. The winery was finished in 2002 after a six year transformation and is now the most visited winery in the region.