British Columbia’s First Wine Tasting Room Paved the Way for Penticton Wineries – Penticton News

“This type of viticulture came to life thanks to these two men and their struggle to create a commercial winery.”

There are more than 170 wineries operating and producing more than 75 varietals near Penticton in the Naramata, Okanagan Falls and Summerland wine regions, according to Visit Penticton.

But what made the Penticton area a destination for wine lovers and thirsty tourists?

Some would say it’s thanks to two brothers from Vancouver who were brought to the city in the 1950s and opened the province’s very first tasting room.

Brian Wilson, archivist and executive director of the Okanagan Archive Trust Society, said two businessmen, Al and Evans Lougheed, had been sued by the council for building a hotel since the Hope-Princeton Highway had just open.

“They really needed a hotel here in town, and so the council pretty much gave them the town hall property and the fire station property, which was on the corner of Martin Street and Nanaimo Avenue,” Wilson said.

The brothers took over the property and the Prince Charles Hotel was opened on October 18, 1951.

As tourists poured in from the Lower Mainland, the Lougheeds began to expand their business, opening a hotel and restaurant called the Tartar Room, which Wilson said was praised by the community.

In 1961, the hotel was everyone’s destination, supported by Rotary, the Lions Club and Kiwanis.

After the brothers sold the hotel and dissolved their partnership in 1964, Wilson said Evans’ interest in opening a winery was sparked by meeting local winemaker Tony Biollo.

“Biollo himself being European, kind of an Italian-Portuguese style wine maker, put in these Beaujolais grapes, these big red grapes and it was a very European thing.”

When the two started looking for properties, they came to the Turkey Farm, which is directly across from where the Cherry Lane Shopping Center is today.

“They bought this whole property from a local farmer and developed it with Tony Biollo as winemaker, or at least one of their winemakers, and it became a real public access cellar. Now this is a very big problem for [the Liquor Control Board]because [there were] huge, huge restrictions on what you could do with wine in the day,” Wilson said.

“Having a proper wine shop in those days was a miracle and having a retail shop away from LCB was a very big political step and totally supported by the city. The city supported him, like a madman.

The winery was not the first in British Columbia, but it was the first to hold public sales. According to the timeline of the British Columbia wine industry, Growers Wines of Victoria was the first winery in British Columbia to be licensed in 1923.

In 1939, the first grape wines produced in British Columbia by The Growers Wine Co. Ltd. and Calona Wines Ltd. have been put up for sale.

In 1961, there were five wineries in the province. When Penticton’s Casabello Wines opened in 1966, that number grew to six. Evans would open the wine store the following year.

“Casabello stoked fire under other winemakers to design and build their own attractive wine shops to entertain tourists,” Wilson wrote in his 2014 article about the Lougheed brothers.

Beaujolais grapes were popular at the time for planting, but unfortunately they got a horrible fungus. These grapes, however, have never been grown in Casabello.

According to Wilson, a milestone occurred when the discovery was made that Rhenish and European grapes could survive here if grafted onto a local wine stock.

“So they found a wild grape variety that grew abundantly in the Okanagan, but didn’t produce any fruit, and they grafted the Rhenish grapes onto it with great success.”

There was only one downside to this wonderful stage of viticulture – the wine “was awful”.

Gavin Miller, the winemaker of Upper Bench Winery, said the grapes before the late 80s were all hybrids, like a Marechal Foch or an Ortega.

“They were crosses between American and European grapes because they didn’t think European grapes could grow in our climate… That’s the kind of wine they made… it was just awful, just nasty. Basically just cheap booze in big jugs. There was no finesse or quality at all.

The provincial government would later sponsor a hybrid grape grubbing-up program beginning in 1988, clearing their land and replanting with Vinifera varieties.

“The grapes love the soil here. There’s no denying that this glacial silt is just golden for the grapes,” Wilson said.

Miller arrived in the Okanagan in the 1990s, but has a “fairly good knowledge” of the region’s history before then.

When he arrived, there were only five or six wineries along the Naramata Bench in Penticton.

“Since then, obviously, it just snowballed.”

It took another few decades for winemakers to begin to understand which grapes could thrive in the region.

“With us on the Naramata Bench, I have a vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon up top, which is a very hot climate variety, and I have Riesling down below, which is a cool climate variety. produced anywhere else in the world,” Miller said.

“I think in the 70s you could have grown the grapes that we grow now. They just didn’t realize it.

Casabello is long gone now, their wine cellar was demolished after being passed on and sold to make way for the Zellers store in 1994 which is now Superstore on Main Street.

“It’s kind of a sad story at this point,” Wilson said.

But there were milestones reached with discoveries made of varietals that could thrive, vineyards beginning to really sprout across the Okanagan, and the beginnings of a thriving tasting room industry that today creates thousands of jobs, all thanks to two brothers who wanted to take a chance in Penticton.

“Great pioneers with a really great stage.”

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