Kelowna, a hundred years ago: After a day working in the orchards, you sit down on a dusty porch, kick of your boots, and enjoy a nice glass of Logana Loganberry wine. That’s right, long before the award winning Merlots and Chardonnays of the Okanagan wine market today, the industry had much humbler beginnings. It all started with J.W. Hughes, a local guy who first took a crack at making wine with loganberries, not grapes. Today, if you were to take a sip of that same wine, you’d probably spit it all over the veranda. It was all trial and error in the beginning, but over time, he figured it out and began planting acres of vineyards. It was the birth of an industry that would shape the growth of the region and continues to be a passionate part of our local culture.
I’ve been to a lot of wineries to the Okanagan, but I’ve never really learned much about the story behind how it all began. So I pay a visit to the newly expanded BC Wine Museum in the Laurel Packinghouse on Ellis Street. Linda Digby is the executive director of the Kelowna Museums Society and she’s here to give me a tour of the space.
Digby moved to the Okanagan to take the position with the Society and has been learning lots along the way. Last year, after much debate, the decision was made to close the VQA wine shop that was also in the Laurel in favour of expanding the wine museum instead. It’s clear she’s excited about the new direction. We walk among artifacts and history books and she tells me all sorts of interesting tidbits she’s learned about the valley’s wine-making past. She explains the decision to expand the wine museum.
“I know when I moved here two years ago, I was overwhelmed by the number of wineries. They’re all really good at telling their own story, but who’s telling the story of the industry as a whole? We want to be the place that gives you that context, that big picture, so that then you can go and do your own exploration of acreages and wineries, and you’ve got the story behind the bottle. Our vision at Kelowna Museums is connecting people and place, so that people understand why, why we have a wine industry here, why is this the hot spot and why they should care”
The museum fits into one room on the west side of the building. Across from it is the BC Orchard Industry museum which is quite fitting because most people who come through the Okanagan marvel at our wine or the fruits, here you can get an overview of both. In the corner of the wine museum a new store has been set up that sells a selection of locally made goods, all beautifully packaged and ready to take, read, or eat on your journey home. Even if home is just down the street. The wine museum will attract many tourists, but it’s the locals who will perhaps appreciate it best.
Digby shows me a selection of old wine labels from local vintages over the years. Each one shares a story about the time when it was made. They have a bottle of the very first ice wine (worth tens of thousands of dollars), equipment used to make sparkling wine, a large scale for weighing barrels, an assortment of strange tools, books, photographs and more. Best of all, this is just phase one. They will roll out the second phase of the museum in the year ahead, and they’re looking for more items that could be donated for them to display. “It doesn’t have to be really, really old, the history of the wine industry here is being told, it’s being made, it’s being written, right now. We are living in a period when history is being made. The growth and the change every year is mind boggling. We want to be connected to those trends happening now,” says Digby.
The museum is the perfect pit stop you can make with family or friends that will add something fascinating to your day. The kind where you leave 45 minutes later feeling surprised as to how much you’ve learned about something you didn’t know you were so interested in. Whether you want to connect to local history, current trends or have a better understanding of the richness and wonder of our local wine culture, one things for sure, after a visit here, the next time you pour yourself a glass of local red or white, the whole experience will taste that much richer.
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