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Wine tastings and tours are also winter activities in the Okanagan

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Okanagan wineries may be most popular during the summertime – but it’s no longer a seasonal industry in the valley.

Most tourists gravitate to the Okanagan when the weather is warm, the vineyards look lush, and clear-blue skies are constantly in the forecast. But this time of the year – when there are smaller crowds, special events and beautiful winter scenery – it’s a different kind of appeal.

“There’s not 40 people behind you waiting in line, so you’ll feel more relaxed, and so will the staff,” said Marsha Morrish, general manager of Okanagan Wine Country Tours in Kelowna.

While many wineries shut down for the winter, Morrish notices the ones that stay open year-round are usually located closer Kelowna.

“Pretty much the whole West Kelowna trail is open in the winter,” she said. “And all of Lake Country is almost all open.”

Morrish – who estimates around 80% of her business happens between April and October– noticed more wineries making the push to stay open through the wintertime around five years ago.

Hester Creek Estate Winery in Oliver remains open all year. Public relations coordinator Kimberley Pylatuk said that for larger wineries like theirs, staying open through the winter isn’t much of a challenge. They produce a large-enough volume of wine, and offering year-round employment helps to retain talented staff. And it compliments Terrafina, the on-site restaurant.

There are also more opportunities to host special events like cooking classes. Currently there is a long-weekend contest going on. The best way to find out about what’s happening is through their Facebook page.

One drawback to winter winery visits is that fewer selections are generally available for tastings, she said.

On the Naramata bench there are over 50 wineries, but only a small handful stay open year-round, according to Dino Dean, owner Grape Escapes Wine Tours in Penticton.

“Some are still open by appointment (in Naramata), but the majority are small and shut down in the winter,” he said. “Summerland pretty well shuts down in the winter apart from a couple.”

In a valley where the tourism industry is so seasonal, Dean said the decision to stay open through the winter can feel like a catch-22 for some owners – “If more wineries stay open in the winter will more tourists come?”

A larger volume of tourists may allow some of the larger wineries to remain open through the winter, Dead said, but for the smaller ones, “it’s their time to restock and bottle up new wines.”

But while the valley's wine industry is strong enough to persist through the winter, business “slow right down” in the winter, Dean said said. Between May and October, there are as many as seven buses running some days, compared to the middle of winter when there are only a few tours each week.

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