Similkameen Valley and Cawston from the Fairview Road, Tim Pawsey photo

CAWSTON, B.C.–A sleepy backwater defined by its namesake river and towering peaks, the Similkameen Valley delights in its quiet, rural character that sets it apart from the Okanagan at large.

At least since the last gold rush, farming is a mainstay. What’s new is the scattering of vineyards and small wineries, which have sprung up in the last few years, making this one of the newest B.C. wine regions–and certainly one of the more intriguing. While the older plantings (such as Andres Rocky Ridge) are found along the river valley, much of the newer activity is taking place along the benchlands that define the valley’s east to west orientation.

Spring release Similkameen tasting at Cawston BC Hall, Tim Pawsey photo

2014 saw the 5th annual Similkameen BBQ King, the major wine event of the year. It’s held in the lush grounds of the historic Grist Mill & Gardens in Keremeos, (oldgristmill.ca) which have blossomed under the leadership of Chris Matheson, (former executive director of the Vancouver Police Museum).

Barbecue King is a laid back affair in which people wander between stalls, each one offering a local barbecue dish (this year from a whole Two Rivers Meats pig) prepared by an Okanagan or Similkameen chef, and paired with a wine from one of the wineries.

The nine entries were varied and superb but at the end of the evening it was Local Lounge & Grille (Summerland) Chef Lee Humphries who emerged as the double winner (media and people’s choice) for “Best Wine and Food Pairing” of the night. Humphries’ cherry BBQ pulled pork tacos, with sorrel chimichurri, marinated shaved carrots, pickled zucchini, pork sausage, piggy puffs and cherry hot sauce was a slam dunk with Seven Stones spicy and earthy 09 Pinot Noir.

I attended the inaugural, 2010 Barbecue King. It’s gratifying to see how it’s blossomed, with well over 400 now in attendance.

George Hanson poured that winning Pinot Noir (91 pts), which is just one of several made at his expanded Seven Stones Winery, where he’s built an impressive barrel cellar, also ideal for special events.

Aside from the Pinot, other standouts from Seven Stones’ current releases include: a structured, mineral and citrus toned, smartly oaked Chardonnay 2012 (90 pts), and the cherry chocolate with mineral undertoned Row 128 Merlot 2011 (92 pts).

The Grist Mill, grape and fruit wineries, Cawston, Keremeos and the valley at large make for leisurely, very scenic exploring, with a wealth of organic farms from which to buy. (Similkameen boasts the highest percentage of organic producers in Canada.) If you’re inclined to stay and explore, comfortably appointed Tree to Me Farm Market (on Hwy 3) offers five smart, air conditioned suites, some with spectacular views. Not to mention a wealth of temptations and baked treats from the store-café below. treetome.ca

For more info: SimilkameenWine.com