The Okanagan valley in summertime is an intoxicating place to be. Sunshine glitters off the magnificent Okanagan Lake as far as the eye can see, while families picnic on the sandy beaches and adventurers cycle throughout the terraced hills above. Tourists pour into the sun-soaked valley for wine tours, cultural festivals and local farmers markets. It’s a picture-perfect slice of paradise complete with a cherry on top. Well actually millions of cherries on top: B.C. produces about 75 per cent of the sweet cherries grown in Canada! And to get the best of the best, our supply chain partner Jason Wiebe spends two days a week in the beautiful Okanagan visiting orchards along the cherry trail, looking for those gigantic, flavourful, juicy cherries you’ll find in our markets.
The cherry trail starts as far south as Osoyoos, where we usually get our first batch of B.C. cherries. Cherries, like most fruit, ripen according to variety, weather and elevation. So the trail moves simultaneously north up through Oliver, Penticton and Kelowna as well as up the sides of the valley to higher elevations.
The exact locations and times vary each year, so Jason diligently searches until he finds the ideal orchard for the next week’s orders. And he loves it; his hands wave around in unison with his eyebrows as he talks Santinas, Lapins and Skeenas.
We’re in the Sunterra Market boardroom to discuss the upcoming season, and Jason bites into a cherry to show me the sugar levels inside. That particular cherry is dark at the bottom but lighter at the top; it was picked just a little too early. Digging around briefly, he pulls out a large, flawless dark cherry and smiles.
“That cherry is gorgeous,” he says.
Although we don’t have a sizer handy, Jason estimates the cherry is size 10½ or 10 row. (Cherries are sized by row: the bigger the cherries, the fewer fit into a row in a standard box.) Working with his core pool of growers and a few new orchards, Jason already has size 8 or 8½ cherries, the largest you can find, lined up within a few weeks! It’s going to be a sweet summer, so watch for the best B.C. cherries in our markets and follow along online with #cherrytrail.