The British Columbia wine world is old enough to have produced a handful of veterans, and young enough for us to still welcome new faces each year. While it’s all well and good to point out the shiny and new, growth in the B.C. wine community owes thanks to wineries with staying power that have set the stage for those new players.
It’s time for a closer look at a few in the industry who took chances for today’s emerging talent, and what these classics do to remain top of mind!
First vintage: 1989
Why it’s cool: Quiet perseverance, consistent wines, and unapologetically youthful gamay
Wine to watch: Subtle, layered, sea-briny Rosemary’s Block 2014 Chardonnay
Since 1989, the Stewart family has grown a small family business into a 60,000 case-per-year operation. This success brings with it inevitable expansion; a rustic log house tasting room was replaced by a modern building with unparalleled views of lakefront vineyards. Still, Quails’ Gate harvests all 200 acres by hand.
Over the years, the winery has embraced sustainable solutions like using Eco-glass bottles, organic fertilizers, and on-site composting. The Old Vines Restaurant is also a partner in the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Program.
“We’ve been around for a while,” says marketing manager Lindsay Kelm. “So when we make changes like those, they’re just a natural next step.”
Winemaker Nikki Callaway joined the team in 2013, bringing a lighter touch with oak and embracing the beauty of young gamay in the Quails’ Gate Cailleteau Gamay Nouveau. Mature vineyards bring minerality to chardonnay, riesling and pinot noir. A Collector Series highlights the best of the best, and after almost 30 years, the best of Quails’ Gate is very good. The winery and restaurant are open year-round.
First vintage: 1989
Why it’s cool: 2nd farm-gate license in B.C., 3rd generation, riesling (before it was hip)
Wine to watch: Ever-deepening, zesty and lengthy, any vintage Stoney Slope Riesling
When Adolf Kruger bought land in Okanagan Falls in 1983, it was unknown and unproven for grape growing. By 1990 he opened Wild Goose, the second winery license of its kind in the province. Sons Roland and Hagen eventually took over the business, and Adolf “retired” to head tractor driver.
In November 2016, the Krugers bid farewell to their family patriarch, a loss that resonated through the industry and marked the close of a chapter in B.C. wine. The original direction set by Adolf lives within Wild Goose, and Roland credits their success to maintaining focus.
“We improve processes where it makes sense while taking risks. Like in 2014, when we opened the Smoke and Oak Bistro,” Roland says. “What were we thinking? But we do things the way we’ve done them for 30 years.”
The vineyard is pruned to the same Pendelbogen system started decades ago, and aside from a few new technologies, the winemaking remains largely unchanged. What keeps it fresh for Wild Goose?
“Our relationships with staff and visitors,” says Roland. “Hiring the right people and seeing things through visitors’ eyes.”
Over the years, the winery embraced its white wine strengths and limited red wine production. Adolf no longer drives the tractor, but his spirit is felt in the ethos of Wild Goose. The winery re-opened in April, the Bistro opens in May.
First vintage: 1991
Why it’s cool: B.C. organic champions; one of the province’s sparkling wine originals
Wine to watch: Curvy-classicmeets-modern-fresh Cipes 2008 Blanc de Noirs
Summerhill Pyramid Winery was one of the first to recognize the region’s sparkling wine potential, and they lead the charge in organic and biodynamic farming with a touch of mysticism. They’re at the heart of where the BC wine industry is and arguably should be: risk-taking, adventurous and inviting.
Summerhill proves itself at international competitions and wins us over with down to earth hospitality. Their creativity leads to unexpected benefits, like the challenging 2011 vintage and their Blanc de Franc. This traditional method sparkler is made with cabernet franc harvested mid-November.
“We had a blizzard,” says CEO Ezra Cipes. “The grapes spent two days buried under two feet of snow.”
Nutty with marzipan in a pale antique gold, it’s a wine made in that spirit of adventure. And the winery vibe reflects that of its people.
“There’s no velvet rope here,” says Ezra.
Welcoming and open, the team was bursting at the seams before completing work on a new cellar with outdoor tasting bar. The winery and Sunset Bistro are open year-round.
First vintage: 1994
Why it’s cool: Sustainability on the land + in the cellar + in the boardroom = heart
Wine to watch: Rich and robust, sunlight-and-hayloft 2014 Cabernet Franc
There’s an old adage about not mixing friendship with business, but don’t tell that to the Oldfields or the Shaughnessys. The four started Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in 1994, taking it from humble beginnings in a gutted-out house to a business producing more than 40,000 cases of wine per year and employing 29 people year-round. Through it all, they’re still friends.
The last 20+ years is an evolution of sustainability, from environmental stewardship to business practices. Using Stelvin (screw cap) on their entire portfolio was a risk that paid off through improved quality control and a reduced carbon footprint.
“If you’re going to be in this industry, you might as well affect change,” says Sandra Oldfield.
The winemaker-turned-CEO is active on several wine and tourism boards, and in 2016 was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women. A responsibility to their employees helps keep Tinhorn grounded while contributing to their success.
“It starts with growing the best grapes to make the best wine, but it gets more layered,” she adds.
Time allowed them to focus on and invest in their people. They look at what people bring with them and credit many of their successes to employees’ ideas. This should come as no surprise at a winery started – and maintained – by four friends. The winery is open all year, with Miradoro Restaurant open March through December.
First vintage: 2003
Why it’s cool: Not new and not quite classic – established, but plenty yet to discover
Wine to watch: Strawberry-covered-slate-and-graphite 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve
In 2001, Calgarians Jim and Leslie D’Andrea bought an acreage in Okanagan Falls with plans of starting a winery.
“We didn’t think to ask if the tractor came with it,” says Leslie with a laugh.
By 2003, the self-proclaimed city slickers acquired enough vineyard and knowledge to produce 540 cases. What they lacked in experience they made up for in good hiring, and hands-on learning. Leslie studied viticulture at Okanagan College while Jim juggled a law practice with trips to the new property.
Their goal was to make the best wines possible from the highest quality grapes they could grow; working sustainably made the most sense. Vines are trained on a Geneva Double Curtain system, increasing airflow and reducing a need for sprays.
“We need to be fair to the land,” says Leslie. “It’s good for everybody.”
So what keeps Leslie and Jim motivated?
“The people,” says Leslie. “Seeing our staff realize what they do has value. It’s amazing.”
From knowing almost every person and place that sells their wine, to creating the “King’s Ransom” tier only in exceptional vintages, Noble Ridge lives up to its name. The winery re-opened in April.