La Dolce Vita September 29, 2013


Meeting the makers


Looking back on our recent whirlwind trip through the Okanagan, I marveled at the thought of how many of our winery visits included chats with winemakers and owners. It’s part of the joy of wine tourism, the opportunity to get up close and personal with the folks directly responsible for the wine that graces our dinner tables and enhances evenings on the deck or in front of the fireplace.

A case in point was our very first stop, at Adega on 45th Estate Winery in Osoyoos. It opened last year and I wasn’t even aware of it until getting an assignment to write about it. The young lady at the tasting area nodded toward her dad when I told her the reason for my visit. Fred Farinha came over to chat, taking a welcome break after several days of harvesting while grapes. Fred and partner Alex Nunes both are of Portuguese descent, fruit growers who saw economics of that business declining rapidly. Very nice wines are already being produced at the fledgling operation.

An hour later we were being toured around Burrowing Owl, the beautiful Southwest-style assemblage of buildings that had us reminiscing about our first tasting from a bottle and glasses displayed atop a wine barrel in the original winery building. There, at the hand-sorting conveyor belt, was new winemaker Tom DiBello. Still pony-tailed, but now greying, DiBello became nationally known for his superb wines at CedarCreek. He’s had stints at other wineries, made wine under his own name at Okanagan Crush Pad and has now taken over at Burrowing Owl. “How’s Dave doing?” he asked about Wynnwood Estate Winery partner Dave Basaraba. DiBello made the Creston Valley winery’s first vintage at a Summerland facility.

At our last stop before heading to Penticton we made our way to the not easy to find Fairview Cellars, which doesn’t bother with the provincial roadside signage program. “You’ll be lucky to catch him,” said Chuck Eggert, brother of owner-winemaker Bill Eggert, who is known throughout the province as “The Cab Man”—no one does better with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. No sooner were the words out of Chuck’s mouth than Bill roared up with a truckload of Merlot grapes from a neighbouring winery. “You’ll have to follow me,” he directed. We chatted while he unloaded bins with his tractor, then instructed Angela and I to head down a set of stairs to meet him at the newly-constructed addition to his winery. There, we heard about “the grapes of wrath”, which is how Eggert describes a growing season in which he has had to deal with wasps, fruit flies, spotted wing drosophila, deer, bears and hail. “And everyone has been saying what a great harvest this is,” he sneered. “We’ll see.”

The next day, after a very nice and leisurely trip along the Naramata winery trail, we ended with a glass of wine with Perseus CEO Rob Ingram, who freely admitted he is learning about wine after a career as a chartered accountant and business manager. He has $25 million investment capital lined up for a long-term plan to have four wineries, each in a different region of the province, including Vancouver.

In Kelowna, we made our second trip in six months to visit with Richard Kamphuys, owner of the fine Ancient Hill Winery that overlooks the Kelowna airport. Jitske Kamphuys, co-owner, took a quick break from her tasting room duties to dash downstairs to the winery to call up Richard. Minutes later he arrived, wearing the tell-tale footwear of a winery worker—gumboots. He was full of smiles. The fall crush seems to have that effect on people. We sat at a table, with the requisite glass of wine, and talked about the harvest (“I’ve been too busy to get into the vineyards, but I’m seeing a lot of bear poop with Zweigelt grapes on the road!” he laughed.) and the coming winter, where the beautiful and spacious winery does double duty as a location for parties and receptions.

Our final visit on the three-day tour found Angela and I sitting on a deck drinking wine, this time with Summerhill Pyramid Winery founder Stephen Cipes. One of the true visionaries of the BC wine industry, Cipes started what was only the 13th winery in the province back in the late 1980s and was soon producing world-class sparkling wines. Stephen and I had started our interview alone. He had asked, “Where is Angela?” and gestured to a third, empty glass on the table. I told him she was just looking around the shop and winery. A few minutes later, he excused himself saying he had to check on his wife—who had been guiding a group of Japanese tourists—and three-year-old child. He returned with Angela in tow and the conversation continued. Shortly afterward he beckoned to a server and asked for an order of poutine from the winery’s Sunset Organic Bistro. Soon we continued our chat, sipping from glasses charged with Cipes Rosé and noshing on the best poutine ever, topped with braised beef and gravy !

These are the people who fuel our passion for the wine business. And space doesn’t allow me to comment on visits with Judy Kingston at Serendipity, Oleg Aristarkhov at Moraine, Bobby Gidda at Volcanic Hills, Fiona Duncan at Platinum Bench and Toni and Julius Bloomfield at the historic Naramata Heritage Inn. It was a great trip that gave me much to write about in the coming weeks.

-Lorne Eckersley