(pictured: Winemaker Eric von Krosigk with the nitrogen generator)

We make bubbly as well as anywhere in the world,” winemaker Eric von Krosigk said at Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s first ever Bubbly Boot Camp in April. And that was before Cipes Brut was named the Best Sparkling Wine of the Year at the 2014 All Canadian Wine Championships.

He backed up his statement by serving Gold Medal-winning (in France, no less!) Cipes Rosé, which was the only North American sparkling wine named on the Top 10 Sparkling Wines list in the 2013 Effervescents du Monde®. Alongside the rosé was the now sold out Cipes Gabriel, named best bottle fermented wine in the world, and Cipes Ariel, a 1998 vintage that brought home a Gold Medal from the 2012 World Wine Awards in Chicago, Illinois.

With those and countless other awards (winery founder Stephen Cipes says Eric is probably the most-awarded winemaker in Canada), von Krosigk will never be accused of resting on his laurels. This year, Summerhill Pyramid Winery has made the news with his efforts to reduce sulfite levels in its wines.

Sulphites (sulphur dioxide) might be described as both bane and boon to winemakers. They occur naturally and are also typically added during the winemaking process to preserve the wine’s flavour, colour and character. Wines with high sulfite levels can contribute to headaches and nasal congestion in some people, though.

To that end, Von Krosigk has taken on the role of mad scientist, experimenting with ways to reduce sulphites, in the vineyard and the winery. In the past year he worked with a Kelowna machinist to design a nitrogen gas system that would reduce the contact of oxygen throughout the winemaking process. Oxygen speeds the aging of wines, turning them brown and wiping out desirable fresh fruit flavours.

In what might be a first in BC, Summerhill has created a sealed, low-pressure system that displaces air with nitrogen throughout the winemaking process.

“We are on a low-sulphite program at Summerhill, which means we use little or no sulphur wherever we can,” von Krosigk continues. “However, we will not sacrifice a wine to oxidation if it does need some. We hope at some point to put an ingredients list on the bottle with a single entry: grapes. That is our goal.”

“In 2012 the project was pilot tested and troubleshooted,” Summerhill CEO Ezra Cipes says, “and in 2013 the results are evident in the resulting wine quality. All of the 2013 aromatic whites, Ehrenfelser, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer, were made with this technology, and the quality and freshness speaks for itself. We are very proud of these wines.”

~ Lorne Eckersley