Canada’s most visited winery needs a great management team to keep the ball rolling. Winery and vineyards, bistro and gardens—all organic—require the care and attention of people who are committed to the Summerhill vision. Tarrah MacPherson, who was appointed vice president of operations last year, is a perfect fit, CEO Ezra Cipes says.
“Tarrah has a wonderful variety of attributes, with a combination of education and experience that is hard to match, but just as important is her personality. It didn’t take her long to become a truly valuable asset to our team.”
The Nova Scotia born and raised Tarrah didn’t really take wine too seriously until she travelled in Italy.
“Living in London about 15 years ago, it was travelling in Italy that did it,” she says. “Going to tiny places where you ate donkey and you drank Asti.”
At the time she was working for a large firm, doing the work she was educated for, accounting.  During university she had started working in the hospitality industry and would happily have carried on. Her parents insisted she finish her education, so she earned a degree in accounting. She worked at hotels to pay her way. From university, she went to London and took a job that paid well and led to her developing a passion for wine.
“About a year after that first trip to Italy I started having conversations with some of my bosses about wine. All of a sudden I had something to contribute to the discussions.” When she saw a wine appreciation course being advertised by the London School of Economics (irony acknowledged) she signed up and every Monday night for 8 weeks she spent 3 hours immersed in the world of wine. And loved it.
She decided accounting wasn’t her passion, moved back to Nova Scotia and began to manage a 56-seat Italian restaurant. It wasn’t long before she signed up for a sommelier course, jumping to the third level because of her London and Italy experiences. “It was super tough,” she admits. “It covered so many disciplines—chemistry, biology, geology, history, economics, politics.”
Tarrah’s next job was in Halifax, where she was employed at Nova Scotia’s first private wine store. She didn’t get a chance to tire of the work. A headhunting firm recruited her to become a wine sales rep in Toronto, an endeavor she never really settled into. “Toronto is such a tough market to work in and I didn’t know anyone. I was cold-calling accounts to sell them high-end European wines. I didn’t love the work, and I certainly didn’t love the weather and the traffic.”
She jumped at the chance to get back into the hotel industry and headed back to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, for her third tour of duty with the brand.  Here is where she truly fell in love with BC wines, and ended up managing the hotels vast list of local and international labels.  When Delta Hotels purchased the Grand Hotel in Kelowna, Tarrah was quick to jump at the opportunity to live in the Okanagan.  This is where she would first meet Summerhill Pyramid Winery president Steve Cipes. They would continue their friendship by telephone when she moved to Ottawa and then Fredericton. “I knew for a long time that I would eventually work with Steve.”
Steve respected her business and financial acumen and offered her a contract to become the winery’s vice president of operations and last March she made the move back across the country to take her first job at a winery.
“My top priorities were profitability and to bring a bit more polish and structure to Summerhill. I had to move carefully though, because Summerhill is a very successful business model. Another priority became people management. As a small to medium family business, Summerhill has people who wear many hats.  The absence of a full time human resources director stretched us pretty thin this past year. But we have a great core of people in key positions here.”
“We work to encourage and empower employees, and to create a safe productive environment where people don’t fear making mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t taking the risks needed to move ahead.”
With new chef Jonas Stadtlander in the kitchen and Sunset Organic Bistro newly renovated, visitors will see some obvious changes, others throughout the winery are less noticeable, but no less important.
“If you aren’t moving forward you are moving backward,” Tarrah says.
~ Lorne Eckersley