We knew it was something that could make a beautiful sparkling wine. And it did.
A few years after Steve Cipes moved his family from New York to take up a new life on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake in 1986, a prominent wine industry professional toured Kelowna and gave him some advice on the best use of the property. It didn’t take long for Jack Davies, owner of Schramsberg Vineyards (which still bills itself as America’s House of Sparkling Wine) to make a recommendation.
“Jack told me ‘You have the absolute perfect conditions for making sparkling wine here because you are so far north that you have the late evening sun and early morning sun and the plants shut down in the middle of the day anyway. You have pristine air and water. You don’t have the right grapes here but if you brought the right grapes over from Champagne, France you have the perfect growing conditions. If you guys wise up and keep the water off your grapes you can make extra small, extra flavourful grapes that can make base wine that will hold its flavour through the second fermentation in the bottle,’” remembers Cipes.
A quarter century has proven over and over again that Davies was right. Under the direction of winemaker Eric von Krosigk, Summerhill Pyramid Winery continues its tradition as one of Canada’s best sparkling wine producers. The tradition continues in September when three new bubblies are introduced to the public.
“The 2011 vintage saw a lot of overcast cool weather,” CEO Ezra Cipes recalls about making Cipes Blanc de Franc 2011. “The grapes measured 19.5 brix and they were crushed on the morning of the same day that we crushed the season’s first icewine. It’s the only time in our history that both have been done in the same day!”
The low sugar and high acidity at harvest was perfect for making sparkling wine. “We haven’t done a Cabernet Franc sparkling wine before. This wine is totally unique to this vintage and is totally beautiful.” Customers are sure to enjoy the treat, and are advised to stock up while supplies of what likely is BC’s first Blanc de Franc is available. Only 200 cases were made.
Release of Cipes Traditional Cuvee 1996 comes as something of a relief after many years of waiting patiently for the wine to develop.
“It was harvested to be acidic so that it had a backbone to age into a deeply complex wine,” Ezra said. “Who knew it would take this long! This wine is an incredible value for those who appreciate this kind of rich, complex style.”
Third in the September trilogy of releases is Cipes Blanc de Blanc 2010. In 2010 von Krosigk and his team identified a Chardonnay block in the winery’s vineyard in Osoyoos that had phenolic ripeness with low sugars and solid acid content. “We knew it was something that could make a beautiful sparkling wine. And it did.”
Blanc de Blanc (white wine from white grapes) is an established international style that is easily recognized and popular with consumers, and Summerhill’s production allows the team to see just how well Okanagan sparkling wines stand up to those made in other parts of the world. After 25 years of experience, it comes as little surprise that they measure up well. Extremely well, in fact.
Of course Summerhill Pyramid Winery produces more than sparkling wines. The release in July of the 2012 “OM” builds on the winery’s commitment to organic vineyard and winery practices. OM is not named for a meditation chant—the initials stand for Organic Meritage—but there is a spiritual aspect to Summerhill wines, all of which spend some time in the pyramid, which many believe enhances the qualities of fine wines.
“It is a very harmonious blend” of Bordeaux grapes, says Eric. “The flavour goes on forever! 2012 was a very classic Okanagan year. It was a little bit cooler than 2014 and 2015, so the Cabernet Franc ripened beautifully, perfectly in my mind, so in this case the blend leads with Cabernet Franc. Normally it would lead with Cabernet Sauvignon but that’s not what the grapes said that year.” OM is a wine/food pairing made in winemakers’ heaven.
~ Lorne Eckersley
(photo: The sparkling master, winemaker Eric von Krosigk.)