Two stories from the early years of what was then known as Summerhill Estate Winery are now integral chapters in the history of the Okanagan wine industry.
First was when Steve Cipes, not so long after relocating his wife, Wendy, and four sons to Kelowna from New York, donned a pair of coveralls and mask and dutifully began spraying chores on his newly purchased vineyard. As he sprayed the vines he saw his little boys playing nearby and began to think of what potential harm he was doing with the chemicals. Steve’s commitment to organics started at that moment.
Then, in 1990, a visit from Jack Davies of the famed Schramsberg “champagne” house in California set the direction that would cement Summerhill’s future. Steve told the story in a 1999 Wine Trails edition.
“You have the most ideal growing conditions to produce intensely flavoured grapes that will hold their flavor through the second fermentation in the bottle. We should make sparkling wines that will rival any in the world,” he quoted Davies.
This year, Summerhill Pyramid Winery celebrates its 25th harvest, and a quarter century of making sparkling wines of distinction, putting BC’s fledgling wine industry on the international stage.
With Wine Trails celebrating its own quarter century mark in 2016, we look back to past issues that covered some of some Summerhill highlights.
In a 1999 edition, Steve Cipes told the Jack Davies story, and announced the release of Cipes 1991 Schramsberg Traditional Cuvee, made under the supervision of Davies’ lead winemaker, Allan Tencher. “This very special wine has been released for Year 2000 celebrations as one of the ten Summerhill sparkling wines,” Wine Trails founder Dave Gamble wrote.
Only a year earlier, Gamble had written a story that featured a photo of a pyramid under construction. “It is dramatic. A 56-foot pyramid that is a 1/8-size replica of one of the great pyramids of Gizeh and it is nearing completion at Summerhill Estate Winery in Kelowna! The pyramid is only part of the new attractions that will make Summerhill even more of a destination spot this summer.” With his boundless energy, Steve Cipes had also been working with the Kelowna Museum to authentically furnish Mallam House, a log cabin he had restored on the property. Dating back to the 1800s, the cabin remains as one of the oldest reminders of European settlement of the Okanagan area. In that same story, reference is made to the construction of “an authentic native Indian earth house which was recreated by members of the Okanagan Indian bands,” a tribute to centuries of First Nations culture prior to the arrival of white settlers.
In 1993, a Wine Trails feature celebrated the mark that Summerhill sparkling wines were making beyond Canada’s borders. “Most New Yorkers, it is safe to say, have never drunk holiday toasts with a sparkling wine from British Columbia. And many, it is safer to say, will usher in 1993 with Champagne and other bubblies inferior to Cipes Brut from Canada,” said a New York Times story the previous year. “Cipes Brut tastes like Dom Perignon! Cipes Brut which I found startlingly like a “Champagne” of prestige quality. My guests at dinner guessed it as Dom Perignon because of its tiny bubbles, its great spray in the mouth and its wonderful balance, great aromas and long finish,” wrote the president of the International Wine Society.
Summerhill CEO Ezra Cipes invites visitors to sample two particular sparkling wines that prove their age-worthiness. 1998 Ariel, released in 2012, and 1996 Traditional Cuvee, released in 2015, are prime examples of great structure, fine bubbles and sense of place. Both are made from estate-grown grapes from the Summerhill property.
~ Lorne Eckersley