Sandhill winery is known for their unique wines that showcase the quality of Okanagan grapes. By using a single vineyard approach, every bottle is pure and distinct in flavour.
All of Sandhill’s six vineyards are located in the Southern Okanagan, where the heat and terroir play a big role in producing exceptional grapes.
Although their Cabernet Merlot blends are Sandhill’s bread and butter – as Master Winemaker Howard Soon describes – Soon is not sure how the creation of their signature blend line came about.
“With Sandhill One, Two and Three, we’re trying to build on the success of Sandhill Small lots,” Soon said. “If you want to be on the map as a winery, you’ve got to do a Bordeaux blend.”
The Sandhill Small Lots program allows Soon to express who he is as a winemaker. Every year a few varietals are bottled in extremely small quantities where Soon is able to experiment and give special attention to each, creating a truly distinctive wine.
Ranging from 10 barrels to 22 barrels, each of the One, Two and Three blends are a part of the Small Lots program.
“We couldn’t come up with fancy names for our wines, so we just called them One, Two and Three,” said Soon. “I think of the Charlie Brown comic strips, when he fell in love with a girl named number five.”
Created from grapes out of the Phantom Creek Vineyard, Sandhill One is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah. According to Soon, that’s not a conventional blend due to the Petit Verdot and Malbec.
“This doesn’t smell like a British Columbian wine,” he says. “It’s fruit forward and oaky.”
Comparing to One, Sandhill Two is a much more conventional blend. It is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
“Cab Franc is what makes this blend delicious,” Soon says. “It’s a very good blender and plays well with the other two, the 10% of it that’s in here is enough to lift the whole wine up.”
Although Phantom Creek Vineyard, and Sandhill Estate Vineyard are just one kilometre apart from one another, the wines produced from each are completely different. Sandhill Two and Three are from Sandhill Estates.
“It’s complex and soft, less oaky than One,” says Soon. “It has an aged taste, you get the smoothness and richness of the fruit and layers through the mouth.”
Due to the addition of Sangiovese and Barbera, Sandhill Three is truly unique. Sandhill Winery is the first to plant Sangiovese grapes in all of Canada, and the only Canadian winery to grow Barbera.
“This wine grew out of the fact we had lots of Sangiovese grapes,” says Soon. “There’s a juiciness in it – like fresh fruit, yet it’s got an aged thing to it, you smell time in it.”
With all of Sandhill’s wines, Soon says he wants to give people the grapes’ story.
“I’m almost like a sculptor, I like to see what I’m given before I start thinking what I’m going to do.”
Soon says it is a winemaker’s blend that sets him or her apart.
“If I want to find out what a winemaker is doing, I’ll try their blend, it’s their personal story,” he says. “It carries forward the legacy of the winery.”
Soon has since announced he will be retiring. The longest serving winemaker in Canada, Soon has created 37 consecutive vintages and has won countless awards for his winemaking excellence. Most notably, he was the first BC winemaker to win a gold medal at the 1998 Chardonnay du Monde, in France, and in 2009 he won best red wine, best white wine, and best Canadian winery at the Canadian Wine Awards – making Sandhill the only winery to ever win all three.